History of Coal in Harrison County
A Coal Mining Museum has been created to preserve the rich mining heritage of Harrison County Ohio. It can be found on the lower level of the Puskarich Public Library at 200 E. Market St. in Cadiz. Displays are many and detailed with informative signs to describe both the early day and modern mining found in Southeastern Ohio.
After the Puskarich family helped with the half-million-dollar campaign to build the new library in 1986, there was a large area on the lower level that remained empty. Since their family owned and operated the successful Cravat Coal Company, the Puskarichs spearheaded the plan for a Coal Mining Museum. Their family, along with other area coal mining families, presented items for display.
During the late 19th century, Harrison County was one of the top coal-producing counties in Ohio until its decline in the 1980s. Items and pictures from those mines plus miners’ tools are on display from various coal companies.
Walking into the museum, you will notice that the walls and ceilings are black, giving you the feeling of being in a dark coal mine.
Coal is sometimes called “buried sunshine” because it came from plants that originally absorbed energy from the sun. When coal is burned, we are using energy that was created millions of years ago. Along with oil and natural gas, coal is considered a fossil fuel since it traces its beginning to plants that were once alive. Often prints of fossils can be found in a piece of coal.
The Coal Mining Museum is a great place to learn how coal is formed, the tools used to mine it, and the heavy equipment used in strip mining. Historic photographs line the walls giving you a better understanding of mining and the size of equipment used.
One of those photos shows Ida Mae Stull, the first woman coal miner, dressed for the mines. Ida was one of 18 children and carried a lantern to the mines for her father when she was six. Ida enjoyed digging coal and mined six or seven cars a day by the age of 30. Her pay for the day was $2 but that paid the mortgage on her property and kept her off charity. Legal action then made it illegal for women to work in the mines but in one year she won her case and was back doing what she loved – digging coal. Ida lived to the age of 84.
A featured display shows an actual Watts Car loaded with coal and equipment in front of a large photo of the entrance of a deep mine. Watts Cars were made in nearby Barnesville and this car was donated by the Cravat Coal Company.
Another interesting display shows safety measures in the mine. A birdcage is displayed which was the earliest way of telling if the mine was safe for miners. If the bird died, they knew the miners had to leave as quickly as possible to escape the deadly gas in the mine. Later methods show rescue kits provided for the miners with oxygen tanks that would last up to an hour that would last up to one hour.
Of special interest were the various scrips used as payment to the coal miners. In this way, they had to buy everything from the company store. These people really did “Owe their soul to the company store.”
Everyone went to work swinging their dinner pail. If they were lucky, they might have a West Virginia ham sandwich inside. By the way, that ham is what we call bologna. Miners always left something in their dinner pail in case there would happen to be a cave-in. If they had a lucky day, on the way home they would give their dinner pail to one of the children so they could have a snack.
Pictures show some of the large machines that mined the coal on ground level. These included the GEM of Egypt (Giant Excavating Machine at Egypt Valley Mine) and the Mountaineer. In 1955, Mountaineer was the first of the super strippers to work in the coalfields around Cadiz.
A beautiful 99-seat theater shows films about the coal industry and its history. There is a video presentation produced by AEP telling of the conversion of coal to electricity. Students seeing the video realize how much happens before they can turn on their light switch at home.
A Coal Miners’ Reunion is being planned for May in conjunction with the annual Harrison Coal and Reclamation Park dinner auction. All miners past and present are invited to attend.
The Puskarich Public Library and the History of Coal Museum are open Monday through Thursday from 9 am – 8 pm and Friday from 9am – 5pm. Admission is free but donations are appreciated. Check out their website at www.thecoalmuseum.com for more information.
If you enjoy history, you are sure to enjoy all that has been accumulated at the Coal Mining Museum in Cadiz.