Wednesday, January 9, 2013

O'Brien Coal Mine

A year ago I wrote about my 2nd-great-grandfather, John J. O'Brien, who worked as a coal miner in Shelby County, Illinois. A recent publication by the Prairie Research Institute (which oversees the Illinois State Geological Survey) shows some interesting information about John O'Brien's mine activity. Thanks go to Cheri Chenoweth and her colleague Jennifer Obrad for their detailed work on the Shelbyville Quadrangle, part of the Directory of Coal Mines series (2012), located at

In the report, it shows John O'Brien with M. R. Williams in the Shelbyville area between 1903-1908. He was probably working as the foreman for Williams in the photo dated from 1903 that I posted last year:
I had not noticed the details, but you can see two of the miners holding cats, and in the far right side, is the head of a pony. Earlier in the year, a cousin mentioned that John O'Brien was involved in shipping Shetland ponies to the US, where they were used to haul coal in the mines. I don't know if this was John J. O'Brien, or his father, John O'Brien, who was involved in pony shipping. I have a query in with the Shelby County Historical Society for some assistance in tracking this down.

Back to the report, it shows that O'Brien likely took over operation of the mine from Williams between 1908-1911, and the mine produced 3,168 tons of coal during this period. O'Brien also operated his own mine in Shelbyville between 1916-1917 before turning it over to a James O'Brien in 1918 (see page 24).

While there is no guarantee that this land is the location of the M. R. Williams mine, a 90 acre plot of land owned by Williams appears in 1895 in the US Indexed Land Ownership Maps on Ancestry in the Shelbyville Township. So it's possible that this is where John O'Brien was working in 1903 when he was photographed with the miners (although not confirmed).
This gives some new leads to track down in Shelby County, and I'll be looking at deed records, newspaper articles and court records in the hopes of learning more about John O'Brien's coal mining activity.

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