“Overhauling is going on vigorously” – An 1860s photograph reveals work at coal breaker in Wiconisco

In the collection of the Williamstown Historical Society are a stack of stereographic images taken by photographer Isaac Kunkel in the years immediately following the Civil War.

As the nation recovered from that bloody conflict, coal from the newly opened anthracite mines of Williams Valley began pouring to markets across the Mid-Atlantic region. In the mountain gap above Lykens and Wiconisco, at the northern end of Dauphin County, profitable mines had fueled the Union war effort and new management sought to expand their valuable workings.

Superintendent Gilliard Dock came on the scene in 1865 and planned to modernize the workings in Bear Gap. He documented his efforts in his journal.

In the stack of images at the Historical Society remains a photographic record of Dock’s work.


This image shows the work being led by Dock to rebuild the Short Mountain Coal Company’s “breaker” on the western edge of Bear Gap. In the mining trade, the breaker is a large, cavernous building where young boys sorted valuable coal from useless rock along dangerous, noisy conveyors.

What do we notice in this photograph?

The Short Mountain Coal Company’s breaker.
An unidentified laborer working on planking on a makeshift railroad bridge.
An unidentified man sitting atop the lower end of the breaker.

When was this photograph taken? It’s possible that the diary of Gilliard Dock may provide us a clue. The photograph shows that significant work was being completed on the breaker. Here’s Dock’s entry from March 24, 1867:

This month can take the palm for dreariness. We have had a continuous stream of rain, hail, and snow descending almost incessantly. Our work, outside, is more or less delayed by it… At the colliery, I am overhauling the slope boilers; the breaker boilers are all outside, getting repaired. The breaker framing – below – is also getting a long needed overhauling. Screens are undergoing examination and a general cleaning up and overhauling is going on vigorously.

Gilliard Dock 1
Gilliard Dock worked at Wiconisco from 1865-1869. (WITF)

What else do you notice in the photograph?

Featured Image: The breaker of the Short Mountain Coal Company in Wiconisco Township (Williamstown Historical Society)

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