Coal Mining in Illinois


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The Rise and Fall of Diamond
By Flossie Strickland
May 1907

Diamond is a little village of about three hundred inhabitants. It is situated in the northeastern part of Illinois in Grundy County about four and one half miles south of the Kankakee River and about seven miles southwest of Wilmington.

This Village was founded nearly forty years ago. At that time Mr. Bennett of Wilmington and Mr. Turner of Chicago, became interested in mines. They formed a partnership and having heard there was a fine vein of coal here, they began drilling and were highly pleased with the results. They sank a mine shortly after this, calling it the Number One or Bennett mine. The town was called Turner. The news that such fine coal had been found here soon spread over the coalfields. The Wilmington Mining and Manufacturing Company, a rich firm from Chicago, heard of the prosperous work being carried on out here, came and bought out Bennett and Turner.

This company still owns the land where the Diamond mines were operated. The coal was of such fine quality and glittered so, it was called "Black Diamond." The town's name was then changed from Turner to Diamond. It became a thriving little Village of about fifteen hundred inhabitants of many nationalities.

Tradesmen of all kinds, even a doctor, moved into town. Everything seemed on a fair way to prosperity. The school at that time stood five or six rods south of the present school house. It was taught by Mrs. Gray and for that reason was called the Gray school. This school was soon abandoned and "The Blackleg School" was opened. It was used for about twenty years or until the school house of today was built. It is still standing and is occupied by an Italian family.

The company sank a new mine about a quarter of a mile north of Maine Street. This mine produced fine coal. The work in the mine was not hard and the men earned good wages. About that time, twenty-four years ago there were heavy rains. The prairie was covered with about three feet of water. On Feb. 16, 1883 the men hesitated about going to work. Some turned back but the greater number went on. But alas! they had been at work but a few hours when the roof of the mine caved in.

This was a day long to be remembered. Men, women and children as soon as the news spread ran to the mouth of the mine crying for their husbands, fathers, brothers and friends. Everything possible was done to get the imprisoned men out. About twenty were taken out but sixty-nine still remain in the shaft.

Nothing could be done until the water went down. Not many days later a few unrecognizable bodies were found. But the rest were never found. A monument was erected a few years ago by the United Mine Workers and dedicated to the memory of those who lost their lives in the disaster.

The monument stands in a little park on Maine Street, near the principal part of the town. It was unveiled by Grandma Redman, who was supposed to be the oldest lady in Illinois, at the time of her death. She was one hundred and ten years old. She lost a son and two grandsons in the mine.

The disaster practically ruined Diamond. A large number of people left to find employment elsewhere. Just before this disaster the Number Three mine which was about one half mile south of town was opened. Prospects began to look brighter. This proved to be a good mine but when Number Four was opened, it became the banner mine of the prairie. It was called the "McGinty" after the song "McGinty" which was very popular at that time. Mr. Dent became engineer at the McGinty and it is said that he hoisted more coal than any other engineer on the prairie.

Mr. Mackey, now of Kansas was superintendent of the mines for a short time. He was succeeded by David Skinner, who held the position until his death over five years ago. His eldest son, Mr. Alex Skinner, took the place after his death.

The Number Five mine was sunk about one mile southeast of town. It proved to be so wet that it was abandoned. The other mines, not withstanding strikes, prospered.

Today Diamond is but a shadow of its former self. The coal around town is nearly all worked out. The company sank a new mine, Number Six about seven miles south of Diamond where a little village by the name of Torino is springing up. Many people from Diamond have gone there. Some have moved their houses; other their business places.

Diamond now has good sidewalks. In former times people had to wear rubber boots, the roads were so muddy. It is now well lighted and has fine gravel roads throughout the Village. It has a four roomed school, which boasts of it's principal and teachers being natives. But three rooms are now occupied and about one-hundred and fifty children are enrolled. The company store is no longer in Diamond and all the mines have been worked out. So Diamond citizens must go elsewhere for employment. Yet most leave with genuine regret the little village that has so long been their home but is now on the decline.