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Illinois Coal & Coal Mining
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Gillespie Water Tower
Gillespie, Illinois - Macoupin County Illinois, - State of Illinois - USA

Gillespie's Coal History
 

1927
 
This article appeared in the following newspapapers :
1. The DeKalb Daily Chronicle, DeKalb, Illinois, Volume 27, Number 141, Tuesday, May 24, 1927, Page 9, "REDISCOVERING ILLINOIS"
2. The True Republican, Sycamore, DeKalb County, Illinois, Volume 70 Number 21, Wednesday, 25 May 25, 1927, Page 6, "WHERE C. & N.-W. COAL IS MINED"
By LESTER B. COLBY
Illinois Chamber of Commerce
      Eighty per cent of all fuel burned to keep the thousands of miles of the great Chicago & North Western railway system in operation is Illinois coal. More, it is all mined in the vicinity of one Illinois town.
 
      That town is Gillespie, in Macoupin county. It supplies this one railroad with about 3,500,000 tons of coal each year. The company since 1903 has operated a coal road, from " Gillespie via Peoria to Nelson, Ill., where it connects with the main system.
 
      This branch, over 105 miles of its trackage, has never handled any passenger traffic. Until this spring it never hauled any general freight. It was built and operated exclusively to fuel the mother road. Twenty-six engines do nothing but haul coal trains from Gillespie to the main system of the North Western.
 
      The railroad operates four mines in the vicinity of Gillespie. When they are going full blast they employ 3,600 men. Two of the mines were opened in 1903, the third in 1905 and the fourth in 1917. The mines have a combined capacity of approximately 21,000 tons of coal in an eight-hour day. The record for one mine in eight hours is 7,177 tons, made on Feb. 25 of this year. Gillespie is the largest city in Macoupin county and is about midway between Springfield and St. Louis. It has a population of 6,400. Benld and Wilson, almost adjoining Gillespie, have about 3,300 and 2,500 inhabitants respectively. Something like 20,000 persons live within ten miles. There are six coal mines within a radius of three miles.
 
      The chief business of this group of towns is coal. The four mines supplying coal to the North Western railroad are operated by a subsidiary, the Superior Coal Co. Its payroll in 1926 was $6,256,946. Combined payrolls of Gillespie totaled more than $7,000,000.
* * *
      S. P. Preston, editor of the Gillespie News, sold me on the idea of visiting Gillespie to get this story. He is the only country editor I ever knew to drive a Lincoln car. When I worked on a country weekly we had a horse and buggy. He says there are more Lincolns in Gillespie than in any city of its size in the state.
 
      "Pres" told me if I'd come to Gillespie he'd spread the town out in the sun, let me look at it, and get surprised. I was surprised. Gillespie is unique as a coal mining center. It's unique in that it seldom gets "in the papers."
 
      You don't read of mine disasters in Gillespie, murders, forays by gunmen, bootleg wars or any wildcat strikes. There hasn't been a strike in the Gillespie district in ten years. The men are out now and the mines are closed, but that is because all union mines' are closed throughout Illinois. The railroad has more than 1,000,000 tons of coal above ground for just such an emergency.
 
      Scotch miners and their descendants prevail in and around Gillespie though there is a scattering of other people. Out of a population of 6,400 there are nearly 1,100 students in the common schools, 408 in the high school and 280 in the parochial school. No race suicide is evident.
 
      In these stories I have seldom talked about schools or churches or paving or other commonplace things. But in this city, built up so swiftly around, mining camps, it seems remarkable that there should be so good a high school, five good grade schools so well built and so excellently organized a parochial school. We visited the schools and found the students bright-eyed, well-dressed and clean.
 
      The three banks in Gillespie have more than $2,500,000 on deposit.
* * *
      Come with me now and we will go on a bit of an adventure. A trip down into one of these mines has been arranged. We get our miners' lamps, open flame, for there is no danger of explosion here. We do not take the trouble to put on overalls. There is little dust and the mines are clean.
 
      We go to the shaft and step onto a platform dangling from the end of a cable. Each of us takes a firm handhold. A whistle sounds and we drop, straight down, for 300 feet. It is inky except for our lamps. We come to a velvety stop and step out.
 
      Here is the central point of a series of tunnels. Each is electrically lighted. Narrow gage railroad tracks with overhead trolleys radiate. A train of open cars comes up. Clean sacks have been laid over the sides of the cars because they have been used for coal. We get in and dash away toward the outer darkness. A couple of miles away we come to the chambers which have been mostly recently worked. We learn how the electrically driven machines shear under the veins of coal, how they make vertical cuts, how the men put in the shots and shoot the coal down, how it is sorted and loaded.
 
      We learn how this mine has among its working forces more than 200 trained life-savers. We learn that twenty-four men carry first aid boxes with them during every hour that they work and have them always at hand. We find hospital equipment under ground and above ground. We are told that at times the Gillespie mines have held the state record for tons of coal mined per accident.
* * *
      This Superior Coal Co., which is acting as our host, owns 45,560 acres of coal rights. After twenty-four years of continuous operation it has mined out 8,830 acres. It has 36,730 acres yet to mine or about 250,000,000 tons of mineable coal left. Under present methods it is possible to recover only about half the coal. The rest must be left in the mine to hold the "roof" up.
 
      In the beginning these mines were sunk with view to lifting 2,000 tons of coal per day each. Today they average more than 5,000 tons daily. That gain is credited to improved methods of operation.
 
      As we go through the mine we are guided by officials of the company and officials of the union. At first thought this seems odd for the miners are out on strike. But, thinking it over, it seems to be sensible enough. The strike is not local. These men have no quarrel. They are business men. It is pretty decent all around.
 
      Perhaps it indicates why Gillespie is well-built and apparently more substantial than one might expect of a coal mining town.
* * *
      From the above you may be led to think that there is little in Gillespie other than coal and the businesses that grow upon it. There are other natural resources. Sixty oil wells are producing in a field not far distant from the city. They are not large wells but they yield steadily and the field is growing. Much formation is yet to be drilled.
 
      Besides that five natural gas wells with a potential capacity of 35,000,000 cubic feet a day have been drilled. They are capped now, waiting for some industry that can use the gas. Geologists say that the gas field, struck at 600 to 800 feet, had barely been tapped.
 
      Around Gillespie are valuable clays. Water is abundant. The town has a 75-acre reservoir, each mine has a never-failing individual source of supply held in artificial surface lakes. Even the country club, a few miles out of town, has nine holes with more trick water hazards in it than I have ever seen in the same area. It is the only golf course I know where one uses a ferry to get from the last hole to the club house.
 
      I've been invited to come here to play. I think I'll go back when the bass are ripe. They're thick in the water and the swimming is good.
 


 
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