Just below Mid-Michigan’s industrial veneer lies a coal mining past deeper than anywhere in the state.
Before the beginning of the 20th century, the largest coal deposits in the state were right underneath the Saginaw Valley – with underground mines throughout Saginaw, Bay, Genesee and Tuscola Counties.
“As the lumbering era started to die down and begin to wane, people were looking for what’s the next big industry going to be here in this area? And coal mining was the answer,” said Job Webb, president and CEO of the Castle Museum in Saginaw.
Thanks to the Castle Museum’s new “Mining for Prosperity” exhibit, the Saginaw Valley is getting a reminder of the industry that employed more than 1,700 miners at its peak in 1907.
“For about 30 years or so, it was probably the main industry here in the entire county,” Webb said.
The county was home to more than 40 coal mines stretching from St. Charles to Buena Vista Township. A good example is the one that still lies beneath Saginaw High School. At one time they produced more than a million tons of coal in a single year.
On your way out of the exhibit you will experience what a coal mine looked like in Saginaw County during the early 1900s.
“The coal deposits were fairly deep in the ground and when you began to extract coal, there was a water issue so it was very difficult and time consuming and somewhat expensive. And you also had to be near a railroad,” Webb said.
Even though the industry burned out by the 1930s, it’s safe to say coal pushed Saginaw County’s future full steam ahead.
“We’re doing a lot of really exciting work here to help preserve the history and the culture of Saginaw County,” Webb said.
The Castle Museum is open Tuesdays through Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Entry is $1 for adults and 50 cents for children.