241 – A New Mine at Eckley

The demand for anthracite coal kept growing through the 1840s and 1850s. Coal operators looked for new lands for mines.

Gentlemen engaged in geological pursuits, 1836


In the early 1850s, Richard Sharpe and Francis Weiss were scouting new lands in the wilderness 25 miles northeast of Tuscarora in Luzerne County. Sharpe was a coal operator, Weiss a surveyor.

They found promising geology around Shingleton, a small group of farming families who made and sold shingles from the surrounding forests. Convinced that they had found big deposits, Sharpe and Weiss set about securing mining rights.

The Coxe estate

The land around Shingleton was owned by the estate of Tench Coxe. Coxe had been a prominent Philadelphian, delegate to the Continental Congress, and Assistant Treasurer to Alexander Hamilton.

Aware of the early discoveries of coal, Tench Coxe had acquired 80,000 acres of land in northeast Pennsylvania.

Coxe died in 1824, much of his land undeveloped. But the land provided great wealth for his descendants.

A 20 year lease

In 1854, Judge John Leisenring joined Sharpe and Weiss as an investor. The men negotiated a 20-year lease with the Coxe descendants for the rights to mine and transport coal from a fifteen hundred acre tract. They formed the partnership of Sharpe, Weiss, and Leisenring.

Help wanted

Sharpe put out the “help wanted” call. The company would need over a hundred workers. Among others, two young families from Tuscarora would answer that call.

Patrick Gallagher signed on. He and Ellen and their infant son John would move to Luzerne County and the new mine. Patrick was age 28, Ellen 22.

Patrick Kelly signed on. He was husband of Ellen’s sister Margaret. They had a 2-year-old daughter and a newborn son. Patrick and Margaret were age 25.

Bridget Large would make the move too. She was Ellen and Margaret’s mother, age 63.


The new mine was remote, a long way from any other town. As was common in remote areas, a new “patch” town was built. The mining company constructed housing for the workers, and common buildings for the necessities of life.

They named the new patch town Fillmore. At least, that was the name until 1857, when the town applied for a post office. The name Fillmore was already taken, so the town was renamed Eckley.

Eckley Coxe, 17, was the grandson of Tench Coxe and the son of Judge Charles Coxe, who had negotiated the lease. In later years, Eckley Coxe would become an engineer and be involved in the operation of his namesake village.

A “patch” town

In a mining patch, the workers lived, worked, shopped, worshipped, and died. They benefited by having all the necessities conveniently at hand. But they paid rent for their housing, paid for their food and supplies at the company store, paid for medical care from the company doctor, etc.

The mining company controlled life in the patch.

Eckley was laid out along one Main Street.

A new mine

Work on the new mine began. A saw mill was constructed to provide the lumber for the houses, town buildings, and mining structures, including the breaker. The first breaker was constructed, the Council Ridge Colliery.

Eckley Breaker – c. 1901

The breaker building is the tall structure where the mined coal is elevated to the top. Then the coal passes downward through series of breaking wheels and screens to reduce and sort the coal by size.

As the coal is broken and sized, “breaker boys” would pick out the slate and rocks. They were also called “slate pickers.” They weren’t only boys. You can see in the photo that they include handicapped and injured older men.

Breaker boys, or slate pickers

Finally at the bottom of the breaker, the coal could be loaded into wagons or railroad cars.

By 1855 so much coal was being mined there that a branch of the Lehigh Valley Railroad had been extended to the village.

Coal Patch, Take Two: The Preservation of Eckley Miners’ Village

The mine plan

It’s amazing to see the map of the underground mine beneath Eckley. It shows miles of tunnels and shafts beneath the town.

Map of underground mine tunnels – Eckley, Pennsylvania – c 1865
Anthracite coal from Eckley mine

These are the mine tunnels that Patrick Gallagher worked in. What was it like? What was Ellen’s life like making a home and family in Eckley?

We’ll look at their life in Eckley in the next story.


One thought on “241 – A New Mine at Eckley

  1. deborahlargefox0764 October 5, 2022 / 9:20 am

    Interesting post. Eckley is a fascinating place to visit and walk with the ancestors


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