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Fairbury Coal Mines


Livingston County, Illinois Coal History

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1878 History of Livingston County, Illinois 2


About the year 1860, Henry L. Marsh, who owned a large tract of land near Fairbury, had his attention called to the fact that the rapidly increasing population must necessarily require a more abundant supply and a cheaper fuel. There was not timber enough in the county to supply it for ten years, at the rate it was being consumed ; and, from his knowledge of coal formation. Marsh believed that it could here be obtained, by going to a sufficient depth. At that day, coal mining, by deep, perpendicular shafts, was unknown in this bituminous district. La Salle, Peoria and Morris were sending out the few tons they were called upon to supply, and Coalville supplied a meager local trade.


The Wilmington coal fields were not yet discovered, and Streator, which now, from its various shafts, sends up its thousands of tons per day, was unknown to the worthy man whose name it bears; and for a decade after Marsh's pioneer labors, the place was known only by the name of " Hardscrabble."


To a man of less force, will-power and energy than Marsh, the idea of mining coal on the open prairie of Livingston County would have remained an idea, or it might have grown into a desire; but he was made of the right material to push a gigantic enterprise to completion. He at once set about an investigation of the facts in the case, and, under his investigation, the possibilities steadily grew into a reality. The story of his struggles with adverse fortune, his heavy losses, his trials and failures, and his final success, would make an interesting and instructive chapter of history.


Water, at various depths, so flooded his work and damaged it in various ways, that his friends and backers deemed the scheme impracticable; but he was not discouraged, and, in the last extremity, he completed an invention of his own, by which the difficulty was overcome. At a depth of 180 feet, he struck a paying vein of excellent coal. The success attending Marsh's efforts incited others to like enterprises, and, in 1865, a shaft was sunk at Pontiac, another shaft at Fairbury in 1808, one near Streator in1872, one at Cornell in 1875, and one at Cayuga in 1878. Cayuga, which is distant five miles from the river, is, thus far, the farthest point from the Vermilion at which a paying vein of coal has been reached in the county. The efforts to find coal at Odell and Dwight have thus far proved failures. The mining at Coalville is carried on by horizontal entries, and is not so expensive to the operators. The capital invested in coal mining in Livingston will not fall short of a quarter of a million dollars, and, thus far, the enterprise has proved far more profitable to purchasers than to the proprietors of the mines.


The first coal was raised at Pontiac January 12, 1866 ; the first lump taken from the shaft being now in the possession of Jacob Streamer, with that date attached. The shaft was sunk on contract for the Directors of the company, by Isaac Custer. This work, with the buildings, cost the company $10,000. The shaft was sunk to the depth of 253 feet, but a vein at 175 feet is the only one worked to advantage. The charter members of the company were: S. C. Crane, President; J. Duff, John Dehuer and Thomas Wing, Directors. The enterprise has not, on the whole, been very successful. Over $100,000 has been spent, and owing to fires and other misfortunes, it has scarcely in its history been on a paying basis. In February of 1871, the shaft and all of its interests were sold to Messrs. Franz, Campbell & Bullock, of Woodford County, for $45,000. It is now under control of W. H. Levers, who has operated it for several years past. Statistics in regard to

its present workings are not obtainable, and are necessarily omitted.


The Chicago & Paducah Railroad, at first called the Fairbury, Pontiac & Northwestern Railroad, was built through this part of the county in 1871. The city of Pontiac and township took a lively interest in procuring its location through this part of the county, and voted the company a donation of $50,000 to effect the purpose. While some may doubt whether the interests of the city have been enhanced by the location of a second railroad at this point, it will hardly be disputed that the farming community has been greatly benefited. Much has been saved in the way of freights, as by means of this line, competition has produced lower rates than otherwise would have prevailed. Small towns have sprung up along the line, and, while they have taken some trade from Pontiac, they have proved to be a great convenience to the sections in the midst of which they have been located.


