Black and White Coal Mine

Story Courtesy of Jeff Rankin, Monmouth College Historian Author and Literacy Critic.

In recent decades, Monmouth College professors have partnered with outside parties on agricultural research, with projects ranging from making channel catfish grow faster to improving the nitrogen content of soil. But 150 years ago, one of the most unlikely partnerships between a Monmouth College professor and a farmer gave rise to Monmouth’s largest early industry.

The professor, Andrew M. Black, was not a scientist—in fact, he was professor of Latin and Hebrew languages. His partner was a wealthy livestock farmer. Their project did not involve agriculture, and the industry they founded was not the one they set out to create.

The farmer, Joseph M. White, lived on a 100-acre farm on Broadway, a mile east of the city limits. Professor Black was an amateur geologist who in 1869 told White about a vein of coal running in the vicinity of his property. The two decided to become partners and leased 1,400 acres of nearby land. With an investment of $1,000 they bored for coal, and at a depth of 45 feet discovered a vein two feet thick.

Thus was born the Black & White coal mine. While southern Illinois is usually thought of as coal-mining country, Warren County has a considerable amount of coal beneath its surface in all but Sumner and Hale townships. In 1877, there were 29 active coal mines in the county employing 112 miners.

After mining commenced in 1870 at Black & Whites’ mine in Section 33 of Monmouth Township, the partners continued to prospect, hoping to discover a thicker vein. Thirty feet below the coal, they ran into a seam not of coal, but of superior-quality fire clay, eight to 10 feet thick. After sending samples of the clay to Ohio for analysis, they determined that the clay was far more valuable than the coal.

In September 1872, a stock company was organized for the purpose of adding sewer pipe manufacture to the coal mining operations. Under the name Monmouth Mining and Manufacturing Co., the initial capital stock of $50,000 was subsequently doubled, and several large brick buildings containing the most modern equipment were erected. The factory stood just west of the current City of Monmouth transfer station, between South Eleventh and Fourteenth Streets.

The first sewer pipe was turned out on Aug. 25, 1873, and paving brick manufacture soon followed. Tiling from the plant was in heavy demand by local farmers, whose rich black soil was immeasurably improved by good drainage. The sewer pipe was considered some of the most durable and cost-effective available at the time, and supplied cities throughout the country.

Coal continued to be mined on the premises, making the plant self-sufficient with fuel for firing the kilns and running the steam furnaces. White served as a director on the first board and remained a stockholder until 1884. Professor Black retired from teaching in 1874 and left Monmouth.

Things really took off in 1877, when entrepreneurial Monmouth banker William Hanna bought shares in the company and was elected its president. The following year, he purchased a controlling interest, and with his son and his son’s brother-in-law developed the plant into one of the largest in the country, with a payroll of 300 workers.

The Rev. Andrew Morrow Black was born in County Down, Ireland, in 1813, where his Scottish Presbyterian grandfather had emigrated. When he was 6, his family sailed to the United States, landing in Philadelphia and then settling on a farm in Guernsey County, Ohio. He graduated from Franklin College in New Athens, Ohio, in 1836, then taught at Muskingum College and Franklin, and studied theology at the Associate Reformed Presbyterian seminary in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania.

Black was licensed to preach in 1845 and served several congregations. In 1853, he became a professor at Westminster College and in 1863 he came to Monmouth, where he not only was a professor but also served as its vice president. From 1864 to 1872, he also taught at the Presbyterian theological seminary, then located in Monmouth.

Following his retirement, Black and his wife lived with their children—first in West Virginia, where he farmed, then in New Brunswick, Canada. In 1893, they settled with their daughter in the Willamette Valley of Oregon. Finally, they moved in with another daughter in Sewickley, Pennsylvania, where he died in 1901 at the age of 88

Joseph Marple White was born in Pennsylvania in 1833, the son of a blacksmith. He was educated in the common schools, then attended Allegheny College and became a teacher for a time before engaging in farming. In 1858, he married Miss Sarah Rankin in Pennsylvania, and the couple set out for Illinois, purchasing 100 acres of partially improved farmland in Warren County. He eventually owned 220 acres and built an elegant residence on his farm east of Monmouth.

White was an ardent Republican and a trustee of the Methodist Episcopal Church. He died suddenly of a heart attack at age 69 in 1902, and is buried in Monmouth Cemetery.

For Maple City Memories, I’m Jeff Rankin.

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