Pivotal People: George Broadhurst, Coal Man

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The natural advantages of Sugar Creek Township were obvious to the knowing eyes of it first settlers. The township lands were well watered by numerous creeks and springs. The bottom lands that lay along the Wabash shouted their fertility to the prospective farmer. Just beyond the bottom lands were hills and bluffs, but further west were broad, flat areas that just needed the axe and a strong back to reveal rich farmland. So, it was the farmer who first thankfully settled on the land.
But beneath those fields and behind those bluffs, hidden below the surface, were strata of black, shiny wealth waiting to be discovered. Coal, coal, and more coal. And it was coal that was to shape a century of life in Macksville-West Terre Haute and Sugar Creek Township.
Coal seams in western Indiana had been long noted. Early naturalist David Thomas noted its presence in his 1816 tour of the state. David Dale Owen mentioned coal outcroppings in the Seelyville area in 1833. But the Midwestern version of black gold was not to be exploited for at least another decade.
In each area or enterprise there are those who can be called the founders, who set it motion pivotal events. In Sugar Creek that man was George Broadhurst. It was Broadhurst who essentially began the coal industry that so made, and eventually broke, West Terre Haute.
George Broadhurst: was born in Taxal, County Cheshire, England around 1813. That area was a coal mining region (and bordered on the coal fields of Wales) so it is likely he was a farmer/miner before migrating to the United States in the mid-1840s. He likely was accompanied or joined by his brother Richard and cousin James Broadhurst. They settled in in Sugar Creek Townhip.

Bluff along Benneit's Lane where George Broadhurst first dug coal

Bluff along Bennett’s Lane where George Broadhurst first dug coal

Coming from those coal mining areas in Great Britain, George must have had an eye for coal. Sometime in 1846 he noticed a coal outcropping in a tall bluff along Sugar Creek immediately west of Macksville. He began to dig it out of the hillside. And dig is the operative term. Coal would literally be dug out with pick and shovel in what was an early version of strip mining (shaft mining would not come to the county until after the Civil War). In fact, the 1850 census listed Broadhurst’s occupation as “coal digger.” Coal became the family business. The Broadhursts were miners, mine owners, and coal dealers into the 20th century.

George continued to farm and mine after his discovery. He married 19 year-old Mercy Chase Newton in 1849 and proudly became a United States’ citizen when he became naturalized in Terre Haute in September, 1852. He became a man of some wealth and substance in Sugar Creek. His real estate was valued at $5,700.00 in 1860, a goodly amount for the time. When he died in 1862 he left behind a valuable estate. The probate record showed he owned horses, cows, hogs, wagons, bridge stock and numerous farm implements.

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Besides his personal goods, he left a lasting legacy for the area. His discovery was not on par with the gold found glittering at Sutter’s Mill in 1849, but it would be a defining moment in the history and future of Sugar Creek and West Terre Haute.


On the Western Bluff

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Man did not choose the locations of his dwelling places, his village, his towns, nature did.  Until at least the coming of the railroads, it was easy access to rivers and oceans that determined where people settled.  West Terre Haute and Terre Haute are surely examples of this.  Terre Haute (high land in French)was sited precisely because the high bluffs both gave access to and protected them from the Wabash river.  Without the river and its bluffs the towns may not have come into existence.

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Rich Wabash bottom lands have fed generationswb5

Views of ISU Towers and Terre Haute Courthouse from western bluff of of the Wabash, south of West Terre Haute

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