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The Founding of Cannelton

Cannelton RiverfrontIn 1836 Seth Hunt was traveling by boat on the Ohio River when he stopped in Hawesville, Kentucky. Hunt became interested in the specific type of coal he found while there and decided to lease a mine from Mrs. Rebecca Sterrett Landers. After securing the lease, Hunt continued his travels up the Ohio River.

When Seth Hunt arrived in Boston, Massachusetts, he spoke to both Samuel J. Gardner and James T. Hobart about financing his endeavors in Hawesville. Both agreed to provide Hunt with a total $5,000 investment and split profits evenly. After returning to Hawesville, Hunt later asked for an additional $10,000 to purchase another mine that adjoined the Lander mine.

In September 1836, James T. Hobart arrived in Hawesville to follow up on Hunt’s work. He quickly realizes Hunt has picked the wrong location to start endeavors. Hobart believed, "the Indiana side provided superior advantages for a manufacturing town and that with its timber it would, with some time or other, become quite a place for building vessels and steamboats."

Hobart, acting on his intuition, purchased established mines from Judge McLean and his son including all land and coal banks in Coal Haven, and recorded them at Vincennes in October 1836.

After completing his purchases Hobart returned to Boston leaving Hunt to carry on operations. Unfortunately, misfortune struck Hunt and his efforts in Coal Haven. Most of his boats loaded with coal sunk in the river on their way to New Orleans, Louisiana and if his boats did survive the trip, his ship captains often ran off with the money. All of these factors caused Hunt, Hobart and Gardner to lose money rather than gain.

After a year, Gardner and Hobart transferred all their assets to a company made up of Hobart, and new associates John D.W. Williams, and John B. Russell in August 4, 1837. This new company was the formation of the American Cannel Coal Company.

By December 3, 1837 a charter for the company was approved by the Indiana General Assembly and received the Indiana State Seal on December 23, 1837. Provisions of the charter were, "for the purpose to mine stone-coal at Coal Haven, in the county of Perry, and elsewhere in said county, and also for iron ore and other materials, and for manufacturing iron, copper and lumber, and building steam and flat boats for the transportation of coal, lumber, iron and other products...the said company may purchase, receive, hold and enjoy lands, coal, iron and other mines, rents, tenements, mills and manufactories, furnaces, forges, steamboats and other water craft goods, chattels and effects to the amount of $300,000 to be divided into shares of $100 each, with liberty to increase the capitol stock to $500,000, should the business of said company require it."

Cannelton signCannelton was wholly a company town. The American Cannel Coal Company managed and sold real estate, quarried stone and developed coal mines. In the late 1830s there were 10-12 families living in cabins owned by the American Cannel Coal Company. In 1839 a fire destroyed a majority of the town and only five families stayed; Mason, Wentworth, Holman, Hoskinson, and Cavender, with several families living just outside the town.

Around 1840-41, the men who started the American Cannel Coal Company cut their loses and left. The list of stockholders was all new and included the name of Francis Yates Carlile.

Carlile really started to turn things around in Coal Haven. He became agent in 1840 and was the only stockholder to maintain residency in Cannelton during the summer months. Before he surveyed the town in 1841, he allowed the families to vote for a new town name. Options were Huntsville, Hobartsville, Cannelburg or Cannelton (Carlile’s submission). Cannelburg was chosen the winner as it represents the specific type of coal mined in the town. Cannel Coal has more oil in it than other types of coal and produces heat quicker.

Ironically, a few years later, mispronunciation of Cannelburg and the fact that most people were already calling the area Cannelton resulted in the official name being changed during the 1844 survey of the town to Cannelton, Indiana.

In September 18, 1852 Cannelton became incorporated and five trustees were chosen: William Knights, Dwight Newcomb, Frederick Boyd, Hamilton Smith and William P. Beacon. By 1886 Cannelton became a fifth class city and Samuel T. Platt was elected as its first mayor.

Cannel Coal

Cannel CoalCannel coal, also known as candle coal or cannelite, is a highly volatile bituminous coal. It is also classified as terrestrial type oil shale, with a large amount of hydrogen, which burns easily with a bright, steady luminous flame and leaves little ash. Its high percentage of oil produces a quick heat especially favored by blacksmiths. It was also the source for the original “coal oil” in widespread use until the late decades of the 19th century when less costly kerosene from petroleum replaced it in general use.

The appearance is distinguished by a greasy luster and blocky, conchoidal fracture.

A stop by the side-wheeler steamboat, the New Orleans, in its maiden voyage from Pittsburgh to New Orleans in December 1811, marks the beginning of largescale mining and use of coal in Indiana. Though the American Cannel Coal Company formed in 1837, coal was not largely marketed until 1847-48 and was steadily mined through the turn of the century. Mining slowly tapered off up through the 1960s.