At a time when mining technology was mostly men, mules, picks and shovels, digging anthracite out of the mines was difficult. Then bringing the coal from the mines through the mountains and valleys to markets by rivers, canals and rails was almost impossible. This is the story of that amazing achievement.
The only significant anthracite deposits in the United States are found in northeastern Pennsylvania. The Pennsylvania deposits occur in 4 major fields within an area of 484 square miles. This region includes the counties of Wayne, Columbia, Dauphin, Susquehanna, Lackawanna, Carbon, Luzerne, Northumberland, and Schuylkill. The last five counties produced most of the anthracite mine since 1820, the first year that coal production records had been kept.
There are 4 anthracite fields: southern, eastern middle, western middle, and northern. The fields, in turn, are divided into 3 regions for trade purposes: the Wyoming Region, which encompasses the entire Northern Coal Field, the Lehigh Region, which encompasses the entire Eastern Middle Coal Field and the eastern tip of the Southern Coal Field, and the Schuylkill Region, which encompasses the entire Western Middle Coal Field and most of the Southern Coal Field except for its narrow extreme western part.
Anthracite was first discovered in the Wyoming Valley during the mid-1700s. Back then it had been referred to as "stone coal" because of its hardness and resistance to burn. Following the discovery, no commercial use of stone coal was made until 1769 when a blacksmith successfully burned it in his forge near Wilkes-Barre. Although desired by blacksmiths because of its high burning temperature, anthracite was not accepted for heating and power. The coal was also used by blacksmiths in the Shamokin and Mauch Chunk (Jim Thorpe) communities by blacksmiths.
The legendary 1791 discovery of anthracite under the roots of a tree fallen near Summit Hill, approximately 9 miles west of Mauch Chunk, led to the 1792 formation of the Philadelphia based Lehigh Coal Mines Company to mine stone coal from deposits on Sharp Mountain. This company acquired approximately 10,000 acres of coal lands from the State of Pennsylvania plus the right to navigate the Lehigh River, which connected to the Delaware River and Philadelphia and other eastern markets. Their earliest shipments of coal were floated downriver on wooden rafts and arks. These were designed to be dismantled and sold for their lumber after reaching port because it would be impossible to push the rafts up the rivers using muscle power. In its natural state the wild and twisting Lehigh River had not been a desirable transportation route. Arks were lost going through the rapids, smashed against the rocks lining the river's many turns, or simply grounded in inaccessible areas. During different seasons the river often flooded turning passive waters into raging torrents and at other times was too shallow in areas to permit navigation. The current of the river at all times was too swift to allow vessels a return trip upstream. These transportation shortcomings eventually led to financial hardships for the mining company. Marketing hard coal from Sharp Mountain was too costly to compete with bituminous coal shipped to Philadelphia from Virginia and even as far away as England.In 1812, a Colonel George Shoemaker appeared in Philadelphia with nine loads of anthracite for sale. He had made an arduous and expensive journey from Pottsville, carting his cargo along nearly impassable roads. Unfortunately, after his new customers tried unsuccessfully to light the anthracite in their fireplaces, they gathered into an angry mob that practically ran Shoemaker out of town, calling him a "swindler and an imposter, for attempting to impose stone on them for coal." Escaping their threats, he managed to sell a couple of loads and gave away the rest.
By the early 19th century, entrepreneurs like Colonel Shoemaker had come to believe that the hard, carbon-rich anthracite of northeastern Pennsylvania should be able to heat homes and fire furnaces. Before they could make their fortunes from this plentiful resource, however, they had to discover practical ways to ignite the clean, long-burning coal in ways suitable for homes and industry. They also faced other daunting problems: how to win over skeptical customers and how to transport the anthracite from the mountainous "wilds" of Schuylkill, Luzerne and Lackawanna counties to American cities on the east coast. Despite these challenges, adventuresome pioneer entrepreneurs had, within one generation, tapped the coal fields and conjured eastern markets, turning the stones into diamonds.
The Smith Coal mine, as sketched by Jacob Cist in 1822.
