Monday, September 22, 2008


The Explosion

This is the story of Schuylkill County’s worst mining accident up to 1892. It is testimony to the grave danger that our miners faced on a daily basis when working in the mines. This accident happened on July 23, 1892.





Men to the number of fifteen perished on Saturday by reason of an explosion of gas in the York farm colliery, on the western outskirts of Pottsville. Nine of the men were killed outright. Seven were taken out of the mine alive, but horribly mutilated and burned, and six of them died before Sunday morning. The seventh man still lives, but there is little hope for recovery. His name is George Stock. He is 24 years old and married, but three weeks ago. His home is in Yorkville.

William Jones, 17 years, door boy, son of Richard Jones Minersville.

William Weyman 31 years, married wife and three small children. His home was at Minersville. He was the son of George Weyman of Sheafer’s Hill. The dead man at one time resided at Girardville.

Thomas Jones, 35 years, married, wife and four children. Lived on New Castle Street Minersville, and up to within about two years ago resided at Mt. Carmel.

Harry Madara, 31 years, lived at Mt. Hope, and leaves a wife and five children. His agony ended at 8 o’clock Saturday night.

The disaster is the most appalling that has ever occurred in the Schuylkill region. The cause is surrounded by mystery and the only chance of clearing it up lies in the recovery of George Stock. He is the only surviving man who worked in the section of the mine where the explosion occurred and his condition is too critical to allow any investigation at present.
William Leckie, the inside foreman of the mine say that all the men on the first level of the colliery, where the explosion occurred used locked safety lamps. The men in the second lift used the same kind of lamps. A boy was kept on guard in tunnel No. 1 to prevent any one entering with a naked lamp. With all these precautions Mr. Leckie cannot understand how the explosion occurred, unless a safety amp was dropped and the gauze was so injured it allowed the flame to come in contact with the gas and ignited it.
The explosion took place on the first level, a depth of 1,025 feet down the slope. The vein on the lift are cut by a tunnel running north and south and fifteen hundred feet from the opening of the tunnel, southwardly, is the Salem vein, in which the victims worked. Fourteen men working for contractor Joseph Dolan in the face of the tunnel, 1,500 feet south of the death scene narrowly escaped the fate of the unfortunates. Some of them were knocked off their feet by the shock of the explosion, but none were injured. In making a dash to escape the deadly after damp they had a thrilling experience. They were led by Foreman George Tierney. They made a dash for the slope. As they approached the scene of the disaster they met a barrier. The mine had been closed by the explosion. The men were already suffering from foul air on account of the compressed air connections being broken. The men were apparently cut off by the gangway of the Salem vein coming in. The timbers had been blown out and the top coal had fallen. After a scramble over the heap of debris a hole large enough to admit passage of a man’s body was found at the top of the fall. This means of egress saved them. After reaching the surface the men vomited for some time. Some of them were in critical condition for several hours.
Most of the bodies recovered were literally roasted and were unrecognizable. One body was headless and the entrails of young Jones were missing. Kries’s body was bootless and nearly all the men were naked. Those who were carried out of the mine alive suffered terrible agony.
The body of the fire boss, John Harrlson, was found at 8’coclok on Sunday evening. It was under tons of debris and was a shapeless mass. It was the eight body recovered. Up to the late hour last night Honickers body had been recovered.
Honicker and Thomas Llewellyn worked breast No.1 in the Salem vein, on the second level. The breast is immediately below the place were the other men lost their lives and it is believed that the gas was ignited in No.1. Honicker and Llewellyn fired a blast in the face of their breast at 9:25 a.m. A heavy out burst of gas followed the firing of the shot. Llewellyn at once left the breast to inform fire Boss John Gibbons, just as the latter found Gibbons, which was about five minutes after the shot was fired, the explosion took place.
The explosion was as destructive in the second level as it was in the first. The pillars were started in the second level and the breast were filled. Sunday miners reached the heading into which Honicker went when Llewellyn left him, but he could not be found. He is supposed to be buried under the coal.
Two of the victims, the Allotts, father and son, were the sole support of the mother and eight children. They moved from Mahanoy City to Pottsville three weeks ago. The family suffered from the flood at the former place and is in needy circumstances.
The funeral of two of the victims Curran and Lauders, took place today, the remained were interred in No. 2 and No. 3 cemeteries, Pottsville.
Miners have always regarded York Farm colliery as a “fiery hole”. The explosions have been numerous. On August 8, 1891, fifteen men were burned there, but only one died. A miner named Harry Parry, of Minersville, was fatally burned there a few weeks ago.

