During the early 20th century, “king” coal furnished the energy that moved America and, without it, the whole nation would have ground to a halt. Lest we forget, coal was a major contributor to our victories in both world wars.
In those bygone days, there were several small mining communities – more accurately, hamlets – scattered around the immediate Black Diamond area and several miles to the east; i.e., places like Hyde Lake, Palmer, Durham, Elkcoal and Kangley. They were totally dependent on coal. A few were backyard operations that a single family or two owned and worked, but the largest were quintessential company towns in which the homes and a general store were all owned by the individuals or companies that owned the mines. Today, most of these settlements have vanished, leaving behind nothing more than a few half-buried artifacts and a cemetery or two; for example, Bayne and Franklin. The last of these mines closed in the late 1960s and early ‘70s.
Coal mining was unrelenting, dirty, unhealthy work but, owing to some bloody strikes prior to the turn of the century and during the 1920s, the miners were paid fairly well. There were some good-sized veins that were 8 to 10 feet thick; on the other hand, some were so small miners had to crawl around on their hands and knees. It wasn’t recommended for anyone who suffered from bouts of claustrophobia.
It was dangerous work. Apparently accidents were commonplace and one or two workers were killed on a regular basis. In two of the worst catastrophes, 16 men were killed during an explosion at the Lawson Mine in 1910 and 31 perished in a Ravensdale mine in 1915.
The legacy of these accidents has inspired the new monument outside the Black Diamond Historical Museum. It’s a memorial not only to the miners killed in the Black Diamond region, but to those killed throughout the entire state. Their names are permanently embedded in a granite wall surrounding an 8-foot bronze sculpture of a miner. Generally speaking, it’s a noble and heartfelt site even though the statue itself seems a bit stiff. (I wish the figure would have conveyed more movement as if the pick was being swung.)
At any rate, check out the memorial for yourself and, if you’ve never been in the museum, I’d recommend that as well. Both are wonderful tributes to a vanishing way of life.