Credit: Wyoming Historical and Geological Society
The pressure to figure out the anthracite puzzle had been building since the 1780s and 1790s, when reports about discoveries of the "stone-coal" grew more frequent in the Lehigh and Wyoming Valleys. One Necho Allen purportedly "discovered" anthracite in Schuylkill County when his campfire burned exceedingly bright and hot one night: he had lit it on some exposed anthracite. In present day Carbon County, a hunter named Philip Ginter was desperately trying to feed his family when, according to legend, he "stumbled" onto a chunk of anthracite. The truth behind this folktale is a bit more complicated, but the indisputable result of his "discovery" was the formation of the first anthracite company, a small firm that later became the giant Lehigh Coal & Navigation Company. To make anthracite practical for home heating, Jesse Fell, a local businessman and civic leader from Wilkes-Barre, experimented with burning anthracite in an "L" shaped open-air grate. His breakthrough in 1808 allowed consumers to safely place anthracite coals in their fireplaces. Although other men had experimented with this idea before Fell, his solution took hold due to the marketing efforts of coal operators Abijah and John Smith. Their Abijah Smith & Co. used Fell's grate to convince skeptical farmers along the Susquehanna River of the utility of anthracite. Their success proves the revolutionary significance of this simple technology. In 1807, the Smiths had to leave unsold anthracite by the side of the river, because nobody wanted the product. One year later, after Fell's advance, they sold out their load and effectively launched the first successful anthracite firm in the nation. The development of the hot blast process created a new market for anthracite as a fuel for the iron industry. Early blast furnaces were made of stone and were often 50 feet high or taller. This diagram is from 1872."
Jacob Cist, anthracite's greatest promoter, also set his mind to overcoming the reluctance of potential buyers of anthracite. Like the Smith brothers, he demonstrated to customers how to burn anthracite, wrote articles and pamphlets about how cleanly it burned, and gathered testimonials to further convince wary Philadelphians. Cist's efforts to market his Summit Hill coal, mined near Mauch Chunk, did increase demand, especially when the War of 1812 disrupted the supply of imported coal and iron from Britain. The fuel crisis that hit Philadelphia during the cold winter of 1814 might have led to further gains in anthracite usage, but Cist was unable to capitalize on this opportunity due to inadequate transportation routes from northeastern Pennsylvania.
For the men employed by Shoemaker, the Smiths, and Cist during these early years, mining was an aboveground endeavor. The first generation of miners picked and loaded coal from exposed "veins" and where the coal outcropped on a hillside. When pits reached the depth of 40 or 50 feet, water accumulation often prohibited further coal extraction. Next came drift mines, which used horizontal entries driven slightly upward into hillsides to allow for drainage. Picks, shovels and wheelbarrows were the primary tools used in this backbreaking work. Coal was then loaded onto wagons and driven miles to the nearest river, over rutted and muddy roads. A revolution in transportation would be necessary in order to make anthracite mining a major industry.
In February, 1808, a Wilkes-Barre manufacturer demonstrated that the stone coal could be burned in an open grate without a forced draft. This simple invention improved the acceptance of anthracite by domestic and industrial consumers throughout eastern Pennsylvania. Its major attribute as a fuel was an intense, clean, slow burning fire, and its major attribute as a commercial product was its abundance. Businessmen began to invest in the mines throughout northeastern Pennsylvania.
The War of 1812 interrupted bituminous coal shipments from Virginia and Great Britain, and the vacuum was temporarily filled with coal from the Lehigh Mines. It was during this period that Philadelphia industrialists and entrepreneurs Josiah White and Erskine Hazard first became acquainted with anthracite. They needed an uninterrupted supply of coal to fire their iron smelters at their Schuylkill Falls nail and wire drawing plants. Rumors of a vast abundance of hard coal in the mountains surrounding the Lehigh River and Panther Creek valleys riveted Josiah White's attention and ambitions into the Lehigh Valley. The problems of controlling the Lehigh River, which had discouraged the owners of the Lehigh Mines, challenged Josiah White. Despite the popular opinions of some Pennsylvania State legislators of the era, this was no scenario of "fools rushing in" because Josiah White was already familiar with the design and construction of canal locks and dams on the Schuylkill River. White leased the failed Lehigh Mines property for a 20-year period and immediately petitioned the State for permission to improve the river. Conditional authority to improve navigation on the Lehigh was granted in March 1818 along with the exclusive rights to use the river in any way compatible with navigation, including the right to levy tolls upon river craft. In July 1818, Josiah White, Erskine Hazard, George Frederick August Hauto, and other investors formed the Lehigh Navigation Company, which was deeded the river rights that had been granted by the State Legislature. At the same time, the Lehigh Coal Company was granted the use and benefit of the coal properties. (Note: Although later outlawed as being in restraint of trade, this was America's first instance of interlocking companies and boards of directors.)
