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Thurber's First Coal Mine

By Frank Chamberlain 

About 200 yards southeast, at the base of the hill, the Johnson brothers, W.W. (1843-1914) and Harvey E. (1852-1888) in the fall of 1886, sank the first coal shaft to a depth of 65 feet [Greenidge 16]. Their company was the “Johnson Coal Mining Co.” and the settlement around the mine was called “Johnsonville”[Spoede 53].

Because of labor and financial problems, W.W. Johnson sold his coaling interests to R.D. Hunter (1833-1902) and the Texas and Pacific Coal Co. in the fall of 1888, and the community was renamed “Thurber” after one of the investors [Video: Boom Town To Ghost Town].

By providing a reliable coal supply to the railroads for 30 years, Thurber coal helped open up the Southwest when the railroads began their westward expansion [Bielinski x].

There were 2500 coal miners of 18 nationalities, predominantly Italians, with Poles the second most prevalent group [Green, 5]. There were 15 mines which generally ran westward from Thurber [Hardman 64].

The Miner’s Strike of 1903 asserted the preeminence of the unions, and this marked the beginning of the labor union in the Southwest [Bielinski x, Video: Boom Town To Ghost Town]. With this strike, every worker in Thurber belonged to a union, and Thurber became the first totally unionized city in America [Hardman 56].

By 1921 most railroads had changed to oil and Thurber’s coaling operations were severely curtailed; the last mine closing in 1926 [Greenidge 16].

After his Thurber coal venture, W.W. Johnson, “The Father Of The Texas Coal Industry”, became involved in seven other coal mining operations, mainly in the nearby Lyra-Strawn area [Spoede 54, 76, 101, 115, 144, 146, 149].