The Crooked Lake Review

Winter 2001

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A Biography of John Magee

Chapter Five


Gary M. Emerson

Introduction, Chapter One and Chapter Two, Chapter Three, Chapter Four
Chapter Six, Chapter Seven, Chapter Eight, Chapter Nine

The Fall Brook Coal Company

Demand for coal was increasing in the United States in the 1850s. Coal fired the boilers of steamboats and railroad engines, and was a necessary fuel for the country's growing industry. Coal was as significant to America then, as oil is today. The spread of railroads made the coal regions of Pennsylvania more accessible. It was through the railroads that John Magee recognized the potential of the coal industry in Pennsylvania.

Proposals to connect the coal fields of Blossburg with the canal and potential railroad facilities in Corning began even before the Erie Railroad was built. In 1833, the Tioga Coal, Iron, Mining, and Manufacturing Company of New York and the Tioga Navigation Company of Pennsylvania, received permission from their respective state legislatures to build a railroad along the Tioga River between Corning, New York, and Blossburg, Pennsylvania.215

In 1834, Charles Ellett, one of the engineers hired to survey a route for the New York and Erie Railroad, said in his report, "The route of the proposed railroad from the iron and bituminous coal district, near the headwaters of Tioga River, was surveyed in 1832, and pronounced in the report of the engineers to be feasible. It cannot be doubted that the construction of the New York and Erie Railroad would accelerate the development of the mineral wealth of that region…"216

There were some delays but the Corning and Blossburg Railroad was in operation by 1840.217 The Arbon Coal Company in Blossburg used the railroad to ship their coal to Corning, where it could be transported on the Chemung Canal.218

In 1851, while Magee was busy planning the Buffalo and Conhocton Valley Railroad, he acquired the New York section of Corning and Blossburg Railroad that ran from Lawrenceville to Corning. Magee purchased the section of railroad as partial satisfaction of a debt owed him by the Tioga Coal, Iron, Mining and Manufacturing Company.219 Immediately, he set about improving the railway. The strap rails were removed and replaced with more durable T-rails and the gauge of the track was widened using money borrowed with permission of the New York State Legislature.220 "The work of relaying and widening to the six-feet gauge the track of the Corning and Blossburg Railroad is proceeding with vigor, and will be completed the fore part of next month," noted a newspaper report in July, 1852.221 Magee convinced the stockholders of the Lawrenceville to Blossburg portion of the railroad to make the same improvements. Since the gauge of the Erie was six-feet, Magee was looking ahead to a future joining of the two railroads.

With a railroad extending to a coal region in his possession, the next logical step was to secure an interest in coal mining. In 1851, Mallory and Bostwick of Corning surrendered their lease to the coal mines at Blossburg to Magee.222 Magee's eldest son, Duncan, was given the job of overseeing the coal operations. A sawmill was also set up at Blossburg, and lumber and coal were soon being shipped over the Corning and Blossburg Railroad to be loaded onto waiting barges on the Chemung Canal.223

The operations were expanded in 1857, when Duncan Magee, acting in his father's name, obtained the lease of the Bear Run Mine of the Arbon Coal Company at Blossburg.224 However, Duncan was dissatisfied with merely leasing mines. With the demand for coal constantly increasing, he wanted the Magees to have ownership.225 His father agreed, and permission was obtained in 1856 from C. L. Ward to explore for coal on his extensive lands (called Ward Township).226 The agreement with Ward stated that the discovery of coal would allow John Magee the right to buy as much of the land needed at an established price per acre.227 A group of men including Duncan Magee, explored the six-thousand acres of land, digging pits and shafts in search of coal. 228 Coal was discovered but not in sufficient quantities. In 1857, a large quantity of quality grade coal was discovered on the west side of the Tioga River.229 Three obstacles prevented any immediate action: elevation, water, and John Magee. The site of the discovery was six hundred feet higher than the railroad at Blossburg, and the coal vein traveled in such a direction that its excavation would carry the waters of the Tioga River into the mine drowning the miners.230 John Magee grew concerned with the news of the water problem, and with the Panic of 1857 making money hard to get, he was considering calling off the exploration.231 Civil Engineer, Humphries Brewer, a member of the exploration party convinced Magee it would pay to continue, and three months later a large deposit of coal was found in a more accessible location along Fall Brook, a tributary of the Tioga River.232