In 1819 a rough stone surfaced road was completed from the mines on Sharp Mountain down to the river. This road's percent of grade was determined by dividing the distance of the road into its total descent - a method that would later be used in railroad construction.
The navigation company's initial attempts to tame the wild and turbulent Lehigh River enjoyed limited success. Commencing in August 1818 obstacles in the river bed between the mouth of Nesquehoning Creek and the Delaware River were removed and a series of timber dams with ingenious gated sluice locks called Bear Traps (US Patent Office 1819 - Josiah White) constructed. The gate of the Bear Trap was hinged to the floor and opened by the pressure of water delivered from a reservoir via a flume. In the raised position the gate formed part of the dam. When water was rapidly discharged into the Bear Trap, the raft was raised 3 to 6 feet and hydrostatically propelled out of the Bear Trap on surge that swept the craft over the rapids. After the gate was re-closed, the Bear Trap was again part of the dam. Although the Bear Traps enabled a raft to ride on a rush of water from one slack-water pool to the next, they worked in only one direction. As the great timber stands on The Lehigh Coal Company property were reduced, the construction of the one-way rafts became increasingly more expensive, which - in turn - made Lehigh coal less competitive in the marketplace. Only a conventional canal could facilitate ascending navigation.
In 1820 The Lehigh Coal Company united with the Lehigh Navigation Companyforming the Lehigh Navigation and Coal Company. In 1821 the name was changed to Lehigh Coal & Navigation Company (LC&N). To attract investment capital, in February 18226 the LC&N incorporated. With the assistance of a former engineer7 of the Erie Canal, a system of slack water pools joined by canal segments was designed and constructed between Mauch Chunk and Easton (1827 to 1829). A total of 44 lift locks, 5 guard locks, 3 guard lifts, 9 dams, and several aqueducts were ultimately required to facilitate the 46 miles of upstream navigation. The expensive, forest-depleting8, one-way arks were replaced by conventional canal boats.The problem of integrating anthracite into the industrial process proved just as difficult. Experiments in Europe and America sought alternatives to iron made with charcoal as forests disappeared and the distances between available timber supplies and markets grew ever greater. The Journal of the Franklin Institute and other publications circulated news of numerous experiments using anthracite to smelt iron. Not until the 1830s did a group of innovators figure out how to create a "hot-blast" process that would generate heat intense enough to burn anthracite in commercial furnaces and produce quality pig iron. Many Pennsylvanians deserve a share of the credit for the revolutionary idea. One is Frederick W. Geissenhainer, a multi-tasking Lutheran minister who first applied his patented ideas at the Valley Furnace in Pottsville in 1836. Soon after, entrepreneur Burd Patterson helped expand the anthracite iron experiments at his Pioneer Furnace in Pottsville. What Geissenheiner and Patterson lacked, however, was significant capital backing.
Connections were key in the overall development of anthracite's utility, in both the figurative and literal senses. Two important anthracite pioneers were Erskine Hazard and Josiah White, Quaker businessmen from Philadelphia. They had purchased a load of coal from Col. Shoemaker in 1812 for their wire mill on the falls of the Schuylkill River. Sensing opportunity, they leased Jacob Cist's mine at Summit Hill in 1818, and formed the Lehigh Coal Company. In the same year, they used their connections within the Pennsylvania state government to gain an exclusive, 36-year long charter to improve the navigability of the Lehigh River, which would be vital if they were to succeed where Cist had failed. Forming the Lehigh Navigation Company, they soon began work on their Lehigh Canal, which ran from Mauch Chunk to Easton and then to the Delaware River, providing their coal company with dependable transportation to the Philadelphia market. During the 1820s and 1830s, they sent thousands of tons of coal to market, creating the powerful Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company. The Crane Iron Works, shown here in an 1860 etching, was the first commercially successful anthracite iron furnace in America." 1860 view of the Crane Iron Works.
