#SmallTownSaturday – Cherry, IL

This week we’ll be visiting Cherry, IL (pop. 461) for #SmallTownSaturday!

The village of Cherry was named after James Cherry, the superintendent of St. Paul Mining Company, and began primarily as a mining site. The mine attracted workers from around the world, and by 1909 more than 80% of Cherry’s mine workers were first generation immigrants.

On November 13, 1909 at around approximately 1:30 p.m., the Cherry mine became the site of the nation’s third most deadly mining disaster. The mine had three levels, or veins, although the first was inoperable. The second and third veins were only accessible to each other via wooden ladders. Most mines at this time relied on electricity to operate cars and light. While the third vein had been fixed with electrical wiring, the main cable had burned out, forcing them to rely on kerosene torches as a light source and mules to push carts.

A fire began with six bales of hay being lowered into the mine for the mules in the third vein. The baled hay was left in a cart beneath one of the torches, eventually leading to a small fire. Miners were reported as walking right past it, believing it to be easily controllable. The fire, however, spread to the wooden support beams in the mine due to a strong current of air.

259 lives were lost in the fire, 12 having lost their lives in an attempt to rescue others. The mine was sealed at the end of the day in an attempt to smother the fire. This decision was met with public protest, fearing there were living men being smothered as well. In the 8 days the mine was sealed, 21 men managed to survive before being rescued. The fire continued to burn, and the mine was sealed once more until February of 1910.

The Cherry mine disaster led to changes in Illinois mining policies and better safety regulations. Rescue stations and fire fighting equipment were added to coal mines, and workmen’s compensation was implemented in the state of Illinois.

If you would like to learn more about Cherry’s history, stop by the IHLC!

Pictured above is a crowd gathered at the mouth of the Cherry mine shaft in 1909. Courtesy of the Library of Congress: http://www.loc.gov/pictures/resource/ggbain.04371/

3 Replies to “#SmallTownSaturday – Cherry, IL”

  1. My grandfather and my great grandfather were miners at the Cherry Mine. My grandfather was a boy and was not allowed to work unless the “Master or Journeyman” my great grandfather was with him.
    My Great Grandfather was sick that day and both did not work.
    They lived in Spring Valley, Illinois.

  2. Thanks for your comment, Rachel! We had to do some digging around to determine when Cherry, IL was established. Cherry is situated in Bureau County, which was founded in 1837.

    In March 1910, Edith Wyatt published an article “Heroes of the Cherry Mine”. In this article, Wyatt states that Cherry was 6 years old at the time, dating its establishment to 1904-1905.

    Images of Cherry’s Welcome Sign say it was established in 1905.

    We hope this information helps!

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