A coal town is born – Williamstown, Pennsylvania in 1864

This excerpt comes from the 1864 report of the Bear Valley Coal Company, a subsidiary of the Summit Branch Railroad Company.  This report marks the work on the “Williamstown Colliery,” and the building of the first streets and homes in the town. While many farms already existed in the area now known as Williamstown, no streets or blocks had been laid out prior to this point.

North Mountain, September 24, 1864 

Wm. B. Fowle, Jr., Esq.,Treasurer, Boston, Mass.:

Dear Sir… 


The buildings erected and in process of erection are as follows: 

1st A Breaker – 101 feet front, 90 feet high… Capacity to prepare one thousand tons per day. It is now erecting upon the grounds, and will be fully ready for use before the completion of the tunnel.   

2nd A building, accommodating the saw-mill, blacksmith’s shop, and carpenter’s shop, 174 feet in length by 30 feet in width, suitably divided and arranged for the accommodation of the several departments. Over a portion of the building is an engine of 24 horsepower… The engine runs the saw-mill, the shingle and late-mill, the screw-cutting machine, and, in addition, runs the fan which ventilates the tunnel. 

3rd Miners’ Houses – Thirty houses for miners, all of which are now in a greater or less state of forwardness, viz: 

4 houses occupied 

4 houses now plastering 

6 houses ready for lathing 

8 houses framed and in process of erection 

8 houses [with] mason-work nearly completed; lumber all ready.
 =30 houses  

These houses are in blocks, thirteen of which are 28 feet square and two stories high, and are intended for two families each. The remaining block, calculated for four families or to be used as a boarding house, is 56 feet by 32 feet. 

There are four other houses, which were upon the property when purchased, available for use as miners’ houses. 

4th Superintendent’s House and Office – A large two story house, with barn and other out-buildings. On the property when purchased.


One of the first movements of the Company was to purchase a saw-mill, with which to cut and prepare its own lumber. Much money has been saved by thus doing. With the exception of a few sticks of unusual dimensions, required for the breaker, the entire supply has been obtained from our own lands. 

There has been cut from the property to the present day, 301,511 feet; and there has been hewn 11,000 feet. The shingle mill has cut 38,592 shingles and all the lathes equipped.


A brickyard has been recently established, and the burning of the first kiln of 68,000 bricks has just been completed, made from clay taken from the property. The cost of brick, purchased at the nearest point and transported to the ground, would not be less than $17 per thousand, while the cost of those made by the Company will not exceed $7.25 per thousand, including the cost of building the yard. The next kiln will not cost much over $4 per thousand. 

With the exception of about $7,000, required to pay for breaker machinery, and wheels and axles for cars, all the machinery and material necessary to complete the work is paid for. The only other remaining item of expense is labor. I estimate the following amounts as necessary to complete the colliery:

Breaker machinery……………………….. $6,000

Wheels and axles…………………………. $1,000

Labor on breaker………………………….. $2,600

Labor on tunnel………………………………$7,000

Other labor………………………………….. $5,000

Contingencies……………………………….. $3,000 

Total……………………………………… $24,600.00  

$24,600 will, in my opinion, rather exceed than fall short of the amount required. I can assure you that the whole operation has been, thus far, built with a view to solidity and economy, and convenience in mining. In these respects the colliery cannot be surpassed. I have no doubt that we shall be prepared to send coal to market early in the spring of 1865. 

The plentifulness of work, or the scarcity of labor, or both, has much impeded and delayed the work; but I have now a good class of men in the employ of the Company, and anticipate much less trouble in the future. 

Yours, respectfully, Z.P. Boyer 


The report comes from the collections of the Hagley Museum and Library in Wilmington, DE.

My first post! If you have any requests for information or want to know more, comment below or contact me.

Photo at Top: The region that would later be known as Williamstown and Williams Township  as it looked in 1862, Pennsylvania State Archives

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