Saturday, November 7, 2009

Traces of coal mining in Fayette County, PA, along Youghiogheny River trail

Unfortunately, Blogspot will not allow me to place images where I want to in relation to the text. I hope the powers that be will someday fix this irritating glitch. But for now, we must push on and play by their rules.

(Click images to enlarge)

Earlier this Fall, I took a side trip on my way home from a family history gathering trip to Westmoreland and Fayette Counties in Pennsylvania. After a day of taking photos of tombstones at Mount Pleasant cemetery (see last entry), I camped that night at Ohiopyle State Park along the Youghiogheny River. The next morning, I took a bicycle ride on a portion of the Rail-Trail that follows the river from the state park all the way to McKeesport near Pittsburgh. The trail is part of the Great Allegheny Passage which stretches several hundred miles from Pittsburgh, PA, to Georgetown, Washington, DC. I met one bicyclist who was traveling the whole trail, end to end, and when he reached DC in few days, he was planning to box up his bike and take the Amtrack back to Pittsburgh. I thought that one day I would like to bicycle the same route and dedicate the ride to my mother's Gailliot Family Line who, in 1880, emigrated from Germany to Braddock, PA, to work in the steel mills, and then, in 1920, migrated to a farm in Alexandria, VA. No, they did not bike it.

At one point on my bike ride, I passed a cut in a steep cliff along the trail. There was an historic marker at the bottom of the cliff which gave a brief description of the coal mining era in the region. The text began by pointing to a vein of coal on the cliff high above me (directly above the dashed line, colored red, in image above). Also shown, was an enlarged copy of a vintage postcard depicting coal miners standing around a mine shaft in Connellsville, PA. Rail cars loaded with coal were being pulled by mules from the mine shaft.
I was reminded of the Russell family that I had just studied the day before in Mt. Pleasant. Some members of the family resided in a coal company town at the Royal Mine and Coke Works, according to census reports. Indeed, I found out later, that the funeral for Robert M. Russell was held at his married daughter's house in Royal. His daughter, Christine, was married to James Eaton. At a web site called The Virtual Museum of Coal Mining in Western Pennsylvania there is a detailed description of the neighborhood where the Russell family once resided:
"Approximately ninety coal company built houses ... laid out along four parallel streets ... The bulk of the houses are semi-detached dwellings with their gable ends facing the streets. Of standard wood-frame construction, they are four-bay on the ground level and two-bay above; they rest on coursed-stone foundations. the houses have shed or hipped-roof front porches and their two interior brick chimneys are either on opposite sides of the roof ridge or piercing the ridge. ..."
Royal was later called Chestnut Ridge, but you will not find either town on a road map of Pennsylvania today. Most of these "Patch" company towns have been dismantled. I am glad that at least a description of the town survives.

2 comments:

Apple said...

Pennsylvania has wonderful parks and a great trail system. We took our vacation in White Haven and were able to visit Eckley Miners Museum, which we really enjoyed. Although not the town that your family is from it might give you an idea what a mine town was like. I've meant to write about the trip but it sits there in my drafts folder. I'll have to dust it off!

Bob Kramp said...

Apple, dust off those trip notes and start writing. I was inspired by your comment to post one of my photos of Eckley Miners village taken several years ago. Around the same time I took a tour the underground tour of an Anthracite mine in Scranton, PA. So glad that PA in perserving their (and My own) heritage. Thanks, Bob