Program shows how mining shaped southwestern Will County.
By Mary Baskerville For The Herald-News August 31, 2012 1:36PM
Local historian Dick Joyce gave a presentation on the history of coal mining in Braidwood, Wilmington and Diamond. | Mary Baskerville ~ For Sun-Times Media
Updated: October 4, 2012 6:04AM
BRAIDWOOD — Coal mining history ripples through the towns of Braidwood, Diamond and Wilmington. Many of the
cities’ earliest residents were immigrants to this country, drawn by the work the mines offered.
During a recent summer evening, area residents gathered to learn more about the industry that first shaped commerce in this region.
Local historian Dick Joyce tracked the growth of the towns as the mining industry gave birth to commerce. He also traced the often-violent labor movement and the work of the United Mine Workers of America.
By the early 1920s, Joyce said, shaft mining shifted to strip mining, requiring fewer men and more mechanization.
The days were not without danger or intrigue for early Braidwood residents, he said. Henri Le Caron was reportedly a spy, known as a pharmacist and doctor. He died in 1894 — his regular check from overseas noted by a clerk at the Bank of Braidwood, and explained away by Le Caron as a rent check on foreign properties, Joyce said.
The strikes of 1868, 1874, 1877, 1889, 1894 and 1897 were often long and hard, Joyce said. The strike in 1877 was the “most bitter strike in Braidwood.”
After the strikes were settled, those who led the strike were often blacklisted and told there was “no work for you.”
Joyce said many miners would move to nearby mines and gain employment by changing their names in an era before Internet checks would have given away their identity.
There were two big mine disasters in the area, Joyce said: The 1883 Diamond Mine Disaster killing many, ages 13 to 54; and another disaster at Cherry Mine, killing 259 after a mine fire in 1909.
The evening was sponsored by the Braidwood Area Historical Society, and concluded with tours of the new museum and light refreshments.
The museum is now housed in the old train depot building at Main and Center streets, across from the Village Hall.
The museum is open from noon to 3 p.m. Saturdays and from 5 to 8 p.m. Wednesdays from June-September. The museum is also open by appointment by calling 815-458-6891.