WESTERN PENNSYLVANIA COALFIELDS

REMEMBERING THE HISTORY OF THE COAL AND COKE INDUSTRY IN PENNSYLVANIA

CONNELLSVILLE COALFIELD FAYETTE AND WESTMORELAND COUNTIES

KLONDIKE COALFIELD FAYETTE, GREENE, AND WASHINGTON COUNTIES

PITTSBURGH COALFIELD ALLEGHENY, WASHINGTON, WESTMORELAND, AND FAYETTE COUNTIES

FREEPORT COALFIELD ALLEGHENY, WESTMORELAND, ARMSTRONG, AND BUTLER COUNTIES

IRWIN GAS COALFIELD WESTMORELAND COUNTY

WESTMORELAND COALFIELD WESTMORELAND COUNTY

INDIAN CREEK COALFIELD FAYETTE AND WESTMORELAND COUNTIES

WINDBER COALFIELD SOMERSET AND CAMBRIA COUNTIES

BLACK LICK COALFIELD INDIANA AND CAMBRIA COUNTIES

SHAWMUT COALFIELD ELK AND JEFFERSON COUNTIES

BROAD TOP COALFIELD BEDFORD, HUNTINGDON, AND FULTON COUNTIES

ALLEGHENY MOUNTAIN COALFIELD BLAIR, CAMBRIA, AND CLEARFIELD COUNTIES

GEORGES CREEK COALFIELD SOMERSET COUNTY, PA AND ALLEGANY COUNTY, MD

OTHER PENNSYLVANIA BITUMINOUS COALFIELDS

REFERENCE LITERATURE

SINCE 2010 - AT THE WINDBER COAL HERITAGE CENTER NEAR JOHNSTOWN, PA - "Interpreting Coal Mining History in The Northern Appalachian Landscape," A PHOTO EXHIBIT OF THE PHOTOGRAPHY OF CHRIS DELLAMEA, WEBMASTER OF COALCAMPUSA.COM. (THIS IS THE SAME EXHIBIT THAT WAS AT THE SLOVAK MUSEUM IN McMURRAY AND THE COAL AND COKE HERITAGE CENTER IN UNIONTOWN.)

Over 15 billion tons of coal have been taken from Pennsylvania since mining began around 1760 (near Pittsburgh). The peak year of production was 1917, when 277 million tons were extracted. PA was the No. 1 coal mining state in the U.S.A. until West Virginia surpassed it in 1930. In 1992 Pennsylvania produced only 65 million tons of coal, but was still the nationwide leader in coke production.

However, this is a presentation of historically significant bituminous coal mining towns and structures in Western Pennsylvania. We are not touching the Anthracite coalfields of Eastern Pennsylvania. A coal patch (called "coal camp" elsewhere) is a town where everything was built and owned by a coal company, including schools, churches, stores, theatres, and residential structures. Coal patches in Western Pennsylvania generally date from the 1870s through the 1920s. Although the coal seams around the patches are mined out and the coke ovens are crumbling ruins, people still live in these towns in homes built by the coal companies a century or more ago.

If you would like to visit these mining towns, keep in mind a few things:

1. STAY OFF OF THE PROPERTY OF ACTIVE MINES. THEY ALL HAVE GUARDS WHO WILL RUN YOU OFF. ALSO, IT'S DANGEROUS, SEEING AS HOW YOU PROBABLY WON'T BE WEARING A HARDHAT AND METATARSALS.

2. BE CAREFUL OF TRESPASSING. JUST BECAUSE A MINE IS CLOSED DOESN'T MEAN NO ONE OWNS IT.

3. THE RESIDENTS OF THESE MINING PATCHES MAY NOT APPRECIATE YOUR "INTRUSION." IF SOMEONE ASKS WHAT YOU ARE DOING, TELL THEM.

4. SOME OF THE RESIDENTS OF THE COAL PATCHES HAVE VICIOUS DOGS.

5. DON'T TALK WITH A TEXAS OR FRENCH ACCENT. IF POSSIBLE, FAKE A PENNSYLVANIA ACCENT.

6. THERE AREN'T MANY RESTAURANTS IN COAL PATCHES. EAT AND GAS UP BEFORE YOU GO.

7. SOME ROADS ARE UNSUITABLE FOR LUXURY AUTOMOBILES. A FEW ARE UNSUITABLE FOR ANY AUTOMOBILE.

8. I WOULD STRONGLY DISCOURAGE ANYONE FROM ENTERING AN ABANDONED DEEP MINE. THE TIMBERS ARE PROBABLY ROTTEN AND THE ROOF WILL PROBABLY FALL ON YOU. IF YOU SURVIVE YOU WILL PROBABLY BE HANDICAPPED FOR LIFE. JEFF WRITES IN TO SUGGEST ANOTHER REASON NOT TO ENTER ABANDONED MINES: BLACKDAMP, A DEADLY LOW OXYGEN CONDITION THAT OCCURS WHEN ORGANIC MATERIAL OXIDIZES IN A RELATIVELY CLOSED CONDITION. THE TIMBERS AND THE REMAINING COAL EAT UP THE AVAILABLE OXYGEN IN CERTAIN CONDITIONS. BESIDES BEING DANGEROUS, THERE'S PROBABLY NOTHING INTERSETING DOWN THERE.

NOTE: I'VE NEVER HAD ANY OF THESE PROBLEMS (EXCEPT MAYBE THE BAD ROADS). I'M JUST MENTIONING POSSIBLE PITFALLS.

FADING CULTURE

(This article appeared in the Uniontown Herald-Standard in 2002.)

There were a host of reasons for closing Holy Trinity – a shrinking community, a shortage of priests, the finances – but what Rose Bloser knows is that when the predominately Slovak church closed, a big chunk of her past was lost. "When everything boils down, all you have left is your roots," said Bloser, 51, whose Roman Catholic church closed its doors several Sundays ago. "I realize we’re all in a melting pot, but you always keep some ties to where you came from."

