The borough of Ashley in Lucerne County, Pennsylvania, USA, was once home to one of the largest anthracite coal refining and processing facilities in the country. After the closure of the factory, the Huber Breaker was considered a local landmark and a symbol of the country’s industrial past.
The Blue Coal mine and its associated breaker, known as the Huber Breaker, operated from 1939 to 1976. At the time, it was the most technologically advanced coal mine. Although owned by the Glen Alden Coal Company, the subsidiary that ran the colliery was known as the Blue Coal Corporation.
The Huber Breaker was built in 1939 to replace the old Maxwell Breaker. The new coal breaker was named in honor of Charles F. Huber, the chairman of the board. The Huber Breaker was an 11-story building that stood 130 feet high and could process about 7,000 tons of anthracite coal per day at a rate of 1,000 tons per hour. Anthracite coal, often referred to as hard coal, is the variety of coal with the highest carbon content and fewest impurities, making it very valuable.
Coal was transported by rail from local mines to the breaker where the cars were flipped, the coal tipped out, and then shale, stones, and bones were manually removed from it. This job was done by young boys and was dangerous enough that it could sometimes result in the loss of fingers.
Once the coal was free from impurities, it was loaded onto conveyors that carried it through the breaker’s crushing machinery. After it had been crushed to a suitable size, the coal was loaded onto railcars and sent out for sale. What made the coal coming out of the Huber Breaker unique was its color. The company applied a blue dye to the final product and sold it under the name Blue Coal.
As the Breaker started bringing in big business, the nearby town of Wilkes-Barre began to thrive. In its heyday, the town boasted four theaters and a gilded opera house as well as a lively social scene.
After World War II, oil and natural gas replaced coal as the primary fuel sources used to heat homes. In addition, locomotives that ran on coal were replaced by diesel ones, while power plants running on oil or nuclear power to produce electricity began to take over from coal-burning ones.
As a result of this decrease in demand, many coal mines began to close, although some of them continued to operate at a reduced capacity. Eventually, Blue Coal was forced to file for bankruptcy and cease operations in late 1976 after the valley was flooded.
After its closure, the town of Wilkes-Barre began to suffer the same decline as many other coal mining cities. The population decreased every year; in 2010, it was reported that the population of Wilkes-Barre was only 2,790 people.
Because the Huber Breaker was considered a landmark of the city, a group of volunteers joined together to preserve the history of the region and also the coal mine that has a place in American industrial history. They called themselves the Huber Breaker Preservation Society.
In 2013, the site went up for sale. The Preservation Society submitted their own bid of $25,000 for the coal breaker and eight acres of land, but they were unsuccessful. The winning bid was that of a commercial salvage organization called Paselo Logistics LLC.
The new owners paid $1.28 million not only for the breaker but also for just under 27 acres of land. In 2005, a realty firm had estimated that the abandoned facility had a scrap value of $85,000, based on 900 tons of steel.
Unable to save the monument itself, in 2013, the volunteers created a memorial park near the abandoned mine called the Northern Anthracite Coal Field Miners Memorial Park. It is hoped that this open space will remind people of the breaker and its importance not only to the towns around it but also to American history.
The demolition of structures on this site began in January 2014. Three months later, the main breaker was destroyed. The colliery itself and powerhouse were demolished in August 2014. The Preservation Society hopes that a museum could be built upon the site.
Unfortunately, questions have been raised over whether the asbestos in the buildings was handled correctly during the demolition. This is an issue that still causes controversy among residents and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.
These fascinating photos of the Blue Coal’s Huber Breaker were taken at the site before the property was demolished.