The Darr Mine was the site of one of the worst mining disasters in the nation. On December 19, 1907 a gas and dust explosion killed 239 miners. An inquiry into the disaster afterwards concluded, as was usually the case, that the Pittsburg Coal Company was not at fault. The explosion was presumed to have occurred in an area that the Fire Boss had cordoned off, but a group of miners had entered anyway carrying open flame mine lamps. This finding was not accepted by all involved: a number of those investigating the disaster could not agree on exactly where the explosion occurred. Secondly, the company permitted the use of open flame mine lamps in the mine, a practice it abandoned after the horrible events at the Darr Mine.
By 1910 the Pittsburg Coal Company had resumed operations at the Darr Mine, though the company dropped the name Darr Mine and simply operated the mine as an entry of the adjacent Banning No. 3 Mine.
By 1913 Banning No. 3 Mine employed 350 persons. That year its miners produced about 155,000 tons of coal. Situated on the 72"-thick Pittsburg coal seam, the slope-entry Banning No. 3 Mine was served by the Pittsburg & Lake Erie Railroad. There was also a tipple on the Jacobs Creek side of the Youghiogheny River, on the B & O R.R., connected to the Banning No. 3 Mine by a cable car running across the river.
In 1919 Banning No. 3 Mine employed 227 persons, though it was operated only a small part of the year. Workers at Banning No. 3 Mine produced less than 30,000 tons of coal in 1919. Soon thereafter, Pittsburg Coal Company closed Banning No. 3 Mine and the old Darr Mine entry.
Pittsburg Coal Company, a division of Consolidation Coal Company (CONSOL) after 1945, continued to Operate Banning No. 1 & No. 2 Mines in Fayette County through the 1940's.
(From the Report of the Department of Mines 1907, Nineteenth Bituminous District)
DARR MINE DISASTER
On December 19, about 11:30 A.M., an explosion occurred in the Darr Mine, operated by the Pittsburg Coal Company, located at Jacobs Creek on the Youghiogheny division of the Pittsburg and Lake Erie Railroad of the New York Central Lines, whereby 239 persons lost their lives. I was not on duty at the time of the disaster, owing to illness.
Mr. D. R. Blower, who was temporarily appointed, was making an inspection of Banning No. 1 Mine adjacent to the Darr Mine at the time of the disaster. About 3:00 P.M., I was notified by the department of Mines at Harrisburg that they had received a telegram from Jacobs Creek informing them that an explosion had occurred in the Darr Mine, probably entombing all in the mine.
I was directed by the Department to repair at once to the scene of the disaster and as quickly as they could arrive the following Inspectors were sent to my assistance: Alexandria McCanch, John F. Bell, F. W. Cunningham, Charles P. McGregor, Thomas D. Williams, Joseph Williams, John I. Pratt, Joseph Knapper, Roger Hampson, Ellias Phillips, David Young, Nicholas Evans, Alexander Monteith and Thomas S. Lowther.
T.K. Adams, C. B. Ross and I. G. Roby were making an inspection or investigation of the Monongh Mine operated by the Fairmont Coal Company, West Virginia, in which a similar explosion had occurred and did not arrive at the Darr mine until the 24th.
D. R. Blower was notified of the explosion and was on the ground in a short time directing the work of rescue. The explosion was so terrific it was soon discovered that it would be impossible for any one to get out alive. Only one miner who was inside made his escape. The ventilating fan remained intact, but nearly all the stoppings in the mine were blown out and had to be replaced as advancement was made into the mine, which necessarily made progress very slow.
Great precautions had also to be taken as there was danger of fire being left. The recovering of the bodies progressed without any serious trouble and on the night of the 27th the entire working portions of the mine had been explored and 220 bodies recovered. It was then decided that all bodies had been recovered except those that might be buried under falls of roof and debris. The inspectors then left the mine in charge of the company officials to search for the remaining bodies.
An investigation was ordered by the Honorable James E. Roderick Chief of the Department of Mines. It began January 2 and was completed on the 6th. It was to ascertain if possible, the cause of the disaster and was conducted by the following Inspectors: T. K. Adams, C. B. Ross, I. G. Roby, Elias Phillips, Alexander McCanch, F. W. Cunningham, John F. Bell, Charles P. McGregor, Alexander Monteith, Thomas D. Williams, Thomas S. Lowther, David Young, Joseph Williams, Joseph Knapper, John I. Pratt, Nicholas Evans, D. R. Blower and myself.
