Avondale Mine Disaster

See also: Avondale Colliery

A strike closed the Avondale Colliery in 1869, and it reopened on September 2. On September 6, a fire broke out in the ventilation furnace, presumably 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 constructed directly above and several other surface support structures. This shaft was the only entrance and exit for the miners working below.

108 miners and 2 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. Avondale was the most severe disaster to occur in the anthracite region.

Illustrations of the disaster appearing in an 1869 copy of Harper’s Weekly.

Contributors: John Pagoda

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