Farmville Coal Mine Disaster 1925

Privacy Level: Public (Green)
Date: 27 May 1925 [unknown]
Location: Coal Glen, Chatham County, North Carolinamap
Surnames/tags: Mining_Disasters North Carolina Disasters
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Disasters | Mining Disasters | United States Mining Disasters | Southeast United States Mining Disasters | Coal Glen-Farmville Mine Disaster


History and Circumstances

Area History

North Carolina was first settled by Europeans in 1668 primarily on the Atlantic coast. It wasn’t until the early 1730s that settlers began to move west into the Piedmont area of North Carolina. The early settlers were primarily Scotch-Irish and German people who were descendants of Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia settlers. [1]
The Piedmont area of North Carolina where the Deep River Coal Field is located was part of Chatham County initially. In 1907 that section of Chatham County and a part of Moore County were brought together to form Lee County, named for CSA general, Robert E. Lee. [2]
Indians traveled across Chatham County long before it was established. Stone arrowheads found by early farmers as they cleared or plowed land was the most common evidence of their presence. Records show that some of the first settlers in Chatham County, arriving in the mid 1700’s mostly from the north or up the Cape Fear River valley from the southeast, were of European origin. The early settlers were concerned primarily with agricultural pursuits. [3]
The area surrounding the town of Farmville was first settled in the mid 1760s. Their numbers were small and were mostly farmers by trade. The first recorded structure inside the current town limits was a log cabin built about 1840. In the 1850s a church and a school were built. The town of Farmville was incorporated in 1872. [4]
There were three towns within a five mile band, Egypt, Gulf and Farmville. Egypt was renamed Cumnock in 1915 and Farmville was renamed Coal Glen after 1915. All of this to try to clear up confusion about the naming of the mines.

Mine History

The presence of Deep River coal was first noted in 1820 and was the only noteworthy source of coal in the state. Around 1921, the Carolina Coal Company developed a mine on the site of the old Farmville village on the Chatham County side of the Deep River, less than two miles east of the Cumnock Mine. Coal was mined in three towns within a four and a half mile band: Egypt, Gulf and Farmville. There is some confusion over the name of this event. Initially it was called the “Cumnock Mine Disaster”. The Cumnock Mine, however, was not the mine where the accident occurred. Farmville was later renamed Coalglen, or alternately Coal Glen at a date not readily available. The disaster has since been referred to in association of one of these three nearby locations. [5]

Mine Disaster Circumstances

At 9:40 in the morning on May 27, 1925, a massive explosion shook the town of Coal Glen, N.C. The blast came from the Deep River Coal Field, where local miners were working nearly a thousand feet underground. The explosion, probably touched off by either coal dust or natural gas, was devastating: fifty-three miners were killed.[6] This day had started like any other. At 5am George Anderson the gas boss, went down and made an inspection, reporting the mine free of gas. [7] There were three explosions about 30 minutes apart. The first one was in the second right lateral shaft, approximately 1000 feet from the entrance. The two subsequent explosions were thought to have occurred between the second right lateral shaft and the opening. Six miners were pulled from the mine alive.
It was thought that, because the coal was soft and very slow-burning, the coal dust was not highly combustible. Because of this and the long history of operation without accidents, there was a false sense of security. After the explosions, there was a lack of rescue equipment on hand. There were no gas masks because they had never been needed. [8]
Trains bringing experts sent by the State and Federal Bureau of Mines arrived around 0900 the next morning from Thomas, West Virginia and Birmingham, AL. T.P. Reed, safety director of the Federal Bureau of Mines was in charge of the first train bringing pumps and gas masks to aid in the rescue. [9]
The rescue dragged on for 2 and a half days. The last bodies were not removed until Saturday evening. People came from far and wide to see what happened and to offer assistance. Initially, it was unclear how many men were in the mine. Records showed that 59 men entered the mine to work that morning but it was reported that 71 miners lamps were out and it was thought there might be additional men in the mine. Six bodies were found on the first day. Mr. William Hill of the Cumnock mine told families that the air was clear below where the bodies were found, giving hope that the entombed men might still be alive.
Several days passed before all the bodies could be brought to the surface. Identification was difficult because of the damage done by the explosions and fires. Frank D. Grist, mining inspector said that official inquiry could not be made until all bodies were recovered.
The average wage ranged from $3 to $10 a day. Most of the men worked on a ton basis, being paid $1.25 for each ton they dug out. Approximately 40 of the miners who were killed were married and left widows and 75 or more orphans. The Sandford post of the American Legion auxiliary had three women working day and night to provide food and water to the relatives and those involved with the rescue work in various capacities.[10]
More than half of the adult population was wiped out in the disaster. There were several families that suffered multiple losses. One older man lost three sons and a brother. A rumor gaining wide circulation was discounted by mine officials. The rumor has it that smoking in the mine caused the explosion. The experts from the federal bureau of mines concurred with the local mine owners that there was no proof that smoking caused the explosion and there are a number of other possible causes. None were determined. .[11]
As a result of the explosion, about 300 people including about 40 widows and 150 orphan children were in destitute circumstances. Statewide appeals were made for citizens and various civic and professional organizations to assist with fundraising to help the widows and orphans.

