Labor History in Central Illinois

Along the hike to Rocky Glen, you will discover an old coal mine entrance on the south side of the creek.  There is also evidence of a road that trucks would have used to move the coal and deliver it out of the area.  Tom Tippet’s novel, Horseshoe Bottoms, discusses coal mining and Rocky Glen.  One of the possible locations of the mines in its story line is likely the Blue Fly mine, located just to the north of the Pottstown bridge over Kickapoo Creek, near the Peoria Disposal Company hazardous waste landfill on the other side of the stream. It operated from 1896 – 1903.

There are 21 former mines in this area between Pottstown and Bartonville along Kickapoo Creek Road. The oldest mine began in 1881, the last one closed in 1957. In the book, the original mine owner was named Old Bill Wantling. According to the Directory of Coal Mines in Illinois for Peoria County, May 2000, (published by the Illinois Geological Survey), the company name of Wantling is listed on 7 separate mine locations in Peoria County. The same directory lists over 650 former mine locations in Peoria County. The cemetery mentioned in the story is probably Pottstown Cemetery, located on a hill immediately to the south of PDC and across the creek from the Blue Fly Mine. When you stand there looking at the graves, you can’t help wonder which of these people might have known about Rocky Glen and if any of them were there when the large carvings were made on the canyon walls.

The mine entrance seen on the hike into Rocky Glen is part of a larger system of mines in the area call the Crescent City Mine.

Mike Miller from the Peoria Park District has done some research on the mine entrance we have all seen walking into the Glen.  His research on the Illinois Geological Survey website may be the main entrance to over 50 miles of tunnel, now probably all collapsed. These tunnels traveled several miles horizontally underground to the west, north and northwest of the mine entrance. They included extensive rooms and chambers, probably all less than five feet tall, usually in rooms less than five feet wide. A second tunnel once existed along the other creek near Rocky Glen, the one on PPD property, with an air shaft located along Farmington Road on private property that is now part of the Babu Condo development complex.

Here are some thoughts from Dave Pittman, the president of the Friends of Rocky Glen.  “Consider for a moment the what these miner’s endured in such tough working conditions. They worked before dawn until after dark, 6 days a week. Their poverty was far worse than anything I have ever known, and I grew up in a poor rural area in western Colorado where money was very hard to come by. I think part of my own motivation for this natural area purchase is to create some recognition of  this sacrifice made by people now nearly forgotten. The carved pictures and initials in the rock are something greater than unique art. For people who had nothing, the notion of a union was the notion of hope for a better future for their children. Coal is a powerful source of energy but the price we have paid is very very great. Even as I devote so many hours of my life to the day we no longer pollute the world with coal, I hope we can celebrate the coal miners and their devotion to their own dream, just like mine, of a better future for their children.”