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FREEPORT COALFIELD

This coalfield is named for the Freeport coal seam that outcrops along the Allegheny River in the vicinity of Freeport, PA. Coal people know that there is an Upper Freeport and a Lower Freeport seam. The two seams come together in northeastern Allegheny County. This coal is called the "Thick Freeport" or "Double Freeport." There is still some coal mining occurring in northwestern Westmoreland County and southwestern Armstrong County. But, aside from the coal patch housing, there are almost no existing coal mine structures from the golden age of mining in the Freeport Coalfield.

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Coal company houses built around 1917 to house the families of miners at Diamond Coal & Coke Company's Barking Mine. (2005 image by Ray Washlaski)


These coal company houses look like they are in an obscure hollow in remote Appalachia, but this patch town named Harmarville is only 10 miles from downtown Pittsburgh. This was one of the last coal mines in the Freeport Coalfield when Consol closed it in 1980, but many people remember it as a captive mine of Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel Corp. Older people will remember seeing the big Harmar mine preparation plant and conveyors from Route 28. (Image by others) A Nov. 1, 1951 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article titled "Company Town Goes On Block" said, "Harmarville, for more than 30 years a 'company' town, is being sold, a house at a time, to employees of the Consumers Mining Company. The settlement on the Allegheny River across from Oakmont, a few miles from the Pittsburgh City limits, is almost entirely owned by the coal firm, a subsidiary of Wheeling Steel Corporation. Tenants in 145 dwellings in Harmarville were told a week ago they would have an opportunity to buy their homes - or have a new landlord. All of the homes are occupied by Consumers Mining employees ... Most of the properties are four rooms plus bath and basement, with front porch and yard. They are of brick construction, about 30 years old. They are in groups of five to a block - 'quin-plexes.' There are nine doubles, of stone construction, and 17 six-room bungalows. Average price for the properties, according to the agent, is about $4,000 ... 'Company' towns, once so familiar in the Pittsburgh area, are becoming fewer rapidly. A similar development, Logan's Ferry, across the river, was sold by West Penn Power Company recently."


Shown here is the brand new coal company-built town of Logans Ferry, PA. This may have been the last coal patch town to be built in Allegheny County, PA. It was constructed in 1920-21 to by the Allegheny Pittsburgh Coal Company to house the workers of their Springdale Mine. The Springdale mine was actually on both sides of and under the Allegheny River. It supplied coal to the West Penn Power Company (later Duquesne Light) power plant on the other side of the river.

Logans Ferry was (is) one of the nicest coal towns in Pennsylvania. The single family homes were of different designs, with cellars, nice lawns, and electric lights. Even the streets of Logans Ferry were lighted.


Very old picture of Allegheny-Pittsburgh Coal Company's Springdale preparation plant. (Circa 1921 Coal Age image)


1950 picture taken at Valley Camp No. 5 mine. The mine worker shown is pulling a "trip" of loaded coal cars with the mine locomotive. (Image courtesy of Ken C.)


Another vintage shot of the No. 5 mine of Valley Camp Coal Co. I'm not exactly sure where this mine was, but it was probably near New Kensington.(Image courtesy of Ken C.)


A picture taken over 50 years ago of a portal into the Freeport seam at the Kutsch mine near Tarentum. (Image courtesy of Ken C.)


Here's an aerial view of the company-built patch town of Indianola, PA, built in 1916-1918 to house workers of the Indianola No. 1 Mine, a captive mine of Inland Steel of East Chicago, Indiana. Their coal mining arm at Indianola was named Inland Collieries Company. As you can see, this is really doesn't even look like a Western PA patch town. Rather this was one of the "model" coal towns that reflected an "enlightened" and "reformed" sense of industrial town design. As researcher/author Carmen DiCiccio wrote, "The homes featured electric lights, indoor bathrooms, and spacious backyards. The village houses, all with front porches, were constructed with their backs facing the roads around the cul-de-sacs. This was done to prevent coal miners, filthy after working in the mine, from entering and soiling the living rooms and furnishings. Instead miners entered their kitchens." In 1921 Coal Age magazine wrote an article describing the elaborate drinking water and sanitary sewer system that Inland Collieries Co. installed at Indianola: "The water as taken from the well is sparkling, cool, and abundant ... The entire water system as built is complete in detail and represents the highest type of construction, embodying quantity, quality, and safety." This when most of the other coal mining towns in Appalachia had outhouses and water spigots located outside that served several homes. Of course the town being located only 12 miles from Pittsburgh probably helped.


