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Early Underground Mining

Early Underground Mining in Hopkins County by J Harold Utley Hopkins County KY Historian.   Little is known of the early history of Hopkins County except that in 1775 Colonel Richard Henderson, in the name of his company, Transylvanian Land Company, bought what is now Hopkins County from the Cherokee Indians. The Commonwealth of Virginia passed laws nullifying his treaty with the Indians. As compensation for his efforts Virginia gave him 10,000 acres of land in what is now Henderson County.


            After Henderson County was created from part of Christian County, Hopkins County was created from the southern part of Henderson County.

            The early settlers took little notice of the presence of coal as the first coal used in Madisonville was brought from Pittsburgh in a barrel. The coal was burned in a grate in the Weir and Wilkins store in the area now occupied by the Court House Annex.

            The earliest use of local coal was by Jack Woolfolk, a blacksmith from Hall’s Post Office (Earlington). He discovered the outcrop of the No 11 coalbed in Hunting Branch. He took some to his shop and discovered that coal heated his forge much hotter than wood. Coal possibly had been mined previously from “house coal” mines along a coal outcrop for home heating or trading. 

Hopkins Mastodon Coal and Iron Mining and Manufacturing company stock certificate

Charles Seymour was later president of Diamond Coal and Mining Company at Mortons Gap


            During the 1850s a great interest in coal was awakened by the survey of State Geologist, Dr David Dale Owen. During this time several groups of investors organized a number of coal companies and acquired large acreages of mining rights, mostly in the southern part of the county. The principle of these was The Hopkins Mastodon Coal & Iron Mining & Manufacturing Company, incorporated January 11, 1856. Stock in this concern was held principally in Hopkins, Henderson and Christian Counties in KY and Nashville TN. The president was Joel Lambert of Henderson and the secretary was John Barrett, also of Henderson. The company never mined any possibly because the outbreak of the Civil War.

            The disturbance of the Civil War suspended interest in coal. After the war, the firm of Winslow and Wilson, together with various promoters of the coal interest, began work in earnest to build the projected railroad from Henderson to Nashville. The railroad was finally built by their corporation, The American Contract Company, and was put into operation as the St Louis & Southern Railroad Company, being completed to Earlington in 1870. The railroad from Evansville to Nashville was finally completed in February 1871, when the final rail was laid near Mannington.

            In 1869 the St Bernard Coal Company began the opening of a mine near Hall’s Post Office, later to become Earlington. The No 11 Mine opened in the spring of 1870 and the No 9 Mine opened in the fall. The No 9 Mine was the first known slope opening in the county. In the fall of 1869 St Bernard also opened the No 9 Mine. The St Bernard Coal Company later acquired the holding of the Hopkins Mastodon Coal & Iron Mining & Manufacturing Company.


  Two small mines on Hunting Branch (names unknown) 

The first mining on a commercial scale occurred in the Hunting Branch hollow, just south of the Madisonville Country Club golf course. The location of these two small mines was shown on the map of the Nisbet Mine operated by the St Bernard Coal Company.

The following list of mines was taken from geological reports by the Kentucky Geological Survey published in 1856 or the Annual Report of The Inspector of Mines after the Mine Law was passed in 1884:

No 11 Mine 

            A new era began in Hopkins County when a group of eastern capitalist organized the St Bernard Coal Company and came to what is now Earlington. The No 11 mine was opened by the “drift” opening into the Kentucky No 11 coalbed. The mine opening was located on the railroad that was completed into Earlington. The reported tonnage for both the No 11 Mine and the No 9 Mine in 1870 was 6,568 tons. By 1897 the No 11 Mine was producing 111,752 tons of coal. There was no record available for the number of miners employed but John Clark was named as foreman. The No 11 Mine was closed in 1926.

No 9 Mine

            The St Bernard Coal Company opened their second mine, the No 9 Mine, in the fall of 1870. Access to the coal in the No 9 Mine was made by a slope. St Bernard produced 6,568 tons of coal in the first year from both of their mines. In 1871, the first full year of production for both mines, they produced 32,855 tons of coal. During December 1870 and January 1871, St Bernard first shipped coal south to Clarksville TN. The price was thirty-five cents per bushel or eight dollars and seventy five cents per ton! The No 9 mine was closed in 1931.


Photo from Author’s collection Surface area of No 9 Mine showing miners preparing to go underground

(photo date unknown)


From Author’s photo collection Loaded mine cars outside of No 9 Mine

St Charles Mine

            The American Contract Company built a coal trestle at Henderson on the Ohio River for the purpose of supplying coal to steamboats. The first coal for the river trade was shipped by St Bernard in June 1871. The winter of 1871-72 demonstrated the hazards of keeping loaded wooden coal barges in a harbor with no protection from floating ice. The new Elizabethtown-Paducah Railroad was now completed. A suitable harbor was found above the bridge across the Tennessee River about 22 miles above Paducah and a tipple was built.

