The History of Braidwood Immaculate
Conception High School
Braidwood (population: 5,200) is located in north central Illinois in Will County, less
than 20 miles south from the county seat, Joliet, and about 55 miles away from Chicago. The community can be reached by taking
Interstate 55 to Braidwood, as well as Illinois Routes 53, 113, and 129. Historic US Route 66 also went thru town while
it was commissioned.
The history of Braidwood can be credited to coal mining, which began in 1864 when farmer William
Henneberry was drilling for water, but struck coal instead. This brought rich industrialists from bigger cities
such as Boston and Chicago to buy mass quanities of land to mine because there was a great need for the "black diamonds."
In turn, immigrants from all over Europe, native Americans, and African-Americans that had worked in the mines in
West Virginia came to Braidwood to work for the coal companies.
The community was part of an area that relied on coal, and towns such as Coal City, Carbon
Hill, Diamond, and South Wilmington (named after the coal company that owned the land) sprang up. Braidwood's population once
topped 8,000, and once included future Chicago Mayor Anton Cermak, ragtime composer and songwriter Artie Matthews, and
early United Mine Workers union president John Mitchell. The town got its name from James "Jimmie" Braidwood, an
immigrant who was the first to sink a coal shaft in town, and others followed soon after.
Braidwood became incorporated in 1873, despite many protests from the miners who lived there not to
do so. It was a rough town during the early years, given the type of person who lived just as hard as they worked
in the Braidwood mines. A number of union strikes took place in 1868, 1874, 1877, 1889, 1894, and 1897, which forced the enlistment
of the state militia to keep the peace in some cases.
Working in the mines made for a hard life for a miner. With long hours, low pay, and dangerous work
underground, it led to black lung disease and other respiratory ailments. In February of 1883, 74 miners were drowned in the
"Diamond Mine Disaster" when melting snow poured into the mines at a fast pace and trapped their escape from
the underground shafts. The disaster was considered the worst mine disaster in state history at the time.