Investigation Report

Accidents in the Mine State Report At the state level there was a general lack of knowledge and experience managing the mines. The North Carolina Department of Labor and Printing was the state agency charged with oversight and supervision of mines in North Carolina. The Hon. Frank D. Grist, commissioner at the time of this disaster stated that there were no funds allocated for supervision and inspection work. [12] In fact, the mine was never inspected by authorities at the North Carolina Department of Labor even though laws were in place to protect the safety of miners in the state. [13] There was a lack of rescue equipment such as gas masks available at the time of the disaster.
Bion H Butler, vice-president of the Carolina Coal Mining Company wrote to Labor Commissioner Frank Grist. He stated that a blown out "shot" caused the explosion. Mr. Grist was responsible to conduct an investigation of the mine disaster and to submit a report and recommendations to the legislature for proposed regulations. He had been seeking an experienced mining engineer to assist with the investigation but found them to be scarce. [14]
John R. McQueen, President of the Carolina Mining Company anticipated that the company would be sued by the families of the deceased and the survivors and that members of the corporation might be made criminally liable for alleged failure to comply with state laws regarding mine safety. He stated that all the laws of North Carolina, West Virginia and Alabama were complied with. He also declared "the laws in this state are not comprehensive, there being little reason for them".[15]
Commissioner of Labor and Printing, Frank D. Grist ascribed the explosion that killed 53 people to the following causes. A blow-out shot, possibly defective powder, and carelessness in not properly placing the shot or blast. The report contained recommendations relating to mine safety, precautions for miners and support for a proposed workman's compensation laws. He related his support for workman's compensation to the circumstances that followed the mine disaster. [16] The Workers' Compensation Act was passed in 1929..[17]

Miner Victims

53 men and 1 woman lost their lives in this explosion. There were 6 survivors.
It is interesting to note that the black woman is not included in the count although is included in the victims' lists in public records[18].

Death Certificates on File at the Chatham County Register of Deeds Office, Pittsboro, NC - recorded at Page listed below.

NameAgeApprox DOBRaceMarital StatusActual Date of BirthPlace of BirthPAGEBURIAL
Alston, Henry311893coloredMarriedChatham Co.1005Union Grove
Alston, Johnnie171903coloredSingleSiler City981Piney Grove
Anderson, Francis37whiteMarried1 Nov 1888AL1003Ragland, AL
Anderson, George M. F.49whiteMarried7 Nov 1875AL1004Ragland, AL
Barr, David191906coloredMarriedJohnsonville, SC982Johnsonville, SC
Buchanan, Thomas S.20whiteMarried30-Aug-1904Harnett Co.973Cool Springs
Burger, John301895coloredMarriedSC1016Bethune, SC
Byerly, William E.401885whiteMarried993Farmville/Coal Glen - Farmington Cemetery
Chalmers, Reuben321893whiteMarriedRagland, AL1006Ragland, AL
Chesney, Wilson49coloredMarried4 Apr 1866Chatham Co.980New Hope
Cotton, June19coloredSingle1-Aug-1905Chatham Co.1001Union Grove
Cotton, Thomas N.28whiteMarried6 Apr 1897Merry Oaks, NC1019Asbury Ch.
Curd, John B.351890whiteMarriedAL988Ragland, AL
Davis, Clifford B.321893whiteMarriedRagland, AL996Ragland, AL
Dillingham, Edward301895whiteMarriedAL994High Point
Dillingham, Walter D.271898whiteMarriedAL995High Point
Hall, Henry Grady351890whiteMarriedMontgomery Co.1018Farmville/Coal Glen - Farmington Cemetery
Halston, Lewis31coloredMarried13 Nov 1893Pittsboro1002Union Grove
Hayes, Elmer26whiteMarried29 Oct 1898Randolph Co.979Holly Springs
Hays, Isaaccolored997
Hill, Elijah501875coloredMarriedChatham Co.974Cumnock
Hodge, Lee401885coloredMarriedVA984Danville, VA
Holland, Archie E.351890whiteMarriedSampson Co.1021Bethany Ch.
Holly, Albertcolored998
Howard, Wesley271898coloredMarriedSC0974-AOrangeburg, SC
Hudson, Dan B.17whiteMarried18-Sep-1908Lee Co.1017Cool Springs
Hudson, Joe271898whiteMarriedHarnett Co.975Cool Springs
Irick, Will321893coloredMarriedSC987Ft. Moultrie, SC
Johnson, Claud V.48whiteMarried8 Feb 1877Chatham Co.976Farmville/Coal Glen - Farmington Cemetery
Johnson, Nathan R.25whiteMarried25 Oct 1899Chatham Co.1023Jones Chapel
Lambert, Manley251900whiteMarriedChatham Co.1008Gulf
Laubscher, John E.21whiteSingle13-Dec-1904Vass, NC1020Johnson Grove
Marlin, A. F.38whiteMarried2 Aug 1886WV986VA
Moore, William451880coloredMarriedSC971SC
Nabors, James651860coloredMarriedAL972Greensboro
Napier, Samuel271898whiteMarriedStokes Co.992Cool Springs
Poe, Arthurcolored970Union Grove
Richardson, W. Hollis201905whiteSingleChatham Co.1015Farmville/Coal Glen - Farmington Cemetery
Riner, Jeff241901whiteMarried24-Aug-1901Union Co.991Waxhaw, NC
Shaw, JohncoloredMarried999
Spruill, James201905coloredSingleChatham Co.1000Union Grove
Stopes, A. L.501875whiteSingle990MD
Sullivan, H. W.551870whiteMarried978High Point
[[Watson-20797|Watson, Charles381887coloredMarriedChatham Co.1012Union Grove
Williams, James211904coloredSingleMoore Co.983New Hope
Williams, Robert45coloredMarried18 Nov 1870Chatham Co.1022New Hope Cem.
Wilson, David J.whiteSingle1009Seagroves
Wilson, Wadecolored1010
Wood, Charles L.white1014Farmville/Coal Glen
Wood, Claud24whiteSingle8-Jun-1901AL989Ragland, AL
Wright, James23coloredSingle21-Mar-1902Bladen Co.985Rosindale, NC
Wright, Russell161909coloredSingleBladen Co.1013Rosindale, NC
Wright, Theodore181907coloredSingleBladen Co.1011
Wright, Thomas N.49coloredMarried18 May 1876Bladen Co.977Rosindale, NC