            The St Bernard Coal Company opened the St Charles Mine in 1872. This was a “drift” opening into the outcrop of the Kentucky No 9 coalbed. With the opening of the St Charles Mine the river trade was transferred from the No 11 and No 9 Mines at Earlington to the St Charles Mine. In 1888, the first year production figures are available, the mine produced 1,146,922 bushels, or 45,877 tons of coal in the first six months.  The St Charles Mine was closed in 1904 when the Fox Run Mine was opened.


From Author’s script collection St Charles Mine script for use in company store  

Photo from Author’s collection Diamond Mine @ Mortons Gap

Diamond Mine 

                        The Diamond Mine was opened by the Diamond Coal and Mining Company at Mortons Gap in late 1872. A group of investors from Belleview IL, headed by Charles Seymore, opened the mine originally. Seymore was one of the investors in the Hopkins Mastdon Coal and Iron Mining and Manufacturing Company. The Diamond Mine was a “drift” opening into the No 9 outcrop and worked east under the Water Tank hill at Mortons Gap. The tipple and opening were on the east side of US 41 about 1200 feet south of where the highway crosses the former L & N RR at the south edge of Mortons Gap. In the first six months of 1888 the mine produced 35,522 tons of coal.

            On December 11, 1882 M T Winstead, sheriff of Hopkins County, by court order, conveyed the Diamond Coal and Mining Company, etc to the St Bernard Coal Company. St Bernard operated the Diamond Mine until 1897 when it was closed. 

Hecla Mine 

            The Hecla Mine was opened by the Hecla Coal Company in 1873 just west of Earlington. The Kentucky No 9 coalbed was reached by a shaft 50 feet deep. This was the first shaft opening in Hopkins County. In 1888, the first year production figures were available, the mine produced 605,400 bushels, or 24,216 tons of coal in the first six months. The mine was operated by Hecla Coal Company until August 23, 1889 when it was sold to the St Bernard Coal Company. St Bernard closed Hecla Mine in 1918.

  Engraviture of Hecla Coal Company surface area and tipple  

Crabtree Mine 

            The Crabtree Mine was opened by the Crabtree Coal Mining Company at Ilsley in 1883. The president of the company was Mr A Howell, a banker from Clarksville TN. Mr R M Salmon was secretary-treasurer and general manager.

            The Kentucky No 9 coalbed was reached by a “slope” opening. In the first six months the mine produced 497,052 bushels or 19,882 tons of coal.

            On August 2, 1920 Crabtree Coal Mining Company leased coal rights to Monroe and Sterling Lanier, Jr. On the same day all real property and estate was sold to William D and Hoyt H Coil and Richard J and John G Salmon. On January 4, 1921 the Coils sold their interest to the Salmons. On May 1, 1927 the Crabtree “slope” was sold to Norton Coal Mining Company. Norton continued the Crabtree operation until March 1, 1952 when all production ceased. 

Photo from Author’s collection Crabtree Tipple at Ilsley 

Photo from Author’s collection Crabtree Company Store at Ilsley 

Clifton Mine 

            The Clifton Mine of the Clifton Coal Company was opened on the Hopkins-Christian County line west of Mannington. The coal was reached by a shaft 35 feet deep. The coal mined was called Kentucky No 6 at the time but it is now known to be the Kentucky No 4 coalbed. The company built thirty-four coke ovens and in March 1887 began producing the first coke on a commercial basis in Kentucky. From January 1 to March 15, 1888 Clifton Mine produced 12,000 bushels or 480 tons of coal.

            The mine was placed in the hands of a receiver, J F Dempsey, and was sold at the court house door on January 11, 1892.

Co-operative Mine 

            In March 1886, in a dispute over wages, a group of miners headed by Sampson Platt, left the St Bernard Coal Company mines in Earlington and opened the Co-operative Mine at Barnsley. They bought from Williams and Dunn 650 acres of coal for the sum of $9,575.75. They had no money and the $1,000 down payment was advanced to them by William Walton. By early 1893 they only owed $3,000 on the land purchase and had a mining operation worth $30,000.

            The Co-operative Mine produced Kentucky No 9 coal. The mine provided employment for about 80 miners in the winter and 60 in the summer. The miners produced 14-16 cars of coal per day.

