Many of the early searches for coal in Nebraska were prompted by the settlers’ pressing need for fuel, but they also realized that a supply of coal could be a big economic boost for the state. By the early 1870s coal had been found at several sites in southeastern Nebraska. However, the only mine ever discovered here that yielded an appreciable quantity of coal was the Honey Creek mine near Peru, Nemaha County, opened in 1906. The mine was visited soon after its discovery by state geologist Erwin H. Barbour of the University of Nebraska. His subsequent illustrated report discussed the Honey Creek mine and the search for coal in Nebraska.
Barbour reported: “Prior to 1906 no bed of coal exceeding eighteen inches in thickness had been reported in Nebraska. Black outcroppings on the banks of Honey Creek on the farm of A. M. Borst, four miles southeast of Peru, had long attracted attention, and on February 11, 1906, the work of development began.”
He reported optimistically that conditions in the Honey Creek mine area seemed favorable, “for the coal bed is accessible and readily worked, drainage and ventilation are easily and cheaply provided, and transportation is at hand. As to the quality of the coal, whether good or bad matters little, for any coal is good in a state supposedly destitute of natural fuel.”
The developers of the Honey Creek mine applied for a bounty originally offered by the Nebraska Legislature offering $4,000 for the discovery of a twenty-six-inch seam of workable coal and $5,000 for a thirty-six-inch seam. In response to a request from Nebraska Governor George Sheldon, Barbour again visited the mine in February 1907, and reported: “Eight miners are regularly employed and the present output is six to eight tons daily, with a promise of double that capacity soon.”
The coal was hard and compact when first mined, but it soon crumbled when exposed to air, and was used chiefly by the local communities of Auburn, Brownville, Nemaha, Peru, and as far west as Republican City. Work at the site continued for about twelve years, at which time the vein began to thin, making further working of the mine unprofitable. – Patricia C. Gaster, Assistant Editor / Publications