WILKES-BARRE — A piece of the anthracite coal history of the Wyoming Valley will soon be demolished.
A notice in the Jan. 2 edition of The Times Leader announced that the Dorrance Colliery Fan Complex off Courtright Avenue in Wilkes-Barre will be torn down. David Hamilton, spokesman for the federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSM), said his agency is providing the funds for the project.
He estimated it could cost as much as $60,000, but said the state Department of Environmental Protection’s Bureau of Abandoned Mine Reclamation will be responsible for the project’s design, contracting the demolition and relocating the equipment.
Colleen Connolly, spokeswoman for the DEP’s northeast regional office, said the project is currently receiving public comment. Funds will then be allocated and after that bids will be submitted and accepted.
Bryan Jones, a project developer for the Bureau of Abandoned Mine Reclamation, said it is too soon to tell when the project will begin or how much it will cost.
The historic fan complex has fallen in to severe disrepair. Roof, walls and floors are collapsing. Hamilton also said windows and doors are broken open, sure signs of trespassing.
Because of the state of disrepair, the site was designated as a “priority one” public health and safety hazard in accordance with the ranking system of the Federal Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977.
“Unfortunately, the Dorrance Fan Complex has suffered greatly through the passage of time and neglect, to the point where it presents a serious public health and safety threat,” Hamilton said.
Fortunately for the historic complex, not all of its history will be erased with the pending demolition.
A 131-year-old Guibal fan that once moved air into the mine shafts of the Dorrance Colliery, a steam engine and a 1908 Dickinson-Guibal fan will be taken to the No. 9 Coal Mine and Museum complex in Landsford in Carbon County.
“The good news is that the process is working in so far as that these objects of tremendous historical importance are going to be preserved,” said Larry Newman, executive director of Wilkes-Barre’s downtown management organization, the Diamond City Partnership.
He called the process, however, only a “partial victory.”
“What is obviously bittersweet is the fact that it has to be moved out of the Wyoming Valley to another county to accomplish that,” Newman said.
The Dorrance Colliery Fan Complex was operated by the Lehigh Valley Coal Co. starting in the late 1800s. The Guibal fan, which dates back to 1883, is the oldest fan of the complex, with a diameter of 35 feet. Thought to be one of the oldest in existence, the fan along with its engine cost $25,000 when it was new.
“The 1883 Guibal fan and steam engine, along with the other fans at the complex are historical mining artifacts that symbolize the history and significance of mining ventilation and safety during the late 1800s and early 1900s,” Jones said.
The complex’s fans were housed in a three-building complex, and served the crucial purpose of providing miners underground with fresh air. A report by the Historic American Engineering Record on the complex gives an idea on how important the fans were.
“Every building was an integral part of the colliery operation,” the report stated. “None was more important to the miners — and the safety of the mining operation — than the fan house and mine fans.”
The report stated that Guibal fans had up to 10 blades, with a slow rotation of 45 to 85 revolutions per minute. The one in the Dorrance Colliery Fan Complex had 10 blades and ran at 49 rpm.
The fans would serve their purpose well into the 1900s. They came to a stop on Jan. 22, 1959, the day of the historic Knox Mine Disaster. Water from the Susquehanna River flooded into the Knox Mine, claiming the lives of twelve miners and effectively ending deep mining in the Wyoming Valley.