            In 1894 the mine name was changed to Woodstock. The mine apparently closed in 1902 as this was the last year the mine was listed in the Annual Report of the Inspector of Mines. 

Eureka Mine 

            The Eureka Mine was opened by the Reinecke Coal Mining Company west of Madisonville in 1886. The Kentucky No 9 coalbed was reached by a shaft 382 feet deep, the deepest in Kentucky at the time. Fire-Damp (Methane gas CH4, explosive in the 5%-15% range) was a problem early in the development of the mine. The first explosion occurred, on October 7, 1887. Three miners died in the explosion and seven were injured. The second explosion occurred December 8,1888 injuring three miners. In December 1888 the mining in the No 9 seam was abandoned and mining was commenced in the No 11 coalbed 981/2 feet above the No 9, or 283 ½ deep. It was thought that upon abandoning the mine in the No 9 coalbed that there would be no further problems with fire-damp, but that was an error. The mine in the No 11 coalbed was very dry and dusty and to lessen the danger of an explosion, it was necessary to sprinkle the entries with water.


Conrad Reinecke of Belleview IL was president and Inkerman J Bailey was secretary and general manager. The first superintendent was Louis Feger. In the first six months of 1888 the mine produced 24,009 tons of coal.  The mine was closed in 1939 after 53 years of operation. 

         Photo from Author’s collection At the left of picture is tipple and shaft. The brick building is the power plant.

(The brick chimney, built in 1899, is still standing)

Robinson & Sons 

            The Robinson & Sons mine was opened prior to 1891. In the Eighth Annual Report of the Inspector of Mines it was reported that the mine had enough employees to come under state supervision. This is a “small” mine in the No 11 seam. It was noted that for the “two seasons” the work force was 8 in the summer and 11 in the winter. This mine may have opened in 1889. In the first six months ending June 30, 1891, 46,350 bushels of coal (1,854 tons) was produced.

            In the 1897 Report of the Inspector of Mines the mine reported 850.64 tons mined in 1896. No further information is available on this mine. 

Madisonville Mine 

            The Madisonville Mine, operated by the Madisonville Coal Company, was opened in 1891. The coal seam, “No 11” is reached by a shaft 141 feet deep. The shaft was completed sometime in September and by December 31, 1891 the mine had produced 45,891 bushels of coal (1,835 tons). In the first six months of 1892 the mine produced 197,032 bushels (7,881 tons) and had a total of 40 employees. 

From the postcard collection of the Author Chesley Williams was president and Charles E Morton was secretary and treasurer of the Madisonville Coal Company. 

(Note: Madisonville Coal Company may have had its actual beginning as one of the two small mines on Hunting Branch. There is not enough information available to be positive) 

Photo from Historical Society collection

South Diamond Mine 

Photo from Billy Byrd collection In the Eleventh Annual Report of the Inspector of Mines for the year 1894, it is noted

           “New Bank”, the most important of the two mines and “Old Bank”. The “New Bank” is the South Diamond Mine opened by the St Bernard Coal Company. The production figures are combined so it was impossible to determine production. By 1897 South Diamond was producing 163,577 tons of coal annually with 155 employees.

            South Diamond Mine became an important coaling station on the L & N Railroad after steam locomotives switched from wood to coal.  The mine ceased production on May 1, 1926. 

Barnsley Mine 

            The Barnsley Mine was opened by the St Bernard Coal Company in 1899 and was listed in the Annual Report of the Inspector of Mines for 1912. Information on employment and production was not available. 

Arnold Mine 

            The Arnold Mine was opened by the St Bernard Coal Company in 1899. Early employment and production figures were not available but by 1924 Arnold Mine employed 177 miners and was producing 142,581 tons of coal annually.  Arnold Mine was closed in 1929. 

Author’s photo Arnold Mine located NE side of Earlington 


Author’s photo Face of Room in Arnold Mine near Earlington (No 9 coalbed) 


1.     Personal notes of Major M K Gordon

 (Loaned by Harold G Ledbetter) 

2.     Personal information collected by Harold G Ledbetter


3.     Office of the Inspector of Mines, Annual Reports (1884-1911)


4.     Annual Reports of the Department of Mines and Minerals (1912-1937)


5.     The Earlington Bee (Reprint) Supplement, Special on Coal and Railroad (1903)


6.     Personal collection of information and photos of the Author

This information is copyrighted by the author J Harold Utley and the Historical Society of Hopkins County and submitted to iSurfHopkinsCo for publication January 2008.

Aurthor is J. Harold Utley, National Historical Society, Madisonville - Hopkins County Kentucky

Marion M Miller, iSurf Local News & Community Information

History Segment of iSurfHopkinsCo, home page



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