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Lucius Waterman Robinson: A Dominating Figure

Lucius Waterman Robinson

By Eileen Mountjoy

In 1902, as the tracks of the Buffalo, Rochester & Pittsburgh Railway were laid in Indiana County, a stylishly dressed coal company president sat behind his desk in a New York office building, personally supervising the railroad's progress. His name was Lucius Waterman Robinson.

As chief executive of the Rochester & Pittsburgh Coal & Iron Company from 1899 to 1919, Robinson played a significant role in the development of the coal industry in Indiana County. Although he died in Rochester, New York, in 1935, his contributions to the growth of mining in our area may still be seen in the towns founded during his administration, two of which bear his name.

Robinson came to the R&PC&I carrying impressive credentials. He was born in Hudson, Ohio, on September 19, 1855. He entered the coal fields of Tioga County shortly after his 1877 graduation from the Sheffield Scientific School of Yale University. On the job, Robinson soon learned the practical aspects of mining coal. Within a few years, he became a fabulously wealthy man. In 1925, a Rochester newspaper noted that Robinson "has generally been rated as among the first, if not the wealthiest, Rochester citizen."

Although his main office was located in the Main Street West Building of the BR&P Railway, Robinson maintained luxurious homes in several states. His New York residence was 850 East Avenue, Rochester, where his "next-door neighbor" was George Eastman, the camera pioneer. Other homes owned by Robinson included a winter retreat at Hobe Sound, Florida, a farm located one-half mine from Helvetia in Clearfield County, and the majestic "Claypoole Manor" in Indiana County. He also maintained comfortable rooms adjacent to his office in Punxsutawney.

By 1888, Robinson had progressed from Tioga County to Jefferson County, where he was superintendent of the gigantic Rochester Mine near Dubois, owned by Bell, Lewis, & Yates Mining Company. When the R&PC&I purchased all of the mines from BL&Y in 1896, Robinson had been a director of the R&P C&I for five years. Therefor, at the time of the purchase, Robinson turned all of his attention to the success of the larger company.

As superintendent of the Rochester Mine, Robinson's engineering skills were put to use in the maintenance of the remarkable rope haulage system that hauled coal from underground to the surface. The rope haulage, which utilized four drums powered by two large steam engines, was a highly complicated but very efficient means of hauling coal outside and up into the tipple, and returning the empties underground. When necessary, as many as 50 cars could be handled at one time. Mining engineers from all over the United States and Europe traveled to Dubois to see the rope haulage system in operation.

Heath Clark, president of R&P from 1933 to 1948, wrote:

One of the marvels of the Rochester Mine's rope haulage system was that only one man was needed to operate it. Only three employees of the company knew how to operate it. Among them was Lucius Waterman Robinson, one-time superintendent of the mine. It is history that Mr. Robinson, while president of the R&P C&I, actually did man the hoist for several days while a majority of the miners struck for higher wages.

During his long career in the mining industry, colleagues and adversaries alike often experienced the forcefulness of Robinson's personality. One of the earliest stories about him is recorded in the private papers of S.B. Elliott, general manager of Bell, Lewis & Yates at the time of this incident in 1896:

On the 23rd of March there was an accident in the Adrian Mine, near Punxsutawney, whereby two men were overcome by gas, but were finally resuscitated. Among the latter was Edwin Robinson, L. W. Robinson's brother. It appears that a fire occurred in the mine on Sunday night, and the fire gave injury to the boss and mining boss who had been endeavoring to put it out. Edwin came there just at the dawn of day, and insisted on going in where it was dangerous. He had been warned against it, but he persisted and was overcome, together with two companions who were with him. Others went in to their rescue, but were unable to get them out, except that Mr. Lucius Waterman Robinson himself went in and got Edwin out, and some other parties went in and carried the mine foreman out, and the other man, who was brought to life after several hours. Edwin Robinson was unconscious a less length of time.

Happily, Edwin recovered and eventually became the chief engineer of the BR&P Railway. His brother, Lucius, went on to lead the Rochester & Pittsburgh Coal & Iron Company into great expansion of both production and coal reserves.

