Just north of town are remnants of the Cherry Coal Mine, where 259 miners lost their lives in one of the worst mine disasters in United States history.
The St. Paul Coal Company began mining coal at Cherry in 1905 and by 1909 was mining 300,000 tons annually. The owner and sole customer was the Chicago, Milwaukee, and St. Paul Railroad.
On Saturday, November 13, 1909, the mine caught fire. A load of hay, intended for the mule stables at the bottom of the mine, was apparently ignited by burning oil dripping from a kerosene torch. The fire spread rapidly. Several miners reached safety; others were trapped in the mine. Twenty-one of the trapped men were later rescued. The remainder died in the mine. The dead included twelve rescuers.
Public response to the needs of the victims was great. Individuals and organizations from various communities donated time and money. Chicago and other towns sent fire-fighting men and equipment. More than $400,000 in relief funds was raised, and the Cherry Relief Commission was organized to distribute the funds.
Another $400,000 was added as a result of the settlement made with the railroad company. John E. Williams of Streator, Vice-Chairman of the Cherry Relief Commission, acted as mediator between the relatives of the miners and the company.
The disaster prompted the state legislature to establish stricter regulations for mine safety and to pass a Workmen's Compensation Act, making an employer liable even when there is contributory negligence.