An important moment in Coal Region history took place in a Philadelphia coffee house in 1831

A crucial moment in the history of the southern Coal Region took place in April 1831 at the Merchants’ Coffee House in Philadelphia. At an auction that took place on April 5, 1831, a sizable tract of coal land in northern Dauphin County sold to businessmen who opened the Wiconisco Coal Company. This company played a crucial role in opening up the anthracite coal trade in Williams Valley and led to the founding of two towns: Wiconisco and Lykens.

City Tavern - Philadelphia
The Merchants’ Coffee House in Philadelphia is where the auction that set off the Williams Valley mining bonanza took place on April 5, 1831. 

Here’s the original advertisement as it appeared in The National Gazette of Philadelphia:

Lykens Coal Land Ad

Valuable Coal Lands

On Tuesday evening, April 5 [1831], at half past 7 o’clock, will be sold, at the Merchants’ Coffee House,

FIVE HUNDRED ACRES of valuable Coal Lands, being part of a large undivided tract, situated on the Broad Mountain, directly opposite those of Thomas P. Cope on the Short Mountain; between which , the Williams Valley lays, being about half a mile wide.

Up this valley and nearest the Broad Mountain, is the location for the Lykens Valley Railway, lately chartered and now about progressing.

The above, supposed to be the nearest anthracite coal lands to Harrisburg, are tolerably well timbered, and finely watered by streams which pass along beautiful ravines that empty into that made by the Rattling Creek. This last ravine bound the above tract.

They are in a neighborhood of a rich and fertile country, abounding with produce of every description, which must give great advantages to mining, owing to the cheapness and profusion of the necessaries and comforts of life. Conditions of sale and further particulars may be obtained on application to

T.B. FREEMAN & SON, Auctioneers

Though the sum paid to purchase these lands remains unknown at this time, a group of Philadelphia investors led by banker Simon Gratz purchased the land and developed it before the company renamed itself as the Lykens Valley Coal Company later in the 1830s. This purchase set in motion more than 100 years of intense mining activity in northern Dauphin County.

Lykens 1862
An 1862 illustration showing mining operations on the lands sold in 1831 to the Wiconisco Coal Coal Company. This illustration was made 31 years after the sale took place. 

Featured Image: The Merchants’ Coffee House were the sale of valuable Lykens coal lands took place in 1831.

Read an 1833 account of what the region looked like in the years after this sale took place.


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