As early as 1862, movements were made here toward developing the coalfields, believed to exist sufficiently near the surface to be reached with light expense. In the Fall of this year, H. L. Marsh commenced to sink the west shaft, and at the distance of 216 feet, struck the first vein of coal, which varies from four and a half to five feet in thickness, and produces a very fair quality of coal.


 At a distance of 180 feet below this vein another was found, but not of sufficient thickness to warrant its being profitably worked. It is the best coal, however, in any of the neighboring shafts, but; to quote the slang of the day, it is too thin to be valuable. To sink this shaft and equip it for work has cost altogether about $30,000; the works have a capacity for taking out at least five hundred tons daily, but the demand has never required it to run to the full extent of its ability.


Some years ago, it passed into the hands of Eastern capitalists, who leased it to Knight & Gibb, of Fairbury, for two and a half years, which term, we believe, has expired, and the mine is at present idle, except in keeping the water pumped out. This was the first shaft sunk between Braidwood and Alton, where more than a hundred now perforate the ground. It for some time proved an expensive affair on account of so much water, and the third shaft was sunk before one could be secured against overflow.


The east shaft was commenced in April, 1867, and struck a profitable vein of coal at a depth of one hundred and sixty feet. This shaft was originally begun by a stock company, consisting of Jones, Amsbury, Darnall, Gribb, Atkins and Archer. Amsbury and Jones were the principal business men, and Gibb the Superintendent. The sinking of the shaft at that time cost about $15,000, but could be done for, perhaps, half the amount now. A few years after the opening of the shaft, Gibb leased it from the company, and has been operating it advantageously for the past four years. Mr. Gibb is a native of Scotland, and has been in this country since 1852. He thoroughly understands coal mining, and under his supervision this shaft yields on an average seventy-five tons daily, the year round. At present, they supply the railroad companies 1,000 tons per month, while the remainder is mostly disposed of to the local trade. The different formations passed through in reaching coal were yellow clay immediately after the soil, then quite a thickness of blue clay, after which a considerable stratum of soft stone -- usually called soapstone -­and then a vein of lime rock, followed by a shelly sandstone, with thin layers of sand between the layers of rock, when coal was struck.


A peculiarity of the country here is the difference in the formations passed through in these shafts, which are not more than two miles apart. In the west end shaft, the clay is about the same as in the other, but much more water; after passing through the clay, two strata of lime ledges were met with ; then a stratum of red fire-clay, and after it about eighty feet of shelly lime rock, followed by thirty feet of soapstone, underlying which was the first vein of coal.


In the new shaft, sunk the present season, about midway between the other two, a very soft, red rock was found in large quantities, and which is supposed to contain mineral properties that may be converted into something valuable. This vein, or bed of stone, was found at a depth of about eighty feet, and is seven feet in thickness. Speaking of it at the time, the Independent Blade said:

The stone is strongly impregnated with mineral, mostly iron. In color it is gray and dark brown. It also has an oily substance, that shows itself very plainly when immersed in water, the oil rising to the surface. Experiments have been made with this stone ground to powder and mixed with oil for painting purposes, and to all appearances it makes an excellent article. We have samples of this paint in this office, which may be seen. Further tests will be made, and should it turn out as is now anticipated, there is a mine of wealth in it, and the manufacture of mineral paint may be commenced at once in this city.


This shaft is owned by Knight, Gibb & Co. They bought six acres of Mr.Marsh, with the privilege of mining under seventy acres more, belonging to the same party. They reached coal -- a vein four and a half feet thick -- at a depth of 176 feet, and at an expenditure of about $10,000. This is the third shaft that has been successfully sunk in the environs of Fairbury, and, next to grain, coal mining is the most extensive line of business engaged in by its citizens. Aside from the amount furnished the railroads, the trade is of a local character, mostly, and very extensive of that kind.





Fairbury Coal Mine

The legal description lists this as :    Livingston County - Township 26 North, Range 6 East, Section 11

Underground Shaft Mine.

