Black Diamond Coal Mines
Diablo ranges across the East Bay. No
matter where you are in the East Bay, you can see it. But what is the history
of this landmark? Who used to live there? What did it used to look like before
today? It has a rich history that involves many important resources that can
still be found today. Mount Diablo is a historical landmark that built a
foundation for the success that California is today. It provides home for
wildlife including birds, lizards, deer, mountain lions, and all sorts of trees
and plants. It contains resources such as sandstone, shale, and, most
importantly, coal. Coal also plays an important role in California’s success.
This paper will bring appreciation to Mt. Diablo and more specifically look at
coal mining and the prosperity it brought to California and dangers that came
with it for those who had to extract it.
getting into coal mining, I would like to give brief history of Mount Diablo in
order to appreciate it more. In 1805-1896 General Mariano Vallejo took the
Spanish form “Monte del Diablo” and translated it to Anglo “Mount Diablo.” This
comes from when Spanish soldiers were taking over the Native Americans as part
of a mission, so the Natives took cover in a thicket. The Spaniards camped and
planned on capturing them in the morning, but the Native Americans escaped in
the night across the Carquinez Strait, which the Spaniards considered only
possible with the help of the devil or “el Diablo.”
1848, Coal was reported in Contra Costa County, which Mount Diablo surrounds. This
significantly increased California’s population. The amount this discovery
benefitted California was so large that the State Legislature wanted to change
the name of Mount Diablo to Coal Hill. Clayton fought against it, so the name
stayed. This brings me to the main topic of the paper, which is coal. Until
coal was discovered, the main industry in the area was cattle ranching. Though
coal was reported in Contra Costa County in 1848, it really thrived in the
1860’s. In 1857 Joel Clayton founded the city of Clayton, and in 1859 coal was
discovered in Clayton! This became the main source of fuel for west coast
manufacturing for a while.
Fifty million years ago, Mount Diablo, along
with most of Central California, was covered in water, the Pacific Ocean. From
the mid nineteenth century to the early twentieth century, large amounts of
miners came to Mount Diablo to remove sandstone, which emerged from loose sand
at the bottom of the sea that hardened, and coal. Coal was nicknamed “black
diamond” but is really the remains of trees that were buried, reeds, and other
swamp vegetation that were kept under large amounts of heat and pressure over
millions of year.
mining can be a very dangerous job. Eight year old boys, called knobbers, crawl
into the three foot high work space to push coal down from where it was cut
down to the tracks where a coal cart is waiting. Both men and boys worked long
shifts in the coalmines, taking out coal from hundreds of miles of the coalfield.
Coal miners in the Mount Diablo Coal field would work in low light and very
cramped conditions. Cave-ins would happen frequently when miners hit weak
layers of rock. There were also a lot of explosions that were caused by a
combination of methane gas and coal dust. Breathing in the cold dust lead to
repertory problems as well. However, these coal miners had very supportive
communities that encouraged them to continue working there every day.
to these dangerous conditions, a way for the community to honor these boys and
men was by having a cemetery reserved just for them and their families. The
Rose Hill Cemetery was used from the 1860s to the early 1900s and is one of the
few things that remain of the coal mining communities. It is a monument to
those who used to live there. Men and boys who died in mining disasters along
with other things are buried there, as are children who died in epidemics and
women who died in childbirth. The Rose Hill Cemetery was a protestant burial
ground with over two hundred residents, but it was exclusively for people who
lived in the coal mining communities. There were many tragedies that took place
in this time period, and the average lifespan was much shorter than it is
the Rose Hill Cemetery has been vandalized. Gravestones were broken or stolen,
including beautiful, ornate fences and other decorations surrounding the
graves, used to honor and celebrate the lives of those that passed. However,
the East Bay Regional Park District has now purchased the cemetery property and
has been putting a lot of time and money into restoring it. They have been
fixing the broken grave stones and trying to figure out which are missing in
order to replace them.
