Mid-Lothian Mines Park
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About Mid-Lothian Mines Park
One of the first major industrial sites in the United States became a 44-acre preserve when Mid-Lothian Mines Park opened in 2004. Now dedicated to the citizens of Chesterfield County, past and present, the cut stone ruins of the mines surrounded by the beautiful woodland testifies to the courage, innovation and sacrifice of those who started the U.S. industrial revolution.
Discover the History of America's First Coal Miners
Mid-Lothian Mines Park tells the story of the earliest coal mining in America from 1701, when coal was first discovered, to the mid-1730s, when it began commercial production. The first commercially mined coal in America came from Midlothian, where it was discovered near the French Huguenot settlement on the James River around 1701. Coal from the mines here was used to fire the furnaces at Tredegar Iron Works in Richmond. Tredegar was the main supplier of artillery and iron for the Confederacy.
Formation of Coal as a Fossil Fuel
The Mid-Lothian Mines Park is in the heart of Midlothian’s coal mining past and is encompassed by the Richmond Coal Basin. Mining in the Midlothian area of the Basin represents the first attempt at commercial coal mining in North America. The Mid-Lothian Mines probably gave the village of Midlothian its name. The Richmond Coal Basin runs north and south and is approximately 33 miles long and 5 to 10 miles wide. It encompasses about 150 square miles in the counties of Henrico, Goochland, Hanover, Chesterfield, Powhatan and Amelia. The Richmond Coal Basin crosses the James River west of Richmond and the Appomattox River at its southern tip.
Local Coal Mining and the Mid-Lothian Coal Mining Company
The Mid-Lothian Coal Mining Company was chartered in 1835 on a 404-acre tract by the heirs of William Wooldridge. The coal seam here was approximately 36 feet thick and 700 feet deep. Wooldridge issued stock to raise funds for machinery, construction and the sinking of shafts. There were four shafts, 11 by 11 feet square producing about one million bushels of coal yearly. The Mid-Lothian shaft (later known as the Pump Shaft), one of the most productive, was flooded following a disastrous explosion in 1855 that killed 55 miners. After several unsuccessful attempts to pump out and rework this once preeminent shaft, it was abandoned.
The Grove Shaft Mine Explosion
On Feb. 3, 1882, a violent methane explosion trapped 32 men in the Grove Shaft. Miners from nearby Etna pits, the Deep Run pits in Henrico County and the Clover Hill pits, plodded through the snow to assist mine superintendent George Dodds in several futile rescue attempts. Dr. Philip S. Hancock, a local mine physician, organized a relief committee to appeal to the public for donations. With the help of members of Jerusalem Baptist Church, known now as Winfree Memorial and the Midlothian Masonic Lodge, the group raised funds to assist the miners’ families for many years with donations of food, rent money, fuel, clothing, school supplies and other necessities.
The Grove Shaft Ruins
A final effort in the 1920's by the Murphy Coal Corporation to pump out and reopen the Grove Shaft proved unprofitable and led to its close. The stone structure, once the company’s main building, housed workings such as ventilating fans, steam boilers, pumps and hoisting equipment. Today the 2-story granite ruins of the Grove Shaft stand as the sole architectural remnant of a once dominating local enterprise connected to coal mining in the Richmond Coal Basin. They serve as a reminder of the Mid-Lothian Coal Mining Company and of other area collieries that once supported a flourishing local industry, North America’s first commercial coal mining venture.