At the turn of the last century, the areas north of today’s Center Street and east of Broadway in Rochester were filled with manufacturing firms and storage buildings. This is also where stockpiles of coal, sold by more than half a dozen local dealers, were kept. Most of that coal was transported into Rochester by the Chicago Great Western railroad.

Train cars may have been unloaded by dumping the coal onto conveyor belts powered by steam engines, putting the coal into bins, but home delivery was a completely different matter.

Workers would shovel the coal from the bins into horse-drawn sleds that were pulled to a customer’s home or business. Then the coal would be shoveled into a window or chute leading to a coal bin in the basement of a building, all the while creating a cloud of black dust.

Today, it’s much easier to tell Alexa to turn up the heat.

“Lens on History” is a weekly photo feature by Lee Hilgendorf, a volunteer at the History Center of Olmsted County.

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