Guineaville, Illinois

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Old Guineaville
By William T. Lawler
Written sometime in the 1970s
O ld Guineaville was a vanquished coal mining community located in Equality Township, about 3 miles east of Equality on south side of L & N (Louisville & Nashville) railroad and west of the public road running north and south (this road is now Illinois Route 1). About a hundred yards east of this location was Lawler Station with a switch that served the area. There was a small waiting room, two duplexes and one two-story house (the Bass House) at the station on north side of tracks occupied by families. They were employed by the L & N railroad.

The Lawler farm consisting of 180 acres lay south of the L & N railroad with a public road on the west connecting to a public road on north side (Equality-Shawneetown road now Illinois Route 13). Two hundred yards north of Lawler station stood the Lawler home where I was born and raised and my father before me. It was from this location that I witnessed the rise and fall of Guineaville.

[Note: Lawler must have meant the family farm was north of the railroad. The public road on the west of the farm during the second decade of the 20th Century was not modern Route 1, but what is now Lawler Cemetery Lane, an eighth of a mile farther west, though a country lane ran south from the railroad along the modern Route 1 alignment. See the 1916 map for more details.]

It was about 1911 or 1912 when as a child I first noticed building activity south of the railroad. First a frame building covered with corrugated steel for a store. Located on the south side of the railroad facing east on the public road running south from the store was built a row of three room frame houses (all were company houses owned by the coal company). About 100 yards west and beginning at the railroad and running south was another row of three room houses facing west. In between was the usual utility and out buildings. This building activity took place on the William Harrellson family. These houses were commonly called row houses, since all were alike.

The men of Guineaville were coal miners employed at Hickory Hill Coal Mine located on the north side of the railroad about one quarter mile west. (Guineaville received its name from an operator of Hickory Hill Mine H. P. (Pate) Turns. He had a habit of calling everybody guinea. The name Lawler was probably the official name but it never stuck. The name Guineaville spread to the coal mine (Hickory Hill) and the entire community. When the Tunis brothers operated the coalmine Pate ran the mine and his brother Estell ran the company store in Guineaville. They were the operators when the town was built. One of the first citizens of Guineaville was John Fields a widower and a coal miner with three daughters and a son. They live there until the village was abandoned a longer period than anyone else.

The original houses became known as the old patch. After a few years the Tunis brothers disposed of Hickory Hill and bought a mine on the railroad east of Equality known as East Side Mine. The large coal company then bought Hickory Hill Mine and it was operated in conjunction with another railroad mine know as West Side Mine just west of Equality. Hickory Hill was then improved and the mine seam was one of the largest in capacity in the county.

About this time World War I broke out in Europe and the U.S.A. became the arsenal of democracy. The coal co. bought the remainder of the William Harrellson farm and again a new building program began at Guineaville. Several hundred yards south of the original three room houses a row of four room frame bungalow type houses were built and a street was laid off running east and west from the township Highway. This row of houses was on the south side facing north. Included in the new land purchases was a four-room house on the public road facing east. The William Harrellson home, this house was reserved for the mine boss.

U.S.A. entered World War I in April 1917 now coal was in demand more and the Hickory Hill mine was expanded to its full capacity. Another building program was began at Guineaville. Included in the new addition known as the new patch was constructed a large square two story building for a Hotel. It was built on the second street and the public highway facing south. With the addition of an expansion to the Co. store this completed the building at Guineaville.

The new town was divided into two plots, the old patch and the new patch. The coal mine ran light lines to the town and the power was from the mine generator. This was the only luxury the town enjoyed. The public road and streets were dust and impossible by motorcar during rainy weather and winter. There were no sidewalks just paths where the citizens dumped the ashes from their stoves. There were few cars in town their main way of travel was by train. The L&N ran four passenger trains each day from Shawneetown to McLeansboro and Lawler station became a very important stop for the entire community.

Guineaville was always an integral part of Equality, located in Equality Township. Coalmines were the principal industry of equality and a large number of its people worked at the Hickory Hill Mine. Some of the people did business east of the town at Junction but the larger part of them traded at Equality where they had a common bond. They did most of there buying at the Company store in their town. There was also a company store in Equality run by Shockney. They could buy a book of coupons at the store and the price would be deducted from their wages. In this way they traded at the store between paydays.

The children of the town attended grade school at Hickory Hill where I attended school with them for eight years. Due to the large number of children another room was built on Hickory Hill making it a two-room school.

A large part of the people of Guineaville came from the coalfields of Kentucky. The town reached its peak in 1920 population about 300.

Hickory Hill mine was a drift mine, meaning it was a slope into the hillside. It was originally and old wagon mine and the coal was pulled out with mules. The miners and their families lived by the mines and the mine whistle told them when there was work and when there was no work. One loud whistle at seven in the morning signaled the beginning of the workday. The whistles in the afternoon at four meant the end of the day. If it was one whistle it meant no work next day, two whistles work maybe, three whistles mint work. In the morning one whistle at 5:30 meant no work, three mint work again at 6 a.m. one whistle no work, three whistles work. One short whistle at 7:00 began the day. Any time between 7 a.m. and 4 p.m. one whistle meant the run was off, and a short day. Four whistles at any time were the call for help and a call for the stretchers, usually an accident.

There were two classes of men at Hickory Hill mine. Top men worked on top of the ground and pitmen worked below the ground. All the coal miners belonged to the United Mine Workers of America.

Trees and grass as we know it today was absent from the town. The operators of the company store as I recall were, Estel Turus, Charles McLain, Tilrman R Brewien, Reid Rodgers, Joe Lockwood and Wright Megoen.

