An 1872 description of the Brookside Colliery above Tower City

On January 12, 1872, a reporter for the Lykens Register published his research into the work being done in the mines of Williams Valley, at the southwestern border of the Coal Region.

Mr. W. D. H. Mason traveled to each of the anthracite mines on Big Lick Mountain and investigated how they were managed, who was running them, and the machinery that ensured production continued. His voluminous notes provide excellent insights into the mining trade in the region in the early 1870s.

After describing the mines at Wiconisco, Big Lick, and Williamstown, Mason crossed the Schuylkill County line and visited the Brookside Colliery above Tower City. His travels to Savage, Brother, & Kaufman’s colliery and the subsequent report he filed with the Register provide us with one of the earliest descriptions of the growing village of Tower City and the extensive mining operations underway on the mountain above town.

This excerpt from Mason’s “1871 Mining Notes” reveals, in incredible detail, the scale of the operations and technical machinery being utilized:

Brookside Colliery

This colliery is located about two and a half miles east of the Williamstown Colliery, in Big Lick Mountain, working the Lykens Valley vein from a slope 150 yards in depth, which was commenced about three years ago by the present operators, Messrs. Savage, Brother & Kaufman. But a small amount of coal was shipped until last spring, owing to inability to reach solid coal and other adverse circumstances, not the least of which was the heavy tolls of the Reading Railroad, by which this coal is shipped, incident to the long suspension, which caused a heavy loss.

Map Brookside
Modern map showing location of Brookside Colliery (marked with blue pin)

Perseverance and well-directed effort, however, at last succeeded in developing a vast body of the black diamonds, and for the last three months of the year the shipments averaged 6,000 tons, and would have been much greater had it not been for scarcity of cars.

The facilities of this colliery, with its equipment and present workings are as follows:

The tract extends a distance of about two miles, adjoining the Summit Branch Company on the west and the Tower Colliery on the east. The slope is near the centre. The breaker, having a capacity of 150 cars a day, is built of heavy hewn supporting timbers on the general plan of the old Short Mountain breaker, with late improvements.

Breaker engine, 50 horse power, new – Allison & Bannan, builders;

Slope engines, two 60 horse power, Carter & Allen, builders;

Fan engine, 15 horse power;

10 feet fan, four feet exhaust, also Sturtevant blower for blacksmiths’ fires, by which the forges are worked, run by fan engine;

Eight boilers, in nests of two supplied by [unintelligible] pumping engine.

Capacity of slope, from 300 to 350 single slope cars per day; two Allison & Bannan steam pumps in slope, 6-inch plunger by 3 feet stroke; number of slope cars, 45 in good condition; pitch of slope, 33 degrees, with exception of about 70 feet at mouth;

Average thickness of vein, 8 feet; coal good. Gangways running east and west; average pitch of vein in west gangway, about 20 degrees; range of life, in consequence of saddle and turn in gangways, estimated at 600 yards to surface. East gangway, average thickness of vein, 12 feet; coal first-rate; lift about 170 yards.

West side being worked at present by one main lower level or gangway, with plane to a counter, working two gangways, running east and west; also two new gangways higher up the pitch, working on a counter chute. Length of west gangway, 824 yards; plane, west, 180 yards – east 90 yards. East gangway, 595 yards

Timber and good water abound on the land of this Company, and the prospect looks bright for a heavy business the present year. It is expected  to ship from 9,000 to 10,000 tons of coal monthly. The shipment last year was 44,349.04 gross tons.

The lessees and operators are Col. E.G. Savage of this place, James Savage and Benjamin Kaufman of Tremont. Office of the Company in Tremont.


About the time of the opening of this mine the plot of what is now the thriving town of Tower City was laid into lots. The country was at that time for miles almost a wilderness, but the opening of Brookside and Tower collieries gave it an impetus from which has sprung up within the last two years quite a populous settlement. The direction of the Pottsville turnpike was so changed as to open a broad, straight avenue through the centre of the town, upon which the business houses and principal dwellings are located. Two new brick schoolhouses have recently been built, a frame church is now going up, and from its close proximity to two prosperous coal operations, with convenient railroad facilities, there seems to be no obstacle in the way of Tower “City” becoming a city in fact, and that before many years.

A later view of Tower City from the Brookside Colliery

The Brookside Colliery became the property of the Philadelphia and Reading Coal and Iron Company in 1873 and that company operated the Brookside Colliery until its closure in 1938.

Featured Image: The old Brookside Breaker in the late 19th century. This breaker is the one described in this article, with several new additions added in the 1870s and early 1880s.

In a previous post, we’ve discussed a massive fire that destroyed this colliery in 1869. 

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