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Plymouth, Pennsylvania

Avondale Mine Disaster

September 6, 1869


Two Hundred Miners Perish in a Pennsylvania Coal Mine.

Plymouth, Sept. 6.
-- A fire broke out this morning in the flue and bottom of the Steuben Shaft, owned by the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Company, in this place, and in a short time the whole breaker and outbuildings were in flames, and the hoisting apparatus, the only avenue of escape for the miners, destroyed. All efforts to stay the flames proved unavailable, and the whole structure fell, filling up the shaft. Over 200 men are in the shaft and have no communication out, with no chance for air, as the only way for getting air into the shaft was through the main opening, and that was filled with burning timbers and debris. It is feared the whole number have been suffocated by smoke, or perished for want of air. The fire departments of Scranton, Wilkesbarre and Kingston are playing streams down the shaft for the purpose of quenching the fire. There is so much rubbish to be cleared out that it will probably take till to-morrow morning before tidings can be received from the men. The scene is heartrending. Families are congregated in great numbers. Miners from all parts of the country are there at work, and merchants, and in fact the whole population of the town have turned out to assist. The loss by fire will amount to about $100,000; partially covered by insurance. All the physicians of the vicinity have been summoned to attend, when the condition of the men is ascertained. The affair has cast a gloom over the whole community, and business almost entirely suspended. The miners only resumed work to-day, after a suspension of about three months. Among the men in the mine is MR. HUGHES, the Superintendent.

Scranton, Sep. 6, 10 p. m. -- The latest information from the Avondale mine states that the shaft was cleared, and that two men went down and penetrated sixty or seventy yards to a closed gangway door, which they could not force open. They found three dead mules outside the door, and sulphurous fumes were pouring out through the door. No signs of life were discovered, and it is feared all are dead.

Plymouth, Pa., Sept. 6, 10 p. m.-- After the rubbish from the bottom of the shaft was cleared away, two miners descended in a bucket, and sent up word to send down a pick and shovel to clear the doors with. The bucket was brought up and two men started down with the tools. As they started, the men at the bottom requested them to hurry, and on their reaching the bottom both were found dead. No hopes are entertained for the men in the shaft; all are supposed to have perished. The black damp is very bad there.

The Janesville Gazette Wisconsin 1869-09-07



Further particulars from the Burning Mine Two Hundred and two miners in the Shaft.

The following Scranton, Pa. Despatch [sic] gives additional particulars:
The fire began at 10 o'clock this morning. All experts are agreed that it must have communicated from the ventilating furnace to the work at the bottom of the shaft, which is three hundred and twenty-seven feet below the surface. The flames then rushed with great violence up to the shaft and broke out in the engine room at the top. The engineer barely escaped with his life. The buildings covering the mouth of shaft ___ were one hundred feet high and two hundred feet long, all of wood, and dry as tinder. They were almost instantly enveloped in flames, and it was impossible to reach the mouth of the shaft to help the men below.

Dispatches just received from Avondale, say THOMAS W. WILLIAMS, of Plymouth, and DAVID JONES, of Grant Tunnel, who went down to make investigations, were suffocated to death. On a second attempt WILLIAMS' dead body was brought out by DAVID H. DAVIS and BENJ. JONES. THOMAS WILLIAMS went down and dragged DAVID JONES some distance to the foot of the shaft, when he was compelled to come up. JOHN W. and ISAAC THOMAS then went down and brought up the body. All who attempted to go down are now alive, except WILLIAMS and JONES. No further attempt will be made to go down until a small engine is rigged.

The loss by the burning of the Avondale mine works is $80,000 to $100,000, not counting loss by stoppage of mining. This mine had been involved on a strike for over three months, but resumed last Thursday, and was producing 450 tons of coal per day. The works were built in 1867, and it will take four or six months to rebuild.
It will take until five o'clock in the morning to-morrow to get a small engine at work to drive a fan at the mouth of the shaft and force air through a canvass hose. All who have been down say it is very hot, and loud calls have failed to elicit an answer. The only hope for the 200 men in the mine is that they may have shut themselves in a remote part of the works, entirely away from the draft. Several hundred, men, with tools, were taken from here this evening with the idea of driving a gangway from a neighboring mine into the Avondale workings; but as it must be solid rock cutting, this means would probably not relieve the imprisoned men in time. The distance to be cut is variously estimated at from 20 to 60 feet, and the time required two or three days. It had been feared that the ventilating furnace at Avondale would some day fire the shaft, as it was a very dry mine. The danger to life is very great in a mine which has but one means of entrance and exit. It is thought Avondale is but one of many mines in the same condition. It is to be hoped the next Legislature will not, as so many previous ones have done, refuse to pass a stringent law for the protection of miners and the inspection of mines.

