Sneed’s Weaver History

Weaver was located in section 1 of Blairsville Township. It was east of State Highway 148 between Big Muddy Bridge and Pond Creek Bridge. This is 3 miles northwest of Herrin and 4 miles south of Zeigler.

It all began when Weaver Coal and Coke Company started to sink a mine shaft there in September of 1902. Before the vein of coal was reached the workers struck a bed of quicksand. The struggle with the quicksand was appalling, for they knew nothing of freezing mud in those days. Mr. Weaver spent all the money he had and could borrow and had not produced coal. The mine was abandoned and Mr. Weaver went bankrupt.

In 1904 W. P. Rend bought the bankrupt Weaver Coal and Coke Company with all its holdings. Then the mine shaft was finished. Rend began to mine coal early in 1905. In that year a company store and eighteen houses were built. The Jelly family moved into the second house that was finished. Walter Jelly was seven years old then. He was destined to grow up and become one of Weaver’s most respected citizens.

The mine was renamed Rend Number Two by the company, but the mine and village continued to be called Weaver by everyone else.

The whole area lies in the creek and river bottoms. The mine shaft was dug on a low knoll that was above high water. Not all the houses were so strategically located.

During the spring and fall seasons water would cover some of the streets and part of the road to the village and creep into some of the houses. The only way out of town was by rowboat. Later the road and railroad were, raised and this problem was solved. Weaver Mine had no gob pile. The mine tailings were used for building the road and railroad bed.

In 1906, a hundred and fifty houses were built east of Pond Creek and a wooden bridge over the stream was built on driven piling. There were about a thousand people in Weaver then. Two-thirds of the people were American born. The other third were Polish, Bulgarian, Lithuanian and Italian.

The company store did such a thriving business that fifteen clerks were needed to run it. The prices were higher than the private stores in Herrin (then Buckhorn). One could buy any item on credit if he worked in the mine.

In 1907 there were several children of school age in Weaver. The area was in the North Bend School District but the school was across Big Muddy River. The river was all over the bottoms all that fall and winter. The teacher came to school every day and stayed until about ten o’clock. He was under contract to do so. There were no children of school age on that side of the river. Neither were there any bridges across the river. The Weaver children could not get to school.

The following year (1908) Weaver hired a teacher named Linda Rich. Alas, there was no schoolhouse. A large tent was pitched on the south side of the company store. A big cast-iron pot belly stove was put in the tent. The company furnished coal free. Each child brought a board to write on and a chair to sit on and Miss Rich taught all eight grades in the tent that year. The following year the coal company built a schoolhouse 30 by 60 feet, east of Pond Creek. The school was furnished with school desks and seats but it was all company owned and served as a community house, a union hall and, when a minister was available, a church.

A second room was added in 1910 and a third in 1913. When the second room was added a Mr. Swain came to teach and when the third room was added Dow S. Holmes was also added to the staff. Holmes was not much more than a boy. He was dressed in knickerbocker pants and wore a “Katy Hat”. Many people laughed at him but he was dressed in the latest style. By now the school was swollen to 225 pupils. Mr. Holmes soon grew in popularity and became the principal. He fell in love with one of his teachers and she became Mrs. Holmes. These two became the beloved teachers of a generation of youngsters, installing in them ideas and ideals that are eternal.

No church was ever organized in Weaver. At various times Protestant ministers came, held Sunday school and preached. Several revivals were held with preaching nightly. These religious services interested Walter Jelly. In due time, he found the satisfaction the preachers talked about. He gave the greater part of his life to the church. In time the Reverend Walter Jelly took his place alongside the beloved teachers as the most respected citizens of the town.

Weaver was a rough town. There was no police force. The sheriff came to Weaver only on call. The company did not permit the sale of liquor in Weaver and there was no saloon type drunken brawls. However, with the coming of prohibition things changed. Many homes became bootlegging joints. This was especially true in the foreign element. During the Ku Klux Klan raids of the 1920s considerable disturbance occurred.

Old Ben Coal Company bought Weaver in 1921 and renamed it Old Ben 20. The name Weaver was too firmly fixed to be changed. It remained Weaver. Weaver began to decline after the strike of 1924. The Lester Mine Riot of 1922 received much adverse publicity and southern Illinois coal was boycotted. The mine worked fewer and fewer days until it was closed in 1927.

About 1925 the bridge across Pond Creek began to sink in quicksand. Piling was driven along the south side of the bridge and half of the bridge was rebuilt. This made a jog in the middle that was difficult for anything larger than a Model-T Ford to get around.

In the spring of 1930 the second house from the south end of the 18 houses west of Pond Creek, caught fire. There was a strong south wind and soon the flames leaped from one dwelling to another. The air was full of flaming debris. The Herrin fire truck came but could not get around the jog in the bridge. The strong wind fanned the flames until seventeen houses lay in ashes. Half the population of Weaver were homeless. They all moved elsewhere because the company had no intentions of rebuilding.

After the fire there were fewer children in school each year. The school was abandoned in 1935 and children went to Herrin. The mine was dismantled and the houses torn down or moved away. One house remained until New Year’s Eve night 1968. Then this last house burned to the ground.

The mine shaft was sealed with concrete but the timbers that lined the shaft rotted and gave way. The concrete seal sank into the shaft. Today the mine stands open and full of water. The boiler room and engine house walls stand but the roof is falling in. This is the most stately building left. The concrete walls of the bathhouse and machine shop still stand. Trees a foot in diameter grow in the perimeter of these walls. The concrete foundation of the company store is still there. The wells from which the people drew water, remain uncovered and full of water. The old road and railroad bed are still visible. There are a few pilings in Pond Creek. These are all that remain of old Weaver except memories.

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(Ghost Towns of Southern Illinois, by Glenn J. Sneed, published 1977)