Anthracite Storage Structures and Retail Sales Yards

Author: John Krenzel

This article is dedicated to an important and overlooked aspect of anthracite coal mining; anthracite storage structures and local coal retail sales yards. After being mined, anthracite was transported via one of the Anthracite Railroads into a widespread and important market for the coal companies-residential and business heating. The structures and machinery that developed around this seasonal demand for energy were designed to facilitate the weighing, sorting, storage and transportation of anthracite coal.

These neglected structures can still be found scattered throughout the parts of the Northeastern United States. The examples shown here come primarily from rural New York State. This region of small, agriculturally-based towns has not seen much development and hence these buildings, whose purpose disappeared with the anthracite industry, still stand, reminding us of the one time importance of anthracite coal in the US. In addition, the ingenuity they exhibit deserves recognition.


Coal yards typically had a sales office with a scale used to weigh the delivery vehicles before and after they were full of coal. This example from Ithaca, NY, once served by the Lehigh Valley Railroad, provides a typical example. The scale is located inside the building, the portion the delivery vehicle drove up on to be weighed is just inside the garage door. An additional garage door on the rear of the building allowed the delivery vehicle to pass directly through on its way to and from the coal storage structure.


Early methods of transporting coal locally from the yard to the home or business it was to heat involved wagons pulled by horses. With the advent of the automobile, the truck was used.

The bed on this truck could be inclined and the gate opened to dump coal onto the chutes (missing) that would have been stored in the space beneath the bed. The coal could then be directed into the basement of a home or wherever it was desired.


Specific sizes of coal (stove, chestnut, rice and buckwheat, etc) were needed for particular applications. Breakers located near the mines in Northeastern Pennsylvania sorted the coal prior to shipment to the coal yards. Once it reached the coal yard, storage structures were designed to keep the different sizes separate (they accomplished this in various ways). Sometimes it was necessary to re-sort coal sizes at the yard due to breakage and accidental mixing. When this was necessary, a hand-cranked (or later motor-driven), hand-fed machine could be used to separate the sizes.

The tumbling of the coal over the various sized screens eliminated first the smallest pieces, with the screen size increasing as the coal moved down through the inclined screen tube.


The following sets of photographs focus primarily on the chronological evolution of the anthracite storage structure form. Storage of coal was done in such a way as to protect it from the elements until needed, keep different sizes of anthracite separate and make it easy to move from storage bin to delivery vehicle for transportation. The four structural types: sheds, trestles, boxes and silos; evolved to meet storage requirements and represent an interesting study in creative design and reflect technological developments that became available over time.


The simplest, cheapest and earliest structural form used for storing anthracite was the shed. Especially where demand was small, a three-sided, open-topped or covered box worked well. They were designed with dividers to hold the different sizes of coal separate. This design required the coal to be shoveled from the pile into the delivery vehicle, which was very labor-intensive. Many modern examples exist and they are all basically the same, so one example should suffice.

Later, conveyors like the one pictured here were used to load coal from a pile in a bin to a waiting delivery vehicle.


A trestle-type coal storage structure served by the DL&W Railroad and located in South Waverly, PA

As demand increased, the need to easily handle large volumes of coal became important. The trestle represents the next step up in cost and complexity from the bin and was the technological limit before the advent of the electric and gasoline motors.

The coal was initially “lifted” into the storage bins by the locomotive delivering the coal. A fairly short, steep inclined railbed led to a trestle with bins directly below the rails. This structural type initially left the coal below the rails in bins on the ground which still required it to be lifted by some means into the delivery vehicle. Later, these structures further eliminated the need for labor by storing the coal above the ground level and allowing it to pour out when a gate was opened.

When the hopper’s bays were opened, coal poured out of the railcar and into the appropriate bin. The trestle shown here is completely enclosed which kept the coal free from ice in the winter. The structure’s end doors would be opened and the locomotive would push the hopper car inside the structure to be emptied.

These bins had a steeply angled floor which directed the coal toward the aforementioned gates, shown here.

Delivery vehicles would be positioned below the chutes and filled with the desired size of coal.

This particular facility could load delivery vehicles from gates on both sides, visible here.

Large volumes of various sized coal could be handled efficiently with this type of structure. It was however an expensive one to build and maintain, due to the heavy construction necessary to support railcars and locomotives. Length eventually became an issue, with the largest reaching over 330 feet in length with multiple tracks, arranged side-by-side, required to meet demands. Long structures with additional length necessary for the incline to reach the upper level required very long properties adjacent to rail lines. As land was developed, finding sites for this type of structure became difficult. Local topography could eliminate the need for long inclines, as this Dolgeville, NY (NYC Railroad) site shows.

This example from Phillipsburg, NJ shows a more modern cement trestle.

A steel coal trestle in Binghamton, NY used to supply fuel to a nearby powerplant.

Another DL&W example in Candor, NY.

Combination trestle and ground-storage bin on the NYC in Little Falls, NY.

The trestle design remained in use especially where large volumes were dealt with and space was available. However the structure’s cost was a major drawback because of the heavy construction techniques required to support loaded railcars. This made the trestle not well suited for use in yards where the volume of coal dealt with was relatively small. The solution to this problem awaited the advent of small sources of mechanical power. These came in two forms, the electric motor and the associated power generation and transmission network and the internal combustion engine and associated fuels. Once these power sources became available, new types of coal storage structures were made economically possible. Two new types of buildings came into use-the “box” and the “silo.”

