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Gravity Slope Restoration Project

The White Oak Mine, precursor of the Gravity Slope Colliery, opened in 1846 in what was called the “Dark Valley” section of Archbald, not far from the Lackawanna River, off Laurel Street in the southern end of town. The breaker was built on the eastern side of the Delaware and Hudson (D & H) tracks. The D & H Coal Company closed the White Oak breaker when the new Gravity Slope was finished, and shipped coal there for processing, with the main slope, Gravity Slope No, 3, opening in 1911.

The D & H Railroad wished to increase its capacity for handling and transporting coal, and extended its lines about seven miles south to reach their lands at White Oak Run, now called Archbald Borough. The line was completed by 1847, and coal mining was expanded at the southern end. Mr. James Archbald, for whom Archbald Borough was named, was the chief engineer for the D & H Railroad. He planned and supervised the entire construction. He developed a plan to construct two tracks descending in opposite directions, similar to what he had constructed between plane #7 and Honesdale. The first track was for loaded cars, which were drawn to the starting elevation by two steam engines. These would transport coal to Carbondale by the force of gravity alone. There was an empty car on the second track, which would return to the Archbald mines, also through the force of gravity, and then repeat the process of returning to Carbondale loaded with coal. There was a profound simplicity to the operation, which allowed the railroad to function uninterrupted until 1899.

The new Gravity Slope breaker, a huge red fourteen story structure, opened in 1912 and stood for over 30 years, processing both newly mined coal and coal stored in culm piles from the defunct White Oak breaker. The new breaker used the chance cone method to process coal and culm. It processed coal until 1942 when the main conveyor line collapsed and the breaker closed. Since the mine was still operating, the D & H shipped coal from the Gravity Slope to the Powderly in Carbondale and the Marvine Colliery in Scranton for processing. The chance cones from Gravity Slope were shipped to the Loree breaker in Plymouth, Luzerne County. At its height of production, the Gravity Slope employed 1700 men and 120 mules. Townspeople often mentioned how they enjoyed the site of the mule boys driving their mules from the White Oak mule barn down the tracks to the mines at the Gravity Slope.

The Gravity Slope Colliery was part of the Delaware and Hudson Coal Company, one of the best known anthracite coal companies. The Gravity Slope was located in Archbald Borough, in the northern end of the Northern Anthracite coal field which encompasses coal deposits in Lackawanna and Luzerne Counties. The D & H owned a number of collieries up and down the Lackawanna and Wyoming Valleys including (from north to south along the Lackawanna and Susquehanna Rivers): the Clinton, Coal Brook, Powderly, Colly, Jermyn, Gravity Slope, Eddy Creek, Olyphant, Marvine, Greenwood (Lackawanna County), and Laflin, Pine Ridge, Delaware, Baltimore, and Loree (Luzerne County).

The Gravity Slope mines operated until October 5, 1955. When the D & H Coal Company shut down their operations along the river, mine water began seeping into the Gravity Slope and other collieries. This proved to be too much for the pumps to handle. As more and more pumps were dismantled, the colliery could no longer operate.

Many local residents considered the D & H and Hudson Coal Company to be an excellent employer. Always interested in safety, the company published “The Safety Commentator” highlighting the need for mine safety and safe practices. As late as 1954, crews from the Gravity Slope Colliery won the company’s overall safety award.

The Hudson Coal Company’s newsletter serves as a social history of the time, providing a glimpse into the lifestyle and important events in the Lackawanna and Wyoming Valleys. The closing of the Gravity Slope Colliery in 1955 marked the end of an important era in Archbald Borough, and in the Lackawanna Valley. The Borough’s efforts to restore the remnants of the colliery are an important step in recreating what little remains from this unique “golden” era in America’s industrial history.

There are four structures remaining from the Gravity Slope Colliery. The area occupied by these buildings is approximately 2 acres. The two larger structures, the shifting shanty and fan house, are in the best state of repair. Two ancillary structures, the oil house and the oil storage tank area, are in lesser condition. Although there are only four structures remaining, the site can still serve as a window into the technology and history of the anthracite era. With so few buildings left from this time, these four buildings assume a far greater importance than their somewhat deteriorated condition would suggest.

Reconstructing these buildings allows us to conserve what few artifacts remain from this important time in our nation’s industrial history. The remaining railroad bed has enough structural integrity to allow for excursions from Scranton to Carbondale, past the Gravity Slope, allowing access to the site as a tourist attraction and educational resource. Several excursions take this route each year, especially during holiday seasons (Santa Train, Haunted Train, Fall Foliage for example). In addition, the Lackawanna County Rail Authority estimates that approximately 7500 rail cars each year travel the tracks throughout the Lackawanna County area. It is impossible to give a precise number which traverse this section of track, although a substantial portion probably do.

