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Coal Miners Memorial Fort Palmer Mine & Coke Works, Fort Palmer, Fairfield Twp., Westmoreland Co., PA

Coal Mines of Westmoreland Co., PA MAIN INDEX
Township Map of Westmoreland Co., Pennsylvania
Map of West Penn System Light Power Railway
Fort Palmer Mine &
Coke Works,

Fort Palmer,
Fairfield Township,
Westmoreland County,
Pennsylvania, U.S.A.

A Tribute to the Coal Miners that mined the Bituminous Coal seams of the Fort Palmer Mine, Fort Palmer, Fairfield Township, Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania, U.S.A.

Compiled & Edited by
Raymond A. Washlaski

Raymond A. Washlaski, Historian, Editor,
Ryan P. Washlaski, Technical Editor,

Updated Oct. 10, 2010

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Fort Palmer No. 1 Mine & Coke Works (1907-1934),
Located on T 741 & T 729 and Hannas Run, Village of Fort Palmer, 1 mile northeast of Wilpen, on the Wilpin Branch of the Ligonier Valley Railroad, Fort Palmer, Fairfield Twp., Westmoreland Co., PA

[The coal mining village of Fort Palmer is a coal mining ghost town today, ca.2004.]
Owners: (ca.1907-1914), Fort Palmer Coal & Coke Company, Ligonier, PA
             (ca.1914-1934), Westmoreland-Connellsville Coal & Coke Company, Pittsburgh, PA & Ligonier, PA
             [Westmoreland-Connellsville Coal & Coke Company closed the Fort Palmer Mine & Coke Works at the end of August, 1934.]   
             (ca.        ?        ), Westmoreland Coal Company, Irwin, PA

An panoramic photo ca.1920's of the Ft. Palmer Mine & Coke Works taken by Ligonier photographer Wm. Brown.  The "Old Row" houses are in the foreground with the banks of coke ovens behind.  The boiler house and tipple are partially obscured by trees.  The mouth of the mine was directly above the tipple.  One of the barns visible above the coke ovens was for stock, the other was a feed barn.  The company store is at the left with several houses above, including the Leichter house.  Water towers are visible on top of the hill and a reservoir was built nearby.  The complex was served by the Ligonier Valley Railroad, which sometimes put on passenger cars to take miners and families to Ligonier for special doings, such as Ligonier Valley reunions at Idlewild Park.  The original photograph is nearly four feet long and is at the Ligonier Valley Historical Society at Compass Inn in Laughlintown, PA.  Move photo to the right for the entire photo.  
(Photo courtesy of the "The Ligonier Echo," Ligonier, PA, Feb. 12, 1992, courtesy of Shirley Iscrupe, Librarian, and the files of the Pennsylvania Room, Ligonier Valley Library, Ligonier, PA.)

DESCRIPTION:
The former mining Village of Fort Palmer is now a ghostown, ca.2004.  Located on a rural dirt township road T741, at the intersection of T729, above the headwaters of Hanna Run, in Fairfield Township, Westmoreland County.  Although only building foundations survive from the Fort Palmer Mine & Coke Works, and some of the workers houses in the former Village of Fort Palmer, most of the Fort Palmer Coke Works is still intact.  The nearby Fort Palmer Coke Works contains approximately 160 rectangular Belgian coke ovens, the condition of these coke ovens ranges from fairly good, to moderate to severely deteriorated.  The Belgian Coke Ovens were the push through coke ovens with iron doors at both ends of the oven.

Unfortunately some of the coke ovens have been used as a trash dumping grounds by the locals.

In addition, some of the foundations of the buildings from the former coal company town of Fort Palmer may also be seen.  This includes the Fort Palmer Company Store, most of the stone foundation for this building is still standing.  

The community building foundation, this was probably a hotel or large boarding house, remains include a four story brick chimney, some remains of the hollow tile block foundation walls, and the foundation hole survive from this large building, although much trash has been dumped in the foundation.  

The workers houses, a few foundation holes survive from the houses.  The foundation holes have also been used as a trash dump by local residents.  Various mine structures, the foundations for the tipple, coke oven charging coal hopper, foundations for the coal loading tipple, remains of the railroad sidings, and coke loading sidings are still extant.  A recent strip-mining operation resulted in the demolition of many of the foundations of the workers houses, from the early 1900's.

