“A first-class breaker” – Photographs of Williamstown Colliery in the 1860s

In August 1865, the treasurer of the Summit Branch Railroad Company submitted a report to the executives of the Boston-based organization. William B. Fowle’s report detailed the construction of the Williamstown Colliery in northern Dauphin County, on the southwestern border of Pennsylvania’s anthracite coal fields.

Williamstown Tunnel
Williamstown Tunnel in the late 1860s. This is where coal was mined from the Williamstown Colliery in the 1860s. (Williamstown Historical Society)

Among the subjects he discussed was the company’s new coal breaker, a massive structure designed to separate, sort, and clean coal in preparation for its shipment to markets in Harrisburg, Baltimore, and Washington. He described this towering behemoth that remained in the last stages of construction:

A breaker. – 101 feet front, 90 feet 9 inches high

2 pair 6-feet rollers, 32 inch cylinder; 6 screens, 5-feet cylinder, with jackets 7 feet, 2 of them 22-feet in length, 2 18-feet in length, and 2 14-feet in length

One engine, 25 horse-power, 12-inch cylinder, with 2 boilers, 34-inches in diameter, and 30 feet in length

All other appurtenances complete.

Capacity to prepare one thousand tons per day.  

Fowle also remarked on how the breaker would be utilized once production began in a section of the report focused on the economical way in which coal would be mined from the company’s colliery.

From the breast above, the coal is detached, and drops to the gangways at the level of the tunnel; is there loaded into mine cars and transported by mules down the tunnel, the grade gradually descending, until it reaches the top of the breaker which stands upon a level with the mouth of the tunnel; it is then passed downward through the breaker, being crushed and prepared in the process, runs immediately from the foot of the breaker into railroad cars, and is transported by rail, the grade constantly descending over the Company’s road, a distance of 21 1/2 miles to Millersburg, where it may be shipped to its destination, either by canal or rail.

One year later, the Williamstown Colliery proved to be a massive success. It’s breaker was processing more coal through its breaker than almost every other colliery in Pennsylvania. Superintendent Joseph Anthony called the breaker “a substantial structure” and a “first-class breaker.” 

It’s this facility that photograher Isaac Kunkel captured in a series of photographs taken in the late 1860s. The gentleman seen in the photographs may in fact be Superintendent Anthony.

Williamstown Breaker 2Williamstown Breaker 1Williamstown Breaker 3

This first breaker at Williamstown Colliery processed coal for more than a decade before it was replaced by a more modern structure. It was eventually torn down and no remnant of the building completed in September 1865 remains today.

Featured Image: Williamstown Colliery in the late 1860s (Williamstown Historical Society)

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2 thoughts on ““A first-class breaker” – Photographs of Williamstown Colliery in the 1860s

  1. It appears to me there’s an old railroad bed in Joliet that runs behind Derp’s Service Center and the firehouse and becomes Archery Club Road after it crosses Main Street. Do you know anything about this and if that’s accurate?


    1. Yep. That’s the Reading Railroad spur that went to the Brookside collieries above Tower City and was eventually extended to Lykens. – Jake


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