MARIANNA, PA


Before the coal mine complex was demolished and reclaimed in 2004, Marianna, PA was one of the most outstanding historical coal mining sites in Pennsylvania, and probably the entire United States. The structures and equipment that existed at Marianna dated from the first decade of the 20th Century until the late 1980's. It was one of the most intact coal company built towns that I have ever seen, and the yellow brick buildings in it are exclusive to Marianna. The coal mine and coke ovens, along with the community, were built by the Pittsburg (sic) & Buffalo Company between 1903 and 1907. There were three mines into the Pittsburgh vein at Marianna, designated Rachel (at the main plant), Agnes, and Blanche. Marianna was such a showplace of industrial technology that even President Teddy Roosevelt, along with a group of European coal mining officials, came to tour it. The housing for the workers and their families constitued what was known as a "model" patch town, which entailed an effort to improve the standard of living of coal miners. A 1911 issue of Colliery Engineer said, "Not only is the plant constructed along the latest scientific lines but the town of Marianna must take rank as one of the finest coal miners' settlements in this country. The Jones family, chief owners of the company, are noted for their somewhat altruistic tendencies, having spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to provide many conveniences and comforts and even luxuries for their employees. Actual uplift work is being done at this mine." The new Marianna mines attracted Russian, Italian, and Slovakian immgrants coming to America and looking for a job and a home. Coal Age, speaking with the typical arrogance for immigrants that they repeatedly displayed at that time, stated, "At present the improvements must appear uncomfortable and undesireable to many of them, largely Pan-Slavs, who have been used to snug quarters in a dirty hut covered by a thatched roof and who measure against the stately discomforts of a good house and a bathroom, the one clean pleasure he can understand, at the end of every two weeks, a fat roll of bills."


An artistic depiction, circa 1910, of the Marianna mine, coke ovens, and company town. (Pittsburg & Buffalo Company image via Google Books)


The Pittsburg (sic) & Buffalo Company was owned and operated by the Jones family, shown here, which consisted of James Jones and his five sons. James Jones came to America from Wales in 1858. According to his obituary, he originally came to Mount Savage, Maryland, but decided that he would rather come to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. So he walked 80 miles from Mount Savage to Pittsburgh. Shortly after that he served in the Union Army during the Civil war. Over the years Mr. Jones held various industrial jobs in the Pittsburgh area, such as coal miner or blacksmith. He began to dabble in the coal industry in the 1870's. Based in Monongahela, the Jones family's industrial interests accumulated. In 1903, James Jones and his sons incorporated the Pittsburg & Buffalo Company. (The company spelled Pittsburgh without a "h" because, around 1900, the idea of dropping the "h" from Pittsburgh was being considered, although it never actually happened.) From their headquarters in the Frick Building in downtown Pittsburgh the Pittsburg & Buffalo presided over an industrial empire that stretched from Armstrong County, PA to Raleigh County, WV, with Marianna probably being their "Crown Jewel." (Image from "Greater Pittsburg and Allegheny County, Past, Present, Future" via Google Books)


Pittsburg & Buffalo Company Vice President Thomas Jones in his office in the Frick Building giving dictation to his secretary. (Pittsburg & Buffalo Company image via Google Books)


In the early 1900's the Joneses obtained 6,000 acres of Pittsburgh seam coal (and Waynesburg; and Upper Freeport; and Lower Kittanning) in southern Washington County, PA that would later become the Marianna mine. At that time there were no other mines or railroads in the immediate vicinity (the rails ended at Cokeburg). This picture shows James Jones, two of his sons, and an unknown gentleman inspecting the property either just before or after they made the big purchase. (Pittsburg & Buffalo Company image via Google Books)

Apparently construction of Marianna commenced around 1903. The Ellsworth Branch of the Pennsylvania Railroad was extended in 1906 to the Marianna mine that was being built. Finally, in 1907 or 1908 (not sure which), coal production began. The company described the (washed) coal as having 35.58% volatile matter, 0.98% sulphur, and a value of 14,619 Btu/lb; in other words, a high-volatile, low sulfur coal suitable for thermal and metallurgical purposes, and also for creating coal gas (a viable market in those days). A bank of beehive coke ovens came on line at the same time the Marianna mines began shipping coal.


The Marianna patch and tipple during the "old days." In 1911 the coal company predicted the Marianna mines would last for 40 years. But, after many acres were added to the mine over the years, the Pittburg & Buffalo Co. estimate was short by 37 years. (Image scanned by author; materials courtesy Coal and Coke Heritage Center, Penn State Eberly Campus)


A vintage view of the powerhouse and coke ovens at Marianna with the patch in the background. (Image scanned by author; materials courtesy Coal and Coke Heritage Center, Penn State Eberly Campus)


Rail sidings, ventilation fan, and tipple at Marianna as they looked over 100 years ago. When the tipple/washing plant were built it was allegedly the largest facility of this type in the world. (Pittsburg & Buffalo Company image via Google Books)


