The location of the slope mine in Beaver Place that is labeled on the Cummings map from 1860 is pictured. It descended 500 feet underground at an angle of about 20 degrees (in the direction behind Van Wagner in the photo).

EDITOR’S NOTE: Van Wagner is writing a history column in place of Sis Hause’s Moments in Time column this week.

For The Danville News

The story of Danville iron starts with the ore.

The Danville area had quite a few iron ore mines. Some of the best documented were in the borough of Danville.

In 1853, a slope was sunk in Beaver Place very close to where the Robbins trailhead is today. This mine descended to a depth of 500 feet and is perhaps the deepest mine in the entire county. I do not have a map of this mine but believe it descended under Beaver Place and under Mahoning Creek at an angle of about 25-30 degrees.

There would have been a “level” every 90 feet or so that then went east and west. This mine surprises me for a few reasons. For one, as the miners worked west they would have been under Thomas Beaver’s (and later George Geisinger’s) mansion. Typically iron masters and coal barons did not allow mining under their property.

In addition, the water must have been a tremendous problem at this location. The cost of pumping water is likely why this slope mine closed. On the Cumming Map of 1860 a “Slope” was labeled in this area. On the 1876 map, the structure is still there but it is no longer labeled “slope.” I suspect it was closed by then.

Among the best-documented mines were the Monkey Drift and the Welsh Hill workings. The Monkey Drift was actually a series of drifts (horizontal tunnels) that went into Sidler Hill in an eastern direction into what is called the “block ore” (this is the purple sandstone ore seen all over the Danville area). You can still see the Monkey Drift. It is cemented shut along first street.

Just a few hundred feet closer to town was the Welsh Hill (and Water Level) mine. These drifts went east into the “fossil ore” or the “Danville ore.” The Welsh Hill Drift would have gone into Sidler Hill somewhere close to where Route 54 now passes by the Sunoco Gas station near Perkins. I estimate this mine to have traveled more 3,550 feet east. That would bring it to Powder Mill Hollow, which makes perfect sense. All of my life, “old timers” have told me they heard that this mine had a second entrance somewhere on Powder Mill Road. As I study LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) I think I saw the second entrance (now collapsed) just below Powder Mill Road where the pipe gushes spring water. LIDAR is an active remote sensing system that can be used to measure vegetation height across wide areas.

Sadly, there is so little recorded about our local mines. All local ore mines closed by 1889. I was very fortunate to get to know Cy Kelly. He lived on Grand Street in Danville. He was born Oct. 4, 1914, and passed away Dec. 24, 2000. He served with the army during WWII, receiving 2 purple hearts and a bronze star. His grandfather had worked in what I believe was this mine (the Welsh Hill).

Kelly said “... my granddaddy, he worked all over though. He helped mine this ore out of the ground. Did you ever hear of the Lawrence’s? They’re the ones that had the mines. Them guys got a dollar a day for working in the mines. I’m gonna have to tell you this, my granddaddy told me when they cut props for where they were working, from their hand down to their elbow and that would be the height of the prop. He worked on this side of the hill (the Danville side of Montour Ridge). There was a lot of them things. I think they were Welsh. Now that was all before my time. He used to say that you get in there and you shoveled that out on your side. They mainly used a pick, I don’t think they did too much blasting. Last I heard they had about 9 of these blast furnaces, and these shale pits as I called them, furnished them with iron ore. This iron ore around here wasn’t near as rich as they could get up around the lakes, Lake Superior. It was easier to get.”

I believe his grandfather worked the “fossil ore” because it was soft enough to work with pick and shovel. The Monkey Drift (in the block ore) was extremely hard and required drilling and blasting. A prop held the roof up where a miner worked. This tells you how small the working chamber was for these men. All for $1 a day.

There is a lot more to the story of local iron ore mining. This article is only about the mines closest to downtown Danville (or should I say “under Danville”). I strongly suspect most people have no idea that these mines plunge deep under town.

I have a lot more to share about other mines in our area for those who are interested in learning more.

Please join me for an iron ore mining heritage hike this Friday, Sept. 9, at 6:30 p.m. as part of the Danville Heritage Festival. We will meet at the pavilion at Hess field and walk the 2.5-mile loop stopping at local history sites along the way. You can see all the details of the Danville Heritage Festival here: www.DanvilleHeritage.com.

Van Wagner is a local historian, musician and teacher. He was the driving force in launching the Danville Heritage Festival in 2015.

Trending Video