Rockvale Mines Coal

Rockvale Area Mines

According to Joe Cresto, who grew up in the area, “The history of these events goes back to the labor strikes and turbulent history of the mines. By 1895 the United Mine Workers union was getting organized and after a major strike of all the mines in the Colorado fields the union got an eight hour day [10 hours underground before that and no portal to portal pay]. The strike in 1905 was big. Then the longest and most violent strike in America (of that era) lasted nearly two years [1913-1914]. Sometime, just before or after the turn of the century, the Rockafellers had bought much of the Southern Colorado coal fields, Rockvale included. They took such a public relations beating because of the 13-14 strike which included national press and Federal Government intervention [Wilson sent in Federal troops] after the Ludlow massacre. They knew they had to do something to improve their relationship with the men, so the corporation built the YMCA and gave an inaugural dinner and dance for all the miners and wives. John D., Jr. and wife attended and in fact John D., Jr. danced every dance, they said with every miner’s wife. Rockvale had a good dance band which played, my dad on trumpet, Grace Payne on piano, Jim Sartoris [Lardy’s older brother], Mike Scavarda [Micky’s dad, from Lincoln Park] and Fred Dyer on drums. That was about 1917 and the retiree banquets followed.

“One of our cousins has the gold CF&I lapel pin awarded each retired miner with the entry year of service engraved on it, [1888, for Granddad Cresto]. Most of these old miners were Welsh, English, Scotch, and Irish since they were the oldest miners brought out to Colorado, recruited out of the mines in their countries of origin. The Italians came later but some of the Piemontese from Italy followed soon after.” The Vezzetti, Cresto, Picco, Chiri, Morello, Rocchio families and others were from this region of Italy (northern near the border of France).

Rockvale Miners

Loading Loading Docks

In 1880 the Atchison, Topeka, & Santa Fe railroad completed the broad gauge railroad from La Junta into Rockvale. Many in Rockvale would wait until late evening to pick up coal along the tracks. The gunny sacks of coal would fuel fires to heat houses and cook food. After the mines closed and the tracks taken up, the “rollies” were used to ride bicycles across and even race cars across them. Today they can still be seen but are on private property.

Mines in Fremont County weathered several hectic strikes, and survived to reopened mines and better conditions until the Wobbly Strike of 1927, caused by the Industrial Workers of the World competing against the United Mine Workers of America for control of miners’ membership. The two organizations fought against each other by word and action, thus bringing on a strike. The C. F. & I. officials warned the miners that if the mine was closed they could never reopen it, as the workings were old and widespread. There would be cave-ins, which could never be cleared, and water pumps would not be able to keep out the water. The prophecy came true; the mine was never reopened.

After that, the once-prosperous town began to die. The company houses were, but as the miners left, many houses were suddenly destroyed by fire arson being suspected. Other houses sold and people moved out of town. Some left vacant soon lost doors, windows, plumbing, etc., and soon disappeared. Only a few of the old houses remain. However, Rockvale is experiencing a “growth” like it has not seen since the early 1900’s. There are new houses under construction and old houses repaired and modernized. Other remodeled homes have owners who commute to work in nearby towns. Rockvale taxes are low and water from wells piped into the town reservoir was good in the late 1970s.

The Shaft

The shaft (shown here) was begun in the fall of 1880. After reaching a depth of about 240 feet, it was idle for several months. In July 1881, sinking was resumed, and the coal was struck at a depth of 322 feet on

September 1, 1881. The shaft was 7 1/2 feet by 20 feet in the clear and divided into three compartments, two compartments to be used for hoisting, and the south compartment as an inlet for ventilation. After tapping the seam much CH4 was encountered transpiring from the coal through every fissure. This necessitated the use of safety lamps frequently and required a good deal of observation on the part of the management to avoid explosions and fires.

Rockvale mine being dismantled

The Rockvale No. 1 Mine was located on a branch line of the Atchison Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad in Fremont County, approximately three miles west of Florence, Colorado. The property was opened in 1880, by the Canon Coal Company and was acquired by the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company in 1896.

J. D. Cribbs was the last superintendent of the mine. He was appointed in 1920 and served until it was shut down in November, 1927. The plant has since been dismantled.

Ocean Wave Miners

1897–On the plain atop the hill in Williamsburg was the Ocean Wave Mine. Along the road opposite the mine were small houses and Massaro and Trabinos’ stores. Since the mine belonged to the C.F. & I. there was also a company store. However, the stores and the Ocean Wave Mine did not last long. The mine was situated on a river which eventually broke through and flooded the mine forcing it to close.


The Radiant mine employed about 125 men in 1903

The Radiant Saloon was owned by Carlo and Batta Pinamonti

The second of the mines owned by the Victor-American Fuel Company was Radiant, later known as Pyrolite, and finally as Kenmore. This was the last of the company camps in Fremont County. A mining camp was defined as an unincorporated community; while a coal mine was a community which was incorporated.