(From the United Mine Workers Journal, Dec. 1, 1957)
"Main Thing was Management Neglect"
All of the mining disasters of December, 1907 had several things in common. The main thing was management neglect and in some cases brutal criminal negligence. Black powder was used for blasting in all of these stricken mines. Coal dust was allowed to accumulate in spite of warnings from England that it was highly explosive. All of the mines were gassy and seem to have been poorly ventilated.
It is quite possible that the Jacobs Creek disaster would not have taken place if the men had been allowed by Providence one more day to dig out 40 feet of coal to reach a new shaft the company had sunk in an effort to improve ventilation in the mine.
One of the victims of the explosion was a mine foreman, H. S. Campbell. His widow reported that his main preoccupation and worry in the months preceeding the blast was with the gassy condition and poor ventilation in the Darr Mine. He pestered the company about it and it was at his urging that the new ventilating shaft had been sunk. Campbell's worry, which made him tell his wife he could not even think about Christmas, goaded the company into action, but it was 24 hours too late for 239 men.
(Courtesy of the United Mine Workers Journal, Dec. 1,1957 & The Coal Mining Collections of Peter E. Starry, Jr.)
Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission Historic Site Marker honoring the coal miners killed in the Darr Mine Explosion, Dec. 19, 1907.
The plaque is located at the Olive Branch Cemetery, on PA Route 981 between PA Route 51 and Smithton, PA. The marker was not erected until September 1994.
The plaque reads as follows:
"On December 19, 1907, an explosion killed 239 men and boys, many Hungarian immigrants, in Darr coal mine near Van Meter. Some were from the closed Naomi mine near Fayette City, which exploded on Dec. 1, killing 34. Over 3000 miners died in Dec. 1907, the worst month in U. S. coal mining history. In Olive Branch Cemetery, 71 Darr miners, 49 unknown, are buried in a common grave."
Rescuers Have Not Yet Reached the Point Where the Diggers Were Employed. United Press Dispatch
Dec. 20, 1907
The recovery of bodies from the ill-fated Darr mine is now in progress. It is believed that the death list will reach 200. On account of the Greek holiday yesterday, and the fact that many of the Greek Catholics were at church, the usual number of men were not at work, or the death list would have more than equaled the Monongah disaster. At 9:30 this morning there, six bodies had been recovered. Among them is Mine Foreman, W.S. Campbell.
The fans have been started and the fire is now believed to be out. It will take hours to reach the bodies and to tell the extent of the disaster. Pitiful scenes are to be noticed today about the little town that lies nearby, as wives and children of the unfortunate men anxiously wait the recovery of their loved ones.
Six members of the state constabulary arrived from Greensburg this morning and have taken charge. Ten mine inspectors arrived on the scenes this morning. Many have been attracted here by morbid curiosity.
Rescuers have gone 5,000 feet into the mine, it will be necessary to go three-fourths of a mile farther before coming to where the diggers will be found.
Superintendent Black, who was in charge of the mine, recently resigned, as did David Wingrove, former fire boss, on account of the gaseous nature of the mine. It is said they notified the officials the mine was unsafe for the men to work in. There are many such reports current here.
Jacob's Creek, PA - Dec. 20.
Death to at least 200 miners and the accompanying suffering and bereavement to their families came yesterday between 11:15 and 11:30, with all that sadness and fatality characteristic of subterranean eruptions when a combination of gas and coal dust cause a terrible explosion in the Darr mines of the Pittsburg Coal company, located just across the Youghiogheny at Van Meter. There was but one explosion and it was accompanied by a flaming detonation. While the surface indications do not show that it came with great force, residents of both sides of the river say that their houses shook and the earth fairly rumbles as the gas and dust made a fruitless effort to belch itself forth through any entrance, all of which were too confined for its purpose. This was the warning to the neighborhood and it was not mistaken.
Wrought up by the death bearing calamities in other parts, wives, sisters, and sweethearts had lived in dread of a like fate, and when the explosion came it was as both a warning and a death knell.
Survivors Are Brave.
Last night in two little hamlets, weeping women, many with babes in their arms, tell the tale of happy homes bereft and springing hope blighted. Survivors, be it said, are bearing up bravely and most of them seem resigned to the fate of those who knew too well the risk their loved ones took, but who had fondly hoped that they might be exempted from the death toll exacted.