Removing the Bodies At York Farm

This part is taken from my book “Death In the Mines”, History Press.

Explosion at York Farm
Pottsville, Schuylkill County
July 23, 1890.

Situated on the borough line of Pottsville is the York Farm colliery. This colliery has been in operation on and off since the 1850’s. In 1887 the land was purchased by the Lehigh Valley Coal Company and a new breaker and operations were started. The old slope was reopened after being idle for over thirty years. The water was pumped out and the slope was sunk another three hundred feet, with gangways driven north and south along the Salem Vein.
On July 23rd only two breasts were being worked on this level. The ventilation was good in this section. As a matter of fact the miners complained about the large fast, volume of air that circulated in the section. It was so strong it caused the coal dust to be blown in the eyes of the miners. The air was circulated by two large fans 21 feet in diameter. Although it was well known that in this mine large volumes of gas were suddenly discharged from the vein of coal. Even the large volume of air circulating could not prevent a highly explosive atmosphere. On this day two miners, William Lewellyn and Chris Honicker, were working in the number one breast. Both miners were experienced in working in gaseous mines. They were equipped with locked safety lamps and used only dynamite and electric batteries to fire their shots. They both knew if an outburst of gas occurred, they were to sound an alarm and notify the nearest inside foreman.
The explosion was one of the strongest ever witnessed in an anthracite mine. Samuel Gay, the eight district mine inspector’s report would show carelessness on the part of the miners involved. Following are exerts from his report of the accident.
A short time before the explosion, Lewellyn and Honicker had fired a shot, and immediately after Lewellyn discovered a large volume of gas was being given off, charging the return current to an explosive point. He told Honicker that such was the case, telling him to stay in the intake heading, whilst he would go an notify some of the officials. In a few minutes Lewellyn found a fire boss who had charge of that section of the mine, and they at once began to retrace their steps back to Lewellyn’s working place, but just as they started back, an explosion occurred with such fearful results as I hope I shall never witness again, or have occasion to make record of. As a natural result, batteries, timbers and brattices were blown out, and ventilation cut off, and the workings in the Salem vein were filled with explosive gas. However, ventilation was soon reestablished, and every effort made to rescue the bodies by the willing hands of the brave hearted men of the colliery. A number of workmen from some of the neighboring mines displayed energy, skill and courage in their efforts to recover the bodies of the entombed men, and are worthy of the name of heroes. The bosses, and a number of workmen from Beechwood colliery deserve special mention, because they were under no obligation in any way to render any assistance, but willingly came and offered their services, without any expectation of being remunerated for their labor or the risk to their lives.
After recovering the bodies, we directed our attention to the question which would naturally be asked; How and where did the explosion take place? In our examination of the airway, and at a point about forty feet below the second lift gangway, three men were engaged in timbering and enlarging the main airway or return. Our first objective was to examiner the part of the opening where the men were timbering. Here we found timbers blown in opposite directions; those towards the first lift having been blown up the pitch, and those below, down the pitch.
By following through all the part of the mine affected by the explosion it was found that the same state of affairs existed. That part of the workings in the second lift or bottom lift were George Stock was found, received the force of the explosion on the north side, crushing the north side of a car and toppling it over toward the south side on top of Stock. In fact, everything indicated that the explosion originated at the point in the airway where the three men were working.
There is no question in my mind whatever as to the point where the gas was ignited. The manner in which it was fired will never be known with any degree of certainty. The men who were working the airway were not there when the explosion occurred, but were found about eighty feet out from the mouth of an air hole on the main gangway. It was my opinion at the time, and I am still convinced that the three men either had detected the air current charged with gas, or Elise they had been notified by John Harrison the fire boss. However, it was quite evident that in the excitement one of the unfortunates ran away and left his safety lamp behind, and we are of the opinion that the fire boss, on learning of the fact, was on his way to make an effort to recover the lamp, and just as he got to the mouth of the air hole, the explosion occurred, killing him. The safety lamps were found alongside of the victims, excepting the one that belonged to Wheyman, one of the men who was employed in the airway. Part of this lamp was afterwards found in the airway, when the debris was being cleaned up.
Mr. Gay determined that the fifteen men killed in this accident could have been saved if the men had followed the instructions, that required them to throw open the battery doors between the intake and the return airways. It was more than probable that the volume of fresh air would have been largely increased, while the volume of gas that was swept along by the air current would have been materially diminished.



