WHEN COAL WAS KING: John Henry No. 1 Mine in Black Diamond

  • Aug 19, 2021
  • Voice of the Valley

This photo of the John Henry No. 1 Mine in Black Diamond, appeared in the Feb. 27, 1991 issue of the Seattle Times with the following caption, “Trucks at Pacific Coast Coal Co. wait to haul fine coal to Ravensdale where it will be loaded onto railroad cars and shipped to various locations locally and abroad.” Opened in 1986, the John Henry was one of two surface coal mines in Washington. The other was TransAlta’s Centralia Mine, opened in 1971 to supply coal for the nearby power plant which is still in operation. The Centralia Mine was by far the larger, regularly producing about 5 million tons of coal annually, compared to John Henry’s 204,000 tons in 1991.

The John Henry mine was named in honor of two coal miners, John Henry Morris, who founded Palmer Coking Coal Co. on Aug. 14, 1933, and John Henry, a Black Diamond miner who was killed in the New Landsburg mine in 1951 after falling 100 feet down a chute. In January 1997, the John Henry surface mine was crippled by a massive landslide that buried coal and disrupted operations. The mine produced 1.87 million tons of coal during its years of operation but never recovered, and within a few years coal mining in Black Diamond ceased. For a while, clay was produced for local cement plants, but that effort eventually faltered. The John Henry sat idle for nearly two decades before final reclamation began in June 2019. Earthmoving is underway to return the site to approximate original contours, which includes a deep-water lake where the main pit once operated.