In 1828, the West Chester Village Record included a piece of travel reporting from a correspondent who visited the "gravity railroad" at Mauch Chunk in the heart of Pennsylvania anthracite country. The railroad was basically a series of tracks placed along the steep slopes of Mount Pisgah, where the first coal miners worked furiously to remove anthracite. On the way down, cars loaded with tons of coal relied on the forces of gravity, and the restraints of a cable system, to arrive safely at the bottom of the valley. Mules dragged the empty cars back up. The sight of these heavy cars traveling down the mountain inspired awe in the Village Record reporter: "Did even the most vivid imagination, in its wildest flights, ever picture wagons laden with twenty-two tons running for many miles without aid?" The mining and transportation of anthracite resulted in many technological advances such as the Switchback Railroad at Mauch Chunk in Carbon County."The mining and transportation of anthracite resulted in many technological advances...
The gravity railroad at Mauch Chunk, also called the Switchback Railroad, belonged to the Lehigh Coal & Navigation Company, and was just one of the engineering feats that made it possible to transport anthracite from the mines to the markets. These "gravity roads" carried coal from the mines in the mountains to the inland canals that were simultaneously being constructed. Heavily capitalized with generous charters from the state of Pennsylvania, canal building companies like the Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company, which built the Lehigh Canal,> came to own thousands of coal acres. Furious canal building in the 1820s and 1830s created the nation's largest inland transportation network. The brute strength of thousands of workers re-routed rivers, dug waterways, blasted tunnels through mountains and laid track on steeply pitched inclines for gravity railroads. It was the beginning of a transportation revolution in the United States.
The Lehigh Canal was built to compete with the Schuylkill Canal for the lucrative Philadelphia coal market. Completed in 1825, the Schuylkill Canal was a gigantic undertaking and the largest state-run venture at that time. With its terminus at Firth Dock in Port Carbon, it unlocked Schuylkill County's Southern anthracite coal field. Three other geologically designated coal fields — the Northern, East Middle, and West Middle — were located in the nearly 500 square mile anthracite region. Along with Schuylkill County, three other counties lie across the richest veins and have experienced the longest history with anthracite mining: Carbon, Lackawanna and Luzerne. Coal in the southern field lay in steeply pitched veins, making the mining of it even more dangerous than the thick, sloping Pennsylvania Gravity Railroad, an operation that connected Pittston and Hawley in Lackawanna County, hundreds of feet underground, in the northern field.
Geology dictated the mining era to a certain extent, but the handful of companies who came to dominate the coal fields also played a significant role in shaping life below and above ground in the anthracite region. The story of the Delaware and Hudson Canal Co., (D&H) offers a good example of anthracite's economic development. The company funded the most expensive private venture in American history to that point. The canal it built, with 2,500 workers, helped connect Lackawanna County anthracite in the northern field to the massive New York market via the Hudson River. Towns situated along the D&H canal line or its railroad feeders, such as Honesdale and Carbondale, boomed overnight into major commercial centers. The scope of D&H's ambition was almost boundless. The company, for example, brought over from England the very first steam locomotive engine ever tested in the Western Hemisphere. Called the Stourbridge Lion, it ran on the tracks of the company's own gravity railroad near Honesdale in August 1829. Other companies followed suit. The Pennsylvania Coal Company built in the far northeastern corner of the state. Running on its line was "The Pioneer," a type of car that carried its coal to the D&H Canal in 1850. "Railroad cars unload their cargo of anthracite into canal boats at the canal basin in Honesdale." Railroad cars unload their cargo of anthracite into canal boats at the canal...
Canals played a vital role in the emergence of the anthracite industry and stimulated the growth of additional transportation networks. With financing by the state government, Pennsylvania's canal system developed rapidly, with over 700 miles of waterways built or under construction in the 1830s. Building canals were daring, engineering marvels and very expensive, such as the Wyoming Division Canal, that sent anthracite northwards to the Great Lakes markets via the great Erie Canal in upstate New York, southwards to Harrisburg, and eastwards to Philadelphia. Yet, steam locomotion signaled a shift in this transportation revolution. Coal operators and merchants in the Wyoming Valley were not willing to rely only on the Wyoming Division Canal for outlets, nor would they be at the mercy of an "outsider" who built a rail line. Raising millions of dollars, they constructed the Delaware, Lackawanna and Wyoming Valley Railroad and the Lackawanna and Bloomsburg Railroad. By the end of the 1850s these lines shipped more than 70% of Wyoming coal. Likewise, in the middle and southern fields, the Lehigh Canal could not compete with the Lehigh Valley Railroad, nor could the Schuylkill Canal compete with the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad. Anthracite delivered on canals had fed iron furnaces for rail production, and after a series of transportation rate wars, the railroads triumphed. By the Civil War era, canals were outmoded.
