Thursday, March 20, 2008

Berwind & White Coal mines in Houtzdale

Coal miners and nippers (boys) at the Eureka No. 5 coal mine in Houtzale, Clearfield Co., PA. Click picture to enlarge; then, click on your browser's back-arrow key to return here. Though some of my ancestors are probably present here, none have been identified. Pictures are from the Berwind Story, a Family History, published in 1993.

My Aunt, Mrs. Gladys Hilburt, born Gladys Russell, the daughter of Andrew Burt Russell and Margaret Walker, told me a story about one of the Russell siblings who immigrated to Houtzdale in the 1880s from the coal mining regions of County Durham, England. Gladys told me that David Russell was a secretary for the Berwind and White Coal Company and used to travel around Pennsylvania on a special train with the president of the Company. David once gave a glass an ink well to his nephew, Andrew Russell (Gladys' father). She said that David Russell never married.

I have a vintage, cabinet-card photograph of the Russell siblings taken probably in the early 1890s in Kruger's studio in Houtzdale which shows five brothers: Thomas W. Russell (my great grandfather), Robert and John Girabaldi Russell, James Fredrick Russell and a brother who has been identified as David. In addition, I have obtained 19th century census reports from the U.K. and baptism records for four of the Russell brothers but I could not find such information for a David Russell in the same family.

Also, inside a 19th century journal which was kept by my great grandfather, Thomas Russell, I found a letter, dated, 29 Dec 1911, which was mailed to Thomas by his younger brother, John G. Russell. The letter head was titled, "Century Club of Syracuse [New York]". The context of the letter indicates that John was sorry to hear that their brother had died and that he could not travel from his home in Syracuse to attend the funeral. However, John did not specifically name the brother nor did he mention where the brother's funeral was being held. John requested that his regards be passed to another brother, Robert, and also to the Dawson family. Through a process of elimination and considering the date of the letter, I speculate that the recently deceased brother was David Russell, and that he probably died in PA. John Russell, the author of the letter, died in 1914 of stomach cancer.

In the 1990's, I contacted the Berwind and White Company which then had offices in Philadelphia, PA. The Company had changed and diversified its business to focus on land holdings and other industries such as pharmaceuticals. They had little archived information on its early employees- they had no information, at least readily on hand, about a secretary named David Russell. On the other hand, Berwind and White company had recently published a family history and she sent me a copy of the book. The publication coincided with centennial celebration of the town of Windber, which is located on the border between the Pennsylvania counties of Cambria and Somerset. Windber is a transposition of the Berwind surname. There is also a Berwind, West Virginian named after the coal mines which were owned and operated by the B&W Company.

The once large coal company was founded by the sons of J__ Berwind who immigrated to America from Bavaria, Germany, in the 1840s. He settled in Philadelphia and opened a music shop in which he sold his handmade violins. Later, he became a very successful cabinet maker. His sons went to the best schools in Philadelphia and became employed in the coal industry. Eventually, they became owners of coal mines which opened in west central Pennsylvania. Their grade of coal was used in the making of steel and also for fuel for the many steam ships which were bringing thousands of immigrants to America at the end of the nineteenth century.

Our immigrant ancestors who arrived in Houtzdale, Clearfield County, in the 1880s were certainly affected by the operations of Berwind Family, and I hope that one day some information will surface regarding one of their employees named David Russell.

A Christmas greeting from the Berwind Family.
Source: The Berwind Story

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