Predictably, when railroad extensions from Jefferson to Indiana County became a certainty, Robinson lost little time. February 5, 1901, found him in Indiana completing negotiations for a large block of coal lands in White and Blacklick Townships. That evening, he addressed the members of the Indiana Board of Trade. At the meeting, brought to order by its president, the Honorable Judge Harry White, Robinson explained:

For quite a number of years back I have had my eye on Indiana County. But Coal under the ground has little intrinsic value; value has to be created. When Capital comes in and develops your mineral resources, value if created. This not only assists your community, but brings in other industries and reaches out to other communities, so that each one, in whatever station of life, will glean some benefit.

In the next several years, Robinson watched with satisfaction as the first the mines at Ernest, and then at Iselin and Lucerne, opened and flourished. In 1909, R&PC&I officials acquired still more coal lands, this time in Young Township. The proposed coal field, known locally as "the Jacksonville Field," created still more economic stimulus for Indiana County.

The Indiana Evening Gazette announced in November of that year that the R&PC&I, under the name "Jefferson & Clearfield Coal & Iron Company," had purchased 4,100 acres of land north of Jacksonville, which meant "small fortunes," for Indiana County landowners. By July, 1910, a railroad spur was being laid from Parkwood to Jacksonville. Meanwhile, in anticipation of the miners who would arrive to work at the new mines, the R&PC&I began construction of a town at the site, three miles above Jacksonville.

In May, 1912, the company awarded a contract to the Hyde-Murphy Company of Ridgeway for the construction of 50 additional houses at another site two miles from Jacksonville to provide housing for the miners working at two more mines opened there. Several months later, still another opening was made at Aultman's Run. Ten houses were built there for the men who mined that site. Locally known as the "Ten Commandments," nine of the houses still stand. In December, 1912, the two new coal towns, which were nearing completion, received names. The first of the new towns was named McIntyre, in honor of D. H. McIntyre, who operated company stores in the new locale, while the second town, two miles from Jacksonville, was called Aultman for the stream which runs nearby.

The Coal Run Mining Company also had interests in the Jacksonville, and made its first shipment on January 16, 1913. This operation was privately owned by Lucius Waterman Robinson. A company town grew up around these mines, too, and is located still between McIntyre and Aultman on the branch of the railroad. Nearly 75 houses made up the town known formerly as the Clune post office. Robinson named the town Coal Run; eventually ten deep mines and a surface were operated on the site. One of the mines, in the tradition of many mine owners, was christened "Harriet," in honor of Robinson's wife.

On January 1, 1913, R&PC&I investors incorporated still another company, the Brush Creek Mining Company, to develop the lands in Center Township. The coal in this "Brush Creek Field," though relatively high in sulfur and ash, was considered to be efficient for steam purposes. The Robinson family held approximately one-third of the total shares of stock in this new company. As Lucius Waterman Robinson was president of the R&PC&I at the time of Brush Creek's incorporation, two of the new mining towns, Waterman and Luciusboro, were named in his honor. The two remaining sites were named Coy and Snyder, for J. B. Coy and William and John Snyder, whose properties had been bought by the Brush Creek Mining Company to form the nucleus of their operation.

On May 7, 1913, work began on the actual opening of Snyder, first of the Brush Creek mines to begin production. On September 22, 1913, the first coal was dumped into a waiting BR&P Railway car. Two additional mines quickly followed Snyder #1, and by the end of 1914 the R&PC&I built a 24' by 36' substation at the terminal of the transmission line from the Lucerne Power Plant. Feeder lines were run from the Snyder substation to the Coy, Waterman #1 (B seam) and Luciusboro sites, and supplied power to al subsequent Brush Creek mines.

Coy #1 mine opened on May 15, 1913. Heyl-Patterson Company began work on the tipple on July 9, and by September 10, an amazingly short time later, the first coal was loaded. A unique aspect of the Brush Creek mines was that, due to the proximity of the mine openings, the miners' houses were so located as to be available for any other mines with the exception of Luciusboro. The first of the towns was built at Coy, where 23 double houses stood by 1928. Many of the miners who worked at Snyder lived at Coy, while other men commuted the short distance from Homer City and Indiana. In May, 1913, workmen began the Waterman #1 mine opening in the Brush Creek Field. By 1914, Waterman had both passenger and freight service when the BR&P tracks reached the community. By 1930, there were 60 houses at Waterman.