Sacramento, Pa., Sept. 7.-
- Special trains ran from here to Avondale this morning every hour, free, until 11 o'clock, when the crowds became so dense that they obstructed the relief parties, and they were suspended. The whole community is thrilled with horror here at the great calamity. All work is suspended in the mines in this vicinity, and nearly the whole force of miners, in their mining suits, have gone to Avondale, to remain until their brethren are brought out, dead or alive. Thousands have gone from this section alone, and the whole country is aroused and flocking to the scene of the disaster. In the fourth, fifth and sixth, or Hyde Park ward of the city, the streets are thronged with women, relatives and friends of the men in the Avondale pit, eagerly beseeching every person arriving from below for information, and their weeping fills the air. Mining cannot be resumed at any of the works of the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad Company's mines within a week at least, or until all the funerals of the Avondale dead are over. The fact of the long and severe strike just ended, adds greatly to the destitution which will follow the calamity. The widows and orphans will number not less than 600.

At 8 o'clock the crowd was cleared and a rope enclosure made around the mouth of the shaft by the police. The engine and fan were got to work at 9:40, and shortly after it was connected with the canvass conductor that reaches the bottom of the shaft, 287 feet. At 10:20, Superintendent CORWIN, of the Hampton mine and J. P. DAVIS, carpenter, of Avondale, descended 100 feet and lowered three lamps to within 15 feet of the bottom of the shaft. The lamps burned freely. After remaining in the shaft forty minutes, they returned from the reconnoitering.

Three hundred miners from Coalville have arrived, and there are thousands upon the grounds in the immediate vicinity, nearly one half being women and children.

At 1 p. m. the second party of men returned safely, as had the first. They penetrated the gangway a distance of seventy-five feet, and found the large door wide open. They then went a 100 feet further in one of the passages, and found a small door closed. After opening this door to give circulation of air around to the entrance, they returned. Had this small door been opened, there might have been a shade of hope, as the gas and smoke and fire would have had free passage around the circuit and out again. As it is, the fears are that the smoke has penetrated the inner mine and suffocated all the men. The main doorway leading to the mine has not been reached.
The third set of men, four in number, went down and came back in fifteen minutes, two of them so overcome with the effects of the gas that they are being restored with difficulty. The gas is coming out of the outer mine very fast since the passage way was opened. The wildest excitement prevails, and the mass of people are kept back with difficulty.

1:30 p. m. -- The two miners are saved at last. It seems idle to peril life by any further attempt to go down as long as the gas is so strong. No attempt can, of course, be made to reach the main door or to penetrate the mine until the outer gangway is cleared of gas. It is uncertain how long this will take. There is really no ground to hope that a single life remains of those who went to work in the mines. Everybody gives them up, and nothing probably remains to be done but to recover the bodies.

Scranton, Sep. 7, 3:15 p. m. -- Four men descended, returned in good condition, and reported the air much purer. Later, at 6:30 p. m. four men -- JOHN TISDALE, HARKNESS, JOHN SALATEREE and R. E. B. JONES went down. After letting down the water hose to the bend of the air pipe and over the furnace to put water on and deaden the fire in the furnace, they returned in fifteen minutes, saying that the water hose was landed in the shaft, and they could not find the hold by which they expected to enter. They were not seriously affected by foul air.

At 7:10 another relay of four men went down. They returned in about twenty minutes, reporting that they had been at the furnace, and found everything all right, except the fire in the furnace, which was still burning. They could not arrange the water hose until it was hoisted up a little. They were not seriously affected by foul air.

The Janesville Gazette Wisconsin 1869-09-08

Articles submitted & transcribed by Stu Beitler  Thank you, Stu!

continued >> Go to page 1, 2, 3


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