Another vintage picture at Marianna from a long, long time ago showing the tipple, power house (building with tall smokestacks), and coke ovens. Only slack coal was coked. Why? Company literature explained, "Although this is the cheapest grade of coal produced; after it has been washed, the impurities are reduced to such a point that the coke is equal to the famous Connellsville coke oin percentage of ash and sulphur." (Pittsburg & Buffalo Company image via Google Books)


The company was proud of their bath house, the inside of which is pictured here. A Pittsburg & Buffalo promotional booklet explained, "Marianna is one of the first coal plants in this country to be equipped with a bath house. This building is so arranged that men coming from the mine are landed on a bridge leading dirct to the top floor where all safety lamps are received to be cleaned and and given out again in the morning." There were 99 showers with hot water; a few tubs and basins; and the famous bath house hanging baskets for clothes. (Pittsburg & Buffalo Company image via Google Books) However, the bright beginnings of the Marianna mine quickly dimmed when an explosion in the mines on Aug. 12, 1908 caused the death of 154 miners, and injured others. A good collection of news articles about this 10th worst mining disaster in US History can be found here.

Marianna became a borough in 1910. The community contained (and still contains) a number of independent business and homes, but they were outside of the Marianna Borough limits.

In 1923 Bethlehem Mining, a coal mining subsidiary of Bethlehem Steel, had acquired the mine and renamed it Mine No. 58. (I don't know exactly how Bethlehem ended up with Marianna. Maybe it was because they merged with Lackawanna Steel in the early 20's, got Lackawanna's Ellsworth and Cokeburg mines just down the railroad from Marianna, and decided to make a bid for Marianna, as well.) It became part of the Ellsworth Division of Bethlehem Mining (or Bethenergy Mines, Inc. after 1985). Disaster struck the Marianna mines again on Sept. 23, 1957 when an explosion rocked the mine, followed by several fires in the mine. Since the explosion wrecked the man shaft and hoist, men were rescued by being brought to the surface in a bucket. 5 miners were killed in the explosion; 1 miner died in the hospital after being rescued; and 5 others were saved.

During the 1970's coal at Marianna was being strip mined, in addition to the deep mining operation there. Bethlehem continued to extract coal at Marianna until the main underground conveyor caught fire in March 1988. After many attempts to extinguish the fire, Bethenergy closed the Marianna mine once and for all.

So the Marianna mine complex sat idle, in the middle of the borough, suspended in time due to its sudden closure. Most of the residential and commercial structures there survived, and a "Marianna Historic District" was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1984, being defined as "roughly bounded by Ten Mile Creek, Beeson Ave. Hill, 6th, and 7th Streets." But the future of the coal mining site in the middle of the town was uncertain. Then the once-mighty Bethlehem Steel filed for bankruptcy in 2001, and was later absorbed into ISG Steel. In May 2003 the Pennsylvania D.E.P. worked out an agreement "for the completion of land reclamation responsibilities at the Marianna #58 Mine and CRDA in West Bethlehem Township, Washington County." The DEP further elaborated, "At that site, three mineshafts were filled but not permanently sealed after mining ceased. A slurry pond also needs to be re-vegetated, and nearly 30 buildings and several erosion and sedimentation ponds still remain on the surface." No one stood up to preserve this remarkable and priceless relic of the American Industrial Revolution, and now it's too late, although yours truly did submit to a map to the borough depicting a public use area incorporating some elements of the colliery into a park, so that it could be interpreted as a tourist attraction. For that I received no response.

In an email Pennsylvania coal historian Lonnie Miller told me, " ISG Steel Group out of Cleveland had a contractor come in and all is gone except three buildings (not counting the water treatment plant); The big office/warehouse building you see when you enter the gate, and one or two smller brick buildings. I'm told they used giant hydraulic shearers to cut the steel beams (like it was silly putty) at the two hoisting structures and the prep plant and related buildings. The coke ovens are still there." So the Marianna mine complex is gone, the Eureka No. 40 coal mining facility near Windber has been demolished, and it's just a matter of time before the derelict but intact coal and coke plant at Shoaf (in Fayette County) is torn down. Then Pennsylvania will have lost all of its historic bituminous collieries. One day this will be deeply regretted.

Mr. Miller, who has written several coal history books, also has published "Marianna & Mine No. 58 - The Big Mine." The book describes the 1907 and 1957 mine disasters, as well as the 1988 conveyor fire.