In the 1800s and 1900s, Eastern European immigrants flooded into southwestern Pennsylvania to work in the coal mines and steel mills, and in and around Pittsburgh, neighborhoods swelled with their numbers.

They brought with them their work ethic, their languages and their religions.

Churches-many of them Catholic-sprung up, statues of patron saints watching over them in the New World, masses being held in their natural tongues.

Now, in Pittsburgh and across the nation, many of those old ethnic churches are gone, and parishioners worry their cultural past could be lost.

In Ford City, located about 35 miles northeast of Pittsburgh, July 21 saw the closing not only of Holy Trinity but two other ethnic parishes: St. Frances of Paola, a predominately Polish church, and St. Mary’s, attended by German families. Church officials said there were too few people to support keeping all three.

A month earlier, St. Stephen’s in McKeesport-which had ministered to Hungarian immigrants for more than a century-shut down. It had gone as far in its early history to import a priest from Hungary to serve Mass; there were 13 oaken statues inside the church, each representing an aspect of Hungarian history and religion.

"I was baptized there, made my first communion there and was confirmed there," said Zoltan Toth. "We are like a family because we all grew up there."

It’s not only in Pittsburgh. Two years ago, St. Jehosaphat’s, a Polish parish in Cleveland, closed. In March, a Roman Catholic church in Gary, Ind., which once drew nearly 1,000 Polish, Czech and Lithuanian parishioners closed after attendance dwindled to about 200 parishioners.

From 1988 to 1995, the Pittsburgh diocese closed 19 ethnic parishes; at the same time, 19 territorial parishes-those serving people within established boundaries-closed because of costs and a declining number of congregants.

As steel mills, coal mines and other businesses hit hard times in the 1980s, people left the older ethnic centers to find work elsewhere. Also, for many people, the immigrant churches carried a connection to the past they felt they no longer needed.

National groups, such as the Polish American Congress and American Hungarian Heritage Association, say neighborhood churches were hurt as congregations got older and people fled the cities for the suburbs.

"That ethnic heritage is not as important to the younger generation," said the Rev. John Rushofosky, who has served at several defunct parishes serving various ethnic groups in the Pittsburgh diocese. He said the loss of those churches left many older members resentful.

"It’s painful for them because I think what it means to them is that a lot of their ethnic heritage seems to be being disregarded," he said.

In Pittsburgh’s Polish Hill neighborhood, Immaculate Heart of Mary still serves the ethnic community, a Mass being said in Polish at 8 a.m. every Sunday. The church school, where Polish was taught, has been closed for years; the Mass attracts only about 50 people-in a church which could easily hold many times that number.

Most of the people who attend are middle aged or older. Olaf Saykiewicz, a 30-year-old Polish immigrant, goes to Immaculate Heart of Mary to keep his traditions alive.

"We’re becoming more integrated, which is good, but at the same time we’re losing our identity," he said.

All across Western Pennsylvania every summer there are countless Catholic parish festivals held as fundraisers. The photo above was taken by the author when my wife and I were asked to help at the Saint Anthony Parish "Festa" when we lived in Monongahela. It shows a mix of Italian and Slovakian cuisne. Why this combination? Well, when the Italians started to settle in the Mon Valley they were really not welcome at the German, Polish, and Irish Catholic churches there. So they formed St. Anthony parish in 1904. A few years later the Slovaks came to the same area, and they wandered around Monongahela looking for a Catholic church to attend. No church would welcome them, so the bishop in Pittsburgh directed the Saint Anthony church to take the Slovaks in. From then on it was an Italian-Slovak church. This story was told by the priest at St. Anthony during an Italian language mass I attended there in 2004. The mass was followed by a Slovak dinner. After I left Pennsylvania I learned that the diocese was closing and consolidating many of the Catholic churches in the Pittsburgh area. The diocese told the people at St. Anthony that their church was closing, and they needed to start going to the former German-Irish church, renamed St. Damien from Transfiguration. Some people on both sides were not comforatble with the intermixing, and the diocese was pressured into reopening St. Anthony for Saturday night mass. This was more than 100 years after most of their ancestors came to America. But I had already learned about these divisions while living in Mt. Pleasant, PA.

When I first moved to Pennsylvania I noticed that there were several Catholic churches around my new hometown of Mt. Pleasant. I thought I could go to any or all of them. I saw in the news where Transfiguration parish (a different Transfiguration than Monongahela) was preparing for their summer festival, so I thought I would go volunteer to help. I introduced myself as new in town, and began to build booths, etc. I didn't notice that these people all had hair much lighter than mine. Finally someone told me that this was actually a Polish church, and that St. Pius X was the Italian-Irish church and Visitation was what they called the "Hunky" church. They said this cordially to me. They began to talk among themselves about weren't we all just American Catholics now? and why did it still matter? and maybe could this newcomer help to "integrate" the church. (I am Caucasian.) One man was very kind and I even gave him a ride home. A few months later the Diocese of Greensburg closed the Transfiguration church due to structural deficiencies. Though beautiful, it was deemed too unsafe. The church was demolished and its Polish-American congregation told to start attending the other two Catholic churches in town. Some did, but some former Transfiguration parishoners refused. Later these people began to save up money to rebuild a new Polish Transfiguration church that was outside of the Roman Catholic jurisdiction. Like Monongahela, this was more than 100 years after most of their ancestors came to America.

Later my wife and I moved from Western PA to Southern WV. There is one Catholic church in town that serves all Catholics in the area - people of Irish, German, Polish, Hungarian, Italian, and Filipino origin. No one really cares. Must be a Pennsylvania thing.