Danville: A King County Coal Mining Town

  • By William Kombol
  • Posted 11/20/2013
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 10626

A portion of the area known as Ravensdale in southeast King County was once called Danville. Located on the south side of the Summit-Landsburg Road, Danville lies in the Cedar River valley just below the Landsburg bridge. Nearby Ravensdale was historically located over a small hill in a valley or dale through which the Northern Pacific railroad ran. The Ravensdale zip code and place name now also encompass both Danville and Landsburg. Coal was mined in the Danville area from the late 1890s off and on until the late 1970s, with production peaking in the mid-twentieth century. This People's History of mining in Danville was contributed by William Kombol, Manager of the Palmer Coking Coal Company in Black Diamond. 

Starts and Stops 

The original opening by the Danville Coal Company was a water-level portal called the Davis mine, located in Section 24, Township 22 North, Range 6 East. Operations commenced in 1896 and were conducted on a coal seam that geologically stretched south to the towns of Ravensdale and Black Diamond. Five hundred tons of coal was shipped that first year, but work was suspended due to failure to produce a marketable grade of coal. Over the next dozen years coal was mined sporadically but production was limited. The mine was served by the Columbia & Puget Sound Railroad's Danville spur, which connected Summit (now known as Four Corners) to Danville. Much later, the Danville Road Extension (now known as the Summit-Landsburg Road) was built roughly along the path of the old rail spur.  

In February 1904 the Vesuvius Coal Company took over operations of the Danville properties with J. Fraser as superintendent. The westernmost of the three primary coal seams became known as the Fraser, sometimes spelled "Frazier." By the following year, Vesuvius's operations at Danville had shut down. Next to try mining the Danville coal was the North Coast Colliery Company, which in 1907 drove gangways, air courses, and rock tunnels tapping two new seams. Other improvements included an exhaust fan, a steam engine, and a 50-horsepower locomotive-type boiler. Eggleston Smith, a Washington State geologist, described the seam as subbituminous coal dipping 75 degrees southeast, with about the same heating value as coal from Renton, Issaquah, and Grand Ridge. North Coast Colliery produced about 2,500 tons of coal under the direction of Walter Oakes, but by September 1908 that effort had also failed.  

The Danville property languished until the mid-1920s, when a succession of small operators attempted to revive the area's fortunes. The Success Coal Company began mining in 1924, followed by the Tullock Coal Company, Cash M. Coal Company, a second incarnation of the Danville Coal Company, and the Thermal Coal Company. None were successful and all had closed by 1930. But the area was still considered ripe for development.  

Landsburg Mine at Danville 

At one point in the mid-1920s the Northern Pacific Railroad considered laying additional track to the site. That prompted George Watkin Evans, Washington's premier consulting geologist, to declare that if the railroad did "build into this property ... this fact should lead to a better financial and managerial combination than is true at present, we might find this property will become a real factor in the coal markets of King County." But sixteen years earlier Evans seemed less optimistic. "This area has been prospected more or less since 1896," he wrote. "Several attempts have been made to operate a mine successfully at this place, but the beds have been found to be so irregular in character and so badly disturbed by faulting that each time the operators have given up in despair. The last attempt was since the Chicago, Milwaukee and Puget Sound railway was built through section 24. It was supposed that with the increased shipping facilities, something could be done with this property. This last attempt has not been crowned with any greater success than former attempts."  

In 1932, however, a new company reopened the mines, abandoned the Danville name, and christened itself the Landsburg Coal Company. Just upstream on the Cedar River was an area known as Landsburg, where the City of Seattle withdrew water. Over the next decade the old name of Danville would be slowly supplanted by Landsburg. The Landsburg Mine at Danville was located about 1.5 miles northwest of the historic core of Ravensdale and 500 feet south of the Cedar River. The Landsburg Coal Company lasted only two years before its workings were taken over by Desimond Coal & Coke Company, which increased production to more than 10,000 tons per year with a work force of about 20 miners. Despite new investments, Desimond shuttered the mine in April 1936. The property was next managed by the Gebo-Drake Coal Company, which produced little coal and failed within a year.  

A Worthy Operator 

In November 1937, officials of Palmer Coking Coal Company (PCCC) announced plans to reopen the Danville mine, and the coal seams finally had an operator worthy of their potential. With major new investments in gangways, tunnels, and bunkers opening up additional reserves, the mine was producing more coal annually than ever before. Through the years of World War II, PCCC employed between 20 and 30 miners as new operations on nearby seams were advanced. A 1943 state report described mining operations as the chute and pillar method, powered by electric haulage with a Forrester washing jig. Coal was shipped by dump truck and rail.  

In 1944 King County undertook construction of a road named the Morris Mine Connection to service new operations. Mining proceeded southerly, and eventually new slopes were driven from the Ravensdale side of the hill on what were now called the Landsburg seams. They were the same historic Danville formation, but with a new name. In 1949, PCCC purchased the surface property from a receiver appointed to clean up the affairs of the old Danville Coal Company. 

A Series of Disasters 

By the early 1950s coal production had ramped up to more than 40,000 tons per year. PCCC's customers included state institutions, the University of Washington, the Renton Housing Authority, and thousands of homeowners and small businesses that burned stoker coal in furnaces or nut and lump coal in stoves and fireplaces. The miners were affiliated with the United Mine Workers of America and were earning union wages with benefits. Coal mining had declined in importance in Washington, causing many mines to close, but those remaining had access to good markets and fair prices.  

