On Jan. 18, President Ed Geary welcomed a packed house for the Emery County History Society (ECHS) meeting. After Helen Fox said the invocation, Geary explained that the biennial election for ECHS Board officers is at hand. Currently, there are no candidates, and Geary’s term ends this year.
He further explained that the history society has been active in Emery County for 60 years. He invited any interested in serving as officers or on the board to please give their names to treasurer Frances Swasey.
Geary also pointed out that six long-time stalwarts of the society passed away within the last year. “There is a great need. Please sign up!” he exhorted.
Then, Boyd Griffin, guitar in hand, led the group in singing “16 Tons,” originally sung by Tennessee Ernie Ford in 1955. The song set the stage for the evening’s presentation, Lori Ann Larsen’s passion — Mohrland, Emery County’s coal mining town.
Larsen has spent years researching, collecting, and walking the roads and trails to uncover Mohrland’s past. Her husband, Kerry Larsen, also created a detailed map with GPS coordinates. She also showed a topographical map to help the audience visualize Mohrland’s past. Lori Ann said she loves listening to people’s stories and memories. She has collected a vast store of historical documents and photos as well as current-day photos.
Lori Ann said that her grandfather McElprang sparked her interest in delving into Mohrland’s history. He handled a team of big bay horses at Mohrland mine that weighed 2,100 and 2,300 pounds where they loaded coal. There was a barn to stable horses used in the mine. Today, you can still see the squirrel cage for the mine ventilation fan, a number of foundations and even some structures, still mostly intact.
In 1907, Mohrland was the only coal camp in Emery County. The mine employed 275 men and was owned by the United States Fuel Company. Without warning, the mine shut down in 1925. The company reopened the mine a year later but struggled. During the 1930s depression, the mine was permanently closed. Then, in 1938, the coal was being taken out through the Hiawatha mine, which had the advantage of a shorter haulage distance to Helper.
Lori Ann compared a 1923 photo by Shipler to today’s photo taken by Scott Wheeler of the remains. Names like Jap Town, Greek Town, Little Italy, Brotherhood Flat, Knob Hill, Tipple Town and Finn Town attest to Mohrland’s diversity. The coal was of outstanding quality, and men could even stand to work the nearly rockless seam.
Mohrland had its own company store, bakery, school and mine rescue team. The hospital and a first aid room in the bathhouse served the community, but severely injured miners were transported on the train to St. Mary’s Hospital. A Japanese doctor made the rounds in all the coal camps in Emery and Carbon counties.
The Amusement Hall was the center of community and religious life as several denominations held their own services. The miners and families enjoyed movies twice per week and dances on Saturday. Mohrland even had its own orchestra, which also played at functions from Price to Ferron. In 1915, Mohrland’s baseball team played an exhibition game against the Chicago White Sox. Ten thousand people in attendance cheered loudly despite the 17-1 game.
As the mine began producing coal, houses were soon built, but tents still provided shelter for many. The single miners usually lived in the boarding house. Over the years, families planted flowers and shrubs to beautify their yards. The Miller home won first place in a contest in all coal camps in 1929 for best garden and yard.
In November 2020, Lori Ann was wandering around in Centerville and discovered some tiny iris plants that had struggled to survive among the sage brush for 85 years. The next year, she obtained permission to water them occasionally. She has since brought the Walhalla iris tubers home, which are now flourishing in her yard – a living memory of Mohrland.
Thanks to all who attended the meeting. February’s Society meeting will be a presentation by Wade Allinson on the Marsing Ranch.
In addition, the Emery County History Society and Castle Dale library are co-sponsoring a repeat of the Swasey stories. It will be at the Castle Dale Library on Feb. 29 at 5:30 pm.