The need to move granular materials easily from railcar to storage bin to delivery vehicle was not a problem isolated to the anthracite industry. The technology used here undoubtedly borrowed from that of grain storage and transportation-an industry closely linked to many of the rural towns served by railroads. Some structures built originally for coal storage have been re-used as storage structures for various types of granular materials, primarily grain.


Box storage structure in former NYO&W railyard in Smyrna, NY. Notice the neighboring grain storage facility still in use.

As highlighted in the discussion of sheds, the need to move coal from railcar into the storage bin created a substantial demand for manual labor. The power-driven conveyor alleviated some of the manual labor required, but was required for both loading coal into the bin and loading coal into the delivery vehicle and had to be repositioned and “fed” coal as the pile decreased in size.

The storage “box” was made almost exclusively of wood and combined features of both the conveyor-fed bin and the elevated storage bins of the trestle-while minimizing the drawbacks of both designs. Storage capacities obviously depended on the dimensions of individual structures, with values ranging from less than 500 tons to more than 1,000 tons.

Railcars full of coal would be positioned over a pit located at the bottom of the upward sloping portion of the building. The coal would be emptied from the bottom of a hopper, into the pit and carried by conveyor up the slope to the top of the structure.

The conveyor consists of “scoops” mounted on a large chain with small wheels that rode on supports of wood covered with steel in an “endless” loop configuration. Coal would be scooped up in the pit, taken to the top of the structure and dumped into a chute which directed it into the appropriate bin.

Looking into the pit where the railcars were emptied.

Looking up the inclined conveyor, towards the top of the building.

The bin portion of the building was elevated, with the bottoms of the bins sloped to allow the coal to pour out when a gate was opened.

The local delivery vehicle would be driven into the structure, through the door visible on the side of the building.

Once inside the delivery vehicle could be filled with the desired size of coal, the driver being sheltered from the elements while doing so.

Just as with the scale house above, this building has two “garage door” type openings allowing the vehicle, once loaded, to drive directly through and out the other side.

More examples of box structures and the associated machinery…

Edmeston, NY on the D&H RR (Unidilla Valley).

New South Berlin, NY, again on the D&H RR (Unidilla Valley).

Odessa, NY on the Lehigh Valley RR.

Sherburne, NY, on the DL&W RR.


Silo-type coal storage facility, Poland, NY, on the NYC RR.

The final type of coal storage structure considered here is the silo or silo complex. The silo, in its familiar rural farm setting, was used to hold feed for the animals kept there or for storage after harvest. Silos were also found extensively in railyards and sidings in small rural towns where grain was stored while awaiting either shipment after harvesting or distribution for farm or food use. Much less familiar are the silos used specifically for storing coal.

These structures developed from agricultural silos designed to hold silage functioned in a manner similar to the “box” detailed above. Coal was emptied from the bays of a hopper into a pit below the rails. From there a conveyor made up of “scoops” moved the coal to the top of the silo complex, where it was directed into a particular vertically-oriented “tube” or silo. In some examples, this tube had a cone-shaped bottom that collected the coal and directed it towards the external gate and chute used for vehicle loading. Other examples made use of good coal or cinders to fill the space in the tube from ground level up to the gate/chute level.

The silos could be arranged linearly or in a “cloverleaf” pattern (when viewed from above). Single silos were used, but more typically four were included to accommodate the various sizes of coal. The distribution vehicle could be loaded from inside or outside, depending on the arrangement of, and spacing between, the silos. Silos shown here were made of four types of materials: wood, cement block, corrugated metal and reinforced concrete. Capacities per silo ranged from approximately 100-150 tons.

Railcars would have emptied here. The conveyor is just inside the small doorway and continues up inside the steeply sloped portion of the building.

This structure has four silos arranged in a “cloverleaf” pattern. Enough space was left between the silos to allow the delivery vehicle to be driven into and loaded from within.

Cement block “staves” with steel bands compose these particular silos. Notice that the spacing between bands gets closer near the ground and chute levels. The pressure exerted on the sides of the silo increases in proportion to the amount of coal that lies above, thus greater strength was needed in the walls near the bottom. Also, additional strength was required near openings in the tube, i.e. in the region around the gate that emptied the silo. This hole weakened the structure overall, requiring additional steel bands as reinforcement.

Looking up from inside.

Chutes for loading vehicles.

Additional examples:

A wooden-staved structure on the Erie Railroad in Owego, NY:

A reinforced concrete silo complex in Gloversville, NY on the former Fonda, Johnstown & Gloversville Railroad:

DL&W railyard with block-staved silos in Oxford, NY:

Morrisville Station, NY corrugated metal coal silos, on the NYO&W Railroad. Notice the linear arrangement of only two silos:


Many coal storage structures that remained standing in 1979 (detailed in IA reference at end of page) were no longer during my visits in early 2006. These historic structures are not typically recognized as so and are left to deteriorate unless another use can be found for them. Their robust construction has allowed many to survive 70, 80 or more years-long enough for people today to catch a glimpse of a once common building type.

Here are a few I just missed…

Trestle remains, Ithaca, NY.

Double tracked 200+ft brick trestle remains in Gloversville, NY.

Wooden trestle remains, Dogleville, NY.

Additional information on retail coal yards in New York State can be found in a published article in IA The Journal of the Society for Industrial Archaeology (IA Vol. 26/2 (2000): IA of retail coal yards of Upstate NY; Daniel D. Mayer)