TOWER HILL NO. 2, PA


Tower Hill No. 2 coal mine / coke yard / patch town was constructed by the Tower Hill-Connellsville Coke Company in 1907. Here is one of the company-built homes that has survived to the present day.

Donna Fell lived in Tower Hill No. 2 as a child. We are fortunate enough that she has shared her memories with us:

" I lived in a company house on Chestnut Street in Tower Hill #2. My father was a coal miner and we lived in one of those gray wood company houses across from the coke dumps. I was born in 1949 and I don’t have any real recall of the mines being operational. I have a slight recollection of the smoke and dirt from the coke ovens being heavy in the air. This memory is vague. My brother tells me that the mining company was Frick. He is a few years older than I.

"My parents were born in Western PA, met and married and then moved to Cleveland, OH. My Father enlisted in the Marine Corp during World War 2. He didn’t have to serve but he wanted to do his part for our country. He fought in Okinawa and then went on to China after the war ended. When my Father returned, they moved back to western PA and settled in Tower Hill #2 where my Father worked in the mines. My brother and I came along in 1947 and 1949.

"We lived in a company house which was a duplex, and the wood was not painted – the house was a gray weathered board structure. We did have running water but we did not have an indoor bathroom. Our bathing was done in a galvanized tub that was taken into the living room of the house and we would bathe there. This tub also served as our swimming pool during the summer months. We were a clean and neat family, and we would wash every day in a large basin in the kitchen sink. We lived in one side of this house and the other side was vacant. There was a front porch but the back porch had fallen off and I don’t have any recollection of it ever being there. There was a door that would have led out to it but there was a sofa in front of the door so that we would not simply walk out and fall to the ground. The outhouse was located fairly near the house and there was a wood walkway up to the structure. I remember when it was time for the 'honey dipper' to come and clean it out – what a horrific smell that was.

"Across from our house was a dirt patch where we would dig a hole and have potato roasts. These potatoes would be wrapped in foil and dropped onto the open fire – so very good. Beyond this dirt patch and heading to the coke dumps was an area that served as the trash dump. This was at the base of one of the coke dumps. To the right of this coke dump was an open area where the kids in the neighborhood would meet and play baseball.

"There were a lot of children in the town and we spent so much time together playing all sorts of games: Ring Around the Old Man’s Back, Hot Potato, Dodge Ball, Hide and Seek. We would bike ride and play tag. My Father made a makeshift playground in our yard and the neighborhood kids would come by and play for hours. He also built us a man made pond and stocked it with fish for us to have some other activity. This was located on my grandparents' property.

"They lived just across the alley from us and their house was much more upscale than ours. It was shingled and they had an indoor bath. There was also a barnyard on their property where we would have our chickens, ducks a cow and two goats. At one point we also had a pig, but it was the runt of some litter that came from somewhere – I don’t recall. But we made it a pet so it never become food for us. Not so for the ducks and chickens – those were a food source. The goats were milked and that’s what we drank.

"There was a barn of sorts located in the barnyard and my mother and grandmother had a device in there where they would make rag rugs. They would strip material and sew the strips together and make large balls of material. They would then go the loom, I guess. It was a large wooden device held up by many heavy strings and they would roll the balls of material to and fro and then move that large wooden 'loom' back and forth and create rag rugs. We were poor, just as was everyone else in this town.

"We walked to school, Central School, which is now gone. There was one store that I can recall - it was called Roadman’s. My father gave us 25 cents a week, and we would stop into this store and buy a popsicle on the hot days walking back from school. During the school day, there would be a milk break and bottles of chocolate or white milk would be brought to each classroom and the students would line up for their milk. On the walk home from school on very hot days, there would be tar bubbles on the road and we would make certain to walk and burst each and every one of them.

"During the summer months, the older kids in town would go to the tobacco fields in Connecticut to make money for the summer. My sister went and when my brother was old enough, he went as well. I never did go. Being the youngest, I was always rather protected, and I had a horrific fear of spiders. Seems that there were spiders in the fields and the tents and kids would be fined if they killed them. I would be teased by my family saying that if I went to the fields, I would end up coming home with a bill rather than a pay check – knowing I would kill any spider I came across. Really, though, I was always rather shy and tied to those apron strings. The strings were cut a few summers when my Mother went to Connecticut to supervise the girls’ living quarters. During those few years, I would be sent to stay with my sister in Virginia.

"When the mines closed my father would drive his old panel truck to Ohio where he lived in a tent in the back yard of a man for whom he worked doing odd jobs. My mother would sew clothes for people and would use the left over fabric to make my clothes. I loved my clothes. She did get a job at the school working as a cook, and I loved that she was so close by while I was in class. The cooks worked hard doing everything by hand. They even would make breakfast and each child would be able to have oatmeal and toast in the morning. I had a job at school, I was in charge of answering the school phone when the principal was out of his office. My reward for this was additional tickets for rides during the yearly school trek to Kennywood.

"I recall going to Kennywood at a very early age. The most vivid recollection was when I was 9 or so and was with my mother, playing a game where I won a ceramic elephant with 'diamond' eyes. I still have this elephant and plan on keeping it always.