In 1858, "Drift No. 1 was put in near the falls on Fall Brook under the direction of Duncan S. Magee, William Griffith, Robert Pryde, John Dunsmore, Alexander Pollock, Sr., and Thomas Morgan."233 Magee purchased six-thousand acres of land from C. L. Ward, and plans were initiated for a railroad from Blossburg to the mine. Engineer Humphries Brewer advertised: "The Fall Brook Coal Company will be prepared to contract for the grading and masonry of their road in short sections July 5. Plans and specifications can be seen at their office in Blossburg."234

John and Duncan Magee, along with James Gulick, applied for a charter, which passed in the Pennsylvania Legislature. However, a rival mining company lobbied against it, and convinced Governor William F. Packer to veto the charter.235 The Pennsylvania Senate and House overrode the veto on April 7, 1859, and the Fall Brook Coal Company was officially in business.236 By the time the Fall Brook Railroad was completed in the fall of 1859, a small mining village had sprung up. There was a sawmill, coal chutes, thirty to forty crude dwellings, a supply store, boarding houses, blacksmith shops, and a carpenter shop,237 Facilities for the industry were also established in Corning and Watkins to aid in the shipment of coal. Magee had purchased many tracts of land in Watkins at the head of Seneca Lake, where he erected trestle-works, sawmills, boat building yards, a steam flouring mill, carpenter shops, and dwellings for his workers.238 What is now called Salt Point in Watkins, was once called Coal Point, and located there were trestles, docks, and buildings belonging to the Morris Run Coal Company, a later subsidiary of the Fall Brook Coal Company.239 The Fall Brook Coal Company had trestle works near the present site of the Watkins Salt Company office. The remains of the railroad switch leading to the trestle was uncovered when the salt company office was built.240 The Watkins office building for the Fall Brook Coal Company still stands today, and is now a residence on Fourth Street. It is a large brick building across from the Watkins Salt Company.

The coal was semi-bituminous and was used for smithing, rolling-mills, and to generate steam.241 Magee had samples of his coal sent to industries throughout the country, and many commented upon the good quality of it.242 The preparations in Corning, Watkins, and the new village of Fall Brook were completed, and on April 1, 1860, Duncan Magee announced to the public that the Fall Brook Coal Company had "ample facilities for shipping this coal at Corning by canal and railroad, and have also arrangements for delivery directly from the mines by rail to Watkins, at the head of Seneca Lake, and there transferring it to the enlarged Erie Canal boats."243

Originally, the coal was sent on the Fall Brook Railroad to the Corning and Blossburg Railroad. It was carried to Corning and loaded onto canal barges on the Junction Canal of the Chemung Canal. Once it arrived in Horseheads, the Elmira, Jefferson and Niagara Falls Railroad was used to carry it to Watkins. The trestles at Watkins were used to load the coal onto barges on Seneca Lake, and it was taken north to Geneva. Once in Geneva it could be put on the New York Central and Hudson River Railroad or on the Erie Canal via the Seneca Canal. 244 Magee never liked the canal route, however; it was closed in winter, and was not kept up properly. Efficiency was important to him. In July, 1865, permission was received that allowed a railroad track, called the Magee switch, to be built from East Tioga Avenue in Corning to Hope Cemetery, thus connecting the Corning and Blossburg line with the Erie Railroad.245 The Erie Railroad was used to carry the coal to Horseheads instead of the Junction Canal.

