Coal Mining in Illinois

Diamond Black Diamonds

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"Black Diamonds" Launched Local Mining Town

The founding fathers who gave the village of Diamond its name must have had a streak of poetry in their souls. They looked at a hard lump of black coal and saw not ugliness, but the glitter of a "black diamond" as it shone in the sun.

Miners from all over the world began coming to this little town with the poetic name as the coal fields around the Braidwood area gradually became depleted and new mines opened in the Coal City area.

Italians, English, Scotsmen, Welsh, Germans and Irish were among the nationalities represented in the new town as they came at the urging of relatives already settled here or through the recruiting efforts of coal mining agents in their native lands.

The town of Diamond was platted in 1873. Just 10 years later, it suffered one of the most crushing tragedies recorded in early coal mining history.

On Feb. 16, 1883, scores of miners were trapped in No. 2 mine on the northeast edge of Diamond, as water from an early winter thaw seeped down from the surface and flooded the tunnels.

Only 28 bodies were recovered from the mine, but it is believed that at least 74 men and boys (two were only 13 years old) perished in the tragedy.

The town reeled under the shock and many families moved away. But gradually, in the late 1800's, Diamond began to thrive once more.

One of the earliest families to settle in Diamond - the Skinners - built a large home on the north side of Rte. 113. Alexander Skinner operated several mines in the area, including one of the largest, known as the McGinty mine, located just south of what is now the 90's Club in Diamond. Later, when mines in the Diamond area became less productive, the Skinners opened a mine just south of Godley and for a brief time, the town of Torino (named for an Italian city) enjoyed a boom economy as miners followed the Skinners to the new mine.

When Alexander Skinner died, it is said that a funeral procession one-mile long followed the coffin to its burial place in Wilmington.

The Skinners had nine children. One of their daughters, (Belle), became a school teacher in the Diamond school and later married Charles Root who was superintendent of Grundy County schools for 30 years. One son, Russell, became a prominent Chicago attorney and one ran for mayor of Chicago on the Republican ticket. Another son, Gordon, became a well-known businessman in Morris, and David, the youngest son, is a prominent Morris attorney.

The importance of the school in the Diamond community can probably not be overestimated. The teachers were feared, sometimes loved and almost always respected. The Gilmours, another pioneer family, graduated eight children from the little school, and a number of families, including the Stricklands, the Skinners, and the Vollmers saw their children return to the school to become teachers.

Isabel Perona, now retired and living in Diamond, taught at the school for 25 years from 1929 until it closed in 1954. Anna Marie Pohl (Giovanni), another present-day resident of Diamond, also taught at the Diamond school for a time and has a 20-year teaching record to her credit.

Another prominent family in the early days of Diamond history was the Joseph Berta clan. Joseph farmed, operated a saloon in town and served as tax collector and village board member. Two of his children, Thomas and Mary McLuckie, are still living and reside in Coal City.

Joseph Turigliatto, was one of the first to open a general store and saloon (in the 1870's) and the second floor of the building soon became the frequent scene of lively Saturday evening dances. Turigliatto also sold dynamite for use in the mining operation and the small wooden shed used for storage was strictly off-limits to town children. In fact, if you were caught there, remembers one long-time resident, it was cause for a good strapping.

Other names (to mention just a few) appearing frequently in Diamond history include the Girots (father Charles was a coal miner from France who died at age 47) and the Redmonds. The Redmonds built one of the first homes in Diamond and it is one of the few original buildings still remaining.

As in many mining towns, the coal company was the first to build a store, a combination grocery and general merchandise store where the miners were expected to buy a certain amount of their supplies.

The store, located on the southest corner of Division and School Sts., was soon followed by a saloon owned by George Valerio on the opposite corner. John Trotter, a Coal City resident, opened a meat market next door to the company store.

Later, a dance hall called "The Bowery" became a popular spot for Saturday night dances as young people walked from Coal City and other towns close by to dance to the music of David Archibald.

By the early 1900's, the coal mines were beginning to shut down and jobs were scarce. The records of the village board meetings during these times provide an interesting - and poignant - barometer of the towns decline.

- 1909: Complaints were filed against home movers for tearing up the roads. (Families often moved their houses along with them to the new mining towns.)

- 1911: Town officials were paid $10 a year.

- 1918: Appropriations for the year totaled just $1,070.33.

- 1919: Prohibition brought an end to the important tax revenues from taverns. A dram shop license cost tavern owners $500 to $800 per year and provided an essential source of income for the village.

- 1920: Board members were no longer paid a salary.

- 1925: The village hall was auctioned for $177.75

Fires became increasingly frequent as businessmen sought to recoup at least a portion of their losses through insurance payments. One resident relates that claims became so frequent, many insurance companies quit honoring their franchises.

Ironically, Diamond did retain some share of fame - although the claim was a dubious one. It became known as the home of Picolo Pete's, delicately referred to by town residents as a "sporting house."

During World War II, Picolo Pete's was closed, but some residents, in a roundabout way, credit it for the resurgence of town government. Fearing that such a place might be revived following the war, plans were made to set up stricter regulations.

Elections were held in 1949 and Floyd Calcaterra was elected mayor with Joseph Perona, Joseph Tessiatore, Robert Guizzetti, and Anna Marie Giovanni, serving as commissioners.

The post-war era brought new prosperity to Diamond. A new city hall and well (built in 1960) were signs of increased health, as the town welcomed growing subdivisions and a new trailer court.

Jo's Steak House has become a well-known eating place, and along with a number of other town businesses, helps contribute to the town revenues. The Friendship Hall, operated by Jack Nicoletti, the Potts Car Wash, and the Diamond gas station are all familiar town landmarks, along with the Perona businesses, Diamond Jack's, the beauty shop, barber shop and Campo's Lounge.

At its peak, Diamond had a population of 500, but that figure dipped to 75 in later years. Today, Diamond reports a population of about 400 and many town residents see the increase as good evidence of the town's renewed vitality.