The following are excerpts from the incredible full version written by Justin Emershaw found on our Research page.
Construction of the Hazleton Shaft breaker commenced on April 11, 1898 under the supervision of contractor Henry K. Christ of Mahanoy City, who had been awarded the contract to build the breaker on April 6 after having recently completed construction of a similar-sized breaker in Centralia. Within weeks, over one hundred carpenters applied for positions to work on the massive structure, many offering their services for one dollar a day. Work was soon rushed; carpenters were put on twelve-hour shifts to have the breaker ready by September 15. Below ground, miners worked to reopen gangways and tunnels in the No. 3 and Laurel Hill collieries in preparation for re-mining. As the framework rose, workers began tearing down the old Laurel Hill breaker on May 26 followed by the No. 6 and South Sugarloaf breakers later on in July. On Saturday, September 3, 1898, the breaker was started for the first time and run for several hours to test all machinery. An official who witnessed the test run remarked enthusiastically that, “it beats everything in the region.”
At the time of its construction, Hazleton Shaft was the largest breaker in the Lehigh region capable of producing 2,000 prepared tons per day. Measuring 180 feet long, 158 feet wide, and 142 feet tall to the top of the car dump, it surpassed every other breaker in size around the city. Constructed of Georgia yellow pine with cast iron main center supports, the inside housed 28 jigs, 7 revolving screens, and 32 shaker screens for washing and sizing the coal, driven by a 250 horsepower Corliss 22”x42” engine. As workers put the final touches to the breaker, work on sinking the shaft was completed on September 8 after reaching a depth of 381 feet, with the last 55 feet being sunk below the second level of the mine to allow for sufficient sump room. In addition, rock tunnel landings had been constructed around the shaft extending 104 feet north and 87 feet south at both the first and second levels. With the breaker nearing completion, mining operations inside officially commenced on September 26, 1898, providing work for hundreds of idle men. Two days later, on September 28, 1898, the breaker went into full operation.
A new steel breaker was planned to replace the aging wooden breaker in order to increase output and also reduce the risk of fires. The new breaker would be constructed to the east of the adjoining old breaker, in order to not halt coal processing, until the switch over between the two plants was ready to be made. Pouring of the foundation began in late October 1941 and soon, the steel structure began to rise. On July 2, 1942, the old Shaft breaker processed its last load of coal before being officially shut down. As work began to demolish the old breaker and switch over to the new breaker, coal was temporarily shipped to the nearby Silver Brook breaker for processing until the final touches were made. Finally, after undergoing two weeks of test runs, on September 3, 1942, the breaker went into full operation. Although smaller in size than its predecessor, the new breaker featured all-new processing equipment capable of producing 4,500 tons of prepared anthracite per day when operating two shifts. By 1942, the colliery had grown to employ over 1,400 men underground and 300 on the surface, making Hazleton Shaft the largest colliery in Lehigh Valley’s holdings and Hazleton’s single largest employer.
In 1955, Hurricane Diane struck and largely flooded the mine workings. This was determined to be too costly to pump out, and the mine was not reopened. On April 1, 1959, Lehigh Valley leased three of its major holdings, which included the 2,032-acre Hazleton Shaft Colliery, to Pagnotti Enterprises of West Pittston, headed by Louis Pagnotti I- the largest coal stripping operator in northeast Pennsylvania. Under the new ownership, the Shaft breaker underwent an $800,000 renovation in July which included the installation of a new heavy media circuit to replace the old Chance cone cleaning system to more efficiently separate coal from rock, a 20,000-ton capacity clean coal storage system, and the doubling of the breaker’s retail coal pocket capacity from 1,100 to 2,200 tons. Hazleton Shaft Colliery never reopened after the flood of 1955, but its massive breaker would continue operating until April 21, 1982, when the breaker was idled due to economic conditions. The breaker was temporarily put back into service for a couple of months during the summer of 1984 following a fire that damaged the Harleigh breaker on June 24. In 1998, a new company, Hazleton Shaft Corporation, formed and leased the Hazleton Shaft property to begin processing the 8-million-ton culm bank left behind by the old breaker. That same year, Pagnotti sold the Shaft breaker for salvage and on October 1, 1998, the largest monument to Hazleton mining vanished from history.
Historic photos of the colliery, from the collection of Eric Bella, one photo by Paul Templeton, and the rest unknown photographers from the UGM archive.
Elevations of the Shaft.
Photos from the shaft in 2021, showing the inoperative deep well pumps installed on the shaft cap.