The business boomed thanks to the outbreak of the Civil War, and the village of Fall Brook soon had one hundred and eighty dwellings and a population of 1,400.246 Improvements continued to be made. The company established a telegraph line from Fall Brook to Corning in 1864, and in 1865 erected the Fall Brook Hotel.247 In 1866, exploration for new coal fields began near Wilson's Creek, twelve miles south of Wellsboro.248 Coal was found and the necessary land was purchased. Plans were then begun to construct a railroad through Lawrenceville and Wellsboro to the site, which was called Antrim after the county in northern Ireland the Magee family had emigrated from. However, John Magee did not live to see the 1872 completion of the Corning, Cowanesque, and Antrim Railroad.

Although the Civil War stimulated the business of the Fall Brook Coal Company, it also caused some problems for its management. Labor was scarce as thousands donned uniforms to perform their patriotic duty. In 1863, John Magee even paid the three hundred dollar draft exemption for several of his employees.249 The miners of the Fall Brook Coal Company, and of the surrounding mines, were able to make demands of the management and have them met, thanks to the scarcity of labor and huge demand for coal due to war. The Miners' and Laborers' Benevolent Union was formed in 1863 at Fall Brook and at Morris Run, just two miles from Fall Brook.250 Shortly thereafter, the laborers, such as carpenters and mechanics, formed their own separate union.251 The unions operated as closed shops. No one could be hired unless he belonged to the union and had the union's approval.252 Through this, the union could control not only who worked for the company, but also how many. Exercising their growing power, the unions demanded and received pay raises. By 1865, miners were earning eight dollars per day, and laborers received $2.25 to $2.75 per day.253

Eventually, a showdown would occur. By December, 1864, the Confederate armies and cities were being crushed. Union victory was known to be coming soon. The end of the war would bring a slackening in the demand for coal and the discharge of thousands of soldiers requiring jobs. The pendulum of power was swinging back to the mine owners.

There was a shortage of housing for the workers at Fall Brook and Morris Run, where two companies, the Morris Run Coal

Company and the Onondaga Salt Company, had operations. The owners at both places continually tried to keep pace with the demand by building more tenements, but it was not enough.254

When John Magee paid a visit to Fall Brook in 1864, he discovered that there were Morris Run workers living in Fall Brook housing, and that Fall Brook workers had residence in Morris Run housing. He had not intended to house rival workers, and very angrily berated Superintendent Humphries Brewer for allowing such a deplorable thing to exist.255 After making an agreement with the companies at Morris Run to do the same, the workers were informed that they could reside only in the housing provided by their employer. The unions refused to comply, and on December 30, 1864, the following notice was served to all occupants of Fall Brook housing:


Sir,____you are hereby notified and required to quit, remove from, and deliver up to the Fall Brook Coal Company, possession of the premises and house No.___ now occupied by you, which you hold as an employe [sic] of said company. In default of your immediate compliance of this demand, legal proceedings will be resorted to for possession of said premises.

H. Brewer, Manager256

John Magee also issued a letter addressed "to the Miners and Laborers employed at the Fall Brook Coal Mines."257 It said:

You have been notified that the business of mining at Fall Brook is this day suspended, and it will continue suspended as long as the miners and others employed by the company arrogate to themselves the right and exercise the power to dictate and control the business of the company. For more than three years you have run the mines very much in your own way; certainly not to the satisfaction or profit of your employers, and it is believed not to the satisfaction of yourselves. The company has therefore resolved to take charge of their own business and manage it hereafter, as they have a right to do, independent of dictation from those they employ. If they cannot obtain men on these terms who will respect the rights of their employers, they will not resume business. Their rights must hereafter be respected, and their superintendent and bosses treated with respect and obeyed in the rightful performance of their duty. If you or any portion of you shall regard the rules adopted for the future conduct of the business at Fall Brook herewith submitted, to be inconsistent with your rights or the dignity of labor, you will of course leave and seek employment in some other locality. This you have a right to do; but you have not the right to dictate, control and disorganize the business of your employers. It is well known that a portion-a majority it is believed-of the people at Fall Brook are industrious and well disposed; and it is equally well known that another portion constitute a disturbing element, ever busy in fomenting discontent, seeking to exercise power and dominion over others. These disturbers are respectfully requested to leave. They will have no difficulty in selecting themselves out from the rest.