Others Involved/Supporters and the Aftermath

After the disaster at Coal Glen on May 27, 1925, four men were nominated for awards from the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission in Pittsburgh, Pa. They were Howard Butler, Joe Richardson, Kermit Scott, and Claude Matthews. All these men entered the mine after the first explosion in an attempt to rescue some of the miners who were underground. None of them were men who normally worked underground, although Butler sometimes went underground as a surveyor. Richardson was a machinist at the mine; Matthews was a weighman and worked at the company store. Scott worked in the lamp house. Scott was nearly overcome by gas, and Butler, Richardson, and Matthews came close to death in the second explosion, which followed a few minutes later.

None of the four received any assistance from the Carnegie Commission for their heroic efforts, but hopefully, their efforts will not be forgotten. The photo shows Howard Butler in later years, probably 1952, shortly before the mine closed for good. [19]
Despite the mine safety regulations written into law following the 1895 explosion, many of the same issues were found that indicate a lack of seriousness about providing a safe environment for the workers. The mine had never been inspected by the Mine Inspector/Commissioner of Labor Statistics because no funds were allocated. The investigation of this incident resulted in recommendations for further regulation even though existing regulations were ignored.

Disaster Memorials


  5. uncblog
  7. The Durham Sun (Durham North Carolina). 28 May 1925, Thu. Page 2
  8. The Durham Sun (Durham North Carolina). 28 May 1925, Thu. Page 2
  9. The Durham Sun (Durham North Carolina). 28 May 1925, Thu. Page 1
  10. Sidelights on State’s Worst Mine Disaster. The Albemarle Press (Albemarle, North Carolina). 04 Jun 1925, Thu. Page 2
  11. Last of Victims Taken From Coal Glen Mine Sat Afternoon. The Albemarle Press (Albemarle, North Carolina). 04 Jun 1925, Thu. Page 2
  12. Forward Observation Post. Asheville Citizen-Times (Asheville, North Carolina). 07 Jun 1924, Sun. Page 15
  14. Asheville Citizen-Times (Asheville, North Carolina). 20 June 1935, Sat. Page 2
  15. Coal Glen Mine Owners would have Survivors Treated Alike". The Albemarle Press(Albemarle, North Carolina). 02 Jul 1925, Thur. Page 6.
  16. Asheville Citizen-Times (Asheville, North Carolina). 01 Jul 1925, Wed. Page 1
  17. uncblog
  18. [ List of Victims

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Comments: 1

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This Farmville was never incorporated. The sentence about its incorporation in 1872 isn't correct and refers to the website of Farmville, NC 27826, which is in Pitt County.
posted by Todd Reitzel