January 23, 2023 - Built in 1902 and closed for nearly half a century, the Brooks Mine at Nay Aug Park was still in great shape when anthracite coal mining aficionados got their first glimpse inside the tunnel last year.
An effort by the nonprofit Underground Miners group to reopen Brooks Mine as a model tourist attraction coal mine has come far since it began last January, but there are still a few big steps ahead to complete before the public can once again go underground, one of the members said Saturday during a presentation on the project given at the Anthracite Heritage Museum at McDade Park.
Over 80 people attended the presentation that was held as part of Anthracite Mining Heritage Month.
Never a working mine, the Brooks Mine was the first tourist mine in the state, Underground Miners founder Chris Murley told the crowd.
Reese Brooks, a coal mine owner, opened it in 1902 as part of the Scranton School of Mines to educate the public about the industry. The mine was closed to the public from 1938 to 1945, then reopened and closed again sometime in the 1950s. It was retimbered in the 1960s and remained open until 1975, when it again closed.
Murley recounted how his group embarked last January on an ambitious project to renovate and reopen the 160-foot-long, curved mine dug horizontally into a small hill behind the Everhart Museum.
"The exciting part was the mine was in really good shape. There wasn't one rock fall throughout the whole mine," Murley said. "But it still had to be timbered up to typical mine law (standards) and make the place safe."
The Brooks Mine is about 7 feet tall and 7 to 9 feet wide, with chambers inside near the rear.
In May, they began cutting and installing timbers to support the walls and ceiling of the mine and completed the timbering in November.
The group plans to start in February digging out a few feet of fill in the mine floor and reinstall rails to accommodate rail cars.
Once that's done, they will clean out a chamber offshoot and use a rail car to remove the debris.
They also must create another opening for the mine, to have a second access as an emergency escape. They hope to start this work in March, Murley said.
"It'll be pretty neat. It will be the first time a tunnel's been driven underground in Scranton in probably 75 years," Murley said.
The group hopes to get the Brooks Mine reopened to visitors this summer.
In mine parlance, the Brooks Mine is a drift mine, meaning horizontal. Other types include a slope dug on an angle, a tunnel bored perpendicular to a coal vein, and a vertical shaft.
Murley said that some visitors to Nay Aug Park have expressed interest in the mine project and are eager to see the finished product.
"They say how much they appreciate that we're taking this on and they can't wait to get back in there," Murley said. "A lot of people want to go into Brooks Mine because you can just walk in" at ground level.
The presentation also featured a trailer of a video created by Underground Miners featuring a former big colliery miner they consider a "living legend in the anthracite region" — Phil Voystock of Freeland.
He's a throwback to a time when breakers and company houses dominated the NEPA landscape. With folksy vernacular, Voystock recalled growing up in NEPA coal country and working in mines, just as his father and grandfather did before him.
"Now looking back, I was very lucky," Voystock says in the video. "I was lucky to work at the mines that I did, the different types of mining jobs."