Moving south along
Illinois State Route 4, visitors enter
what was once heavy coal mining country. Beginning in the 1860's, coal
mines and boom camps sprang up all over the area bringing in immigrants
from around the world. By 1910, there were 22 operating mines in Macoupin County to
the south of Thayer, 17 of which were shipping hundreds of train cars
filled with ore to larger industrial centers.
Thayer had one mine, Virden had
21, Girard - nine, Nilwood
- 16, Carlinville - 14, Gillespie had seven, and Staunton had
12. During the coal mining heydays, the region would also become known
as an area of dissension, as life was difficult for miners and their
families. Complaints regarding the dangerous and dirty work, stale dusty
air, noxious fumes, and pay issues soon led the miners to unionize.
these turbulent years, a number of strikes occurred, leading to violence
and riots. In October, 1898 the Virden Mine
Riot erupted between guards and miners following the arrival of some 2,000 African American
workers from Alabama who were hired to break a strike by local workers.
The riot culminated in the deaths of 13 men.
However, these struggles also served to instigate new labor
laws including the 40 hour work week, child labor, and minimum wage laws.
Though the many coal mines of the earlier era are long gone along the
original Route 4 alignment which was
Route 66 from 1926 to 1930, these
many small towns still reflect their coal mining roots. From Thayer south,
the old road is dotted with classic villages featuring small businesses
and public squares.
Thayer - A late comer to the
coal mining industry of the area, Thayer began when the Chicago,
Wilmington & Vermilion Coal Company bought mining lands in the southern
part of Sangamon County in 1900. Mine Superintendent Ruffin D. Fletcherson
oversaw the building of the mines and platted out the town of Thayer. He
also supervised the building of 86 homes for the miners, which he made
possible for the miners to own, as well as building a 26 room hotel, his
own handsome residence, and a large store building.
The Chicago, Wilmington, and Vermillion Coal Company was
formed in 1866 by rich investors from Boston and Chicago. Having had a
number of earlier successes in the region, the company wasted no time
sinking the first coal shaft in June, 1900 and by the following January,
the mine produced 250 tons a day. By December, 1901, the mine's daily
capacity was 2,000 tons. Described as a "wonder" and "first class," the
plant was one of the best equipped in the state. However, like all other
mining operations, it soon played out and the mine was closed in 1914.
like other towns along old
Route 66, also played a
small part in the gangster era of the 1930's. Home to Byron "Monty"
Bolton, a member of the
Barker-Karpis Gang, during an FBI
investigation, his boyhood home was searched. He was arrested in January,
1935 in Chicago
and spilled the "beans" about many of the gang's activities including
giving up the location of Ma and Freddie Barker's hideout in Florida. He
later claimed to have taken part in the St. Valentine's Day Massacre.
Today, Thayer, located just 4.5 short miles south of
is called home to about 700 people. There are a few interesting buildings
in its tiny downtown area. For a bite to eat, Maggie's in Thayer is
located at 310 E. Ebony Street. Here, you will not
only get a good meal but also a peek at the region's past as historic
photographs line the walls.
Route 66 journey on
Illinois State Route 4 to
Virden, just about two more miles down the path.
of America, updated August, 2015.