Saturday, September 14, 2013

Coal Country

I posted a map of Kingston, Pennsylvania yesterday. I spent part of my childhood in and around Kingston, so the map, dated 1873, interests me. The map depicts the Kingston of exactly a century before my time there. You can get a good close look at the map here.

Kingston sits on the west bank of the Susquehanna River, in the Wyoming Valley. The county seat of Wilkes-Barre is just across the river. Looking at the 1873 map, the first thing I notice is the creek meandering through the town. that's Toby's Creek. Sometime after 1936 it was routed underground, beginning somewhere near the northern edge of the map, and only comes out again to the light of day somewhere near the southeast corner of the map.

I remember well the place where Toby's Creek entered the earth. It was a dramatic spot, the water rushing down into a concrete tunnel, roaring all the time.

Another thing you notice are the collieries. In the northwest you have the Hutchinson Colliery with its breaker. In my time the breaker was gone but I think there was a large culm bank there, which is what we locally called the detritus of the mining operation, piled near the breaker. Culm is not a common word. I've read that's it's only used in northeastern Pennsylvania and southern Illinois. These banks were sometimes very large and in my youth, though the mines were long gone and most of the breakers were destroyed, the piles of black culm were everywhere.

Besides the Hutchinson's Colliery you have the Consumers Coal Company (not far from where I lived for a while as a boy). Following Wyoming Avenue to the southeast (the broad "main street" in Kingston, running southeast-northwest) you get to a dense cluster of properties that formed the village of Kingston. Wyoming Seminary is there along College Avenue, and is still there today. Toward the southeast corner of the map you see a density of railroad tracks and a railroad "roundhouse," as we called it. In my time it was a decrepit hulk and was eventually destroyed by the flood of '72, I think.

Running perpendicular to those tracks, roughly north-south, is a straight street which would become Main Street in the town of Edwardsville, which separated from Kingston in 1884, about eleven years after this map was made. Following that along to the north, you see the Kingston Coal Company and the Kingston Breaker. If you'd like to know what all this might have looked like at the time, look at this:

You can get a close look at the image here. You can see those same railroad tracks in the lower left, and what was called Kingston Avenue in the 1873 map is Slocum Street in the 1882 Bird's-Eye View. But there very prominent in the lower foreground, just to the left of the inset of the high school, is the Kingston Breaker. You can see it was a very large operation, in most of the miners must have lived in the homes clustered there just to the west of Main Street. In my day, the breaker was gone, but the culm bank loomed large over Main Street, Edwardsville. In fact, in the Bird's-Eye you can see three more breakers in Edwardsville alone. Indeed, coal was king in those days.

For a look at many of the breakers in this region, check out Cap't Clint's Place. A nice website depicting the region generally is

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