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If you were to visit the town of Universal, Indiana in the 1920s, you would have found a surprisingly large number of residents from Leigh, a small town in Lancashire, England. I would bet that even today many residents can trace their families back to Leigh, through surnames like Counsell, Winstanley, Farrington and Gallagher. So why is that?

Bunsen Coal Mines No. 4 and No. 5, Universal, Indiana
This image from wikitree, originally from
The Coal Town & Railroad Museum, Clinton, Indiana

Universal was a coal mining town. It owes its name and its very existence to the nearby Universal Mines No. 4 and No. 5, originally sunk by the Bunsen Coal Company in about 1910. The town grew up to support the miners, and then shrank again when the mines closed in the 1930s.

Leigh was also a coal mining town, in the heart of England's industrial revolution. Leigh was a textile center in the 18th and 19th centuries, according to local legend even laying claim to the invention of the Spinning Jenny. But by the latter half of the 19th century, coal mining had become a major industry in the area.

Thomas Gregory

Thomas Gregory (1855-1936)
from Ancestry

The link between Universal and Leigh appears to have been mining engineer and executive Thomas Gregory. Gregory was born in Westleigh in 1855, and appears to have emigrated to the United States in the late 1870s. As a young man in Leigh he had been a Winding engineer, operating the steam engine that lowered miners down to the coal seam, and raised coal back out. Gregory and his wife Ellen Howarth, also a Leigh native, made their home in the Terre Haute area among the many coal fields in Western Indiana. By the early 1900s he was supervising mining operations and recruiting miners from his old home town.

And They Call It A Mine

And what was it like, working in one of those mines? From History of Parke and Vermillion County, Indiana, written in about 1913, starting at page 365:

The most extensive coal mines within the county, or state, are the property of the Bunsen Coal Company, which corporation opened their works in the month of October, 1911, on section 31, township 14, range 9 west. The president of the company is T. H. Lynch: the secretary and treasurer W. S. Wardley; the general superintendent C. F. Lynch, and the superintendent, Charles Karral. The present machinist is George Finnigan. These mines are about six miles to the southwest of the city of Clinton. Three hundred and twenty men are now employed at the works, which are constantly developing and widening out. Twenty-six mules are used under the ground for drawing the cars to the shaft opening, from which it is hoisted by powerful, modern machinery to the surface and then dumped into the waiting coal cars of the Chicago Eastern Illinois Railroad, which line transports most of the product to South Chicago. More than three and one-half million dollars have been invested in this plant, which now consists of Universal Mine No. 4, which is one hundred and sixty-five feet beneath the surface, and has a vein of four feet and eleven inches in thickness; Universal Mine No. 3, two hundred and thirty-six feet deep, with a vein thickness of four feet ten inches. These mines bear the geological numbers of four and five.

The output in December, 1912 was averaging about eighteen hundred tons per day, and it is expected that soon the two mines, which are very near one another, will have a daily output of three thousand three hundred tons daily. The motto of this company is "Safety, the First Consideration". The scientific care exercised about these immense coal-producing mines is indeed wonderful, even to the casual observer. Every appliance of safety, convenience and comfort is given the miners. The buildings consist of seventeen residences for the use of the officers and superintendents; the offices, power house, bath house, fan houses, boiler house, blacksmith shops, granary, mule barns, supply house, two tipples and two engine rooms. The bath house, as well as all other buildings around the plant property, is constructed of cement and is fire proof. The bath house is built on modern plans for miners. Here are afforded hot and cold water, the year round. Here the miners and other helpers go and removing their good clothes, put on their rough working suits, the suits not in use being suspended high up in the spacious bath house, fastened by a strong chain and lock, the key being carried by the miners, so nothing can be stolen, even to money in the pockets, as all are hung high up to the ceiling and no one but the owner can get them down. Upon coming from the mine the men go at once, if they choose, to this bath room, and there take a wash and shower bath before putting on their better suits, when they come forth not looking like ordinary miners, but neat and clean. One hundred and sixty-five miners, in December, 1912, were availing themselves of the free use of this bath house. The owners and managers of this plant have profited by the experience of the past methods employed in coal mining, and bettered every condition as far as safety and comfort is concerned, that is possible, under present conditions and knowledge. A high class of men are employed. From officers down, the mines are run by men of intelligence and sobriety.

At the site of the mines has been located a village, in which there are already numerous business houses and a postoffice called Universal, which was established in October, 1912. The coal company has no interest in this village, its site or business interests. They do not conduct the usual mine store, out of which so much dissatisfaction has come in other mining places. Less than two years ago there was not a house on the present site of Bunsen; it has grown like magic and is destined to grow rapidly as the development of the mines increases. It may be added that both hand and machine mines are operated -- Universal No. 4 is machine, while No. 5 is hand mined coal.


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