Each advance in transportation had its own unintended consequences. The Schuylkill Canal connected the southern Schuylkill coalfield to Philadelphia, and because its chartered company, the Schuylkill Navigation Company, was prohibited from owning lands, many independent coal operators developed this field. This type of ban, however, did not apply to the private canal companies, such as the D&H, which came to dominate the anthracite counties that their canals served. Their gravity railroads brought coal from mines to canal ports or railroad depots. Then flatboat operators or railroad engineers shipped the cargo to major markets such as Philadelphia, New York or Baltimore. From there, resellers sold the coal to consumers and retailers. Eventually, the major railroad and coal companies owned nearly all of the components of this process, an innovation known as vertical integration. Larger rail companies soon bought up the independent coal companies and rail lines, such as the Danville-Pottsville Railroad. The canals had unlocked the great potential of the anthracite fields, but by 1860 the five great railroads were holding the key: Philadelphia and Reading, Lehigh Valley, Delaware and Hudson, Delaware, Lackawanna and Western, and the Central of New Jersey.
"A steam shovel loads anthracite into railroad cars; a large pile of anthracite is visible behind the shovel." By 1860 the railroad companies became the dominant player in the anthracite...
Franklin B. Gowen, president of the Philadelphia and Reading, set his sights on stabilizing the anthracite industry, especially the supply of coal from the Schuylkill field. He organized a land subsidiary company (through some finagling of Pennsylvania's General Assembly) so that the P&R came to own 100,000 acres of rich coal lands by the 1870s. Furthermore, he met with the presidents of the other major coal carriers and set first the price of coal at $5 a ton, and later the amount of coal the railroads would ship to market. This had a drastic impact on mine workers in terms of both getting work and how much they were paid. Northeastern Pennsylvania had come to be controlled by the railroad cartel, the first American oligopoly.
In the anthracite region, towns were pushed into the industrial age by the massive undertakings involved in mining anthracite and transporting it to market. Although successful in supplying eastern cities with coal, these towns developed economies focused on the export of a single raw material, and did not experience the kind of diverse industrial development that would ensure stable, long-term prosperity. Moreover, the capital that built and acquired rail lines and anthracite companies was increasingly centered in Philadelphia and New York, far away from those who worked and lived in the coalfields.
In 1839, Hazard traveled to Wales to hire David Thomas for the newly incorporated Lehigh Crane Iron Works, on the banks of the Lehigh River. Thomas, an ironmaster from Wales, was able to combine his technical expertise with the large amounts of capital available from his employers and succeeded where Geissenhainer and Patterson had fallen short. Familiar with the "hot-blast" process of heating air before sending it into the furnace, Thomas successfully fired his furnace on July 4, 1840 at Biery's Port in present-day Catasauqua and became known as the "Father of the anthracite iron industry." The first fully operational and commercially successful anthracite iron furnace in America, the Lehigh Crane Iron Works was the final piece in one of the first powerful monopolies of the anthracite fields: a set of related corporations owning thousands of acres of prime coal land, controlling inland waterways to the East, and developing related industrial roduction using anthracite as fuel.
During 1832 the Pennsylvania Canal System completed the Delaware Canal between Easton and Bristol (a city on the Delaware River 17 miles upstream from Philadelphia). Although LC&N shipments and marketing benefited from the all slack-water route to Philadelphia, the specifications of the Delaware Canal were not complementary9 in size with the Lehigh Navigation, which necessitated that some LC&N boats transship at Easton. In similar fashion, the subsequent development of the Morris Canal between Phillipsburg and Newark, New Jersey, opened New York markets to Lehigh coal.
Desirous of even further expansion of their market for Lehigh coal, in 1835 the LC&N extended their navigation westward into the upper Lehigh region to White Haven. Their ultimate goal was to connect their navigation with the state-owned North Branch Canal on the Susquehanna River at Wilkes-Barre. Construction of the navigation continued northeast of White Haven as far as Stoddardsville where it was determined that further construction was futile. Three mountain peaks blocked water entry into Wilkes-Barre. The only way the LC&N could overcome the mountains was by rail.