02/19/1847 Spencer Pottsville PA 7 Coal Explosion
01/15/1870 Potts Locustdale PA 5 Coal Explosion
08/10/1870 Heins & Glassmire Middleport PA 9 Coal Cage fall (shaft)
08/29/1870 Preston No. 3 Girardville PA 7 Coal Cage fall (shaft
10/02/1871 Otto Red Ash Branch Dale PA 5 Coal Explosion
05/09/1877 Wadesville Wadesville PA 7 Coal Explosion
05/06/1879 Audenried Audenried PA 6 Coal Explosion
11/02/1879 Mill Creek Mill Creek PA 5 Coal Explosion
05/24/1882 Kohinoor Shenandoah PA 5 Coal Explosion
04/06/1885 Cuyler Raven Run PA 10 Coal Roof fall
04/27/1887 Tunnel Ashland PA 5 Coal Suffocated by gas
10/01/1887 Bast Ashland PA 5 Coal Suffocated by gas
05/09/1889 Kaska William Middleport PA 10 Coal Mine car fell on men in cage
04/20/1892 Lytle Minersville PA 10 Coal Inrush of water
07/23/1892 York Farm Pottsville PA 15 Coal Explosion
02/18/1895 West Bear Ridge Mahoney Plane PA 5 Coal Explosion
01/13/1897 Wadesville Wadesville PA 5 Coal Crosshed fell/shaft
05/26/1898 Kaska Williams Middleport PA 6 Coal Inrush of water
11/09/1900 Buck Mountain Mahanoy City PA 7 Coal Explosion
05/05/1904 Locust Gap Locust Gap PA 5 Coal Fire
02/18/1905 Lytle Minerville PA 5 Coal Haulage
07/15/1908 Williamstown Williamstown PA 6 Coal Explosion
08/02/1913 East Brookside Tower City PA 20 Coal Explosion
05/06/1926 Randolph Colliery Port Carbon PA 5 Coal Explosion
01/21/1935 Gilberton Gilberton PA 13 Coal Explosion
04/27/1938 No. 1 Slope Pottsville PA 8 Coal Explosion
09/24/1943 Primrose Colliery Minersville PA 14 Coal Explosion
03/01/1977 Porter Tunnel Tower City PA 9 Coal Inundation


Martha said...

Would love to find the date for this accident and any other iformation on it:
From book:
J.H. Beers & Co. pub. 1907.
Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania; genealogy--family history--biography; containing historical sketches of old families and of representative and prominent citizens, past and present (Volume 1):
“David McKelvey, father of Mrs. Agnes (McKelvey) Gray, emigrated to this country from Scotland about 1820, and the family were early residents at Pottsville. He was engaged on work in the early development of the coal fields there, and was the first miner to meet his death in the gate vein, being killed by a falling timber under the site of the present courthouse.

Martha said...

Would love to know the date this accident happened and any other information. Daughter Agnes was born 1839 and David was on Pottsville census in 1840. Widow was remarried by 1850 and no David on 1850 census, so must have occured between 1840 and 1850.
From book:
J.H. Beers & Co. pub. 1907.
Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania; genealogy--family history--biography; containing historical sketches of old families and of representative and prominent citizens, past and present (Volume 1):
“David McKelvey, father of Mrs. Agnes (McKelvey) Gray, emigrated to this country from Scotland about 1820, and the family were early residents at Pottsville. He was engaged on work in the early development of the coal fields there, and was the first miner to meet his death in the gate vein, being killed by a falling timber under the site of the present courthouse.