Mine Name


Operated By



Fairbury Coal Mine


Fairbury Co-op Coal Company


1886 - 1895

Fairbury Coal Mine


Co-operative Coal Company


1895 - 1909

Fairbury Coal Mine


Fairbury Miners Co-op Coal


1909- 1936

[Source - No. 1, Index 600] 
1885 Annual Coal Report 4
Livingston County
Fairbury Coal Mining Co. 
      This is a result of the combination effected between Mr. Hamilton and the Walton Brothers, whereby the old shaft of the former is closed and the entire business of the place transferred to the Walton Brothers' shaft, the capacity of which is correspondingly enhanced. 
1887 Annual Coal Report 5
      In Livingston county the Co-operative Coal Company has completed its escapement shaft so that it is fairly within the requirements of the law. 
1897 Annual Coal Report 11
Labor Troubles.
April 5, 1897, the miners employed in Walton Bros, mine at Fairbury in Livingston
county, were discharged and paid off. The superintendent then told the miners he was going to change the system of work in the mine, so that in the summer months when trade was dull they would not have to keep so many rooms open; and that in future he would pay $2 per day for drillers, and $2 per day for blasters, and 18 cents per ton for loading, run-of-mine; the loaders to lay their own track, set props and when a blast was not properly loosened the loader was to work it off. This is the statement of the miners. The superintendent stated, the company offered to drill and blast the coal, set up props and lay track, clean up falls of rock and take up grading. The men refused to accept these terms and remained idle, but ten men, some of them company men, started to work at the above prices and continued up to April 23, when they told the superintendent they would prefer to blast and load their own coal and accept 40 cents per ton, mine-run, $3.00 to be paid for room-turning, entry driving $1.25 per yard, $1.75 per keg for powder and 50 cents per gallon for oil. The company agreed to these prices, and the men continued at work, but only four of the original men, who were discharged, were reinstated. 
1913 Annual Coal Report 26
Mine Fires.
      The engine and boiler house of the Fairbury Miners' Co-operative Coal Company of Fairbury,
Livingston County, was destroyed by fire on the night of September 11, 1912. It was rebuilt and made fire-proof and operation resumed November 4, 1912
1914 Annual Coal Report 27
Mine Fires.
      The engine house and office of the Fairbury Coal Company was destroyed by fire
March 14, 1914, between 3:00 and 4:00
p. m., cause unknown. The rim of the drum was damaged and the ropes destroyed, but the engines were not damaged. The drum was repaired, new ropes were installed and work was resumed, although the engine-house was not rebuilt. 
1915 Annual Coal Report 28
      The Fairbury Coal Company, Fairbury, has built a fireproof engine house in place of the one destroyed by fire,
March 14, 1914.




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July 10, 1899
14, Joseph Wamsley, of Fairbury, miner, aged 55 years, married, was fatally injured by a fall of rock on the entry, in Walton Bros, mine, at Fairbury, in Livingston county. Deceased went into the next room to borrow a cartridge pin, and while on the entry a small piece of rock fell, striking him on the head and knocking him backward on a pile of ties. He was removed to his home where he died six days afterwards. He left a widow and two children. 


December 10, 1901
16, John Dalery, of Fairbury, miner, age 38 years, single, was severely injured by a fall of rock at the working face in the Cooperative Coal company's mine, Fairbury, Livingston county. He was loading a car, when a rock suddenly fell on him, causing his death two hours after the accident. 



December 4, 1909
24, Chas. Prette, aged 34 years, married, was employed as a day laborer in mine operated by the Fairbury Coal Co., located at Fairbury. He went into a room to clean up some fallen rock. While doing so, more rock fell on him, injuring him fatally. He died a few hours after being taken home. He leaves a widow and four children. 





Eureka Man Killed In Fairbury Mine

Newspaper: The Eureka Herald  1875  October  14 October 1875 › Page 3



 . At the- Fairbury coal mine, Sept. 28, a' car jumped the track and knocked away a prop 4 causing the roof to fall, .thus crushing to death Charles Damon. 


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