Discovery of Anthracite Coal in the Upper Lehigh Region.

Note: Most of the following comes from the book “The History of Carbon County”, composed by Fred Brenckman and first published in 1913.  A small amount of clarifications and updating were done my myself, both to make the text more readable and to include facts from other sources – Jack Sterling 2016

The Indians who inhabited eastern Pennsylvania knew of the existence of anthracite coal in various localities of that section long before this valuable mineral, which would become one of our leading natural products, was discovered by the white pioneers.

That the “black stones,” as coal was commonly termed prior to 1800, were capable of combustion and of generating heat was not known to the native Americans. Had they been familiar with the properties of coal and the use to which it may be put, they would have carefully guarded the secret of its existance. To have pursued any other course, as experience had taught them, would have been equivalent to an invitation to have their lands trespassed upon or taken away from them by the whites.

Georg Heinrich Loskiel, the Moravian historian, in speaking of the settlement of Gnadenhutten, relates that the Indians of the vicinity made their pipe-heads of a soft black stone, which was undoubtedly coal.

The Connecticut pioneers of the Wyoming Valley were the first to learn of the existence of coal in that portion of the region, while its presence was early suspected on the headwaters of the Schuylkill.

Coal, in the Lehigh region, was discovered on Sharp Mountain, where Summit Hill now stands, in the year 1791, by Philip Ginter.


Philip Ginter discovers coal on Sharp Mountain

This discovery, like so many others which have been fraught with great import to humanity, was purely an accidental one.  It eventually led to a true appreciation of the value of the mineral on the part of the general public, and to its being mined and placed on the market. The element of romance attaches strongly to the story of Ginter (sometimes spelled “Ginder”) and his epoch-making discovery, and there are more than one variation on the tale.  That tale given here is the most likely. A native of Holland, Ginter was born around 1730 and when he was a boy of about 15 years, he immigrated to America. He came to the valley of the Mahoning Creek in the era just following the American Revolution.  At first, Ginter’s main pursuit was hunting the rich game of the area to sustain his family.  But he also had in mind the idea of constructing a mill to process the agricultural products of the immediate area.  The story is told that while on the day of his discovering coal he was exploring the Sharp Mountain with the dual purpose of hunting for game and looking for a proper grind stone for his mill.  He chanced upon an outcropping of a strange rock, jet-black in color.

Interested and curious about his find, he took a specimen with him to his cabin, and the next day he carried it to Colonel Jacob Weiss, Revolutionary War Veteran, who had pioneered a settlement at what was then known as Fort Allen, now Weissport.

Weiss also took a keen interest in the matter and immediately took the specimen with him to Philadelphia, submitting it for inspection to John Nicholson, Michael Hillegas and Charles Cist.  Cist, a Philadelphia printer by trade, ascertained its nature and properties and advised Weiss to return with Ginter to the place of discovery on Sharpe Mountain.

Ginter readily agreed to this proposal, accepting in exchange the title to a small tract of land, upon which he afterwards built his mill.  After only a short time he was unhappily deprived by the claims of a prior survey.

Weiss formed a partnership with Nicholson, Hillegas and Cist, leading to the creation of the Lehigh Coal Mining Company, the predecessor of the Lehigh Coal & Navigation Co.

One comment

  1. Thank you for this article. It helped greatly in my further learning for a project in school.

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