"I recall us receiving surplus food up at the firehouse on Fridays. I don’t remember how often this would be, but the recollection is that there would be a fish fry and the people would gather and food would be distributed based on family size. We would get powdered milk, powdered eggs, canned beef, cheese and butter. Thank goodness for the goat’s milk because I would never drink that powdered milk.

"The firehouse was much bigger than it is today. My brother tells me that the old firehouse has burned down. Back then there was a hall and that is where the ladies auxiliary would meet. My Mother was very involved in this, and I would go with her while she led the meetings. Some of my friends would also be there accompanying their mothers so it was great fun. Sometimes there were bingo games held in this hall and we would help by passing out the corn that was used as board markers.

"Halloween was another wonderful time. Everyone at school would come in costume and then we would have a parade through town. Christmas was another special time. The movie theater in Republic would have a special show for the kids and we would all get small boxes of candy which included some of that ribbon candy from the Redstone company. Also chocolates. I think that company is still operational.

"Our family was a mix of cultures. My grandfather was from Lebanon and my grandmother was from Austria. These were my mother’s parents, and the ones who lived across the alley from us. My father’s parents were born in the US, but his heritage was Scotch, Irish, English and Northern Italian. Our food consisted of such a mixture of tastes. We used words that, until I moved away, I didn’t realize were unusual. We called the older women in town 'studdabubbas', our scarves were 'babushkas', and we ate foods like 'hulupkas, cusa, shish barak, pasta fazul, porridge.'

"My father would return from Ohio on Friday’s and we would sit on the porch and look to the hill in the horizon waiting to see who could spot the truck first. Once we saw the truck my brother and I would run up the hill to meet him and we would ride on the running board down the street to our home. When he was home we did family things – played board games, went for ice cream, went on fishing trips. I recall going to a place called Ten Mile Creek where we would play in the water and have so much fun. I recall a time when there was a problem with the general water supply and we had to go to the mountains with containers and collect water to drink.

"One day my friend, who lived a few streets away, came to school and told me that her house had been damaged by fire and she and her family had to move. My father and mother decided that she and her family would move into the other side of our house, and they went to her parents and made the invitation. My parents fixed the other side of our house into a comfortable place, and they moved in, and my parents worked along side hers to repair the damage to their home. They lived with us for a few months, and while they were there, I learned all about polk salad and would help my friend, Edna Mae, go out and gather polk which I always simply thought was a weed – not to be eaten.

"My parents had a goal to move us out of Tower Hill #2 so that we would have opportunities for a better life. They scrimped and saved and in 1964 they realized their dream and ours, as well. We moved to a small town in Ohio. Our new house was white with black shutters, and located right on Main Street, and it had a bathroom. The tub was a footed one – very quaint and much in demand today. We also had a phone. From there our family did better and better financially and we prospered. Life went on, we were happy and healthy and had all of the conveniences that were not available in PA. My father found a regular job, and my mother secured a job with the Ohio State Extension Office. My father passed away when he was 79 and my mother lived to 93. My sister left this earth at 67.

"I retired in December and decided to take a trip back to Tower Hill just a month ago. My goal was to collect a piece of coke from the dumps that were located across the street from our house – wanted to put it in the yard of my new home in North Carolina. The trip was bittersweet. First off, couldn’t find Tower Hill #2 on my GPS. Ended up in Republic and I did recall some of the boarded up stores. (My Grandfather owned the movie theater in Republic well before I was ever born. Lost it during the depression.) I found my way to Tower Hill #2 and had a difficult time remembering where our street was but, ultimately, I found it. There was actually a street sign – none when we lived there. The house was gone – nothing but grass and rocks. The house next door is still owned by the family who lived next to us way back when. The coke dumps were GONE. No piece of coke for me. Bittersweet Memories…..Actually, I want to go back one more time. I am so thankful for my parents and their strength in moving us from the destitute town of Tower Hill #2. It was necessary to get out, but the memories of my life in Tower Hill #2 are warm and fulfilling, and those early years helped form who I am today. I feel fortunate in many, many ways."


Ruins of the Tower Hill No. 2 coal mine and coke yard still existed in 1996, when HAER workers took these pictures:


Ruins of the lamp house.


What remained of a fan house.


Inside the fan house was the circular opening where a fan used to be located.


Crumbling generator house.


Like many other mines/patches in the Klondike Coal Field, Tower Hill 2 had beehive coke ovens.


Several years after the beehive ovens were constructed, the company also added these rectangular style coke ovens to the Tower Hill No. 2 operations.


Looking through a rectangular oven.

1996 photos taken by Mary Ebeling, Allison Rachleff, and Wanda Panish.


The Tower Hill No. 2 coal mine closed due to exhausted reserves just after World War 2. Then trucks brought coal to the ovens for a few years, until these were closed down as well. Today the mine buildings and coke ovens have been demolished, and the coal and coke dumps have been reclaimed. Yet, a small population still resides in the Tower Hill No. 2 patch town.



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