Gravity Railroads of the LC&N
The earliest railroad constructed by the LC&N was the Mauch Chunk Railroad, a line complete in 1827 between LC&N mines at Summit Hill (previously Sharp Mountain) and loading chutes on the Lehigh River at Mauch Chunk. This railroad made it possible for loaded coal jimmies to descend 9 miles into the river valley by gravity. After being emptied, mules returned the cars back to the mines. As the output of mined coal increased, this system grew inadequate to satisfy the demand for empty cars. The freewheeling downhill trip took 30 minutes while the return trip by mule consumed over 3 hours. To expedite the return of empty cars, an incline was erected in 1845 from the foot of the loading chutes to the top of Mount Pisgah. Cars were hoisted up the plane with a stationary steam engine and released to descend a distance of 6 miles by gravity to the foot of Mount Jefferson where jimmies were again hoisted up an incline and released for the final descent into the Summit Hill area.
In 1846 the LC&N began mining operations in the Panther Creek Valley. The Mauch Chunk Railroad was extended into the new area by a clever arrangement of switchbacks and spring-loaded turnouts that enabled empty cars to seesaw their way back to the mines. The expanded system was renamed the Mauch Chunk, Summit Hill & Switchback Railroad.
The LC&N opened a second gravity line, the Rhume Run Railroad, in 1833 between LC&N mines at Rhume Run (also spelled Room Run, later the town of Nesquehoning) and landings on Rhume Run Creek at its mouth on the Lehigh. This system employed a self-actuating incline to lower coal to the canal and later disappeared with the completion of the Nesquehoning Valley Railroad in 1870.
The Lehigh & Susquehanna Railroad and the Central Railroad of New Jersey
In 1837 the LC&N was granted a charter to construct the Lehigh & Susquehanna Railroad between White Haven and Wilkes-Barre. Originally conceived as a portage, it is doubtful that canal boats ever used the railroad. The route required a 1,743 foot bore through Blue Mountain, a short distance north of White Haven, and a series of 3 inclines between Solomon's Gap and Ashley. Severe flooding of the Lehigh River in 184110 delayed completion of the Lehigh & Susquehanna Railroad (L&S) until 1843.
Flood waters again ravaged the Lehigh Valley in 1862. The improvements made to the river above Mauch Chunk were obliterated and extensive destruction was inflicted to life and property in the Lehigh Valley. The damage suffered on the lower system was attributed to the failure of canal feeder dams in the upper region. The state legislature blocked the LC&N from rebuilding north of Mauch Chunk by passing laws against damming the upper Lehigh River. The legislature recommended that a conventional railroad replace this navigation. By this period slack-water navigation was rapidly being outmoded by rail transportation, which offered all-weather reliability. But more critical to the solvency of the LC&N was the Lehigh Valley Railroad (LV) who had operated alongside the navigation from Mauch Chunk to Easton since 1855 and had already taken away the lion's share of coal tonnage generated from independent mining operators. Now the LV planned to extend their railroad to White Haven through the acquisition of trackage rights on the Beaver Meadow Railroad (a feeder line of the LV between Mauch Chunk and Penn Haven) and the construction of the Penn Haven & White Haven Railroad to White Haven. In view of this new threat to both navigation and railroad, the LC&N pushed plans to build the L&S all of the way to Easton.
The combined cost of rebuilding the navigation system and constructing the L&S left the LC&N financially unsound. Fate intervened on March 23, 1871, when the Central Railroad Company of New Jersey (CNJ) leased the majority of LC&N railroad properties. These properties included:
Lehigh & Lackawanna Railroad - Bath to Wind Gap and Bath to Lawrenceville
Wind Gap & Delaware Railroad - Bangor to Lake Poponoming
Nesquehoning Valley Railroad - Nesquehoning Junction to Tanamend
Tresckow Railroad - Silver Book to Audenreid
These railroads and branches combined became the CNJ's Lehigh & Susquehanna Division, which effectively transformed the New Jersey company from a terminal conduit to an originating, on-line, anthracite carrier. Prior to this agreement with the LC&N, the CNJ had enjoyed prosperous arrangements with the LV, L&S, and the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroad (DL&W) whereby the bulk of their respective coal traffic fed the CNJ mainline in New Jersey (LV and L&S at Phillipsburg and the DL&W at Hampton Junction). Times were, however, changing. In 1868 the DL&W leased the Morris & Essex Railroad, a tidewater line that ran between Phillipsburg and Hoboken, New Jersey. And even prior to this the LV's founder and president, Asa Packer, had involved11 his own fortune and time piecing together a tidewater route through New Jersey utilizing an obscure New Jersey railroad charter and many additional supplements.
