Coal Mining Around Madisonville

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The first coal known to have been burned in Hopkins County was from a barrel brought from Pennsylvania.  This was in a grate in the Weir and Wilkins store on East Center Street across from the north entrance of the courthouse.

In 1838, the state legislature commissioned William Williams Mather, Ohio State Geologist, to conduct a Reconnaissance Survey of Kentucky’s minerals.  Mather’s survey was amazingly accurate with the minimum amount of information available.  Mather delineated both the Eastern and Western coal fields.

Major Maurice Kirby Gordon, local attorney, recorded in his notes that Jack Wolfolk, blacksmith at Hall’s Post Office (now Earlington) mined a grass sack of coal in Hunting Branch hollow to use in his forge. The earliest mined coal in the county was used by blacksmiths and for heating homes. 

In 1856, the Hopkins Mastodon Coal and Iron Mining and Manufacturing Company was incorporated for the purpose of acquiring coal for mining purposes.  The Civil War prevented mining and the corporation was eventually dissolved and later acquired by the St. Bernard Coal Company. 

In the summer of 1869, the St. Bernard Coal Company opened the No. 11 Mine north of Hall’s Post Office.  In the fall of 1869, the slope was completed and the No. 9 Mine was opened.  These mines were the first commercial mines opened.  Small local mines may have existed but their production was low and sold locally to blacksmiths and for home heating.

Most of the early coal mining was in the area of Earlington south.  In 1886, Conrad Reinecke was on his way south from Bellville, Illinois to eastern Tennessee to inspect coal properties.  He stopped over in Madisonville and it was said he exclaimed, “Eureka, I have found it.”  He purchased coal properties and opened the Eureka Mine on the northwest side of town.  The shaft was excavated 382 feet to the Kentucky Number 9 Coalbed.  After two explosions that killed three men each time, the mine came up the shaft to mine the Kentucky Number 11 Coalbed.  Mine workers believed that the mine was too close to Hell and gremlins were causing the explosions.  The mine continued in operation until 1939.

In 1891, the Madisonville Coal Company opened the mine that later became the Victoria Mine.  Madisonville Coal Company may have started mining in the Hunting Branch valley before moving to the location on South Main Street.  The mine was opened by a shaft, 141 feet deep, to the Kentucky Number 11 Coalbed.  The officers of the company were Chelsey Williams, president, and Charles Everit Morton, secretary and treasurer.  The mine was purchased in 1920 and operated by Brent Hart until it was closed in 1937.

In 1904, Mrs. Emma Morton, widow of Charles Everit Morton, and her daughter, Mary A. Morton, leased approximately 2,000 acres of coal rights to Ashley Holloman and Oscar Tinder.  They, in turn, leased the rights to the Royal Coal Company.  The Royal Coal Company sunk a shaft, 220 feet deep, to the Kentucky Number 11 Coalbed which averaged 6’-3” thick.  By 1905, the Royal Mine had a daily production of 700 tons.  On August 24, 1905, Royal Coal Company was sold to John B. Brasher at a handsome profit.  On October 1, 1906, the Brasher Coal Company was sold to the Chesley Coal Company.  On October 24, 1908, D. W. Gatlin, receiver, conveyed the Chesley Coal Company to J. G. B. Hall.  On November 11, 1908, Hall conveyed his holdings to the Sunset Coal Company.  At this time, the mine name was changed to the Sunset Mine.  On May 11, 1911, the Sunset Coal Company was reorganized with the following officials:  W. D. Coil, president and general manager; John G. B. Hall, vice-president and H. H. Coil, secretary.  On January 22, 1923, the Sunset Coal Company was sold to the Kentucky Bank and Trust Company, Trustee.  On January 23, 1923, the Kentucky Bank and Trust Company, Trustee, conveyed the Sunset Coal Company to the Kentucky Block Coal Corporation.  On May 1, 1924, the Kentucky Block Coal Corporation conveyed the holdings to the West Kentucky Coal Company.  Coincidentally, this is the same date that the St. Bernard Mining Company was sold to West Kentucky Coal Company.  The mine was closed in 1932.

The Coil Coal Company was organized and incorporated on January 1, 1911, with the following officers:  W. D. Coil, president and general manager; T. L. Coil, vice-president and H. H. Coil, secretary.  The Coil Mine was opened by a shaft, 280 feet deep, to the Kentucky Number 11 Coalbed which averaged six feet in thickness.  On April 21, 1912, an explosion occurred at the mine which resulted in the deaths of five coal miners.  By 1920, the mine was producing 143,619 tons of coal annually.  On January 22, 1923, the mine was sold to the Kentucky Bank and Trust Company, Trustee.  On January 23, 1923, the Kentucky Bank and Trust Company, Trustee sold the mine to Kentucky Block Coal Corporation.  On May 1, 1924, the Kentucky Block Coal Corporation sold the mine to West Kentucky Coal Company.  The mine was closed on December 26, 1939.  In a newspaper article printed about 1915 it was stated that Madisonville had a mine on each corner of the city limits.  This was a stretch but not by much.

In 1919, something new in coal mining was introduced to western Kentucky.  While it did not occur in Madisonville proper, it was to have a profound effect on the lives of the citizens of our town.  The Sunlight Collieries Company opened the first strip mine in western Kentucky about four miles southeast of Madisonville.  The coal was recovered by completely removing all the rock cover.  The principle owners of the company were Sterling S. Lanier, Monroe B. Lanier, Robert L. Schlotman, Thomas Crow, Basil Ramsey and James Boddie. 

Sunlight Mine had the first wash plant in western Kentucky and possibly the entire state.  The stripping machine was a Bucyrus steam shovel that carried an 80 foot boom with a 6 cubic yard bucket and could handle about 40 feet of overburden.  At the peak of production, the mine produced 185,000 tons of coal per year and employed 90 miners.  The mine was closed in 1930.  With the stock market crash of 1929, strip mining ended.  However, the nation was beginning to recover by 1936.  On November 11, 1936, there appeared in the Madisonville Messenger the following announcement:  “To Complete Tipple And Spur Within Ninety Days.  Within ninety days the Leslie Larsen & Company strip mining operation, five miles west of Madisonville, will have completed a tipple and a four-mile spur to the Illinois-Central railroad, it was said today.”

On April 9, 1937, the company was acquired by the Sentry Coal Company, a subsidiary of Sinclair Coal Company. 

In 1941, the mine became the first in the area to produce over one million tons of coal in a year when production was 1,074,185 tons.  The mine was closed in 1947. 

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