The Wenona Coal Company
The Beginning of the Mine
The depression of the 1870s hit Wenona hard, as it did all farming communities, and many went out of existence or consolidated with others. However, by 1883, business was good again, aided materially by the opening of the coal mine in 1882. The Wenona Coal Company had its beginning in 1873 when Henry Clark of Streator was hired to do some prospecting for coal. How-ever, nothing much was done until 1882 when the first third vein coal was mined. The company incorporated in 1883 with William M. Hamilton, L.J. Hodge and E. Monser as original incorporators. Monser later bought out his two partners and continued to head the business until his death, at which time his two sons be-came owners.The depth of the shaft was 576 feet and the vein of coal varied in thickness from 3 to 4 feet. At the peak of employment, in 1910, there were 450 men employed, 380 of who were actually mining the coal. Peak production averaged be-tween 900 and 1000 tons per eight-hour shift. The coal was all hand-mined until machinery became available. But even with machinery, there was always some coal mined by hand. The mine operated one eight-hour shift, six days a week. There was a small second shift of mainte-nance men , engineers, inspectors, etc. but no coal was mined during the second shift.The first immigrants that worked in the mine were Irish and Cockney English who had come to build the railroad and then stayed in Wenona to work on the mine. Many other immigrants came from Central and Eastern Europe to work in the mine. With that, the families that moved to Wenona to mine coal brought with them their own cultures, traditions and pastimes to the community.
The Fall of the Mine
After the first World War, competition from non-union mines of Kentucky and big mines of southern Illinois forced the gradual closing of the northern Illinois coalfield, due to its relative high cost of production. The Wenona Coal Co. closed its mine in 1925, although the company continued in the coal business until 1953. At the time, the owner was Edward L. Monser, grand-son of one of the original incorporators, which made the Wenona Coal Co. the oldest business in town under the same name and owned by the same family.
Other Mine Facts
In their annual reports, the State Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the following men died in the Wenona Coal Mine from 1893 to 1924:
- Michael Thomas (1899)
- Mathias Hoge (1904)
- James Smith (1918)
- John Morris (1921)
- Emil Block (1922)
In the early 1920s, Wenona had over 300 residents work in the coal mine. These hard working men were called to work each day by a whistle. If the mine blew a whistle at 5:30 at night the workers knew they should report to work the next day.
Cold War Radar Station
At the height of the Cold War, the highest spot here in town, played a role in US defense. Be-ginning in April 1958, a top the slag pile from the old Wenona coal mine, a radar station was developed which was equipped to detect incoming missiles and enemy airplanes potentially headed to Chicago or Milwaukee. The radar station was manned by approximately 20 troops from the 45th AAA Brigade and the 105th Signal Corps Detachment. It could detect aircraft as far up as 75,000 feet in any direction, and as far away as 200 nautical miles.The Wenona station was one of 10 stations set up in Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin within 200 miles of Chicago in the Chicago Air Defense System. The radar station included two metal building and the radar antenna. The base of the slag pile was surrounded by six-strand barbed-wire fence. Prior to constructing the buildings on top of the slag pile, 30 feet was graded off the top and a circular roadway was built around the slag pile from bottom to top.The following men served at the Wenona Radar Station and settled in Wenona after completion: Russ Martin, James Brown, and Howard Engler. The Army left Wenona in 1959, but before leaving town, planted seed on the mound which gave way to the beautiful forestry seen today.The Wenona Coal Mine Historical Site was dedicated by members of the Wenona Historical Society on August 10, 2018 during the Wenona Days celebration. It is the hopes of the society that future generations may visit this site to learn about its unique history within the heart of the community.