The opening years of the 1870s were prosperous for the CNJ despite the loss of LV and DL&W tonnage. Although the tons of coal hauled had increased only slightly, the longer haulage distance increased profits threefold. The financial Panic of 1873 that had slowed the nation's economy had no immediate affect on CNJ operations or plans for expansion. The demand for anthracite reached historic heights. With business growing and revenues soaring, the directors of the CNJ took measures to insure that the flow of coal over Central Company's rails would continue indefinitely by forming their own mining empire.
The Lehigh and Wilkes-Barre Coal Company (L&WB) was incorporated in the State of Pennsylvania during 1874. It was formed by the consolidation of two existing companies: the Wilkes-Barre Coal and Iron Company and the Honey Brook Coal Company. The CNJ owned a controlling interest in the new corporation through the acquisition of a two-thirds majority of its capital stock.
On March 28, 1874, the L&WB entered into long term lease of the LC&N's Carbon County Lehigh Mines. These properties, along with other controlled properties in Carbon, Luzerne, and Schuylkill Counties made the L&WB one of the largest corporations in Pennsylvania. During this period the L&WB controlled over 34,000 acres of coal lands having on them 37 slopes and 30 shafts, totaling 50 mine openings, that supplied 29 breakers. The LC&N lease required that an annual rent be paid equal to the sum of 21 percent of all coal mined from LC&N premises - based on Mauch Chunk prices - with a minimum rental of $500,000 paid in monthly installments. Tied to this lease was the stipulation that the CNJ had to operate and maintain the Lehigh Navigation for a rental of $50,000 per quarter ($200,000 per annum). If the CNJ fell in arrears for a period of 60 days, the LC&N could rescind its agreement with the L&WB. Having leased their mining interest to a railroad backed coal company, the navigation system would have otherwise been of no value to the LC&N. By tying the CNJ to the L&WB lease they had effectively insured the navigation system's continued use and upkeep. Also stipulated was the CNJ's lease of the Delaware Division Canal at $138,714 per annum.
Still riding on the crest of prosperity, in 1874 the CNJ purchased the Mauch Chunk, Summit Hill & Switchback Railroad and leased it to a Theodore L. Mumford who operated it as a tourist scenic line well into the 1930s.
The demand for anthracite began to decrease during 1874 starting a trend that would continue into 1877. In that year the CNJ petitioned the court to place the L&WB into receivership12. The CNJ, already in receivership since the preceding year, and their court-appointed Trustee, the Honorable Francis S. Lathrop, refused to pay the rent for an obsolete but competing canal. This refusal had prompted the LC&N to rescind their lease agreement and retake possession of their mining properties leased to the L&WB. The L&WB had suffered a series of mining mishaps and the economic environment had worsened for anthracite consumption. From about 1850 onward anthracite had been largely used for the manufacture of pig iron but by 1875 its use in blast furnaces had been rapidly superseded by coke (a product of bituminous coal). The anthracite sold to the iron industry had been lump coal (as it came out of the mine) - the most profitable size to market. Smaller domestic sizes such as grate, egg, stove, chestnut, pea, No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 buckwheat incurred great waste undergoing processing in the form of fine coal, coal dust, and culm. The smaller sizes had often cost more to manufacture and market than Mauch Chunk prices would bring.
The L&WB had expanded its operations beyond its ability to finance its debt. The downturn in business had pushed them over the edge of insolvency. If the LC&N forced a foreclosure it could start an avalanche of similar foreclosures. The CNJ owned the vast majority of L&WB capital stock, which they had pledged as collateral to finance their own expansion. If the L&WB crumbled, the CNJ would surely follow. Forcing the L&WB into receivership placed their many assets under the protection of the court. The court accepted the CNJ's plea and 3 Receivers13 were appointed on February 13, 1877, to administrate the financial affairs of the L&WB until such time that the company was again solvent. On June 23, 1877, the L&WB surrendered back LC&N properties. In what must have been heroic negotiations, the Receivers settled all accounts with the L&WB's creditors, and the company came out of receivership 22 months later.
Many decades later, in April 1920, the CNJ, along with other railroads who owned coal companies, was ordered by the United States Supreme Court to divest itself of the L&WB. This mandate from the nation's highest court was the direct result of earlier anti-trust action taken against the Reading Company, another Pennsylvania coal carrier/operator, for infringements of the Sherman Anti-/Trust Act and the Commodities Clause of the Hepburn Act. The CNJ complied with the court order and by 1921 was out of the coal mining business forever.
