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Avondale Colliery Remains

The breaker at Avondale was built in mid-1867 on the property of the Steuben Coal Company south of Plymouth, on the east side of Rt. 11 just before the interchange with the South Cross Valley Expressway. The design and the machinery of the breaker was made at the Dickson Manufacturing Works, Sevantoe. During this period it was customary to build the preparation plant directly connected to the head-frame of the mine shaft to cut down on the costs of transportation of raw coal from mine to the top of the breaker. This breaker and shaft brattice work consisted of 450,000 feet of lumber. The shaft had two, seven foot wide compartments; one for hoisting coal and one for ventilation. Ventilation was provided by a furnace and flue located near the bottom of the shaft, and fresh air was provided to the mine by the updraft of the fire.

A strike closed the operation in 1869 and it reopened on September 2. On September 6, a fire broke out in the ventilation furnace, probably fueled by a load of hay just lowered down the shaft. Within a few minutes, the fire spread up the wooden brattice work of the shaft, engulfing the wooden breaker above and several other surface support structures. This shaft was the only entrance and exit for the miners working below.

108 miners and two rescue workers lost their lives in this incident. Mine laws were subsequently enacted to assure at least two openings into underground workings and for proper ventilation. On March 3, 1870, Pennsylvania legislature passed the anthracite Mine Ventilation Law, expanding upon a mandate that had previously only applied to the Schuylkill region. The new law required 55 cubic feet of air per second for every 55 men. This as deemed sufficient to dilute any hazardous gases generated by the coal. The law also regulated air currents and movements in mines, forbade the use of a single airway as the intake and exhaust, and required mines to be divided into districts at each level, with each district receiving a separate air current. This system of dividing the mines by airlocks and doors helped to contain sections of bad-air and contain into to one general location.

To this day, the death-toll at the Avondale fire is misread from the correct figure of 110. Several books are in print, including government references that list 179 deaths in the disaster. The origin of this error is currently unknown by the authors. Remains of the Avondale Colliery can be seen on the east side of Rt. 11 while driving north in Plymouth Township just after the South Cross Valley. Several small buildings remain in a dilapidated condition and the mine shaft foundation is believed to be there also. A fan house built at a later date stands south of the ruins. Avondale was the most severe disaster to occur in the anthracite region.

- John Pagoda

For more information see:

“The Great Disaster at Avondale Colliery” MSHA Library Unknown Date

“When the Breaker Whistle Blows” Ellis Roberts 1984

“Report on Mining Methods and Appliances of the Anthracite Region” H.M. Chance 1883

© 2005 Underground Miners