Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Coal Mining

W._Va._coal_mine_1908

Early coal mine (from West Virginia), Public Domain via Wikipedia

My mom always used to talk about how Youngstown was “riddled” with coal mines underneath the city and that people did not know where all of them were. I never saw a mine entrance, and this actually wasn’t part of life growing up. “Riddled” may have been exaggerated, at least in parts of the city, but the mines are a continuing reality the city and surrounding area must deal with.

In the summer of 1977, after the heavy snows of the previous winter, a series of mine collapses occurred. One home owner discovered that the floor of her two car garage at 535 Hylda Avenue in Fosterville was gone. Another mine shaft collapsed in a backyard, creating a huge hole. A third collapsed under the weight of an in-ground swimming pool. All these were over 100 years old, and virtually nothing was known about them or the location of other mines.

The presence of high quality coal as well as iron ore is one of the reasons for why Youngstown became an early site of iron and later steel manufacturing. Significant seams of high quality coal were mined in the area of Mineral Ridge, the Brier Hill area, above Lake Glacier, in the Kirkmere area, and significantly in the Fosterville area, as well as other areas in and around Youngstown. In fact, Fosterville gets its name from Colonel Foster and the Foster Coal Company which sank a number of mines on the South Side. The coal was known as “block” coal which could be used as is in iron smelting operations. It is also known as Sharon coal. There is an estimate that nearly a million tons of coal were mined on the South Side, a quarter of that from the Foster mines. Before Volney Rogers helped form Mill Creek Park, there was the Mill Creek Iron Furnace, near Pioneer Pavilion. The furnace dates back to the 1820’s and was excavated by anthropology professor Dr John White in 2003.

After the 1977 mine collapses, another Youngstown State professor, Ann Harris, in the geology department, undertook the mapping of mines around Youngstown, eastern Ohio, and western Pennsylvania. In Mahoning County alone, she found over 270 mine sites, which she has catalogued. Information for some sites includes a Google map pinpointing the site. One of the Foster shafts, was filled in part by two old Fords! Many were filled in with various forms of refuse. This information is available at the Abandoned Coal Mines website. A 2011 Vindicator article indicated that Harris, now an emeritus professor, was working with a university archivist to preserve two rooms of records including mine inspection reports and county histories.

All of this is a priceless contribution not only to the Valley’s past but also its future. It both tells the nearly lost story of Youngstown’s coal industry, and helps locate abandoned mines, which could save homeowners and builders much grief. It is important as well to contemporary efforts in recovery oil and natural gas from shale deposits in the same areas many of these mines were located. Long before Youngstown was the Steel Valley, it was the Coal Valley and it was coal which contributed to the early growth of the Valley, and still impacts its geology.

[Note: Apologies for the links which no longer work in this article, written in 2017. Anne Harris’s work was invaluable and I hope someone has continued it.]

13 thoughts on “Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Coal Mining

  1. In Tarentum, PA (20 miles NE of Pittsburgh) we have Tour-Ed Mine. The underground tour of a former working mine is really interesting, in that each stop shows how coal was mined over the years, from picks to modern machines. It sure makes me glad I wasn;t a coal miner, especially in the 1800s. We used to regularly take out-of-town visitors there.

    Unlike the coal mines in Youngstown, the mine has a detailed map of all its many tunnels.

  2. I was one of the people who helped get the data YSU Professor Ann Harris had on the internet. She ius a wealth of knowledge on the subject of abandoned mines in the area and I’m glad I had the opportunity to work with and learn from her.

    • Greg, thanks for your work on this important project. Can you tell me if she is still actively pursuing this work? Several people have commented on her extensive knowledge and she sounds like an amazing person.

  3. Pingback: Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Your Favorites of 2017 | Bob on Books

  4. Bob- ever walk the trail along lower Calvary Run towards Glacier? There’s a creek that comes out of the hill with orange water. Always wondered about it until we took a tour of a coal mine and the same Orange water was there. The tour guide said it’s a sign of coal. So between Lakeview and Glacier there are probably coal mines or undisturbed coal.
    Likewise, there’s a small seam of coal at Camp Stambaugh. Camp Ranger in the 1930-40’s used to sell the coal for troops to use when camping at Stambaugh.

    • Bob, it has been a long time, but I do remember the creek and the orange water. Didn’t know the connection to coal, nor about Camp Stambaugh. Thanks for passing this along!

  5. I was a news photographer at WKBN when the garage floor on Hylda collapsed. All of the local news media camped out in the backyard for the next week or so, anticipating the hole growing. Ann Harris was amazing. I remember covering all of the mine shafts appearing.

  6. There were 3 mine openings in Pine Hollow Park that I recall. 2 were in the North and one facing West in the Ball Park. There was also a road that ran along the Pine Hollow Creek down to the Steel Mills. There were also several staircases made of cut stone leading from the tops of the hills down to the Ball Field and creek road. Considering this I think Pine Hollow Park was initially a staging area for the mines and stairways for the workers. Would be great if anyone has or could post pictures of early mines and workers in Pine Hollow Park probably from the late 1980’s to about the early and middle 1940’s. I was born in 1948 and remember these things as a child growing and playing in the Park.

  7. I took a geology class from Professor Harris to meet the non lab science requirement for a B.A. in the later 1960’s. I still have an interest in watching the geology of the landscape as I travel. She was a great professor.

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