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Throwback Thursday: When the coal mine closed in Albers

Three million tons of coal a year came out of the ground beneath Albers.

Three silos standing 300-feet-tall each held the black chunks and a massive conveyor belt took it to a train that once a day hauled it to an Indiana power company. The Monterey Coal Mine No. 2 was one of the largest in Illinois and a landmark on Interstate 64.

In the summer of 1996, it came to an end, along with 370 jobs and a tax base that largely supported the schools in Damiansville, Albers and Breese. Exxon decided to close the mine on July 19, 1996.

Miner Bill Hoback was bitter. He said the miners and management worked together and worked hard to make the mine the safest in Illinois and drop production costs by more than $1 a ton, meaning an extra $3 million a year to Exxon.

He felt the company sold out the miners and communities.

“We worked hard. We cut costs, increased profits for them. And then Exxon sold my job,” said Hoback, then 41 and of Albers.

Exxon received a buy-out from the Indiana utility so it could cancel the coal contract that was to last until 2002. It quickly moved to close and dismantle the mine.

“This isn’t a coal company about ready to go broke,” Hoback said then. “They took the money and ran.”

The mine, silos and jobs are all gone now, but Albers still touts its coal mining legacy as part of what made it “the biggest little town in Illinois” for the commerce it drove in comparison to its population.

Albers Village President Steve Schomaker is a lifelong resident. He saw his town go from about 750 residents in 1996 to about 1,200 now.

“The good jobs left. There’s not much employment in Albers. We’re more of a bedroom community now. We’ve grown nicely,” Schomaker said.

A quality school, a solid church, businesses that stuck and older residents who stayed all gave Albers a foundation for growth. Housing has boomed.

“Now we’re tightly knit. We have good volunteer organizations and most people are active,” Schomaker said.

They just renovated city hall and recently expanded the police department.

“We’re probably the only town around for a hundred miles that has all of its streets curbed and guttered,” Schomaker said. “We’re very proud of that.”

In 2015 Albers will celebrate its 125th anniversary, and took notes during Belleville’s Bicentennial.

“I think we forgave and forgot coal. A few people complained that the water was bad, but the village is not on ground water any more,” Schomaker said. “This is a nice town.”