By Jim Ridings.
New information has just been discovered about one of the most famous photographs of the Cardiff coal mine. The photograph, which was produced as a postcard scene, identifies the people in the picture after more than a hundred years. Cardiff was located between Dwight and Herscher. It was a booming mining town, from the time coal was discovered in 1899 until the Wabash Railroad stopped buying its coal in 1912. The town declined rapidly after that. Stores were dismantled for the lumber, and houses were picked up and placed on railroad flat cars and moved to a number of places across Livingston County and elsewhere. An entire neighborhood in Kankakee is made of former Cardiff houses. At its peak, Cardiff had a population close to 2,500 plus two banks, two grain elevators, a large school, a church, a baseball diamond and grandstand (with lights for night baseball), a soft drink bottling plant, a candy factory, dance halls, a bowling alley, meat markets, clothing stores, bakeries, barber shops, a millinery shop, livery stables, general stores, blacksmith shops, a real estate and insurance office, a doctor’s office, a post office, an opera house and an automobile dealership in 1902 when there were few automobiles or hard roads. Cardiff had a pressurized water system, a gas works system and an electric light plant. It had a depot where two railroad lines stopped. There was a racetrack behind the livery stable for horse racing. Cardiff had a semi-pro football team. There also was a first class hotel with a cuisine that was said to be the finest between Chicago and St. Louis. And it had a couple dozen saloons. Today, a dozen or so houses remain in the area, and one business, Romanetto’s Welding. There are still some fragments of cement sidewalks remaining. Andy Kelleher, a Dwight historian, has acquired a postcard that shows the coal mining operation. The picture is one of many taken by professional photographers to sell as postcards, in an era when “penny postcards” were a popular form of communication. The picture shows two women at the top of the hill. Information on the back of the postcard identifies the two women – for the first time since the photograph was taken more than 110 years ago. The women are Rosie Bertoncello and Margaret Meyers. Rosie worked at John Mamer’s tile factory in Campus. Margaret Meyers was the daughter of Henry Meyers, who owned a saloon and restaurant in Cardiff.
But there is more. Most people looking at this picture will never notice there are two other women there. Look at the long steps leading up to the left side of the tipple building. There are two figures on the landing. They are identified as Clara and Rachel Taylor. There was a Ralph Taylor who operated the Hotel Cardiff. The postcard was sent by Margaret Meyers to her sister, Dr. Mary Urbain, in Hamilton, Ohio. There are descendants of the Urbain family today in Herscher. The message on the back of the postcard says, “Dear Sis. What do you think of this? Don’t I look natural? I didn’t intend to have my picture there but I and Rosie B. happened to be at the shaft when it was taken. It is cold here today. We have fire in the hard coal stove. Margaret and I went to Campus this A.M.” Margaret Meyers’ sister, Goldie, married Joseph Roquet in 1906, in the year’s top social event that united two prominent Cardiff families. Joseph and Goldie had a daughter, Mary, born in Cardiff in 1912. Mary married Louis McCabe and returned to Cardiff in 2007 for the dedication of the state historical memorial. Mrs. McCabe came back in September 2012 for one last visit when she was dying of cancer. She died on February 18, 2013, at the age of 101.
(Note: this writer published two books about the history of Cardiff and other coal mining towns in Livingston, Grundy, Kankakee and Will counties. The books contain numerous photos, including pictures of the people mentioned here and pictures of Cardiff when it was a big town. A history of Campus is included in the books, which are on sale at Campus State Bank).