Coal Miners’ Exhausting Work at King’s Mine
Photos from David Adair collection
In 1895, Robin’s Mine just two miles from Lore City loaded train cars with coal mined there to take to the big cities, where much of it would be used in steel mills. However, one day something happened. The mine ran out of its vein of coal.
Two years earlier, Madison and Alexander Robins furnished financing for the opening of a 97-foot shaft that led to a vein of coal 5′ high. As the men worked the shaft, that vein kept getting smaller and smaller until it disappeared into a wall of stone called a “horseback.”
At that time the Robins brothers thought about abandoning the project but they had thousands of dollars invested. Up stepped Joe King, a local colored man who worked in the mine. He proposed that they blast through the horseback, without having any idea of its thickness, to see what was on the other side.
Joe and a few friends took on that project and did indeed blast through the stone wall and find another vein of coal. This vein was even larger than the first one at 14′ high!
Imagine the excitement of the Robins brothers when they were shown this new discovery. Why they were so happy, they changed the name of the mine from Robin’s Mine to King’s Mine in honor of Joe King. A town near the mine was named Kingston. Joe became a bit of a celebrity in the coal mining town for a while.
During their heyday, King’s Mine had as many as thirty trains a day stop to pick up coal to take to places like Akron or Cleveland. At the tipple, they would drop 35-40 tons of coal into each car plus 14 tons into the tender of the steam locomotive. Now, that’s a lot of coal.
Workers in the mine were a diverse group but most were uneducated in 1895. There were around 350 Hungarians, Slavs, Polish, and Negroes who found this a place where they could at least feed their families and have a roof over their head.
Housing was provided for the workers by the company. In those early days, the miners earned about $15 every two weeks and were paid in cash. Their rent was $12 a month, which they paid at the company store. Not much left for anything else. A mule was worth more to the company than a miner.
That old song “I owe my soul to the company store” was certainly true in King’s Mine and other towns in Guernsey County at that time. You must realize that in the summer there was no work at the mine because not as many needed coal in the summer. Then the miners had to put their rent and any food purchases on the tab at the company store to have part of their pay taken each payday in the future to help pay this debt.
Occupants of this little town would exchange milk, butter, eggs, and sometimes meat. If they needed sugar, flour, coffee, or supplies to work in the mine, they had to purchase those at the company store. Miners were never given equipment to work with. They had to purchase their own picks, shovels, carbine hats, and even dynamite. Life was not easy for these miners.
It was common practice for the miners to put a couple of lumps of coal in their dinner pail all year long either from the mine or on their walk home along the tracks. That way they could heat their house at no cost. The children most likely would also pick up a few lumps on their way home.
While the company had electricity in their company store and even at the coal mine to move the coal to the tipple, miners had no electricity in their homes. There was no running water and always outdoor toilets.
In 1908, a fire destroyed the tipple, all the buildings, and machinery. For seven years, this mine did not operate and became filled with water. At that time, it was leased to Akron Coal Company and the mine was rebuilt. From 1916 to 1936, the mine continued in full operation until all the coal was mined out.
A bronze statue created by Alan Cottrill can be found at the old Byesville depot. In the early 1900s, Byesville was the coalmining capital of Ohio. It honors all those miners who worked in the dangerous underground mines with very little pay or benefits. Part of the plaque on that statue reads:
May our miners of those early days never be forgotten for all their dangerous work underground with little pay and no benefits.