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Coal Mining Towns Along Route 66
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Illinois on the
you enter what was once profitable coal mining country, where small towns
and large coal mines dotted the area. The first stop along this
Route 66 is Braidwood, a town founded in 1865 when a rich vein of coal was
discovered by quite by accident.
In 1865 William Henneberry was digging a
water well on the Thomas Byron farm, when he found instead, rich black
coal and the boom was on. Named for James Braidwood, who sank the first
deep coal mining shaft near
Wilmington in 1872, the
settlement was called home to some 2,000 people by 1873.
In the beginning, Braidwood was a wild and wooly town filled with immigrants from
all over the world, along with their varying political, religious, and
cultural ideals. These differences often spawned violence
in the new and crusty town.
One such occasion occurred in April of
1876 when elections were being held for town officers and a fight
broke out just before the polls closed. When Marshall Simms went
into the crowd and arrested one of the ringleaders named Pat Creeley,
the mob went wild. When the crowd wrestled Simms to the ground,
the marshal drew his revolver meaning to use it as a club. Someone in the crowd grabbed it from him and Creeley was released. Fortunately, Marshal Simms was unharmed. The crowd then grew
wilder and several innocent bystanders were attacked and beaten. Next,
the rioters attacked the polls themselves, stealing the whole record
of the election and beating the ballot counter senseless. No
arrests were ever made for this outrageous event.
By the next year, the country was in the
throws of a depression and the coal miners were asked to take a cut in
pay, for which they accepted in the winter, but when another cut was
imminent in the summer of 1877, the miners went on strike. The
coal mining companies soon brought in strikebreakers from other
localities and after a month transported blacks from the impoverished
south by the train carloads. Soon, the black strikebreakers were
referred to as "black legs.”
a Sunday in July several of the black miners were walking in a line
when they were verbally abused with a litany of offensive language
from white coal miners and their wives. By the end of the month,
the striking miners formed groups with plans to kill the
strikebreakers, especially the "black legs.” Though the mining
companies assured them protection, most of the African-American miners fled. Local officials requested help from the governor who soon
sent 1,300 soldiers to restore order, 200 of which stayed within Braidwood for several weeks.
Eventually the strike was
broken and some of the black miners returned to their jobs and stayed in
the area to raise their families.
However, Braidwood still retained its
reputation as a wild town full of transients, tramps and thieves. The good citizens of the town locked their doors at night in fear of being
robbed. Women were never seen on the street after the sun went down
and people never told anyone when they might be gone for several days for
fear their valuables would be missing when they returned home. This
atmosphere of fear finally led to the accidental shooting of the town
marshal by the local Catholic Priest on Sunday, November 19, 1878.
On that fateful day
Father McGuire had been so ill that he did not even conduct mass. His best friend, Marshal Muldowney, had spent most of the day with the
priest, then left around 6:00 pm. Shortly, Father McGuire went
upstairs and retired. Between 8 and 9 p.m., however, the marshal
returned to lock the door and put out the lights.
Father McGuire was
awakened by the noise and imagined the time to be near midnight. When the priest called out and got no response, he fired four shots from a
revolver and shot Muldowney as he reached the top of the stairs.
The housekeeper came
immediately and found the priest embracing the wounded man who had been
shot twice, once in the shoulder and once in the abdomen. Marshal Muldowney hung on for almost a week before he died and Father McGuire was
tried for murder. However, with the testimony of the housekeeper and Muldowney’s own son, combined with the fearful environment of the town,
the jury deliberated for only an hour before returning a verdict of
On April 22, 1879 Braidwood experienced another
tragedy when a terrible fire raged through the town. In less than an
hour more than a dozen buildings were destroyed by the inferno, including
the grain elevator, the railroad depot, a warehouse, a gristmill, a hotel,
two saloons, a blacksmith shop and several homes.
the town persevered, was rebuilt, and continued to draw newcomers to the
area, one of which was a man named Peter Rossi, from Italy. Arriving in
the late 1870s, Rossi began manufacturing macaroni and in 1898, purchased
the old Broadbent Hotel which housed a full fledged factory.
would move on to operate a bakery just off Division Street, and son
Stephen opened the Stephen Rossi Saloon in 1912, selling beer for a nickel
a pail. The successful
saloon would have continued on, but prohibition
put it out of business in 1919.
Route 66 ran through town, the Rossi family saw
opportunity once more and built a grocery store, service station,
restaurant and a pair of motor courts right alongside the
Mother Road. In 1927 they erected a dance
hall that did a thriving business until it was destroyed by fire in 1935.
on Next Page
Rossi's Saloon was located on the south side
Street, west of the railroad tracks. The
operation from 1912-1919, selling beer for a
nickel a pail,
until Prohibition put it out of business. For
the steady customers, there was a free spaghetti lunch in the back of the saloon.
Rossi's Ballroom Poster from the book,
Route 66: The Empires of
Amusement, Thomas Arthur
Rossi's Ballroom from the book, Route 66:
The Empires of Amusement,
Thomas Arthur Repp,
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From Legends' General Store
Route 66 -
ah, what great memories she brings. Well, at the
Legends' General Store, you will find all kinds of memoriabelia
to bring you more! Our
Emporium has added dozens of
prints and more.