The company have at all times paid liberal prices; they have done every thing in their power to make the people comfortable; have respected their feelings, all their rights, and intend always to do so. Their liberality and kindness have not been generally appreciated.

With you it is left to determine whether work shall be resumed with your aid or stand suspended. To the company it makes but little difference. They have no contracts to perform, no debts to pay. Their coal is safe in the mountains, and it is better to leave it there than to bring it out at an enormous cost under humiliating circumstances. The proprietors are not dependent upon the revenue derived from the mines for their support, and can get on quite comfortably during the time of suspension, be it one, two or more years, without supplies from that quarter. This is not said in a spirit of boasting, but to place before you the fact that we are not in your power. The houses have been built for the accommodation of those employed and willing to do their duty; not for idlers or disturbers of the company's business. Hereafter no one can occupy a house except he executes a contract defining his rights and duties. To this end a special agreement has been prepared and will be submitted herewith, which must be executed by all who wish to occupy our houses in the future.

There shall be no relaxation on this point. The company will maintain the right to control their property. Self-respect and justice require this. If the company had at any time denied you full, generous compensation for your services you would have had some reason to form combinations. As it has been, and is, your action is uncalled for, unreasonable and disorderly, as well as disrespectful to your employers and best friends. The continuance of such unjustifiable conduct cannot and will not be tolerated. The accompanying notice and regulations have been prepared upon mature deliberation on the part of your employers, with a fixed and unalterable determination on their part to insist upon and sustain them at all hazards. The above remarks considerations are addressed to you, believing that their careful and candid consideration as well as observance by you will conduce as much to your welfare as to that of your employers.

John Magee, President258

The letter made it clear that Magee intended to break the unions. Although unions had made some gains under Jacksonian Democracy, Magee was a conservative Jackson Democrat who regarded unions as radical. It was his company and he insisted on absolute control. The fact that he was once poor made no difference, since he felt the workers were given the same opportunities to improve themselves and succeed as he had. Now that he was a wealthy businessman, he felt the workers responded ungratefully to the jobs, income, and housing he provided.

The mines at Fall Brook and Morris Run were closed as the new year of 1865 began. The workers remained in their housing, exploiting to the fullest a Pennsylvania law that required three months notice from the landlord before eviction proceedings could be initiated.259 After four weeks had passed, some of the miners and laborers grew concerned. While some just packed up and moved away, others began to urge for a settlement. Union diehards would not listen.260 As the three month deadline approached, the laborers' union capitulated, signed the housing contracts, and returned to work.261 The miners stubbornly refused to give in, and legal action was begun in Blossburg by the Morris Run companies, and in Fall Brook by Magee's company.262

Constable D. W. Noble of the Borough of Lawrenceville, received the Fall Brook writs of ejectment and found the task to much for him. As soon as he removed a family, another family sheltered them.263 On May 8, 1865, he solicited the help of Sheriff Leroy Tabor, who organized a posse of over two hundred men to carry out the evictions. They were repulsed by the workers wielding guns and clubs.264 Unable to displace the miners, and with other area miners entering the tumult to support their fellow workers, the sheriff asked the Governor of Pennsylvania for help. As a result, "the Bucktail regiment was ordered by the governor to go at once to the assistance of Sheriff Tabor…and before the miners were aware of their approach about 300 Bucktails suddenly steamed into Fall Brook and took possession of the town."265 Twenty-four of the miners' leaders were arrested,266 and the next day the Pennsylvania troops evicted the miners, "removing their household goods to the cars which were standing on the track in front of the depot."267 With the families on board with their possessions, the train carried them to Blossburg. There they were dumped to fend on their own.268 The same method was used to clear Morris Run of the determined miners. Talks between the miners and coal companies quickly commenced, resulting in many being re-hired. However, the contract that was signed called for a reduction of wages nearly fifty per cent.269 By mid-June, the miners were back to work, "with the exception of a score or two who have been discharged by the company."270 The mines at Fall Brook continued without labor strife until 1873, when the workers once more went on strike to protest the slashing of hours made necessary by an economic depression.271 Magee had succeeded. The union influence in the company was eliminated.