Archbald Borough has been awarded a $200,000 grant from the National Park Service (NPS) “Save America’s Treasures” program to help restore the Gravity Slope Colliery’s four remaining buildings. This grant was secured through the office of Rep. Donald Sherwood, and requires a 50/50 match. More money, however, will probably be needed to complete the project.

Archbald Borough also received a $35,000 grant from the Lackawanna Heritage Valley Authority (LHVA) in March 2006 to complete a structural assessment of the property. They have applied for additional LHVA funding to augment NPS money for further restoration efforts. The borough is now advertising for bids to complete this assessment. PennDOT transportation enhancement money in the amount of $52,000 was used to purchase the shifting shanty and oil house, along with the land surrounding, it from Debra Ann Altier in 2004. Archbald Borough, using $45,000 in borough funds, purchased the fan house and surrounding land, from Mary Anna Dubas on March 8, 2005.

The LHVA EIS and Management Action Plan recommend the location of an interpretive site in Archbald at the Gravity Slope Colliery’s remaining structures. Interpretation would have an industrial theme, with visitors learning about the complexities of the anthracite industry, including labor history. Included in the display would be a section about local mining disasters. The displays would stress the enormity and encompassing nature of the anthracite industry, and how it affected, and still affects, the life of the region.

Restoration of the Gravity Slope Colliery is a cornerstone in the effort to provide the linkages between historic mining sites in Scranton and Carbondale. It will serve as an important stopping point along “the road of anthracite.” The LHVA action plan mentions that visitors would first be directed to the site’s southernmost area where the first building would serve as an orientation point. The plan would stabilize the oil house, and an interpretive panel would describe its former use. The fan house/electrical plant would interpret how the colliery functioned, and would contain a working model of a colliery. Displays at the shifting shanty would explain the various jobs performed within the colliery, and describe the daily life of miners and their families. Although this plan will change and evolve, it is a good first step toward the reconstructive use of this valuable historic site. Saving the Archbald Gravity Slope Colliery has implications for all levels from local to national significance. Since few sites are left from the “golden age of anthracite.” Most other structures in the Northern anthracite fields have been razed, including the “showcase” Delaware and Hudson Colliery, the Marvine Colliery in Scranton (Lackawanna County).

The Shifting Shanty, one of the four existent structures at the Gravity Slope, was the area where miners changed their clothing and cleaned up after their shift in the mines. The second building, the fan house contains an important Guibal Fan, the last fully intact remaining ventilation fan in the Northern Anthracite fields. The fan is of particular importance since it is wooden, and in a very good state of repair. Fans like this one provided air to the miners, removing exhaust from within the mine. It is accurate to say that underground mining would have been impossible without similar ventilation. The development of mining ventilation technology was a crucial aspect of American Industrial development in the late 19th century.

Many changes in mine ventilation, as well as breaker construction, occurred as a result of the Avondale mine disaster in Plymouth, Luzerne County. This disaster occurred on September 6, 1869, in which 108 men and boys were trapped and suffocated. Shortly after the disaster, Harpers Magazine presented a thorough and somewhat graphic account, which awakened the country to the greater need for mine safety regulations and better ventilation. As a result of this calamity in which the breaker, located directly above the mine, caught fire, the Pennsylvania legislature passed the Ventilation Act stating that a mine must have a separate entrance and exit. It also decreed that beakers must never be located above mine shaft openings.

The Gravity Slope is located along the Lackawanna River Heritage Trail which links communities up and down the Lackawanna Valley, along the Lackawanna River. Walkers can now begin in Olyphant Borough and walk to Laurel Street Park in Archbald to view the historic site. When completed, the rail-trail will link all Lackawanna Valley communities, and the Gravity Slope site will be accessible to them. Therefore, the Gravity Slope will serve as an enhancement for tourism in the Mid Valley and Upper Lackawanna Valley.

The Gravity Slope Restoration Committee, with over twenty five members, is very involved in the renovation of this historic site. Comprised of members from all walks of life and areas of expertise including contractors, mechanics, teachers, the environmental community, engineers, college educators, and nurses, to name just a few. The committee meets frequently to discuss restoration options, and offer assistance whenever possible.

-Joyce Hatala

Works Cited - Most of the information provided was taken from "A Century of Progress: The History of the Delaware and Hudson". If anyone is interested in the other sources please contact chris.

Gravity Slope Colliery

© 2005 Underground Miners