Tri-Counties Genealogy & History by Joyce M. Tice
The Romance of Old Barclay by Clarke
Chapter Nine - Coal Mining in Barclay Township
The Romance of Old Barclay

By Staley N. Clarke

Originally Published 1928, Towanda PA

Photos by Joyce M. Tice October 4, 1998
Retyped for Tri-Counties by Richard Harris and Connie Unganst and Formatted by Joyce M. Tice

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Many have the mistaken idea that the shutdown of the mines at Barclay was caused by the exhaustion of the coal supply. That, however, is far from being a statement of fact, for geologists have declared that there are still many thousand tons of coal still in the mountain and W. R. Jones, at one time foreman, once told Hon. A. C. Fanning of Towanda that there is as much or more coal left at Barclay than was ever taken out. Even today there are a number of small mines in the vicinity and there is one operation of considerable magnitude near what is known as Bear Creek bridge on the site of old Carbon Run.

The fact of the matter is that most of the easily-mined coal which was available in quantities big enough to make mining on a large scale pay, had been taken out when the mines closed down. The market for the bituminous coal was not sufficiently good to permit the continuation of the project when the expenses began to increase. Now it seems almost impossible to believe, that at one time the daily output on the mountain was about 1500 tons and that one day it reached the enormous amount of 2,000 tons, yet records prove that beyond any question of doubt.

As described in a previous chapter, coal was discovered on Barclay mountain by Abner Carr while he was hunting there in 1812, the bed being exposed near a stream where the first mine was afterwards opened.

The first opening was made in Barclay by Henry Gatus and John Wagget who were sent from England by an English syndicate to explore the mountain. It was not necessary for them to be learned geologists or explorers to do so, as the out-cropping of valuable veins could be plainly seen in many of the surrounding valleys. The lands on which the coal was situated belonged to Robert Barclay of London, England, and afterwards to his son, Charles Barclay, and the total acreage was 16,000, but not all underlaid with coal.

That good coal in paying quantities was obtained from the mountain as early as 1838 and probably very much earlier, is proven by an advertisement which appeared in the Bradford Argus in that year. It was dated Franklin, September 25, and was accompanied by a picture of a stove, and read as follows:


ALL persons wishing to secure good and cheap COAL, will do well to call at the


Situated 15 miles from Towanda and 11 from Monroe—where they will find on hand a constant supply.

First rate coarse ……$1.50 per ton

Second rate do ……. 1.25 per ton

Fine or Smith coal …. 1.00 per ton

TERMS—Cash or Gain to be delivered at the Bed—no credit will be given.


P. S.—The road has been thoroughly repaired during the past summer.

F. D. F.

It being evident that the whole mountain contained a vast deposit of soft coal, these lands were bought in 1853, by Edward Overton, Esq., of Towanda and John Ely and Edward Davis, wealthy Quakers of Philadelphia. They formed the Barclay Railroad and Barclay Coal Company and the Schrader Land Company.

The railroad from the North Branch canal to the mines, sixteen miles in length, with an inclined plane half a mile long and 475 feet high, was finished in the fall of 1856 and a little coal was shipped that year.

James Macfarlane was appointed general superintendent and had sole charge of all operations of the company for the first eight years until 1865, and established the coal business under great difficulties from the want of transportation on the very poor canal which was the only outlet to market. In the latter year he organized another company, called the Towanda Coal Company which in 1868 leased the mines and railroad of the Barclay Coal Company, and the stock soon afterwards came into the hands of the Erie Railroad Company under a lease for 21 years. The new company proceeded at once to thoroughly develop the vein. New drifts were opened, new houses were erected, and all the mines were run to their utmost capacity.

Miners earned from $150 to $200 a month and laboring men were doing as well accordingly. The town rapidly grew to a population of between 2,000 and 3,000 people, and an idle day for the lack of work or coal orders was unknown to the company. Fortune smiled on everybody and many of those who were wise enough to economize during this period of prosperity are today enjoying the fruits of their wisdom and labor. Quite a number of them went into business in other parts of the country and were very successful. Towanda borough even today is still reaping the benefit of those palmy days because a large number of the former residents of Barclay now make Towanda their home.

