“Operations at Williamstown” – The first coal shipments from the mines of Williamstown hit markets in 1865

When 21-year old George Washington Fenn and veteran editor Samuel B. Coles started the Upper Dauphin Register in August 1865, they were in prime position to document the beginning of  a new era for the “Upper End.” The northern section of Dauphin County was responsible for shipping massive quantities of valuable Lykens Valley anthracite to the industrializing cities along the shores of the Susquehanna River and Chesapeake Bay. Their newspaper promised to be hard-hitting, with an obvious skew towards the rapidly growing Republican Party.

George Washington Fenn in his Union Army uniform. (Pennsylvania State Archives)

At the close of the nation’s horrendous Civil War, the business in the Williams Valley grew to a fever pitch, with new towns springing up as an industrial revolution initiated. From this development, the young towns of Williamstown and Tower City grew rapidly with the opening of new mining operations on the slopes of Big Lick mountain. So in one of the newspaper’s first editions, one of the few remaining, Fenn described the new operations at Williamstown. The following stories come from the September 14, 1865 edition of the Upper Dauphin Register. 


Operations at Williamstown – 

The Bear Valley Coal Company have completed the building of their large breaker, and it will be put in operation immediately. The tunneling has so far been completed as to strike the last vein on the north dip, and the company is now commencing to take out coal.

The extension of the Lykens Valley Railroad is being rapidly pushed to completion, which will give an outlet for the Bear Valley Company’s coal, and we expect shipments shortly from their mines, which will add very heavily to the business operations of this section.

The breaker just completed has as large a capacity as any in the State, since the recent destruction of the largest at Trevorton.

Under the vigorous management of the General Superintendent, Major Joseph Anthony, the work is progressing satisfactorily, and promises to give quite an impetus to coal operations in the Upper End. Mr. Edward Noble is the master builder of the breaker, and the services of a more competent man could not have been procured…  


The Undersigned having been appointed agent for the sale of lots in the town of CLARENDON, Wiconisco Township, would announce that the town plot has been surveyed and the lots carefully laid out for sale. This town is located on a beautiful, gentle slope, facing the south, on the public road leading from the Franklin coal mines to Tremont and Pottsville, and about three miles from [Wiconisco], in the immediate vicinity of the great coal basin of Dauphin County.

The water from several fine springs supplies the town, and it is believed that a better and healthier location cannot be found by any person seeking a house.

Samuel B. Coles

The “Valuable Building Lots” advertisement alludes to the town of Clarendon being laid out about three miles east of Wiconisco. Other descriptions from the time period also say that the Big Lick colliery was about three miles from Wiconisco, and that would suggest that the town of Clarendon became the village of “Dayton” sometime in the 1860s.

Featured Image: The Williamstown Colliery breaker, ca. 1865 – Williamstown Historical Society

Documents for this post came from the Collections of the Pennsylvania State Archives, George Washington Fenn Collection, MG-333

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