The tipple and hoist house at Marianna. At some point a large part of this tipple (on the back side) was removed. When the facility was new coal preparation equipment included a lump bar screen, three revolving screens, a Luhrig washer, and four 6'x40' picking tables. (Nov. 2002 image by author)


The beehive coke ovens at Marianna are among the best preserved in Western Pennsylvania. Their facades are made of the same yellow brick that is so ubiquitous to Marianna. At least part of these was preserved when the rest of the site was reclaimed. (Nov. 2002 image by author)


I believe that this tipple and shaft frame were part of the original 1907 mining complex. (June 2003 image by author)


The "skip" that brought coal to the surface was still hanging in the shaft elevator. (June 2003 image by author)


Looking at the tipple throught the hoist house window. This was a more modern hoist house with electronic controls that replaced the earlier one. (June 2003 image by author)


The shaft hoist and spool of wire rope. (June 2003 image by author)


This is the original Rachel mine hoist house. (Pittsburg & Buffalo Company image via Google Books)


All of the sheeting had been removed from the Marianna preparation plant, but much of the equipement was still in place. (June 2003 image by author)


Conveyors with wooden bottoms. (June 2003 image by author)


A second head frame and shaft that was part of the Marianna mine. (June 2003 image by author)


The Marianna mine office. The water treatment plant was behind this. (June 2003 image by author)


In this photo the large silo, as well as a shop building, are behind the second head frame and mine office. (June 2003 image by author)


These "model" patch houses are some of the most unusual coal company built houses in Pennsylvania. The yellow bricks on the company houses, coke ovens, and even Orthodox and Catholic churches came from the Pittsburg & Buffalo Company's combination brick manufacturing/sewer pipe manufacturing/coal mining company town at Johnetta, Armstrong County, PA. (June 2003 image by author)


Much of the Marianna patch is located on the side of a steep hill behind the mine and coke ovens. (June 2003 image by author)


A closer look at the miners' housing. This was an attempt to provide a better company-owned house to the coal mining families than the wood-framed duplexes that most other Pennsylvania miners had to inhabit. (June 2003 image by author)


These larger houses at the back of the mining town probably were part of a "bosses row." There are no outhouses at Marianna. Everyone must have had an indoor toilet, something most residents of Pennsylvania's coal mining towns had to wait until the 1950s for. (June 2003 image by author)


The superintendent's house. (June 2003 image by author)


Company store at Marianna, now demolished. (Pittsburg & Buffalo Company image via Google Books)


This crowd gathered for the dedication of the Marianna Amusement Hall on July 4, 1910. (Pittsburg & Buffalo Company image via Google Books)


Even the St. Nicholas Russian Church of Orthodox Old Believers was built from yellow brick. This church still serves about 75 to 100 members of the sect. It has been reported that there are only four churches in America of this denomination. The Russian immigrants that came to Marianna came from a culture of the Orthodox church, before the communist revolution in Russia supressed religion. (June 2003 image by author)


The coal company also built Saints Mary and Ann Roman Catholic church for the Italian, Slovak, and Polish immigrant families. (Image by others)


A small portion of the large slate dump at Marianna. As of 2011 this had still not been reclaimed. (June 2003 image by author)


(June 2003 image by author)


USGS map of Marianna showing patch, tipple, and related structures. I was surprised that the borough boundaries didn't include East Marianna, where most of the commercial establishments are located.


In this aerial view of Marianna one can see the green grass in the lower right where the coal preparation complex was reclaimed. But note the linear structure following the base of the hill behind this grassy area. Those coke ovens were not demolished.


(Image by others)


Mac sent in these pictures and writes, " Looking at your page on Marianna reminded me that I had taken some photos in '97. I first found Marianna some 15 years earlier with my father while canoeing down 10 mile creek. At that time I think the mine was still active and we had to sneak through the gate with the canoes!"

The photos Mac took in 1997:






From a Sep. 5, 1999 Observer-Reporter article titled, "A Town Going Down" by Scott Beveridge:

When coal was king, life was good in Marianna, once considered a model industrial community. But a little more than a decade after the mine closed, the main street is beginning to look like a ghost town, and longtime residents mourn their decaying neighborhood. "I hate what's happened to our town," said the borough's mayor, Ida Flen. Since a mine fire forced permanent layoffs in 1988, locals say when a newcomer moves into one of the town's historic row houses, chances are they are being followed by welfare or the law. This is a town where residents long have taken pride in their front yards, in which one tree was planted by the company. The mining operator once handed out prizes to residents who kept the best lawns. Yet today, nearly every block has a house in some stage of disrepair. Crumbled beer cans litter one lawn situated beside a dilapidated house, where a pit bull is chained in the yard, growling a pedestrians and motorists alike ...

It wasn't feasible for the owner, BethEnergy Mines Inc., to reopen the mine. Repairs and the cleanup of contaminated soil would have cost more than $54 million. Mike Knizner, who logged 17 years in the mine, chose to stay. He and his wife, Virginia, have two children, and they didn't want to uproot them from their schools. To make ends meet, his wife took a job as a housekeeper, and he found a job as a maintenance man at a nursing home 17 miles away in Washington. "Once it closed down, me and my wife both had to go to work. It hit hard here," said the 58-year old Knitzner ...

And Marianna's residents, an ethnically mixed group, feel secure enough that many don't lock their doors, Flen said. Children play in the narrow streets. Flen's hopeful something will come along that will save the town, whose population has dwindled to 565, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates for 1998. Maybe if the old row of beehive ovens were restored, it would draw tourists, she said. "We're not dead. People just have to travel a little further to do things," she said ...


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