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New miners memorial is unveiled in Murphysboro

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MURPHYSBORO — The unveiling of an Illinois State Historical Society marker Saturday on the southeast corner of the Jackson County Courthouse lawn signified an important milestone.

It honored the first Illinois coal mine, located a half-mile south along the south bank of the Big Muddy River, which was worked by William Boon and his indentured servant Peter in 1810.

“Murphysboro was very important in the production of coal,” said Stu Fliege, society marker committee chairman, to an audience of about 15 people gathered for the unveiling.

Fliege gave a detailed account of what transpired after Boon discovered coal close to the ground’s surface and began its transporting on barges down the Big Muddy into the Mississippi River and eventually to New Orleans, where it was used for blacksmithing purposes.

Eventually mining companies moved into the area along what is now Illinois 127 and capitalized on coal abundance with drift mining techniques.

“This represents what became a mammoth industry in Illinois,” Fliege said.

The new marker is not a first, however, to signify remembrance of the mine.

Director Michael Jones of the Gen. John A. Logan Museum said the original first coal mine marker, dedicated in 1937, was at the northeast corner of Williams Street and Old Highway 13. It disappeared in the late 1960s or early 1970s. It was one of the earliest markers placed by the historical society, he said.

“These markers are reminders of people who came before us to make our lives better,” Jones said.

Jim Smith of Illinois Coal Association spoke and said coal production in Illinois peaked in the 1920s with its annual extraction of 90 million tons worked by more than 100,000 miners.

Those numbers declined to about 60 million tons annually worked by 10,000 miners. Ten years later, those numbers were cut in half due to environmental legislation that resulted in costly restrictions, Smith said.

“The last three or four years, there’s been a resurgence in coal mining with 50 million tons recorded last year,” Smith said, noting that about 85 percent of that amount is exported.

Also speaking at the unveiling were Murphysboro Mayor Will Stephens and Jackson County Board Chairman John Rendleman.

“This (marker) is a testament to the people of Jackson County,” Rendleman said as he talked about farming and natural resources being instrumental in establishing a county legacy.



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