All was seemingly well until a series of disasters beset the mine. The first came in 1950 when a fire struck the 18-foot bed, which stood at a near vertical pitch of 87 degrees. Next, in October 1951, a veteran miner with 40 years of experience, and a name that invoked mining, died after falling 100 feet down a chute. His name was John Henry and he lost his balance while working from a platform at this steeply pitched mine. Another fire erupted on March 16, 1953, and underground walls called "stoppings" had to be assembled to restrict the flow of oxygen to the blaze. That same day, the U.S. Bureau of Mines managed to blow 3.5 tons of evaporating dry ice (carbon dioxide) onto the fire, effectively suffocating the flames.  

On January 6, 1954, Harry English and Roy Coutts were working near the No. 25 chute when the floor below them sloughed, causing the two miners to plunge into the void below. Coutts was rescued four hours later, but English remained missing. A crew of miners was assembled and worked for eight grueling days, 24 hours each day, to rescue English, but their efforts were futile. The recovery was eventually called off when conditions became too dangerous for the rescue workers. English's body was never found.  

One year later, on January 29, 1955, four miners were killed at the steeply-pitched No. 1 bed of the Landsburg mine. Frank Stebly, Louis Vaienti, John Kovash, and Nathan Russell died instantly when a sudden and catastrophic cave-in filled the gangway and counter with tons of cascading muddy water and debris. The cave-in extended to the surface when supersaturated clay and hardpan soils broke through into the workings of this nearly vertical coal seam. The four miners were buried 600 feet deep and their bodies were never recovered. One thousand feet south of that tragic site stands a small grove of trees shading four headstones honoring their memory.  

Washington's Last Underground Coal Mine 

The Landsburg mine finally closed in 1961 after 24 years of mining in which nearly 663,000 tons of coal was produced. That operation was succeeded by the Rogers No. 1 (1959-1963), No. 2 (1960-1967), and No. 3 (1963-1975) mines, which continued extraction from a parallel coal seam named for Enoch Rogers, the bulldozer operator who discovered it. The Rogers No. 3 mine was finally blasted shut on December 17, 1975, distinguishing it as the last underground coal mine in the state of Washington. PCCC continued to operate surface mines near Danville on the Fraser and Landsburg coal seams from 1975 to 1977, after which all coal mining in the area ceased. 

In addition to coal deposits, Danville was rich in timber resources. The forests south of the Summit-Landsburg Road were most recently harvested in 1987 and those on the north side in 1993. In 2001, the Tahoma School District opened Tahoma Junior High, a modern, two-story building for eighth- and ninth-graders, on property purchased from Plum Creek Timber. It is located one-half mile west of the original site of the Danville mine. In 2013, this school housed approximately 1,200 students.


E. Eggleston Smith, Coals of the State of Washington, U.S.G.S Bulletin No. 474, 1911; George Watkin Evans, The Coal Fields of King County, Washington, Geological Survey Bulletin No. 3, 1912; S. H. Ash, Analyses of Washington Coals: the Coal Fields of Washington, 1930; George Watkin Evans to N. D. Moore, Vice President, Pacific Coast Coal Co., June 13, 1926; State of Washington Coal Mine Inspector Reports: 1896-1962; "Ravensdale & Danville Coal Mines: 1896-1977," production records from State of Washington Coal Mine Inspector Reports and from Palmer Coking Coal Company records; King County Road Files No. 1930, No. 1930B, and No. 24-22-6 (Morris Mine Connection), King County Department of Transportation, Maps and Records Center; "Danville Mine," Enumclaw Courier-Herald, November 26, 1937; Stephen H. Green, Report of Investigations No. 4 (1943) and No. 4R (1947), in Coal and Coal Mining in Washington; W. J. Evans, Chief Coal Mine Inspector, "Report of Fatal Accident, John Henry at the New Landsburg Mine, October 29, 1951;" "Coal Mining Industry Continues Its Slow Decline in State of Washington," The Seattle Daily Times, Pictorial Section, February 22, 1953, pp. 8-10; L. H. McGuire, Mining Engineer, "Report on Fatal Cave-In Accident and Rescue Efforts, Landsburg Mine, January 6-14, 1954," U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Mines, Region II, Accident Prevention and Health Division; C. R. Holmes, Chief Coal Mine Inspector, State of Washington, "Report of Fatal Accident, January 29, 1955, 4:00 a.m., at the Landsburg Mine of the Palmer Coking Coal Company, Ravensdale, Washington;" "Families Mourn Four Ravensdale Victims," The Seattle Daily Times, January 30, 1955, p. 14; "Mine Cave-in Kills Four," Enumclaw Courier-Herald, February 3, 1955, p. 1; "Friends and Neighbors Gather at Landsburg No. 1 in Memorial Service for Lost Miners," Enumclaw Courier-Herald, February 24, 1955, p. 1; United Mine Workers Journal, Vol. LXVI, No. 17, September 1, 1955; "The Rogers No. 3: An Echo of an Era," The Seattle Daily Times, Pictorial Section, June 26, 1966, pp. 18-23; "Coal Mining Role in State Now Trivial," Kent News Journal, June 8, 1969; "Historic Coal Mining: Long Era Nearing End," Auburn Globe News, Renton Record Chronicle, and Kent News Journal, "Now" (magazine supplement), January 14, 1973; Rogers No. 3 photos, The Seattle Daily Times, December 16, 1973, p. A-3; "A Doomed Breed: The State's Last Coal Miners," The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, September 26, 1974; "Palmer Coking Mine Goes Under for Last Time," Kent News Journal, March 21, 1975; "An Era Will Be Boarded Up When Rogers No. 3 Closes," The Seattle Daily Times, April 29, 1975; "State's Coal Mine to Close," The Anchorage Times, April 30, 1975; Palmer Coking Coal Company, Inc., production records and mine records; Barbara Nilson, Ravensdale Reflections: An Oral History (2004); William Kombol, "When Coal Was King," Voice of the Valley, multiple issues between May 1, 2007, and June 25, 2013.

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