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Hard as the Rock Itself

Place and Identity in the American Mining Town

By David Robertson

Publication Year: 2006

The first intensive analysis of sense of place in American mining towns, Hard as the Rock Itself: Place and Identity in the American Mining Town provides rare insight into the struggles and rewards of life in these communities. David Robertson contends that these communities - often characterized in scholarly and literary works as derelict, as sources of debasing moral influence, and as scenes of environmental decay - have a strong and enduring sense of place and have even embraced some of the signs of so-called dereliction. Robertson documents the history of Toluca, Illinois; Cokedale, Colorado; and Picher, Oklahoma, from the mineral discovery phase through mine closure, telling for the first time how these century-old mining towns have survived and how sense of place has played a vital role. Acknowledging the hardships that mining's social, environmental, and economic legacies have created for current residents, Robertson argues that the industry's influences also have contributed to the creation of strong, cohesive communities in which residents have always identified with the severe landscape and challenging, but rewarding way of life. Robertson contends that the tough, unpretentious appearance of mining landscapes mirrors qualities that residents value in themselves, confirming that a strong sense of place in mining regions, as elsewhere, is not necessarily wedded to an attractive aesthetic or even to a thriving economy.

Published by: University Press of Colorado

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. vii-x

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pp. xi-xvi

It can be difficult to pinpoint precisely the origins of a large research project, especially one that has evolved over a lengthy period of time. That is not the case with this book, however, which is the end-product of an encounter I had as a first-year geography graduate student. When I arrived at the University of Oklahoma more than a decade ago, I was planning to study environmental...

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1: Introduction

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pp. 1-17

"Every mature nation has its symbolic landscapes," writes geographer D. W. Meinig, idealized places that evoke commonly understood meaning. He cites the New England Village, the Main Street of Middle America, and the California Suburb as examples of symbolic landscapes that have come to represent idyllic spaces for American family life. But, as Meinig also observes...

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2: Toluca

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pp. 18-69

In January 1997 a news story appeared on Cable News Network (CNN) describing a small Illinois community’s fight to save two piles of mining waste—relics of a moribund coal mining industry—from being removed by city bulldozers. “Some people in an Illinois town are going to bat for slag,” stated the report. “It looks like a mound of dirt . . . but some say the slag is a national treasure and they want to preserve it.” The town was Toluca, a historic coal mining...

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3: Cokedale

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pp. 70-119

State Highway 12 runs west from Trinidad, Colorado, climbing into the pinyon-speckled foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. As the road tops a rise eight miles west of Trinidad, a wall of black coal waste interrupts the verdant scenery. The highway parallels the bank of mine tailings as it descends into the valley. To the south of the highway lie two rows of crumbling coke ovens. In their ruin, the oven arches resemble an ancient Roman viaduct. To...

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4: Picher

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pp. 120-184

Few historic mining towns in the United States are plagued by more severe environmental problems than Picher, Oklahoma. In fact, when the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) compiled its initial list of Superfund sites in 1983, the community was designated as one of the agency’s highest priority cleanup areas. At the time, the environmental problems afflicting...

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5: Conclusion

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pp. 185-196

In the anthracite coal mining towns of Pennsylvania, Ben Marsh observed: “[T]here is a paradox to these valleys. . . . The land means much, but gives little.” Marsh explained this contradiction by showing that a broad concept of place includes consideration of the physical support a landscape provides, or its means, as well as its less tangible meanings. His research is revisited in order to...


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pp. 197-208


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pp. 209-216

E-ISBN-13: 9781607320685
E-ISBN-10: 1607320681
Print-ISBN-13: 9781607320760
Print-ISBN-10: 1607320762

Page Count: 232
Illustrations: 36
Publication Year: 2006