Arrangements were completed last night by which all the dead will be buried by the company. This was decided on after a consultation among the officials here and the Pittsburg office. The place of burial and the time of interment will, of course, be subject to the wishes of the bereaved. After bodies have been taken out and identified they will be encased in shrouds and caskets ordered by the company, tonight. Representatives of the National Casket company and the United States Casket company of Pittsburg were here and secured the order for the caskets and supplies. It was impressed on these men when the order was given that it was the intention to accord the victims of the disaster a respectable interment and the selections were made accordingly. Two hundred and fifty caskets were ordered to be shipped on request. Rescuers Promptly at Work. With all the sadness that the accident took on, in the same ratio of sobriety was the work of rescue begun. Men seemed to fairly spring from the ground, anxious to pull down the barriers between their unfortunate fellowmen and liberty, which in this case meant life.
Workmen from the other mines of the company in this section, the Wickhaven and the Banning, rushed from their places without instructions from their superiors. Fifteen minutes after the explosion occurred the debris from the entrance had been cleared away, and the first rescue party entered. As nearly as can be ascertained, through the company officials refuse to go on record at the present time, either as the cause or effect, the point of the explosion was located about two miles from the entrance.
By 7 o'clock last evening penetration had been made to the twenty-first entrance, fully 5,000 feet from the entrance to the mine. First Bodies Found. It was here that the first bodies were found. Right at this point is located the shanty in which the pit boss makes his headquarters while in the mine. As it hove in view it presented an uncanny appearance with a grave-like stillness about it. Here within the four walls of this little wooden structure were huddled five dead bodies. Four of them rested on an improvised bench and the fifth, headless, believed to be that of the mine foreman, W.S. Campbell, lay on the floor. Stout-hearted enough to dare death themselves in any form, the rescue party stood trembling at this ghastly find. This discovery was made about 7 o'clock and the rescue party returned to the entrance. When their find was reported to General Manager J.M. Armstrong he gave instructions that no bodies be brought out until the crowd, which besieged the entrance, had departed.
The rescue work was greatly helped in two ways. The brattice work in the mine, with few exceptions, was in good condition, and in addition to this the fan used to force air into the mine was not injured. The Darr mine, which is one of the oldest in the field, the first coal having been taken out 65 years ago, is located on the riverbank, with a slope entrance. On either side lie the Banning and Wickhaven mines, also operated by the Pittsburg Coal Company.
While officials of the company assert that there is absolutely no connection between these mines, several of the miners assert that this is not true, and that in several places at different points augur holes have been bored through the connection walls on both sides, and in this and through these entrances, it would be an easy matter for the gas in both the others to congregate in the Darr.
In the Port Royal mine which lies only a short distance off, and which produced the only fatal explosion in this section in the past, there is also supposed to be an entrance to the Darr. The Darr lies higher than the others and as gas naturally rises to the surface, it is asserted that it became the receiving chamber for the other three.
NEWS SUMMARY Town and County
W.S. Campbell, foreman at the Darr mine, and among the dead, a former resident of McDonald and Finleyville. Walter Shepherd, also formerly located in this county, among the dead.
(The Washington Penna. Reporter, Saturday Evening, December 21, 1907)
12 BODIES HAVE BEEN RECOVERED
All Were in Main Entrance of the Darr Mine at Jacobs Creek.
OBSTACLES ENCOUNTERED United Press Dispatch
December 21, 1907
At 11 o'clock this morning 12 bodies had been recovered. All found so far were in the main entrance. No attempts have been made to explore the side entries or rooms, some 2,000 feet beyond, on account of gas. It is believed most of the bodies will be found in the swamp entries, about three miles back from the entrance to the mine. Great difficulties face the rescue party on account of the black damp and debris strewn along the main entry. Several gangs of workmen are boarding up the abandoned rooms of the old entries so as to force ahead and try to recover the bodies.
The coal company has posted notices that payday is postponed until next week, to save confusion.
The coal company has purchased a plot of ground near Smithton for a cemetery for the dead miners. Another explosion of white damp or marsh gas is expected in the "Swamp," and thus rescue work is progressing slowly. No more bodies are yet recovered. Portions of bodies are seen here and there by searching parties. The latest estimate of the number of dead places the minimum at 150, with the possibility that the aggregate will reach 200.
A canvass of the neighborhood reveals the names of 129 missing. This canvass is not complete and this number will not be accepted as the total of workmen in the mine when the disaster occurred.
Gas filtering through the walls from the abandoned working of the old Port Royal mine is believed by many to have been the cause of the explosion. Some hold that dust caused the trouble, but a majority cling to the gas theory. The old Port Royal mine is close to the "swamp" in the Darr mine, where the explosion is believed to have occurred. Until a thorough investigation is made, the mine officials will be unable to say just what caused the explosion. This cannot be done for several days.