$4 million project moves forward at No. 9 Coal Mine
A nearly $4 million historic preservation and mine reclamation project in the works for a decade at the No. 9 Coal Mine and Museum could soon see light at the end of the tunnel.
State and local officials gathered Monday atop a construction site between the mine and museum along Dock Street in Lansford to announce plans preserving two giant mine ventilation fans and the stationary steam engines that powered them.
The historic fans, which measure 35 feet and 28 feet in diameter, have been sitting outside the mining museum waiting to be placed in their new home, which should be complete by the end of next year.
The fans, which circulated air deep inside the mine, protected hundreds of miners from hazardous gases and pulled fresh air through the mine, said Dale Freudenberger, secretary of the No. 9 mine and Panther Creek Valley Foundation.
This type of fans was once used throughout the anthracite region to ventilate the mines, but these are among the few survivors from before and just after the turn of the last century, he said.
One of the fans dates from 1883, and the other is from 1908. They did not originate from Carbon or Schuylkill counties, but came from the Dorrance Colliery in Luzerne County.
The Dorrance Colliery was located along the Susquehanna River in Wilkes-Barre – just north of the Luzerne County Courthouse, and adjacent to the Wilkes-Barre and Hollenback cemeteries, said Zachary Petroski, foundation president and mine superintendent.
The No. 9 mine partnered with the state Department of Environmental Protection on the historic preservation, and also mine reclamation project, which is funded through a combination of state and federal funds, he said.
Approximately $3.9 million has been allocated to erect a building to house and restore the massive fans, which will be used to tell the story of anthracite mining and how it fueled the Industrial Revolution in the 19th Century, Petroski said.
“Most of the areas in northeastern Pennsylvania, even the Wyoming Valley, agriculture was the big thing until the advent of coal mining,” he said. “This was the big shift from an agricultural society to industrialization.
“It was the main driver for immigrants seeking a better life and it was stable employment, despite the dangers of mining,” Petroski said.
Before steam technology, which powered the massive fans, early miners relied on the chimney effect, or one opening higher than another will move air one way or another; and the other was a ventilating furnace.
The latter involved sinking a shaft, building a furnace room where a fire would be kept constantly burning, with the theory that a fire will draw in oxygen, he explained.
“Of course, burning a fire in a coal mine is a very dangerous proposition,” Petroski said. “It is one of the suspect causes of the Avondale Mine Disaster in Plymouth, Pennsylvania, in 1869. They were using a ventilating furnace.”
The Lehigh Valley Coal Company put the older of the two fans into use in 1884, and the second one in 1908, as the mine operation grew, he said. The fans operated until 1959 when the Knox Mine Disaster flooded the mine workings in the Wyoming Valley, Petroski said.
Petroski and Freudenberger thanked the officials who have been working with them on the project, including neighboring Lehigh Anthracite, the Borough of Lansford and DEP.
State Sen. David Argall and Rep. Doyle Heffley were also on hand for Monday’s project announcement. Argall asked about the number of visitors the mine and museum sees each year, as it is another attraction for people who visit the area sights, including nearby Jim Thorpe.
Petroski said the number of visitors continues to grow, and the No. 9 mine expects to top 14,000 this year with sights set on exceeding 15,000 next year.
“We’ve had visitors here from 38 countries,” he said. “We had visitors from Ukraine. We had visitors from Japan.”
Heffley noted the project will not only teach the next generation about the area’s mining history and technology, but also benefit the area in tourism, calling it a worthy investment.
Freudenberger said they’re excited to finally be moving the project forward, as it has actually been underway for some 10 years but hampered with delays.
“That’s why we waited until now, and we’re actually under construction before making the official announcement,” he said. “It’s going to be a great addition to the No. 9 Coal Mine and Museum.
“We’re very excited to have this project underway and more excited to preserve historic piece of anthracite mining history,” Freudenberger said.