The Erie company mined at Barclay a large portion of the coal used on its road, amounting to about 200,000 tons a year in 1869 and gradually increasing.

At one time Jay Gould, the famous financier who controlled the Erie railroad, visited the pioneer mining town of Barclay for a day and on leaving, presented a hundred dollar bill to the good lady who had served him excellent meals in token of his appreciation.

The Pennsylvania & New York Railroad, now a part of the Lehigh Valley, was finished from Towanda to Waverly, the latter connecting with the main line of the Erie in 1868, and from that time on the coal trade assumed a magnitude which it never had before. The same railroad was extended southward to Pittston in 1869, making direct connection with the Lehigh Valley and Central Railroad of New Jersey, to New York City and with the Northern Pennsylvania Railroad, now the Reading, to Philadelphia, thus furnishing to the residents of northern Pennsylvania a line of first class railroad. They were gratefully indebted for this great thoroughfare to the enterprise of Hon. Asa Packer and his co-workers of the Lehigh Valley Railroad Company. This railroad and the manufacturing plants along its line, in both Pennsylvania and New York, consumed millions of tons of this fuel.

One great advantage was that the [Page 14] mines were the farthest north and east in the United States. North of them was the great, fertile and populous state of New York in which there is no coal whatever. The market therefore was close at hand.

Craft’s history described the coal as semi-bituminous, containing about 75 per cent of carbon and less than 17 per cent of volatile matter, and as being a species of coal well adapted for steam purposes, blacksmithing, and the manufacture of wrought-iron in rolling mills.

The total production from this pioneer coal field amounted to more than 10,000,000 tons.


That a serious depression occurred at Barclay just before F. F. Lyon became superintendent there, is not remembered by many now living, but most of those who once lived there no doubt have heard about it.

T. D. Sullivan, writing from Barclay about the time of the final shutdown, describes that period vividly. For a copy of it I am indebted to Mrs. George J. Krebs, nee Elizabeth Lyon, 476 West Main street, Somerset, Pa. She was born "on Barclay" and the place is still very dear to her.

Mr. Sullivan, after describing the great prosperity that followed the leasing of the mines by the Erie, says in part:

"This period of prosperity at last came to an end, the panic was now upon them, reduction after reduction came in the wages, two and three days a week was all the work there was for them. A large number were discharged and many of them who were penniless after those days of prosperity, were thrown upon the world to seek work elsewhere, as tramps, while their families remained at home almost in a state of destitution. Many of those noble sons of toil who were thus thrown upon the world, were arrested as vagrants and tramps while seeking employment to sustain life in the dear little ones they left at home.

"At last those dark days of depression had passed away, wages began to slowly increase and work was much more plentiful. F. F. Lyon, a gentleman of extraordinary ability, had now assumed the office of general superintendent only to find the works in a deplorable condition. It was not long until the efficiency of this energetic officer was apparent through the entire work. Heretofore some miners were doing well while others were compelled to toil hard for a meager existence. It is here he constituted and put into effect what is called the "sliding scale," thus terminating partiality which had existed for years, and equalizing miners’ rights."

Among the other superintendents at Barclay besides Lyons were Wagget (believed to be the first), Henry McCraney (father of Albert McCraney of Towanda), R. T. Dodson, who followed Lyons and whose widow now lives in Towanda, J. B. Judd, I. O. Blight and finally Eli Griggs, who had charge when the mines finally closed down.


There is an old legend that once lead was found on Barclay mountain. Only a few men claimed to know where it was and they kept it a strict secret. At times they would go off into the mountain and come back with some lead they claimed to have mined but they never would tell where they found it and to this day the secret has never been learned. Geologists say the formation is not right for lead and if there really is some there it cannot be in any great quantity.
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Coal Mining Photos

Published On Tri-Counties Site On 9/13/99
By Joyce M. Tice