spoke to an employee at the Black Diamond Mines, Danielle Osborne, and asked
her what exactly they are trying to achieve and how are they going to go about
doing so. She said, “Our goal is to help preserve the history of the coal
mining towns so that the pioneers that worked and lived there will never be
forgotten. We ask that anyone with information on people buried at the cemetery
missing gravestones or where these missing gravestones could potentially be,
please call the Black Diamond Mines office. The phone number is on the
Black Diamond Mines in Antioch, California is a great place to find out more
information about the coalmines of Mount Diablo. Danielle Osborne was actually
my tour guide for the Hazel-Atlas Mine Tour. The tour is five dollars per
person, ninety minutes long, and you get to put on a hardhat and coat and explore
the mine! Though the main thing mined in the hazel-atlas mine is silica sand,
you can still see in the rock the different layers of sandstone, shale, and
coal that make up the walls of the mine. The tour takes you on the tracks where
you can see carts along the side as well as the various tunnels that the miners
had to climb into.
mining in Mount Diablo really stimulated California’s economy. It transformed
it from a rural to an industrial base. However, coal mining had to stop
eventually because the cost of productions went up, and new energy sources were
being discovered. The Black Diamond Coal Mines, the biggest coal mining
operation in California, officially closed down in 1949, for good. Sand mining
used for glass in Somersville and steel in Pittsburg took over. After the mines
closed, some miners returned to ranching. Mining town buildings that were
abandoned became barns. Railroad ties got seconds lives as fence posts, and
boilers were used as water troughs. Families from the original miners still
graze cattle on the preserve, generations later.
I take pride in my hometown and where I grew up, I have to address that my
family unfortunately does not play a role in the history of Concord,
California, Mount Diablo, or the East Bay in general. I know that the paper
requires some story about where my family fits in, but both of my parents came
from Nicaragua, moved to San Francisco, and did not move to the bay area until
about thirty years ago, when it was already developed.
am a first-generation born Bay Area kid. I can go on forever about how much I
love my hometown, and being in Chico sure makes me miss it a lot, but there is
the shortcoming of my paper. It does lack the story of how my family fits in,
but it does not change the fact that when we look out the window, we can always
see Mount Diablo. I interviewed my dad to see his input on how we fit in
Concord, and he told a story of when I was growing up, he would point out when
the peaks were white, and he would say, “Look! It’s snowing on Mount Diablo
today!” And my siblings and I would get so excited. So I guess there’s a story.
It was nice thinking about that, and I know he has taken us up to the snow on
Mount Diablo multiple times when we were kids. I am pretty sure that does not
make an impact on my hometown at all, but my hometown sure has made an impact
on me. All I know is that we are here, and we are happy to call the Bay Area
conclude, Mount Diablo is a massive and important historical landmark,
especially to California’s history. Coal played an important role in the
development of California including an increase in populations of towns and a
boost in the economy. There is not much left to remember the coal mining towns,
but there is a cemetery that is currently being restored in order to preserve
the memory of them. My family does not play a role in the building of my
hometown, but it does not change that it is a great hometown, I have loved
learning the history of it and cannot wait to share, and we love living in it.
Benavente, Othon. Personal Interview.
25 Nov. 2017.
I know my family played no role in the
development of my hometown, but it was nice talking to my dad about how cool
Mount Diablo is. It was cool to think back on it and all the fun we have had.
“Black Diamond Mines Regional
Preserve.” East Bay Regional Park District, 2017, www.ebparks.org/parks/black_diamond.
The Black Diamond Mines website gave a
lot of information on the state park and about the tours that they have to
offer regarding mines. It also has awesome visuals and descriptions of what
used to take place in the coal mines when they were in use.
“Coal Mining.” Clayton Historical
Society, Clayton Historical Society and Museum,
The Clayton Historical Society does a
good job of summarizing the Coal Mining that took place in Mount Diablo, which
makes sense because Joel Clayton founded coal just a couple years after he
founded Clayton, so it would make sense for them to have a website dedicated to
the history of it.
“History of Mount Diablo.” Mount
Diablo Interpretive Association , California State Parks, 2017, www.mdia.org/site/.
The Mount Diablo Interpretive
Association gives a bullet point timeline of the history of Mount Diablo. It
ranges from before humans existed on the land, to myths of how humans came to
exist on the land all the way to cities being founded and named, coal mining
coming and going, the Bay Area Rapid Transit being established and so on to
today. It gives a lot of great information.
Osborne, Danielle. Personal Interview.
18 Nov. 2017.
Danielle Osborne was my tour guide at
the Black Diamond Mines. She was more than happy to answer my questions about
the mines and the cemetery. She was really excited that I was writing a paper
about it and even asked for a copy when I am done. Her tour showed me how
mining works and why it could be potentially dangerous to work in those
conditions, though she never put me in danger of course. She was a very helpful
source for this paper and relating it to the mines today.