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The Golden Age of Coal in Greene County

Greene County’s first coal mine was built in 1859; there were about 200 mines in the area by century’s end.

The deep shaft mines in Greene County and its environs proved to be the source of more than just coal. The extraction of the mineral so abundant in Greene, Sullivan, Clay Counties resulted in an economic boom time during the last third of the nineteenth century and the first third of the twentieth.

Greene County’s first mine was built in 1859. First used to fire the blast furnaces used to process iron ore, coal became increasingly important to manufacturing and transportation.

The relationship between coal and the railroads was symbiotic; trains relied on coal for power, and coal required rail transportation to reach a national market. When the Indianapolis and Vincennes Railroad laid tracks across Greene County in 1869, mining took off.

There were about 200 coal mines in and around Greene County by century’s end.

Between the proliferation of backyard mining operations and a web of rail spurs to access them, urban settlement exploded, as towns named Mineral City and Coalmont attest. Mine owners named Dugger and Freeman gave their names to other towns. Greene County’s population swelled to 36,000 at its peak.

With just over 3,000 people in 1900, the city of Linton quadrupled in population within ten years. Serviced by the Illinois Central line, Linton in 1910 could claim sixteen coal mines within a three-mile radius, employing 2500 men and yielding twenty thousand tons of coal a day. Larger than it is today, Linton in the 1920s boasted 35 houses of worship, and at least that many saloons.

The towns of Jasonville and Midland enjoyed their own wave of prosperity once the railroad came through. Seeking to provide coal for the trains hauling stone out of his Bedford quarries, Chicago entrepreneur John R. Walsh put in a rail line from Elnora in Daviess County northwest, eventually connecting his limestone to Terre Haute and beyond.

But by 1950, underground mining was largely a thing of Greene County’s past.

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