In the extreme southeast of the Brush Creek field is the town of Luciusboro, where mine #1 opened in August of 1913 on the Henry Fritz, McFeaters, and Duncan farms. A smaller mine than Coy #1, Luciusboro produced 71,212 tons of coal in its first year. Luciusboro was planned as a duplicate of Waterman and eventually grew to a total of 51 single and 26 double houses, a community hall, a doctor's office, and a first aid house. The annual capacity of the mines at Luciusboro was estimated at 125,000 tons. But Luciusboro's founder, Lucius Waterman Robinson himself, while already famous for his ability to "get the coal out," was not generally well known for his graciousness or personal warmth.

R. J. "Jim" Craig of Indiana grew up at Yatesboro, where his father was general manager. The mines at Yatesboro, operated under the name of Cowanshannock Coal & Coke Company, and incorporated in 1899. "These mines," Craig explains, "were jointly owned by Arthur G. Yates, president of the BR&P Railway, the Iselin family, and Lucius Waterman Robinson. A great deal of the coal mined at Yatesboro was sold directly to George Eastman's camera-producing plant in Rochester, New York.

"My father worked under Robinson as a superintendent when L. W. Robinson was general manager of Bell, Lewis, & Yates. My father came from Scotland in 1881. His name was James Hunter Craig. In Scotland, he was trained as a boilermaker. Because of his skills, he established rope haulages in four mines at Yatesboro. They were run by steam, made in huge boilers.

"I was often, as a boy, out around the mines when L. W., as we called him, came on his inspection tours. He had a self-propelled railroad car he called 'Ruth,' after one of his daughters. It was a sleeper, dining car, and portable office. There was a special shed for the car at what is now R&P's maintenance department. The 'Ruth' traveled on the tracks of the BR&P to Indiana. Often, other parties of officials arrived by train, and together they'd travel out to the various mining operations."

Unlike the Iselin family of New York, who gave generously to Jefferson and Indiana County churches and built two hospitals, Robinson evidently showed little interest in the communities named for him. "He wasn't very visible when he came around," Craig says. "When the Iselins came to Yatesboro, the Yatesboro Union church ladies had dinners for them, with lots of homemade dishes. The Iselin family always mingled with the group and thanked the women who had prepared the meal. They always seemed concerned with what was going on in the town."

In time," Craig continues, "L. W. 's son, Lucius Jr. became involved in his father's coal companies, and was vice president of the R&PC&I for awhile. He was a very courteous and pleasant young man. But he really wasn't very interested in mining. I was working with my father at that time and it was my job to take young Lucius underground. I remember that he was very anxious to get outside once his tour was over."

Although Lucius Waterman Robinson displayed very little interest in Indiana County beyond his financial involvement, on one single occasion, at least, he betrayed an uncharacteristic sentimentality. Dating form Robinson's tenure as president of the R&P C&I, this incident is recorded in a March 12, l910, issue of the Indiana Evening Gazette:

ELDERSRIDGE ACADEMY SAVED: Friends of the historic Eldersridge Academy will rejoice to learn that the famous institution of learning has been saved from the sheriff's hammer and that it will reopen for a term of summer school. The gentleman who came to the rescue is Lucius Waterman Robinson, president of the Rochester & Pittsburgh Coal & Iron Company. For a number of years the trustees of the Academy have made heroic efforts to operate the school. But the deaths of the men to whom the school had for years looked for patronage has so crippled the institution that it was run at a loss. This loss grew to such proportions as to entail a burden of debt too heavy to be borne any longer. This debt is in the form of judgements to the sum of $3,500. The Sheriff had taken the property for sale and the impending calamity to the famous old school created wide newspaper coverage.

Mr. Robinson, hearing of the matter, consulted with his attorney, John A. Scott, who formulated a proposition which he forwarded to the Trustees of the Academy. Briefly stated, the proposition was that if the authorities would reduce the amount of the debt to $3,000, he would advance the money necessary to save the property.

Mr. Robinson says that his object in making this offer is "only in the intrest of education. He has learned of the good work done by the Academy in the past and desires to see that influence continued in the community as in which he has become so largely involved through coal operations and investments in property.

The friends of Eldersridge, and there are thousands of them in Pennsylvania, will doubtless begin raising funds. We deeply appreciate and gratefully accept the offer of Mr. Robinson.

In the annals of Indiana County history, there seems to be no more recorded incidents of the generosity of L. W. Waterman Robinson. Nevertheless, this well-documented episode has been preserved to show another side to the man described in his obituaries as: "A dominating figure in the bituminous fields of Pennsylvania… A man who could handle men and mine coal... and who was possessed of an indomitable courage that carried him through the difficulty early days of the mining industry."

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