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Photographs and experiences from the exploration of abandoned places.
The Cameron/Glen Burn Colliery, Shamokin, Pa.
The Glen Burn mine, also known as the Cameron Colliery, was an anthracite (hard) coal mine located in Shamokin Pennsylvania. Most or all of the buildings have been torn down and although the mine shafts still exist, they are no longer accessible from their primary entrances. Although i am getting older and less willing to take risks, the Glen Burn is the one mine that keeps calling me back. I would love to explorer it once more, this time with an emphasis on photography.
I believe the Glen Burn was either the largest or second largest deep coal mine in the U.S., having had many levels and tunnels of which we explored two (only one is pictured here). Though i don’t recall for certain, i believe this would have been the the west drift, the entrance of which was gated and located right next to route 61 just north of the Cameron bridge. This tunnel ran under routes 61 and 125, the latter of which is the road from Shamokin to Trevorton, and split into two, one leg of which made its way under Shamokin/Coal Township while the other made its way toward the town of Trevorton, six miles away.
The Glen Burn culm bank, which is the largest man-made mountain in the world according to the Guinness Book of World Records, stretches about 1.5 miles in length along the north edge of Shamokin. This enormous pile of rock and coal fines is the result of the material that was removed to create the mine tunnels. More recently the bank was in the process of being reclaimed for burning in coal powered electric generating plants, though i do not know if this is still the case.
We ventured primarily along the first mile and a half of the main haulage level going toward Trevorton during our exploration. Main haulage is the level from which all other levels propagate and through which the rock and coal were transported out of the mine. To my knowledge, main haulage runs the full six miles from Shamokin to Trevorton and is nearly perfectly level, sloping imperceptibly toward the entrance to facilitate water drainage. The tunnel is very easily traveled and quite stable since it was bored through solid rock, the only obstacles being large piles of fine coal which trickled down the many chutes onto the floor of the main haulage tunnel. Only when we ventured off of this level into some of the smaller side passages did we experience unstable areas.
While the stories seem to conflict, even among those that worked at the Glen Burn, as to the total number of levels, there are certainly several levels below main haulage on the Shamokin side and several above on the Trevorton side. The lower levels are flooded almost up to the main haulage level. It is difficult to describe the very eerie feeling i had being underground and looking into the utter blackness of the water which consumed the lower levels.
I was told by someone who worked at the Glen Burn after it was briefly reopened on a small scale in the late 1980’s or 1990’s, that there are rooms which were kept hidden from the mining inspectors, one of which was described as being so large you could turn a tractor-trailer around in it without backing up.
Some of the more interesting features we discovered were several sticks of dynamite in a plastic bag, obviously from when the mine was reopened briefly, and large piles of empty water cans, toilet paper, medicine to treat diarrhea and tins of crackers which were being consumed by rodents. The Glen Burn mine was apparently a designated fallout shelter during the cold war and we had discovered a cache of supplies, though this was the only evidence of a fallout shelter we were able to find. I was also told that a rather large dinosaur fossil was found in one of the now flooded lower levels and that Penn State University was involved in the study and preservation of it.
We explored the west drift of the mine several times in 1997. During our last trip, which was probably in 97 or 98, we were disappointed to discover that the tunnel under routes 61 and 125 had collapsed. Though there appeared to be a very small opening through the debris, entering it would have been extremely dangerous. There are likely many other entrances to the Glen Burn mine, though i cannot provide any details as we did not explorer them.
Following are some statistics for the Cameron Colliery/Glen Burn coal mine:
Shamokin’s Lower Gap mining began in 1836 with the first colliery built in 1857
Renamed to Cameron Colliery in 1864
Renamed to Glen Burn Colliery in 1940
Destroyed by fire in 1888, rebuilt in 1890
The mine was operated almost continuously for 134 years from 1836-7 to 1970
The largest number of people employed was 1,420 in 1899
Peak annual production was 627,158 tons in 1942
A total of 33,353,000 tons of coal was mined
There were 217 fatalities
The unusable rock and coal fines created the worlds largest man-made mountain
Major mining operations ended in 1970, though it would be briefly reopened on a small scale after this time
The buildings were demolished in 2000
Owners included the Susquehanna Coal Company and Kerris and Helfrick
The Buck Slope Coal Mine
Another deep anthracite coal mine not far from the Glen Burn is the Buck Slope mine, located near Upper Excelsior, Pennsylvania. Apparently, like many small coal towns of the day, Excelsior used to be a rather hopping place, complete with a movie theater and prostitutes, one of which apparently used to walk along the road to attract clients. Today Upper Excelsior is virtually abandoned.
The Buck Slope mine is one of the more unstable mines i had the pleasure to explore and i highly doubt it would still be accessible today. It had some interesting features however which i didn’t expect to find in a coal mine, such as near white rock in one area. It also had a stream running in it which was navigable with an inflatable boat apparently (don’t ask).
Saint Nicholas Coal Breaker, Mahanoy City, Pa.
The Saint Nickolas coal breaker, known simply as the St. Nick, was used for processing anthracite coal which was mined in the region. It was quite popular among urban explorers before it was demolished.