Central Illinois is filled with coal mine history. In fact most of the homes, fields, and area around where I live have coal mines beneath us. Recently I had the chance to tour the Christian County Coal Mine Museum in Taylorville, Illinois. Growing up in Pawnee with Peabody # 10, which at one time was the largest coal mine in the world this caught my interest.
Located at 1324 E Park Street in Taylorville, Illinois the Christian County Coal Mine hours vary, but they seem to be open most weeks, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday from 10-2. Check the Facebook page, that is where they post the weekly hours. You can also call Charles Martin the Executive Director at 217-526-4408 for details. The museum is located next door the the Secretary of State Driver’s Facility, and I toured while mom renewed her driver’s license.
The museum is filled with local history including that of Peabody # 10. A retired miner named Brian and Chuck Martin provided me with some wonderful information about the mines and equipment onsite. This is the same museum that previously had been on the corner of the square in downtown Taylorville, but Charles Martin said that through a generous donation, they were able to move into this amazing building and have much more room to display the Christian County mining history.
Mining is not a new industry. Brian told me that the oldest mines in Christian County date back to Pana which first opened in 1883. This was Pana Coal Co #1 and #2 opened in 1888!. Edinburg and Taylorville had mines opening just mere year later. There are pictures showing some of the early mining techniques. I love a picture of a man with a mule, animals were used regularly during the early years.
They are in the process of building a mine tunnel replica.
Of all the exhibits the one that stuck with me the most was of an early miner wearing a canvas hat. The hat has an open flame. In his hand he is using a hand cranked drill/auger. He is drilling a hole into the face of the coal. He will place an explosives attached to a fuse to place in the hole. A placard explains, “The hole would then be fired by lighting the fuse. The shot would loosen the coal which was then taken to the top.”
Brian said that the light on the cap was the only light the miner had and while walking through the mine he was to be cautious of the methane gas build up!
There is safety equipment and items like a cool medical kit in the museum. There is an exhibit of a Face Boss using a sounding road to test the roof of the coal. It seems like so many accidents have happened over the years. I remember stopping not long ago in Moweaqua and seeing the memorial to the Christmas Eve mine disaster. They have several articles that talk about this at the museum. One headline says, “Santa is dead.” Charles said he had to explain to his granddaughter that this was just Santa’s helper.
Jerome Roach a retired coal miner created some wonderful models of modern coal mining machinery. Brian took a few minutes explaining what each item did. The machinery is quite intricate.
Life of the Miners and the Violence of the Past
There are several things that show a bit of what life was like for the miners. There is a place where they would hang their clothes as the entered the mine. Brian said they would hang the clothes they entered wearing and put on the mine clothes then hoist them up. They would then change them out when they left.
One fascinating board is the In The Mine and Out Of Mine tags. This board was used so they could keep track of who was where.
There is a wall of the United Mine Workers Union with photos of John Lewis and other leaders. There is some history on the Mine Wars that took place between 1932-35. This was between Union miners and he wars resulted in 13 murders and 55 bombings, right here in my own backyard! This is besides the violence that occurred during strikes and such. There is a picture in Taylorville from a newspapers clipping where law enforcement officers were confiscating firearms. Charles Martin said schools closed and there were curfews and much more. There is a photo of Joseph Sigler, the only law enforcement officer of Christian County that died during the wars. He was shot in the back in the middle of the night.
Take the time to check out this history. While this covers Christian County, mining history is a Midwestern story and one that fits many places. Different types of mining has occurred throughout the US and these stories need to be told and not forgotten over the years. You may also want to visit the Coal Mining museum in Gillespie, Illinois as well!