Early in the life of the Burnett mine

Early in the life of the Burnett mine
Early in the life of the Burnett mine

Last week’s column painted a brief history of the South Prairie Coal Company later known as the Burnett mine. While not much is known about this photo, judging by the construction activities it was early in the life of the Burnett mine, which stretched from 1881 through 1927.

A large wooden structure called the bunkers was being built next to a bridge crossing South Prairie creek. The mine was located on the other side of the creek where workings eventually extended south almost all the way to Wilkeson.

The Northern Pacific Railway, which served all the coal mines of east Pierce County, was located north of South Prairie Creek through this area.  Gondola-style rail cars used to carry coal to port facilities in Tacoma can be seen in the lower left.

After the bunker was completed coal was stored within and gravity loaded onto rail cars for transport to market. The South Prairie-Burnett coal mine was one of the more productive in the east Pierce County district with 3.6 million tons produced over its 47-year life.

It was also one of the most dangerous; claiming the lives of 77 miners and accounting for three of the worst coal mining disasters in Washington, all the result of gas or dust explosions.

This image #2002.5.6 come courtesy of the Washington State Historical Society in Tacoma.