The Fall Brook Coal Company served to increase the growth of several areas. The population of Tioga County, Pennsylvania, increased by 7,057 from 1850 to 1860 partly due to the founding of the Fall Brook Coal Company in 1859.272 Watkins enjoyed a decade of prosperity when Magee located the transhipment works there. The Watkins operation was abandoned by 1877 and moved to Corning, dealing an economic blow to Watkins that took some time to overcome.273 Although Schuyler County, where Watkins is located, had risen in population to 18,842 by 1880, it dropped to 16,711 by 1890.274 Corning also benefitted from the success of the Fall Brook Coal Company. It was said that "the operations of the Magee interests…have done more to 'put Corning on the map' as a manufacturing center than all the rest of the railroads with trackage here."275

From 1859 to 1873, the Fall Brook Coal Company produced 2,700,000 tons of coal.276 By 1906, that figure had risen to 11,002,925 tons.277 The Twentieth Century brought eventual diminution of the nation's need for coal, and the fading of the Fall Brook Coal Company.

© 2000, Gary M. Emerson
Introduction, Chapter One and Chapter Two, Chapter Three, Chapter Four
Chapter Six, Chapter Seven, Chapter Eight, Chapter Nine

Notes to Chapter Five

215 Chemung County Historical Society, file folder on Fall Brook Railroad, "A Short History of the Fall Brook Railway Co.," by Joseph C. Boyd, Feb. 1957, p. 2.

216 Edward Mott, Between the Ocean and the Lakes, p. 312.

217 History of Tioga County, Pennsylvania, (NY: W. W. Munsel and Co., 1883), p. 39.

218 Ibid., p. 45.

219 W. W. Clayton, History of Steuben County, p. 256.

220 "A Short History of the Fall Brook Railway Company" by Joseph C. Boyd, p. 2

221 Uri Mulford, Pioneer Days and Later Times, p. 185.

222 - 223 The History of Tioga County, Pennsylvania, (Harrisburg: Harrisburg Publishing Co., 1897), p. 633.

224 Ibid., p. 615.

225 - 227 Ibid., p. 633

228 - 235 Ibid., p. 634.

236 History of Tioga County, Pennsylvania, (NY: W. W. Munsel & Company, 1883), p. 41.

237 Ibid., p. 635

238 W. W. Clayton, History of Steuben County, p, 188.

239 - 240 Schuyler County Historical Society, Magee genealogy folder, undated newspaper clipping, "Excavation Turns Back the Pages of History," by Frank W. Severne.

241 History of Schuyler County, 1879, p. 577.

242 - 243 History of Tioga County, 1897, p. 635.

244 "A Short History of the Fall Brook Railway Company" by Joseph C. Boyd, p. 3.

245 Uri Mulford, Pioneer Days and Later Times, p. 185.

246 History of Tioga County, 1897, p. 635.

247 Ibid., p. 636.

248 History of Tioga County, Pennsylvania, 1883, p. 42.

249 Thomas Dimitroff and Lois S. Janes, History of the Corning Painted Post Area, p. 50.

250 - 252 Ibid., p. 50.

253 Ibid., p. 52.

254 - 257 Ibid., p. 51.

258 Ibid., pp. 51 - 52.

259 - 263 Ibid., p. 52.

264 - 265 Ibid., p. 53.

266 The Agitator, Wellsboro, N. Y., May 17, 1865.

267 - 269 History of Tioga County, 1883, p, 53.

270 The Agitator, June 14, 1865.

271 History of Tioga County, 1883, p. 53.

272 Ibid., p. 41.

273 - 274 Schuyler County Historical Society, Magee genealogy folder, undated and untitled newspaper clipping with reprint from an 1893 issue of the Watkins Democrat.

275 Uri Mulford, Pionee r Days an d Later Times, p. 185.

276 History of Tioga County, 1883, p. 45.

277 Papers and Proceedings of the Tioga Historical Society, part I, vol. 2, (Wellsboro: Advocate Print, 1909), p. 40.

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