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1914 No. 5 Eccles Mine Explosion


List of Men Killed

Survivor Recalls Eccles & Layland Mine Disasters

Lived Through 5 Days of Entombment

The second worst mining disaster in West Virginia occurred 28 April 1914 when the No. 5 mine at Eccles, WV exploded. A cemetery monument placed in honor of the men who died lists 183 names. However, Pauline Haga in her book, Raleigh County WV Death Records Vol. 3 1896-1914, gives the count as 186 deaths due to the explosion.
The mine was opened in 1905. It was owned by the Guggenheim family of New York City and managed by the New River Collieries Company until the Stoneage Coke and Coal Co. took over operations in 1923. Stoneage operated the mine from 1923 until 1928.
Eccles was a gaseous mine, as noted in the "1911 Annual Report of the Department of Mines" released by the WV Department of Mines. However, the ventilation required for gassy mines was adequate and appeared to be up to standards. The Department of Mines was not expecting a major tragedy at Eccles.
Why did Eccles No. 5 explode? James L. Wood takes an in depth look at the Eccles Explosion in his book Raleigh County, West Virginia. In it, Mr. Wood quotes from the official report filed by the State mine inspectors as to the cause of the explosion:
"...Judging from the conditions found in the No. 5 mine after the explosion, and the evidence taken at the inquest, it was conclusive that the explosion was caused by a barrier of coal being shot out by some person a short time before the explosion occurred, as the first right entry off of main east had been driven to the south off the east entry and to the north and south off of room No. 10 off of main south entry.
"About February 1st, the entry driven to the north came within about 4 feet of the connection with the entry driven to meet it from the main east. A contractor working on the south side of the barrier was notified not to shoot down the last cut, as it would disarrange the ventilation and this barrier stood intact from that time until the morning of the explosion, as testified to by the night fire boss who examined the same the morning of the explosion.
"When the workmen reached that section after the explosion, they found that a hole about 42x84 inches had been blasted out of this barrier and that a hole was loaded and tamped and the fuse wires exposed ready for exploding, near the left rib. The fire boss stated that this condition did not exist in the early morning when he made his inspection, but that the coal barrier was intact, as it had been since February 1st.
"The removing of the barrier short circuited the ventilating current from the south entry through No. 8 room, which was connected with the north section of the first right and back through the first right, through its regular air channel to the return air shaft, leaving the advanced working of the first right and the main south headings without ventilation.
"It appears from evidence that Seth Combs, a contractor, had been negotiating with the mine foreman for additional places on the far right east on the north side of the barrier, in addition to what he had on the south side.
"After the explosion the body of Combs was found on the north side of the barrier...while his work was on the south side, and it is assumed that sometime during the day he had blasted out a hole in the barrier that he might have a shorter travel way to the north section of the entry. In doing so, practically one-third of the mine was left without ventilation and it seems that the explosion originated in the main south sections of the mine, as it was known to liberate explosive gas and the coal in this section, varying in thickness from eight to ten feet, would allow the gas to accumulate next to the roof, as the conditions showed this explosion was caused by the ignition of gas and its propagation throughout the various parts of the mine was aided, to some extent, by the presence of coal dust, as the force of the explosion travelled in all directions..."
Many of the victims were never identified because of the degree of destruction at the mine. Those who were able to be identified were buried in family cemeteries if they were local men, and some of the Catholic immigrant miners were taken to St. Sebastian Cemetery in Beckley. Those who were not able to be identified were buried in the "Polish Cemetery" above the tipple. In 1976, the bodies were moved to a new cemetery at the request of the Westmoreland Coal Company, who was then mining Eccles coal.

List of Men Killed

Survivor Recalls Eccles & Layland Mine Disasters

Lived Through 5 Days of Entombment


Information compiled by Melissa Bailey Duggins, 18 Jan. 1999, 
from the following sources:

1.  Wood, James L., Raleigh County, West Virginia, Sponsored by 
Raleigh Co. Historical Society 1994, Printed by BJW Printing and 
Office Supplies, Beckley, WV 25801, pages 351-360.

2.  Haga, Pauline, Raleigh County WV Death Records Vol. 3 
1896-1914, Published by author, Box 1061, Crab Orchard, WV 25827, 
n.p.

3.  Haga, Pauline, A Tribute To The Coal Miner Vol. 1, Published 
by author, Box 1061, Crab Orchard, WV 25827, pages 3 and 8.

Any of the above named books would be recommended reading if you 
would like more detailed information about the 1914 Eccles 
Explosion.  Another book, They Died In The Darkness, by Lacy 
A. Dillon gives additional information about this and other WV 
coal mine disasters.

 

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