The location of the former mining town of Fort Palmer and the Fort Palmer Mine & Coke Works in Fairfield Township is shown on a portion of the U.S. Geological Survey 15min. New Florence, PA quad. map.
(Map from the 15 min. U.S.G.S. New Florence, PA Quad. map, ca.1922, courtesy of the U.S.Geological Survey, Washington, D.C.)

HISTORY:
The drift-entry Fort Palmer Mine & Coke Works were developed by the Fort Palmer Coal & Coke Company in 1907.  The Ligonier Valley Railroad Wilpen Branch served the Fort Palmer Mine and Coke Works along with several other operations in Ligonier and Fairfield Townships of Westmoreland County. Coal at the Fort Palmer Mine was extracted from the 84 inch Pittsburg Coal seam.  Under the ownership of the Fort Palmer Coal & Coke Company the Fort Palmer Mine had built eighty rectangular Belgian Coke Ovens.

In 1909 the Fort Palmer Coal & Coke Company built at the Fort Palmer No. 1 Mine a new washing plant of the latest jig type.

The coal loading tipple at the Ft. Palmer Mine on the Ligonier Valley Railroad.
(Photo from the Ligonier Valley Historical Society, courtesy of the Collections of the Pennsylvania Room, Ligonier Valley Library, Ligonier, PA.)
The Ft. Palmer Coal & Coke Company built a school house at the top of the hill near the small house,  the school house was called the "Chicken Coop," because of its small size.  The small school house was razed and a new brick school building was erected in ca.1912.  At one time Margaret Ramsey Brown was the teacher.

The community buiding was a three-story structure.  The main floor featured a large room with wooden "Movie House Seats", a stage and a piano.  Brother Clair, a local evangelist, held services there;  another conducted Sunday school classes. Silent movies were also shown.  One of the movies shown was "Hopalong Cassidy."  The second floor had two apartments.  The Dick McCoy family lived inone and the Paul Graham family in the other.  A man named Edmondson operated a barber shop in the basement.

The Ft. Palmer mine produced 150,000 tons of coal employing 125 miners in ca.1910, and uitilized a powerhouse that provided electricity for the mine and town.

In ca.1914 the Fort Palmer Mine was owned and operated by the Westmoreland - Connellsville Coal & Coke Company of Ligonier.

According to "The Weekly Courier," of Connellsville, PA for May, 1914: "There is one plant of Belgian ovens in the Upper Connellsville region, the Fort Palmer works of the Westmoreland-Connellsville Coke Company.  The installation of 161 ovens has been in operation about a year.  The Belgian Coke Ovens are equipped with flues which retain much of the heat and improve combustion.  Although designed primarily for coking lower grade coals they give great satisfaction with the Upper Connellsville coal.  This company has a washer, breaker and picking table as part of its equipment, giving three methods of cleaning the coal, as its size demands.  A Lepley conveyor and Mitchell-McCreary watering machine are part of the oven installation.  All other ovens in the region are of the bee-hive type."

In 1914, Fort Palmer No. 1 Mine, built 1 permanent overcast and 2 stoppings, and provided a new traveling way.

By ca.1915, under the control of the Wstmoreland-Connellsville Coal & Coke Company, the number of rectangular coke ovens rose to 161 ovens. A little less than 160,000 tons of coal was produced in the Ft. Palmer mine that year, and the Ft. Palmer Coke Works made over 90,000 tons of coke.  In ca.1915, the Fort Palmer Mine employed fifty-three miners and the Fort Palmer Coke Works employed twenty-two coke workers. O.G. Leichliter of Ligonier served as superintendent of the Fort Palmer Mine and Coke Works.

The company was the fifteenth largest coal producer in Pennsylvania's Second Bituminous District in 1915.  O.G. Leichliter moved the company's office from Ligonier to Pittsburgh.  Its Fort Palmer Mine continued to be its sole producer of coal and coke.

In 1919 the Fort Palmer No. 1 Mine produced 178,353 tons of coal and the coke works produced 88,103 tons of coke, with 160 coke ovens, it employed 152 men and boys, the coke works was in operation 270days and the mine operated 267 days.

