This map was created as part of an extensive project to map all underground mines in North Dakota. The Red Star Mine map was created in 1924 while the mine was still in operation. Resource: State Archives, State Historical Society of North Dakota
Early military surveyors and pioneers discovered surface coal soon after arriving in North Dakota. Many small family mines opened around the western part of the state selling coal on a seasonal basis to local homes and businesses. As cities and towns emerged with their need for a good energy source, mining companies exploited sub-surface coal supplies. There were 73 mines in operation by 1900, and by 1920 the number had grown to 250. About half of these mines were surface mines, but about half drove shafts deep underground to retrieve the coal. Miners worked in the dark with limited access to fresh air.
The demand for coal from North Dakota’s mines grew steadily, but slowly until the mid-1960s when production began to zoom. By 1999, coal mines employed 925 employees in the production of 31,125,000 short tons of coal. Because the last underground mine had closed by 1966, all of these miners worked in open-pit mines.
Though the underground mines are closed, they remain of significant interest. In some places the surface above the shafts has collapsed or formed sinkholes. The state tries to identify unstable underground mines so that they can be stabilized allowing surface activities such as the building of highways to continue without danger.
All North Dakota underground coal mines were mapped between 1920 and 1972. They provide vital information in case miners need to be rescued, and identify the location of underground tunnels. These maps also tell the story of coal extraction from underground mines in ND. There were many large operations such as the Red Star mine or the Washburn Coal Company mines of McLean County, but also many small mines with only one or two lines run by a single family.
Map Activity: Use the zoom feature to read the labels on the mine map. How many air shafts are there? Look at the inset map for the Plant Layout. These are the buildings on the surface that supported the work of the miners. What functions do you find in these buildings?
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