Recreation in the town included the usual house parties and dances. There was a town ball team. The three-room house next to the store was converted into a poolroom by tearing out a petition between the two front rooms. By far the chief recreation took place across the road from the company store in Lambs wood. This was about a five or six acre patch of scrub oak. It was here the town gamblers met to try their luck playing cards and rolling the dice. In the winter they would gather wood and build fires for heat and at and at night they used the miners carbide cap for light. On payday a man from Shawneetown by the name of Bill Ryan would come out on the afternoon train, go to the woods layout a numbered board and bank the dice game. Needless to say Bill went back to Shawneetown on the night train with the lions share of the winnings. A lot of men went to the woods as spectators for the lack of anything else to do.

I recall another activity in the woods. One summer a brush-harbor revival was conducted by a Baptist Minister from Ridgway by the name of J.O. Flynn. Flynn was also a schoolteacher in the county and a very successful preacher. The Services were held nightly. Sinking poles in the ground constructed a brush harbor with a fork at the top; other poles were laid across the tops and brush thrower on top. Rough boards laid across stumps sawed for this purpose were seats and a rough platform was constructed for the preacher. In the daytime and when there wasn't any church the gamblers found it to there convenience. As usual we watched these activities from our vantage point on our front porch on the hill above.

Of particular interest was one incident that occurred here. One night a man in the community by the name of Marion Coats a farm Laborer, and member of the local Pentecostal Church. For some reason he became highly incensed at the very successful Baptist Revival (probably viewed it as competition for his own church). He had been boasting around the community that he was going to break up that damn meeting. I mean no offense to Marian Coats, now deceased he was normally calm, peaceful and a good hard working Christian man, but on this occasion Marian just blew his cool. Marian had a very high voice and we had no trouble hearing him from our vantage point on the hill. Coats stood up during the sermon and began to clap his hands and shout very loud, after asking him to be quit the Reverend Flynn walked back and caught him by the collar spun him around and kicked him out of the meeting. Others intervened and escorted him out of the woods. The incident made the county paper and Marion was arrested and put under a peace bond.

When the new patch was built a large square house was built on the public road-facing south this was for a hotel it contained about 10 rooms. The first family to live here and run the hotel was the Rufus Bean family from Ridgway. Doc, he was called by everyone who new him. He was a barber by trade and ran a barbershop in the hotel. There was five children to my knowledge, three at home when they lived there. The miners nicknamed the place the "Beanery". These people were extremely good at attaching handles on people and places. After a few years the family bought a farm in the bottom and moved.

There were no officials of any kind around Guineaville to my knowledge, not even a Deputy Sheriff. I believe the operator of the store may have been a notary public.

During World War I it was customary to conduct a flag raising around the county with considerable fanfare. The first such event in Gallatin County took place a Guineaville. A pole was erected in front of the company store. On the day it took place the Equality band and a speaker was present for the occasion. As an eleven-year-old I felt important that day. Charlie Guard of Equality was a member of the band and he asked me to hold his music as he played and my father was asked to make a short talk. As the flag was run up the pole the National Anthem was played. A very large crowed was there for the occasion. The citizens of the town were very patriotic.

The people of Guineaville were all coal minors and law-abiding citizens. They had surprising little trouble in the town. I don't recall any major crimes committed there. They had their fair share of quarrels, family feuds and an occasionally a fight. Work was usually slow in the mines during the summer months. They usually worked at any job around the community. We always found a ready supply of farm labor at such time. There could be found someone for any job. Painters, carpenters, bricklayers or just plain labor. The union contract ended in March and sometimes there was a strike during the summer.

The coal miner could be recognized anywhere. It seems the coal dust could never be completely washed from the eyelashes. I never knew of very much stealing going on. We never missed anything from the farm and their children gave very few problems in school. We mixed with the same as the other children in the community.

Guineaville wasn't destined to become a ghost town like so many others with tumbled down houses, broken windows and banging doors. It was abandoned in the early years of the Great Depression (early 30s). People in the surrounding community bought the houses from the coal company. The prices ran from $20 to $40. They moved some of them away or tore them down and used the material again. The company sold the land to the late Jack Sisk who converted it to farm use.

The Harrellson House is still there. This house was there many years before Guineaville and was bought by a private party. The old hotel was bought by John Sharp and converted into a family home. It later burned and was replaced by a new home, which is still there. Lambs Woods is still there with the exception of a narrow strip taken by the state road. It looks much the same as it did a generation ago.

The old site where all these people once lived looks peaceable now with no signs of the activity that was once there and all the old miners who first moved there are now dead. The children who grew up there and may still be alive like myself are gray headed and on the shady side of life. It's with a heavy heart that I think of this old community, which meant so much to me as I was a boy growing up. History has passed it by without even giving it an official name. But we who know it so well still like to call it "Guineaville" the name those early miners gave it so many years ago.

Webmaster's note: The above article has been edited by the webmaster for spelling, style and punctuation. The author's son, William T. Lawler, Jr., submitted this article for the Gallatin County ILGenWeb. His father, William T. Lawler was the son of Raphael Edward Lawler and grandson of Gen. Michael Kelly Lawler of the Civil War. Gen. Lawler married Elizabeth Hart Crenshaw the daughter of John Hart Crenshaw and his wife Francine "Sina" (Taylor) Crenshaw, the original owners of Hickory Hill plantation, the site known today as the Old Slave House.

Guineaville Store — George C. McLain took this picture of the empty and damaged store building on May 1, 1938.

Old Hawtorne Tree — William T. Lawler, Sr., also writes about the old "Haw" tree that stood south of the Hickory Hill School and some of the stories associated with it.

Map — This portion of the 1916 Equality topographical map clearly shows the two rows of houses present in Guineaville during the period just prior to World War I.

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