1Obadiah Gore, 1744-1821, blacksmith, miller, Continental Army officer, defender of Forty Fort in 1778 when assailed by the British and their Indian allies, and associate judge of the Luzerne County Court, Pennsylvania.
2Judge Jesse Fell, 1751-1832, innkeeper, sheriff, and judge, Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.
3Phillip Ginder or Phillip Ginter (history has not documented the correct spelling).
4The Lehigh Coal Mine Company (unincorporated) was formed by Colonel Jacob Weiss (Quartermaster - US Continental Army), Michael Hillegas (Treasurer of the United States 1776 to 1789), Charles Cist (Styner & Cist, printers of Thomas Paine's Common Sense and other pre-Revolutionary and Revolutionary War pamphlets), Robert Morris (banker and financier of the American Revolution), John Nicholson, J. Anthony Morris, et al. It was the first company organized to mine anthracite in the United States.
5The state's grant was conditioned upon satisfying a time-frame of Lehigh improvements including prescribed dates for commencing downriver navigation, upriver navigation, and other transportation improvements that would benefit the State of Pennsylvania.
6On April 1, 1820, The Lehigh Coal Company and the Lehigh Navigation Company merged, forming the Lehigh Navigation and Coal Company. On May 21, 1821, the name of the company was changed to The Lehigh Coal & Navigation Company. The following February 1922 the company was chartered (incorporated) by an act of the Pennsylvania State Legislature.
7Canvas White, 1790-1834, soldier, inventor of hydraulic cement (patented 1820), surveyor, canal engineer Erie, New York, Lehigh, Delaware, Raritan, and Union Canals.
8The arks were rectangular boxes approximately 25 feet in length and between 16 and 18 feet wide. Arks were joined in squadrons that at the peak of their use reached 180 feet in length. The manufacture of every squadron of arks required the devastation of a 400 acres of timberland.
9The design and construction of the Delaware Canal had been a political fiasco. Although the LC&N had been acknowledged the principle user, the Delaware Canal was constructed with narrow 11 foot wide locks that did not permit passage of all types of craft used on the Lehigh Navigation, which had 22 foot wide locks, and insufficient reservoirs to supply water. When initially opened in 1832 the Delaware Canal leaked so badly that it had to be immediately closed. The Pennsylvania Canal Commission subsequently called upon Josiah White to redesign and rebuild the canal, which he completed in 1834. The LC&N would ultimately gain control of the Delaware Canal and operate it as the Delaware Division Canal.
10The Great Flood of 1841 swept away navigation improvements on the Lehigh River - diverting funds, equipment, and manpower from construction of the Lehigh & Susquehanna Railroad.
11During the 1860's Asa Packer quietly obtained interest in the 1865 charter of the Passaic Valley & Peapack Railroad, a proposed line chartered to construct a route in central New Jersey between Union or Essex County and Peapack. By supplement (1867) its western terminus was extended to a point between Milford and Frenchtown, New Jersey, on the Delaware River. Then early in 1869 another supplement authorized a connection with any other existing or proposed New Jersey railroad desirous of such connection. Curiously, the connecting railroad was also offered the right to guarantee the interest and principal of the bondholders, as well as dividend payments to stockholders. Within the same month, yet another supplement was forthcoming permitting a crossing of the Delaware River (at or near their terminus but not south of Milford) and a connection with any Pennsylvania Railroad authorized to connect with them. Another supplement came early in 1870 when their chartered name was changed to the New Jersey West Line Railroad. Subsequent supplements extended the line eastward to the Hudson River and authorized a branch from Clinton westward to Phillipsburg. The LV's announced a financial interest in the New Jersey West Line Railroad in their 1871 Report to the Stockholders. In May 1871 the Morris Canal properties were leased and the LV had an administratively convoluted paper route to tidewater that would soon prove impossible from both an engineering and legal standpoint.
12The Central Railroad Co. of New Jersey vs. the Lehigh and Wilkes-Barre Coal Company - In Equity - May Term 1877, No. 62, in the Western District of Pennsylvania.
13Receivers Edward W. Clark (President Lehigh Coal & Navigation Company), the Honorable Benjamin Williamson (Director of the Central Railroad Company of New Jersey - 1847 to 1882), and. Joseph A. Clay, Esquire, Master of the Court.