Radiant mine was opened in 1903 three miles south of Coal Creek, Colorado. During its peak years the Radiant mine employed 125 miners and produced an average of 800 tons of coal daily. The Santa Fe Railroad extended its rails to Radiant and Rockvale. The train made daily trips to haul out the coal which was shipped to various states.

The Victor-American Fuel Company built around 80 houses, many of four-rooms to house the miners and their families. The houses had no modern accommodations, kerosene lamps and coal stoves were used. Water was obtained from a number of wells 50 to 60 feet deep. The water was pumped into the reservoir, It was then piped to the houses.

Besides the houses the company built several boarding houses, a company store which stocked everything a family might need for the house or a miner for the mine. Radiant also had a saloon and eight to room schoolhouse, and one boarding house for Italians (run by Mrs. Henry Menapace). She opened her boarding house in 1906. Then in 1918, Mrs. Watkins opened a boardinghouse, and Mrs. Maggie Murray opened another in 1921.

The mines superintendents included Ed Jones, 1911; Mr. Williams, 1913; Dave Bryson, 1922. The company doctors were Dr. Taxis, 1908, Dr. Mc Carl, 1913, Dr. Chesmore, 1919, and Dr. Paxton, 1920

The teachers included Cecilia Job Falgien, Minnie Giovanni Zenoni, Mrs. Campbell, Mrs. Baker, and Mrs. O’Connor, from 1919 to 1923.

Mr. John Battista Pinamonti, father of Charles Pinamonti and grandfather of Irene Pinamonti Witty, had the only saloon in the camp from 1908 to 1931.

The company store managers were Mr. Bent, Harry Scarvarda, and Henry Clinger, ranging from 1911 to 1923 when the store was closed. Joe Vegher worked there as a clerk.

In 1929, during the depression days the Radiant mine was closed but a number of houses were still standing. The U.S. Government was in the process of finding housing for the large number of transients roaming the country. The Radiant houses seemed a suitable; so the Federal emergency relief administration (F. E. R. A.) leased the camp. Various people were employed to handle the administration of the F. E. R. A. era at radiant. Among them was Jim (Spider) Kelly who was the athletic director.

The F.E.R.A. a camp served its purpose. In 1937, when economic conditions improved, residents drifted away. The staff was discharged and the camp closed. Kelly was the only staff member who remained in Fremont County. He married Minnie Moschetti and settled in Florence.

With the closing of the F.E.R.A. camp, the buildings were sold at auction and moved to other Fremont County towns. The company store was donated to the American legion and is now the American Legion hall of Florence.

So passed into history another of Colorado’s many mining camps……

Cedar Canon Miners – 1935

In 1932, a very profitable mine for more than 50 years, the Cedar Canon Coal Mine, was opened by Domenic Carpine and John Giuliano. The Cedar Cannon Mine, at its peak, worked two shifts (part of the day shift is pictured here) employed 110 miners and produced an average of 300 tons of coal daily. One fatal mishap occurred at this mine when a rock-fall killed a miner–Frank Chiri .

Among the miners were Pasquale Palumbo, (pictured front row l-r) Mike Giuliano, Joe Tamburello, Joe Carpine, Domenic Piccone, John Tanko, John Spera; (second row) Rocco Santarelli, Nardo Fazzino, John Reynolds, Joe Di Carlo, Joe Lombardi, John Procarione, John Falgien, John Giuliano, Ted Frew; (third row) Nick Natale, Steve Baudino, Joe Dighera, Albert Kaminsky, Augustine Velasquez, Mike Tamburello, Pete Gherna, Phillip Baccarella, Joe Fazzino, Joe Vitale, Tom Baccarella, Frank Ziolkowski, John Skufca, Willard Banks, Lewis Del Duca, Joe Ziolkowski, Gregorio Huerta; (back row) Budgie Fazzino, Joe Ruffatti, unidentified, unidentified, Wilson Plummer, and Angelo Santilli

John G. Giuliano first started in the coal mining business in January 1921, when he opened the Bluff Springs mine on the bottom seam of the Rock vein. It was worked out in 1929.

Next, he and Domenic Carpine opened the Fremont mine on the Chandler seam in January 1930. They operated it until the fall of 1933. Giuliano and Carpine opened the Cedar Canon Mine on the Brookside seam in July 1932. Then the Biuliano family operated the mine until December 1959 when it was leased to Alex Beltramo until October 1965.

The Cedar Cannon mine reached peak production during World War II when 122 men produced 500 tons daily. The mine was leased to Casimiro Alvidrez and Sons. Coal production was greatly reduced as federal regulations became more stringent.

Coal Field History – Southern Colorado