Considering Coal

Although one tends to equate pre-central heating with wood stoves and fireplaces in New England, coal played an important role. Many old houses had a coal cellar or a fireplace grate designed to take coal rather than wood. Coal became popular for several reasons. A major reason was the development of an intricate network of railroads throughout the coal mining regions of Appalachia. This reduced transport costs substantially. Coal, like other bulky, low value products, was best moved by either water or rail. This remains true today: nearly all coal in the U.S. moves by either barge or rail. A second reason for coal’s popularity was that wood, especially in the Northeast was relatively rare during the 1800’s. The combination of intensive agriculture, building demands, and demands for high quality charcoal for industrial purposes had caused the near total deforestation of the region. A third reason was, of course, that coal was a far more efficient fuel than wood.

In New Hartford during the late 1800’s and well into the twentieth century coal deliveries were common. The invoices from one hauler, J.B. Beckwith, give a glimpse into the industry in New Hartford. Beckwith specialized in coal, but he also hauled fertilizer, lime and hair. The latter was almost certainly horse and cow hair, both of which were used extensively in a range of products, including plaster for walls and upholstery. His invoices show that he supplied coal from the Lackawanna fields, which were operated under the Delaware and Hudson Canal Company; he also sold coal from the Pittson and Lehigh fields, also in Pennsylvania. In New Hartford, circa 1880, Beckwith was selling coal at 6.00 dollars a ton. Most of the coal was labelled as being ‘stove’ coal, presumably designed for use in cookstoves. Coal was delivered either in barrels or loose. The field from which coal came from was important in determining its quality as fuel; it was also graded according to its size and hardness.

In the mid 1880’s Beckwith partnered with Howard J. Stanclift, who later took over the company. Stanclift also owned the livery stables in town and by 1900 had established a large freight business, specializing in coal, lumber, hay, straw but also doing other heavy trucking. He continued to sell coal that primarily came from Pennsylvania fields. It is perhaps slightly ironic that after 1900 some of the workers who mined that coal may have previously lived in the New Hartford region, as many of the former employees of the big textile mills shifted to mining when the mills left. It was noted that a number of the former Greenwoods Company employees moved to the Pennsylvania coal mines.

Stanclift ran his freight company until shortly before his death in 1934.

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