(c) 2006 by Marilee Miller
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Voices from Beaver Hill
Beaver Hill Coal Mine and Company Town
Introduction and Overview
(Full Circle: Back from the Future)
COAL MINE &
The rippling wooded hills and fertile valleys of Coos County, Oregon, are underlaid with massive beds of coal -- 450 square miles of it. "The resources of the county," writes historian Orvil Dodge, "are almost beyond comprehension and of unlimited extent. Capital and energy are only needed to place this portion of Oregon among the wealthiest in the state." [Pioneer History].
The Beaver Hill formation is one of the most prominent coalfields. Because of this, something new is happening out at he surface level of Beaver Hill, one of the ridges dividing the Coquille and Coos River watersheds. The earth endures the assault of boring equipment. A mining company is drilling a'tap, a'tap, down in the ribboned seams, hoping to extract the methane gas trapped within the vast coal reserves.
If the outfit succeeds, a pipeline will carry the gas hither and yon.
And echoes will bounce far beyond putting money in one corporation's pocket. Royalties from mineral rights leases will flow into the county budget. Some persons will find jobs with the production company. A domestic source of energy will take its place to augment imported oil. The local economy will see a boost. Of course, no one knows whether the project will pay out. But if it does, it will also repeat what Coos-gone-by sought years ago -- mining a product that is already "here", and marketing it to consumers who need it.
The circle has come around again. Coos coal operations played a significant part in developing this region. When oil supplanted coal as a source of fuel, the value of coal lands faded into obscurity, but now is again significant for an underground resource that accompanies the coal. The study of history is important in itself. But perhaps today's interest in mining gives us one more reason to look back at the history of Beaver Hill and its coal.
Marilee Miller 2006
For a number of years, coal mining in Coos County, Oregon, was the "third leg" of regional economic development. (The other "legs" being timber, and agriculture.) One operation gave more output than all the others combined -- maybe it was even the largest producing coal mine in Oregon. That was the coal mine at Beaver Hill.
BEAVER HILL: An entire range of low hills between the Coos and Coquille watersheds. Or more specifically, one hill on which a thriving coal mine developed. Vast veins of lignite or sub-bituminous coal are often embedded in unstable fractured rock which makes mining difficult.
BEAVER HILL: Were there beavers around? Yes, during one early period in Coos history, the pesky little animals presented a real problem to vital navigation down on Beaver Slough. But later, the reference to Beaver Hill did not call up images of beavers plashing in the marshy lowlands.
BEAVER HILL: The name came to be synonymous with Coos County coal. After the discovery of coal on Beaver Hill, a forest was hewed down to make room for a bustling mining camp. Some of the coal hauled away in ships, also powered those same vessels. Beaver Hill coal heated "the city: -- San Francisco, California.
BEAVER HILL: The coal mine operated – sometimes lustily, more often in spurts followed by closures -- from 1894 until the 1920’s. At first it was owned by the J.D. Spreckels Company, a subsidiary of Claus Spreckels, the California and Hawaii sugar king. Around 1906, Southern Pacific Railroad seems to have acquired the property. The “Espee” coveted Coos coal to fuel its locomotives -- as did many local logging railroads, as well..
BEAVER HILL: A company town and incorporated village. Where outside-financiers tried to earn sweeping profits. Where miners labored and their families eked out their livings.
Its post office, however, was down at Preuss, a postal station at or near the “Junction”. Here, a railroad spur angled away from the main line to climb the steep slope to the mine and community. The coal train brought the mail on in to camp for distribution.
In the heyday of the Beaver Hill’s coal mine, not long after the turn of the century, the town, we’re told, boasted around 1000 inhabitants. Now that figure is hard to believe!
As the Coos industries and enterprises -- including the Beaver Hill coal mine -- worked together (and competed against one another), Southwest Oregon's economy grew. Ways of living changed. So did personal or corporate fortunes (or loss of the same) -- as well as ideas, relationships, character, and the technology of its times.
More than 80 years ago, the mine's usefulness came to an end. The operation was abandoned. The company houses, which had no permanent foundations, were torn down for lumber-salvage. Even as late as 1980, fortune hunters could find an occasional bottle, bedstead, or china plate left behind “on the hill.” But no more! Dangerous tunnels were bulldozed shut for the safety of unwary hikers in the woods. Today no evidence remains to show that a town and a mine ever were there. And the hillside has been logged off several times.
Where are the folks who actually lived at Beaver Hill when it was still
running? Miners and bosses, investors and dreamers? Long gone! . The full spirit (or impact) of a coal mining operation from 1893 until the early 1920s can no longer be captured. The best we can do is piece together skimpy newspaper accounts and tantalizing pieces of written and oral history. Before the fragments drift away on a puff of time's wind, may we discover secrets and strengths from our local heritage.
If we listen oh, so carefully, we may still hear -- VOICES from BEAVER HILL.
(c) 2006 by Marilee Miller
PART 1 LIFE IN A COMPANY TOWN
1. Getting in and out of Beaver Hill
2. The Company Town
3. Houses & More
4. Health, Hospital, and Dr. Mingus
5. Incorporation, town government; misc
PART 2. FAMILY and COMMUNITY LIFE
1. The School
2. The Kids Speak Out
3. The Kids on the Hill
4. Remembrances of Family and Community Life
5. Other Life, and misc
6. People [?}
PART 3. R. A. GRAHAM and the early mine
PART 4. OTHER GRAHAM ACTIVITIES, and SHENANAGINS
PART 5. THE CHANDLER YEARS; Spreckels interests.
PART 6 & on
To be announced
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