In 1920 the Fort Palmer No. 1 Mine produced 210,650 tons of coal, and 93,873 tons of coke, with 150 men and boys, the coke works was in operation 250 days,and the mine operated 302 days.

In ca.1930 the Ft. Palmer Mine produced about 147,000 tons of coal and the coke works produced nearly 102,000 tons of coke, using 142 rectamgular coke ovens.  That depression year the mine and coke works operated 258 days and employed 146 workers.

Fort Palmer Mine fielded a "Very Good" baseball team.  Some of the players were Dominick Simonetti, reputed to be a major league prospect.  Ralph Pritts, T. B. Hegan, Frank Rehm, Ed Harcom, and Chuck Hutchinson.
The Fort Palmer mine closed in August, 1934, with coal for the Fort Palmer Coke Works subsequently obtained by strip mining for a number of years afterwards.

(History and description of Fort Palmer Mine & Coke Works, adapted from with additional data "Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania: An Inventory of Historic Engineering and Industrial Sites, 1994,"  America's Industrial Heitage Project, National Park Service, Historic American Buildings Survey / Historic American Engineering Record, U.S. Department of the Interior, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.)

A lettter from Edward J. McDowell to Elizabeth, ca.1922

Old Colony Mine
Ligonier, PA.
April 21, 1922

I have an easy job now.  I am watchman at Old Colony switch.  I did not get my ride last Sunday as I had to work.  Somebody put a stick of Dynamite under a porch at Old Colony and I had to go out and help repair the house.  The next night, the same men came in and the watchman shot at him 22 times and missed every time, some shooting!

April 30, 1922

There was another house blow up at Wilpen last night.  This is a very serious time for the people of Ligonier Valley.  Father is worried very much now. He spends nearly all the time at the mine.  He was home two nights this week and all the other time he spent at Old Colony.

There is only one thing I like about my job and that is the money.  It pays well but I never knew 8 1/2 hours was so long before.

May 23, 1922

Everything is quiet out here now.  Yesterday the State Police made a raid on Fort Palmer and arrested about 20 men.  They had them in the lockup last night and Father went down to see what the police found.  He said that the police had taken all kinds of guns, dynamite, knives and even a large still from those men.  I think those foreigners need a little Christian Religion preached at them.

I made an awful mistake last Sunday.  An old lady came here in the morning and wanted to go to Old Colony so I let her go.  The next day two families moved away and them I found that this old lady was a strike agitator.  That was a lesson to me and now no one is going to pass.  I just had an awful experience.  I was sittig o a bench in the little house here where I watch and writing to you when I happened to look down at the floor and there I saw a big snake.  My but it scared me.  I shot at it three times and the last time I got it.

(Courtesy of Rebecca Edmondson.)

1932 Fort Palmer Mines Baseball Team:
Fort Palmer Mine fielded a "Very Good" baseball team.  Some of the players were Dominick Simonetti, reputed to be a major league prospect.  Ralph Pritts, T. B. Hegan, Frank Rehm, Ed Harcom, and Chuck Hutchinson.
Standing left to right: Mike Gubanich, Tom Fletcher, Joe Condrick (captain), Charley Hutchison (manager), Eddie Harcom, John Gergely, Andy Condrick, Mike Kovach.  Sitting left to right: Pete Micklow, Robert Swank, John Zurick, Mike Condrick, Dominic Simonetti, Mike Gera.
(Photo courtesy of Jack Gergely.)

Ft. Palmer Mines stables and the mine mules and horses with their drivers.  These men and animals hauled the mine wagons in the Ft. Palmer Mine.
(Photo courtesy of Andrew M Zurick.)

Ft. Plamer mine mules and the boys which drove them in the mine.
(Photo courtesy of Andrew M Zurick.)

My grandfather's name was Clarence W. Swank (father to Robert). Clarence was a "leveler" at the coke works. I know he worked prior to the 1920 census ..and until the closure of the mine.

Their home sat down the hill from the old school house and approx across from the general store. Today you can see my grandmother's (Elsie Johns Swank) day lilies among the tall grasses. When the mine ran out of coal, the family moved to Wilpen. Both Clarence and Elsie Swank are buried at Fort Palmer cemetery.
Andrew M. Zurick

"Coal Miners Memorial, Fort Palmer Mine & Coke Works,
Fort Palmer, Fairfield Township, Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania"

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