The celebrated Robertsdale “Slope Mine” No. 5 competed with its sister Rockhill Rockhill No. 1 portal in coal production during the early years of the industry, employing men from throughout the East Broad Top Coal Field during the 1870s.
Many decades later, as the mining industry lost its dominance on the Broad Top, Rockhill’s No 9 deep mine, south of Wood, inherited the title of best producing portal on the east side of the coalfield. With the close of the narrow gauge East Broad Top Railroad in 1956, the No. 9 deep mine, coupled with nearby surface mining operations, helped propel King Coal back into the mining business following World War II.
There are still many men around who report having worked in the Robertsdale Slope No. 5 portal which made connections with other company mines in the Robertsdale, Wood and Broad Top City area. Over the decades the prominent portal employed thousands of miners as well as those associated with connecting industries.
I would love to hear from these miners (or their families) about working in No. 5. Write me at Box 171, Robertsdale, Pa. 16674, or plan on being a part of person-to-person interviews at the Broad Top Area Coal Miners Museum, once the Coronavirus crises subsides and Gov. Tom Wolf lifts restrictions.
Although No. 5 mine earned the title of being one of the most productive portals on the EBT Coal Field, it was nearby Rockhill No. 1 which started it all.
Originally a small “country mine” located a stone’s throw from Trough Creek, the portal was opened by early coal prospector William Houck from the western side of the emerging Broad Top Coal Field (Six Mile Run area). Houck opened the mine in the mid-1830s, shipping the semi-bituminous coal by wagon and sled to Chambersburg, Mercersburg and other southeastern markets.
When the growing iron-making industry in southern Huntingdon County turned to Broad Top’s coal as a reliable source for firing the furnaces during mid-19th century, the need for a railroad was stressed. The creation of the EBT and the Rockhill Iron and Coal Co. resulted in the opening of the coal-hauling line from Mount Union to Robertsdale in the late fall of 1874.
As the railroad’s rails were being laid down the coal company was already utilizing Houck’s portal, considered to be the first mine opened on the EBT coal field. Coal company employees were also busy erecting miners’ homes and the famed Robertsdale “company store” on the town’s “company square.”
The No. 1 portal was opened in 1872, closed in 1890, but reopened in 1911. The mine operated until 1925 but closed during the ‘striking years” on the coal field. The mine was reopened again in 1925, operating until 1951.
A drift mine, No. 1 saw the removal of coal from the Fulton Seam and employed many colliers from the Broad Top area and southern Huntingdon County.
No. 1 coal shipments on the EBT began in late 1874 followed by the addition of passenger service and shipment of the U.S. mail to the new town of “Roberts,” so named after Percival Roberts, one of the founders of the coal mining enterprise.
Although No. 1 was the premier mine to establish King Coal’s prominence on the EBT Coal Field, other mines would follow including No. 2, believed to have been open in 1872 and closed in 1890. First a drift mine, No. 2 later became a shaft operation and connected with No. 1, operating in the Fulton Coal Seam.
No. 3 only operated for about nine years, having been opened in 1874. In 1883, a connection was made with No. 1, removing coal from the Barnett seam. Built first as a drift mine, the portal became a shaft operation 1883. The mine closed in 1890.
No. 4 only functioned from 1874-75 to 1880, removing coal from the Barnett Seam. The mine was a drift operation.
As noted earlier, No. 5 began operation in 1889, replacing the first three deep mines in 1893. The mine was used to bring out coal from the Barnett, Twin and Fulton seams. The famous mine closed in 1952.
In 1891, the EBT rails were extended to the new mining town of Woodvale (later the name was shortened to Wood due to a name conflict with a U.S. Post Office near Johnstown). Prompting the extension of the line was the opening of a new mine, the Rockhill Iron and Coal Company’s No. 6 “Shaft Mine.”
The mine, which had several connections with other company portals on the EBT Coal Field (including numbers 3 and 5 at Robertsdale) originally removed coal from the Barnett seam, followed by the Fulton Seam. Close once, but reopened in 1941, the mine saw its demise following World War II. The Woodvale Slope, situated close to the EBT right of way, was also an important tool in handling water drainage and flooding in many of the coal company’s deep mines.
Next to be opened were the “Twin Mines” numbers 7 and 8, situated a short distance east of Woodvale and connected to the railroad by a short spur line. The mines, served by a common tipple, employed a countless number of miners with No. 7 opened in 1915 and reopened in 1940-41 and 1943 as a slope operation. No. 8 was open for business in 1916 and last used in 1987. Coal removed from these mines came from the Barnett Coal Seam.
Also offering a leading role in the saga of King Coal on the EBT side of Broad Top Mountain was the original No. 9 deep portal (a slope operation) which opened in 1917. The mine opening, located several mines south of Woodvale, was closed around 1943 with the excavation of a new entrance. The mine shut down in 1854 but was reopened by legendary Broad Top area mine operator the late James Park in 1957, operating until 1959, when the facility was reopened by the G.M. & W. Coal Co., operating from 1959 to 1968.
A new entrance was open in 1965 by the G.M. & W. Coal Mining firm. Coal from the mine, dating back to its original opening, involved the Fulton Seam.
The black diamonds were originally loaded on to EBT coal hoppers in the Alvan area. When the railroad closed in 1956, the coal was shipped to market in large trucks. A mining tipple was also located at Wood for coal transfer from trucks onto the EBT. Surface mining continues today south and east of Wood(vale).
The other mining sites south of Wood included surface operations that included numbers 10 (opened in 1941, closed in 1956 and again in 1960); No. 11, opened in 1944 (and reopened in 1958-59); No. 12, opened in 1945 (and reopened in 1954, closing in 1956); No. 14 (note that there was no No. 13 for obvious reasons) and No. 15, opened for only a year starting in 1946.
There were also several small “country mines” operated by local coal prospectors southeast of Robertsdale around the time of Ole Easty’s arrival in 1874. These mines were only active for a short period of time. Other time-honored portals, all “country mines,” were sunk in the Robertsdale area. They included the Alloway, Clippinger, McClain and Hamilton & Horton portals.