The coal industry has played an important role in Ohio’s history and economy, and there are many coal miner memorials around the state. These memorials are a great place to learn some Ohio history and reflect on the advances we’ve made in energy and extraction methods.
My family is no stranger to the dangers of working in a coal mine. Though many mines have better safety protocols in place, it’s no secret that mining is a dangerous job. This post shares memorials that honor those who have lost their lives in the coal mines of Ohio.
Coal Mining in Ohio
Coal mining has long been an important part of the United States’ economy, particularly in the Appalachian region around Southeastern Ohio and West Virginia. Mining for coal is a dirty, dangerous job but for many men in the 1800s and early 1900s, especially recent immigrants, it was the only way to feed their families.
Coal mining in Ohio began in Jefferson County along the Ohio River in the early 1800s. For a time, Ohio was one of the largest coal-producing states in the Nation.
In the mid-1900s, technological advancements made surface mining a safer alternative to underground coal mines. In 1970, the Federal Clean Air Act brought a drastic halt to coal mining and production.
While nowhere near the coal boom of the 19th century, coal mining is still active in Ohio, especially in the rolling hills of Southern and Eastern Ohio where rich deposits of coal have been discovered. The coal industry in Ohio still employs 3,000 people.
For those coal miners who worked in the old-school underground mines, it was a dangerous job. The life expectancy of coal miners was short, due to a myriad of health issues, particularly affecting the lungs.
Many men gave their lives to the coal mines, whether from long-term health effects or mine accidents. Even some of their wives died of black lung just from washing their husbands’ clothes each day!
My great grandfather worked in a mine in southeastern Ohio and died in a mine. It was believed he died of a heart attack and not a mining accident, but we’ve lost family members to those too.
Ohio’s deadliest coal accident was at the Sunday Creek Coal Company, where 100 men died. Sadly, all that remains to honor them is a historical marker near Athens. Thankfully, there are many other places in Ohio where you can visit coal miner memorials.
Coshocton County Coal Miners Memorial
318 Main St, Coshocton, OH 43812
Coshocton County sits just northeast of Columbus and has a strong history of coal mining. The first mine in this area was the Hardscrabble Mine, which opened in 1833.
Hundreds of other mines followed, with ebbs and flows of opening and closing new mines through the 1960s. At its peak, seven full trains of coal left Coshocton County each day!
This Coshocton County Coal Miners Memorial Fund established this permanent memorial to honor the lives of coal miners of Coshocton County who lost their lives working in the coal mines. The site consists of a granite memorial stone, etched with the names of dozens of miners who passed between 1875 and 1989.
There’s also a bronze statue of a coal miner, sculpted by Alan Cottrill. The memorial, which was dedicated in October 2013, sits in a lovely park at the corner of Chestnut St. and North 3rd Street in the small town of Coshocton.
Byesville Coal Miner Statue
100 Tolliver Trail, Byesville, OH
Another small Ohio town honoring the legacy of coal miners is Byesville, which lies halfway between Columbus and Pittsburgh. Byesville was a stop on the Marietta branch of the Pennsylvania Railroad, which was used to haul tons of coal from nearby Cambridge.
Today, that rail line has been repurposed as the Byesville Scenic Railway, a tourist attraction that also offers a great education on the history of coal mining. The scenic train ride travels 3 ½ miles along a route that used to contain 12 mines!
Residents have banded together to create a coal miner museum, as well as a bronze statue by Alan Cottrill, which was revealed in a dedication ceremony in 2012.
Miner’s Memorial Park
4470 OH-78, McConnelsville, OH
You may remember me mentioning the “Big Muskie” before, and Miner’s Memorial Park is the place to see it. The Big Muskie bucket is a one-of-a-kind mine dredging machine, which at one time was the largest machine in the world!
By the late 1980s, more efficient means of mining had been invented and Big Muskie was dismantled and sold for scrap. All that remains is the giant 240-ton bucket on display at Miner’s Memorial Park. You can even climb inside the bucket to see how massive it really is!
A historical marker talks about the history of mining in Morgan County, where the Central Ohio Coal Company once employed over 1,000 individuals. There’s also an interpretive kiosk with more information and a Wall of Honor remembering those who worked in the coal camps.
You can read my Big Muskie blog post and see photos that a reader graciously provided to me of the Big Muskie in action.
Hocking Valley Miner at Knights of Labor Miners Park
116 Main Street, Shawnee, OH
Another Alan Cottrill coal miner sculpture can be found in Shawnee, a small town in the Hocking Hills region of Ohio. The Knights of Labor was one of the first organized unions in the country, and this park was created in 2003 to commemorate their role in the unionization of Hocking Valley coal miners.
This park is just one of several stops along a self-guided historic walking tour of Shawnee, which was a boomtown in the early 20th century.
Willow Grove Mine Memorial
The second-deadliest coal mining accident in Ohio occurred at the Willow Grove Mine in 1940. To honor the 80th anniversary of the Willow Grove mine explosion, the UMWA District 31 dedicated a memorial at the mine site, where 72 workers were killed. It’s a bit shocking that it took 80 years to have something to commemorate the disaster, but it’s now a good reminder of the region’s history.
Do you know of any memorials dedicated to coal miners that aren’t listed here? Leave us a comment and let us know so we can check it out!