The early days in the history of Central Pennsylvania’s Williams Valley can be difficult to research. In the largely forested wilderness of northern Dauphin County, more time was spent by residents in hewing out an existence and creating a semblance of civilization than penning descriptions of their life and work.
Luckily, numerous visitors wrote descriptions of their visits to the burgeoning coal region a little more than a dozen miles east of the Susquehanna River.
What follows is a description of Wiconisco and its newly opened coal mines published in Hazard’s Register in August 1835. It is full of rich descriptions of early anthracite mining, details what the village looked like 25 years before the outbreak of the Civil War, and makes for fascinating reading.
In my late excursion through the country, bordering on the Susquehanna River, I visited Lykens Valley, in Dauphin County, and the coal mines on Bear Creek, a branch of the Wiconisco Creek, in William’s Valley; this valley is separated from Lykens by the Short Mountain, which terminates about four miles west of the coal mines.
The location of the mines is most advantageous – about 16 miles from the river at Millersburg – the railroad from the mines is now completed, and in use – it is a single tract, with turnouts – of easy grade, well made, and substantial – the coal, as mined, is loaded into the cars from a shute, at the mouth of the drifts, taken to the landing, and transported to the western side of the river in railroad flats; the cars, which are easily drawn from the boats up a railroad on the west of the river at Mount Patrick, are then discharged into canal boats, and forwarded to Columbia and other towns on the river – the coal destined for Port Deposit, and thence shipped to Baltimore, and other seaports, are loaded at Millersburg, in arks.
The mines belonging to the Wiconisco Company are fourteen in number – (laying from 40 to 80 feet apart) these are divided or cut through by a deep ravine, through which Bear Creek passes – from the water level to the top of the mountain, on both sides, is an elevation of about 800 feet – the veins thus divided are equivalent to 28.
At present there are seven drifts from which coal is taken, four on the east, and three on the west side of the creek; 3 of these are 7 feet in thickness, 2 [are] 11 feet, and 2 [are] 5 feet. These drifts are in very fine condition, and capable of delivering 150 tons of coal or more daily; the quality of the coal is very superior and pure – entirely free of slate – of easy ignition – burns with a strong flame, and is lasting.
A gentleman who used it the last winter informed me, that the residuum was unusually small – in the use of a ton there was not more ashes (which are of a reddish brown) than would fill a half peck. It is used in grates, stoves, by blacksmiths, distillers, and lime burners.
The town of Wiconisco is very pleasantly situated. It consists of a large brick building, agent’s residence, a large tavern house, kept by Mr. Sheafer, whose table is well supplied with fresh salmon and rock, trout, and pike fish; with pheasants and venison; he keeps an excellent house in every respect – a store; 12 miner’s houses, saw mill, smith’s shops, stables, etc.
The situation of the town is quite agreeable – is in the vicinity of a dense population – the extended and fertile valley called Lykens – this town must increase greatly – the first house was built in 1830-31.
The location of the mines is in the most southern range of the coal regions – the landing on the river only 26 miles above Harrisburg, and consequently 80 miles nearer market than any other coal which is brought.