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 Post subject: Oxford mine article
PostPosted: Sun May 02, 2010 7:49 am 

Joined: Sat Oct 29, 2005 8:32 pm
Posts: 787
A battle below the city
Published: May 2, 2010

The Battle of the Oxford took place on Wednesday, March 10, 1920, at the mouth of the Peoples Coal Co. in Scranton's West Side. Mayor Alex T. Connell was determined to enter the mine to get a firsthand account of just what was going on down below. But the mine officials were determined to keep him from descending into the mine.

Why was he there? Numerous cave-ins along North Main Avenue had raised questions about he possibility of illegal mining at the Oxford. West Scranton residents were up in arms and the Scranton Surface Protective Association, headed by John F. Durkan, had ordered an inspection and an investigation into activity at the mine. Common Pleas Judge. E.C. Newcomb issued an injunction to halt mining until city engineers were able to investigate the suspected illegal activity.

The city sent a team of engineers to investigate. On March 9, they came upon a wall that was reportedly used to hide operations being conducted in defiance of Judge Newcomb's injunction. Mine officials and workers, armed with heavy car sprags and other weapons, surrounded the engineers and threatened any man who made a move to dig at that wall.

The next morning, Mr. Connell, Director of Public Safety Ezra H. Ripple, Superintendent of Police Lona B. Day and a detail of 45 fully-armed and equipped policemen made their way to the mine entrance. The police had orders to see to it that Mr. Connell entered that mine.

But one of the coal company's top engineers stopped the mayor, telling him he had no right to be on private property. The engineer grabbed hold of the mayor's coat, and the two men fought. Police officers broke up the fight and subdued the engineer.

The mayor and his men tried to find other ways into the mine, and the company continued to block them. Later that night, armed patrolmen and city engineers made a surprise move through an old opening - called the Cork and Bottle - into the Oxford mine. A four-hour trek through mud and water brought them to the Oxford workings, where they reportedly found Peoples Coal Co. employees engaged in illegal mining. This move put the mayor and his men in control of the mine.

The following day, Mr. Connell issued a proclamation shutting down the mine completely and ordering mining of coal there to cease under penalty of prosecution. For days afterward, scores of police officers, armed with service revolvers and night sticks, patrolled the area around the mine. Workers who showed up on the site were ordered off the property.

On March 12, the city's engineering team explored the surface vein of the Oxford in the area south of Jackson Street, between South Main and Bromley Avenues. A dozen police officers and a Scranton Times reporter accompanied them.

The inspection revealed that, indeed, the company was guilty of pillar robbing, a practice that took coal from pillars that were meant to support the structure of the mine. Pillar robbing left the mine vulnerable to cave-ins and resulted in surface damage to nearby properties. Further inspection revealed that pillar robbing had been going on almost directly beneath the Washburn Street Presbyterian Church at Washburn Street and South Hyde Park Avenue.

Three days later, mine workers managed to flood the mine, preventing further inspection. Mayor Connell donned oilskin hat and coat and a pair of hip boots, determined to further the investigation.

The Battle of the Oxford attracted national attention and the state became involved to ensure there were no further mine violations. The evidence gathered by the city inside the mine proved sufficient to convict three company officials of failing to comply with the Judge Newcomb's injunction. They were fined a total of nearly $250,000. Two were unable to pay and were jailed for a time. The third fled jurisdiction.

CHERYL A. KASHUBA is a university instructor and author of the book "A Brief History of Scranton, PA." Contact the writer:

Cheryl is a good friend and neighbor. Im kinda glad to see she wrote this article. She told me one reason she stayed away from mining articles is that there is always someone to contradict what she wrote, or point out minor inaccuracies. :D

The remains of the shaft can still be found behind Oxford plot base ball field and the Novembrino swim complex. I believe Chris has photos of it somewhere. :?:

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