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BUFFINGTON, PA

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Patch housing along New Salem Road at Buffington, Pennsylvania, a patch/mine/coke yard built by the Illinois Steel Company in 1900. Eventually it was taken over by, surprise surprise, Frick. (Jul. 2002 image by author)


Frick Coke closed the Buffington mine in the 1920s, but it was reopended during World War 2. This is how the Buffington safety board looked during the height of the war. Soon after this the Buffington mine was exhuasted and permanently closed in 1946. (Image courtesy Coal and Coke Heritage Center, Penn State Eberly Campus)


Every large coal mine maintained a machine shop. Here is a rare glimpse of the machine shop at Buffington during the 1940s. (Image courtesy Coal and Coke Heritage Center, Penn State Fayette)


Part of the big Buffington patch as viewed from the adjacent town of New Salem. Most of the houses built by the company are still there. (Oct. 2003 image by author)


A sad photograph: Several coke ovens like this at Buffington that have doors built on to them. They may have served as residential shelters for the homeless during the Great Depression. (Oct. 2003 image by author)


Most of the other coke oven ruins at Buffington, such as these, are typical of coke oven ruins found throught Western Pennsylvania. (Oct. 2003 image by author)


Still extant shop buildings were once part of the Buffington coal and coke complex. (Oct. 2004 image by author)


The extant company store on New Salem Road. (Oct. 2004 image by author)


This house in Buffington was occupied by the mine fire boss at the time of this photo. He paid $7 per month rent for the house. (Circa 1912 American Iron and Steel Institute image via Google Books)

Jack writes, "In your photographs of the Buffington coke ovens, you mentioned doors on some of the ovens, suggesting that they may have dated from the depression. I lived as a child in New Boro, directly on the other side of Buffington from New Salem, and went to grade school in New Salem in the late forties and early fifties. We would often walk home from school along the railroad tracks in front of the slate dumps with the ovens behind. We'd also often walk through the oven area, although my mother forbid it because of the 'bums' living there. Several were occupied then by bums (period terminology for today's homeless), and one was even reputed to be occupied by a woman and man living together (horrible scandal at the time). So, I can't verify or argue that they may have been occupied during the depression, but I can testify that some were occupied circa 1950."


Buffington mine rescue squad. (Image source forgotten)


From a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article dated Nov. 12, 1948 titled "Company Coal Towns Are Disappearing"

The company town along with all its implications of feudalism and paternalism is rapidly disappearing from the scene in Western Pennsylvania's coal mining regions. Where only 15 years ago some quarter of a million miners and their families were dependent entirely on the coal operators' whims for shelter, only around 30,000 exist that way today.

What happened to the more than 200,000 others? The answer is simple: They either own their own homes or are buying them. The coal industry decided for various reasons to get out of the real estate business, offered to sell the "company houses" to the miners, and in most cases found quick and eager buyers. The results have been quite satisfactory all the way around. The mine owners have freed themselves of the headaches that went with the generally unprofitable operation of company-owned villages. The miners have assumed the sound feeling of responsibility that goes with property ownership, while at the same time they have done away with the fear of the tenant who might be tossed out into the street for any number of reasons. You could call this transition a social revolution in the Western Pennsylvania bituminous fields. The company town was once a hated, feared and yes, even despicable term. It too often meant serfdom - the miner at the mercy of the coal operator.

The history of the company town system has been a blotch of feudalism, paternalism and slums all wrapped up into one package of morally offensive economic conditions. The company town has meant the company store and its once attendant scandalously high prices; company spies and ruthlessness. Many coal operators, in frank and in private discussions, concede readily that the system was bad. And miners - practically every one alive today - can recite sad experience. But the company town was an absolute necessity. The reason for its coming into being was sound and logical. Coal was found in areas far removed from cities and towns. There were no houses and roads within miles of new mines. To attract employees the coal operators had to build towns.

The new employee at the new mine wasn't interested in buying a house. Chances were that he had barely enough money to get him to the place of his new job. So the mine owner rented the house - sometimes nothing but a one or two-room shack - and deducted the rent from the man's earnings. When the mining industry began to boom in Western Pennsylvania, the oldest bituminous region in the world, there were no automobiles. Thus, no roads except a few ruts over fields and hills that were carved out by the wheels of horse-drawn wagons. The miner needed food, clothing, tobacco. The nearest store might be a two-day trip. To solve that, the mine owner put in the company store. That completed the village. The mine for employement; homes for shelter; the store for the necessities of life. All the miner had to do was dig coal. His house rent was deducted from his pay; his store bill was handled the same way. What was left out of the wages belonged to the miner. There is no question that the theory was good. Unfortunately, like too many theories, unexpected influences developed. Here and there a mine owner began to figure angles. He could make a handsome profit out of his coal, his houses and his store. In fact, he could keep rents and food prices so high that the miner began to recieve four "kisses" as his pay. They were four "x" marks on his pay slip showing that after all deductions he had no money coming ...


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