Remember When …

The What Cheer Coalmine in Burton Township. Photo provided

The What Cheer Coalmine in Burton Township. Photo provided

We have the best natural resources in Michigan and the world knows it; that is why everyone loves our state.

Did you know we had all types of mines; salt, coal, iron and copper? All over Michigan and Genesee County there were coal mines and a large salt mine by Detroit.

The What Cheer coal mine was located in Burton Township, where the ABC12 television station is today, on Lapeer Road by Court Street.

The borders hadn’t changed to the City of Flint until after the 1940s. The mine was in operation from 1912 to 1919, when they struck the Gilkey Creek and flooded the mine.

Now the I-69 expressway is over part of the closed mine. E.B. Foss was one of the owners of the first What Cheer coal mine in Bay City about 1909 and the one in Burton was his second in Michigan.

By the 9th century, coal was being used by the Romans, Chinese and Egyptians. They learned how to get all the coal out of the ground and as time went on they learned to use other methods to get heat, like oil. There are still 1.06 trillion tons of coal reserves proven worldwide.



In the United States we have all our own natural resources. One of the reasons other countries want to befriend us is because we have our own supply of everything we need to grow as a nation, without other countries interfering with our citizens.

That doesn’t always make them happy, but it makes America strong.

Great Britain has abandoned coal mines underground that flooded back earlier in the 19th century, about one third of the country. They have now found a way to use the water that is in the old mines, to keep places warm and be more ecofriendly. In the 1940s nearly half of America was still using coal for their heat, but during World War II there was a shortage of coal because it was needed for the war effort, so they had to learn to use other methods – like steam heat.

There are 130,000 homes that still heat their homes with coal as of 2019; (half live in Pennsylvania).

Wyoming is the largest producer, China is the largest user of coal, as up today. There is a lot of information online about coal and trying to a find a cleaner way to use it.

I really got interested in learning about coal mining because I had learned my great great grandfather, William M. Wallace, was a coal miner in Scotland before coming to America 1851. He moved to Hocking County, Ohio where he was a coal miner and so were his sons.

Isaac Wallace was my great grandfather and my great grandmother was Mary Jane Weed. They had 12 kids and my grandmother, Mattie, was the only one moved to Michigan, so her husband could work for Buick in the 1920s (and he played baseball for them).

I am not sure how many siblings worked in the mines, but it is very interesting to me. My husband Bob worked down south for an oil man and learned about mineral rights, on people’s property. They had to find the rightful owner of the minerals underground. Do you know if you own the mineral rights on your land? If not, run the records.

Remember When is a weekly column in the Burton View featuring historical stories about the community from the Burton Area Historical Society. If you have some Burton history to share, email