The remarkable remains of the beginnings of “America’s Industrial Might” still stand tall, deep in the woods in Chesterfield County. Chesterfield County was the coal capitol of the country, shipping coal all over the colonies from mine shafts sometimes 700 feet deep like this one - the Mid-Lothian Mine. 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, attests to the courage, innovation and sacrifice of those who started the nation’s industrial revolution.
Learn more about the technology and history of Mid-Lothian Mine in this report by Charles Fishburne, 88.9 WCVE.
Charles Fishburne: The remarkable remains of the beginnings of “America’s Industrial Might” still stand tall deep in the woods in Chesterfield County.
Robert “Peppy” Jones: This shaft is 625 feet deep...
Charles Fishburne: ...and they used to lower men down this hole?
Robert “Peppy” Jones: Men and mules. They would have mules down below in the mines to help carry the coal cars on the railroad tracks that would lead from the various tunnels bringing it back here to the shaft so they could be raised up and go on to market.
Charles Fishburne: Robert “Peppy” Jones used to walk all over this abandoned mine when he was a child and came to love the history and the stories of the miners.
Robert “Peppy” Jones: As you can look below you can see the brick lined air shaft that would have been lined the whole way through. Ventilation was everything to these guys. If you didn’t have it done properly then gasses would accumulate and you would have an explosion.
Charles Fishburne: You used to climb here as a kid?
Robert “Peppy” Jones: Oh yes
Charles Fishburne: And it was wide open and dangerous?
Robert “Peppy” Jones: Well, when you are a kid you are invincible so we didn't think of it as dangerous. We just thought of it as a fun thing to do.
Charles Fishburne: But this will be safe for families and visitors?
Robert “Peppy” Jones: Yes. This will be safe for families and visitors once all of this is done. Again thanks to the Division of Minerals, Mines and Energy.
Charles Fishburne: Why would your department be willing to spend a million dollars to be involved in this project?
Jerry Wilkes: First and foremost is the safety aspect. We have an area where there is a lot of visitation and a lot of traffic with a 600-foot open mine shaft. Those two don’t mix. Because we have partnered with the county and the Mines Park and Railroads Foundation it developed into an opportunity to really make something that I’m not shy on using the word “unique”.
Charles Fishburne: Unique for the world?
Jerry Wilkes: I won'’ go as far as the world - but I will say in the western hemisphere.
Charles Fishburne: Today, they are dedicating a new park trail and bridges that will make access easier.
Charles Fishburne: Stuart Connock Jr. Chief of Parks and Planning and Construction Services.
Stuart Connock Jr.: What is so special? This is where it all began for the county. We have a miner on the seal which says that’s what we are really all about and founded the county. It all started here and it’s still here. Of the hundreds of mines in the Richmond coal basin I believe this is the only one that still has the ruins of the operational structure. Most of the others are just a hole in the ground. But here you can see and visualize what the mine was all about.
Charles Fishburne: With a million dollar grant from the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy, generous private donations…and community support, it is becoming a walk able park…an oasis of trees and trails and history…safe for families and for tourists.
Charles Fishburne: Tom Garner, who is President of Mid-Lothian Mines and Rail Road Foundation.
Tom Garner: They were the first commercial coal mining operations way before the United States came into being. I think Virginians need to know they were an important part of the Industrial Revolution. We had some real interesting technological entrepreneurs that were investing in these mines and technical equipment.
Robert “Peppy” Jones: I was born and raised in Midlothian and now to be a part of this reclamation is a dream come through for me.
Charles Fishburne: And for future generations. Do you think they will really appreciated this?
Robert “Peppy” Jones: I certainly hope so. This is the only major ruin left of the first industrial complex of America. I hope that its preservation will inspire people for many, many years to come.