Even the timbering in the Indianola coal mine was elaborate, as shown in this diagram from a 1921 issue of Coal Age. The magazine featured several articles praising the Indianola mining operations.


The only surviving industrial structure from the Indianola coal mine complex.


Coal company housing at Cadogan, PA, a patch town right on the bank of the Allegheny River in Armstrong County. The Allegheny River Mining Company ran this coal mining operation.


Vintage picture of the Ford Collieries Company's Francis Mine, also known as Curtisville No. 2 coal mine, at Curtisville, PA. (Curtisville No. 1 was the Benjamin Mine, and Curtisville No. 3 was at Bairdford.) This picture is courtesy of westdeertownship.com, which has a great section on the coal (and non-coal) history of that township in the heart of the Freeport Coalfield.


This was the superintendent's house at Curtisville No. 2.


Curtisville No. 3 coal mine was at Bairdford. This part of the Bairdford coal patch town was where the Russian coal miners lived.


This was the coal company's office at Russellton, PA. This mine was opened around 1904 by the Bessemer Coal and Coke Company.


Duplex patch houses at Russellton are typical of coal patch towns in Western Pennsylvania. A mine and town named Russellton No. 2 was constructed down the road. Later these became captive mines of Republic Steel. Republic Steel was absorbed into LTV Steel in the 1970s, and LTV closed Russellton No. 2 in 1982. This was the last large Freeport seam coal mine in northeastern Allegheny County.


Near Tarentum, PA a Freeport Coalfield mine has been preserved as a tourist attraction. It's called the Tour-Ed Mine, and it has been open for public tours since 1970. However, it was originally the Avenue No. 2 Mine of the Allegheny Coal & Coke Company. (That company also operated an Avenue No. 1 Mine in nearby Brackenridge.) (Image courtesy of Trip Advisor)


Polish club in the patch town of Harwick, PA. You know the story - Polish, Slovak, Italian immigrants came to Pennsylvania to mine coal, blah, blah, blah. The Harwick mine was opened in the first decade of the 20th Century by the Allegheny Coal Company, and was closed in 1970 by its final owner, Duquesne Light. An explosion in the mine in January 1904 killed 179 miners. After inspecting the disaster site a state mine inspector wrote, "I had not thought it possible that a catastrophe so awful in proportions could occur in a mine like the Harwick, which was new and reported to be relatively safe. The explosion was of a terrific force, the tipple, built of iron, was wrecked, and a mule was blown out and over the tipple from the bottom of the shaft." (Image courtesy of patonlinenewtime.blogspot.com)


Abandoned tipple along Route 366 near New Kensington. (Image by others)


Coal company patch houses at Kinlock, Pa. Valley Camp Coal Co. closed the Kinlock mines in 1935. (2002 image by Ray Washlaski)


This structure was once the coal miner's pay station at Kinlock. (2010 image by Ray Washlaski)

A 1920 article in The Coal Industry described Kinlock as "a plant which is built entirely of steel and concrete and located on the Allegheny Valley division of the Pennsylvania railroad, that has been designed to remove coal at a depth of 148 feet from the surface, the slope type of opening being used. The seam of coal that is mined is made up of the upper and lower Freeport veins, and is about 7 feet thick, the two veins being separated by a layer of bone which is removed by hand picking both in the mine at at the picking tables ... The Valley Camp Coal Company has built a town of attractive appearance for the benefit of the miners and their families. The houses are all of the double-frame type and are rented to the men at very reasonable prices. They are all supplied with running water from a spring and every precaution is taken to conserve the health of the community. The town is located within 400 yards of the township school where the children receive competent instruction. This school has been equipped with a large playground and the necessary equipment at the expense of the company. The mine has one of the best baseball teams in the valley, and a playground and picnic grove is located in a pretty valley at the rear of the company store."


Wildwood preparation plant of the Butler Consolidated Coal Company. (Circa 1930 Keystone Coal Catalog image)


It's fun to get out and explore the Pennsylvania countryside looking for coal mining history. But this picture shows the darker side of the coal heritage landscape: Pine Run puking orange acid mine drainage into the Kiskiminetas River. The grey area up above the river was the former site of Pine Run Coal & Coke Company's coal mine. Between the mine site and the river is the former Conemaugh Division of the Pennsylvania Railroad, now Norfolk-Southern. (Image by others)


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