August 26, 2009

A Look At the Upper Monongahela by Richard Bissell

Brownsville Pa. Looking south

A description of the towns and sights along the Monongahela River from Brownsville to Fairmont in the late 1940s, written by the pilot of the towboat COAL QUEEN:

You would never think, to walk the streets of Brownsville today, that the town is old and filled with history and legend. Monongahela Valley towns just do not look the part as do Lexington and Concord and Portsmouth and Gloucester and Boston and Philadelphia. For famous Redstone Old Fort, now Brownsville, is another "industrial town," and aside from the Greek Revival, postColonial Playford House on Second and Market Streets, little romance is visible.
Colonel James Burd selected the site of Redstone Old Fort in 1758 because of the presence there of an early Indian fortification, and built his stockade. In 1785 Thomas and Basil Brown founded the town, which in the years to follow played an important part in the westward movement. It was at Brownsville that the weary emigrants saw the end of their toilsome struggle over the mountains and took to the calm waters of the Monongahela for the next lap of their journey. As the steamboat rose to fame and fortune on the western waters and industrial activity in the valley grew, the Brownsville-Pittsburgh trade developed. Even before the slack-water system had been completed to Brownsville in 1844, there were about two hundred steamboat arrivals annually at Pittsburgh from upriver points. After the locks and dams went into service, there was a daily packet line between Pittsburgh and Brownsville.
There is an old iron bridge in Brownsville that I inspected one time when we were laid up in drydock out at the Hillman shipyard. This bridge is on Market Street near Bank, and it has a tablet on it which says it is the first iron bridge west of the Alleghenies. It was apparently built in the period 1836-1839 of iron forged in Iocal furnaces. Before this bridge was built, Henry Clay's carriage overturned near this spot, dumping the great man into Dunlap's Creek. They say that Clay "gathered himself up with the remark that Clay and mud should not be mixed in that place again." Clay then returned to Washington to his senator's post and shortly afterwards an order was issued for the construction in Brownsville of an "iron span, carrying the road high above the stream."

Maxwell Lock looking south

After we go under the Brownsville Highway Bridge, height 50.2 feet above low water, span 386 feet, we come to Dam 5, and after locking through, we pass the Alicia Marine Ways of the Hillman Company and then are pretty much out in the country, except for coal mines and tipples at regular intervals. There's Vesta tipple and Frick Mine Light, Fox Mine Light and the H. C. F. Coke Company tipple, Vestaburg and Fredericktown and the bend around to Tenmile Creek, and Emerald Tipple, Pumpkin Run, Klein's Sawmill Light, Crucible Fuel Company tipple, and Light, Weirton Steel Company tipple, National Steel Corporation Pier, Buckeye Coal Company tipple, Browns Run, Little Whiteley Creek, Robena Mine Light and tipple, Pittsburgh Steel tipple, Duquesne Light Company tipple, Jacobs Creek, and then around the bend to Dam 7.

Vesta 5 Tipple looking south

Below Dam 7 are Greensboro on the starboard side, and New Geneva on port. New Geneva boasts a population of 410 souls, more or less, and was named for the native city of its famous early settler, Albert Gallatin. Gallatin came to this country without friends or influence, and by the sheer power of his personality and ability (and despite the handicap of a monumental French accent) achieved appointment as a member of the President's Cabinet within ten years of his arrival. A man of many talents, Gallatin served in the Revolutionary War, then became a French instructor at Harvard. Later he journeyed to Richmond on business and there became an intimate of Governor Patrick Henry, who advised him to go west to the wild lands of opportunity out by the Monongahela. Gallatin settled in Fayette County, a few miles from New Geneva and in a short time established the first glassworks west of the Alleghenies. In 1789 he built Friendship Hill, a 2 1/2-story, ivy-covered residence, still standing and open to the public.He began to enter local politics, filling several state and federal posts, and in 1801 was appointed secretary of the treasury by President Jefferson. He served in this post during both of Jefferson's presidential terms, the.whole of President Madison's first term, and until February, 1814, in the second, something of a record in Cabinet tenure. After retirement from the Cabinet this energetic adopted son of the new Republic held several diplomatic posts and finally, between 1831 and 1839 was president of the National Bank of New York.
Patrick Henry said Albert Gallatin was one of the most extraordinary men he had ever seen. He was surely of keen intellectual powers and magnificent ability in political and diplomatic affairs--the model statesman. At Friendship Hill the dignified retirement of Gallatin was embellished in 1825 by a visit from "his long tried, his bosom friend," the Marquis de Lafayeffe. Of this sumptuous affair an old Monongahelite, James Veech (writing in 1858), said: "Who that was there can ever forget the 'feast of reason'--and other good things, and the 'flow of soul'-and champagne? The like of which old Springhill [Township] had never seen--may never see again."

In the five miles upriver from New Geneva to Point Marion, where the Cheat River enters the Monongahela, no less than five coal tipples are busy dumping Pennsylvania coal into waiting barges. Point Marion has a large glassworks and a sand and gravel company which owns a baby Diesel towboat with a steam boiler for operating the steering rig and blowing the whistle, a quaint arrangement unique in my experience.

Morgantown looking east around 1928

Around a few bends and beyond more tipples, Morgantown rises on the hills to port. Ah, Morgantown, with your glass factories and coal mines and spaghtetti at Capellanti's and houses all peeling from chemical fumes in the air! On Saturday nights in spring the boys and girls from the University of West Virginia, perched up on the hill at the end of Main Street, mingle on the sidewalks down by the courthouse with coal miners and fanners and glassworkers. To us on the Coal Queen, Morgantown was everything, our metropolis--the hot bath, the glass of Tube City beer, the lump-in-throat in the movies, the Girl, paradise, purgatory--we knew them all in Morgantown. But Morgantown knew little of us. Steamboaters, with their excitable and noisy ways, are not invited to tea parties. I can call every bartender and short-order waitress in town by name but the mayor and I have yet to shake hands. Above Morgantown the Monongahela is a beautiful narrow stream running between high hills--"mountains," we always called them. The locks are small, the traffic is light, and there is a friendly intimacy benveen boat crews and lock tenders. The locks are so close that in a six-hour watch you might make seven or eight locks. After a few months of this, running those locks seemed automatic. That's pretty country up in there from Morgantown to National Mine, and pretty again above Jordan, especially in the spring, when the trees and flowers are all in bloom. And then, half blinded sometimes by the smoke from the railroad yard, we come to Fairmont, and beyond it the "Dark Bridge" (no lights on it), which we all hated, and then there was the point, where the Monongahela ended, a point with a big tree on it, a good mark and easy to pick up with the searchlight on a bad night.

The Monongahela is formed by the West Fork River and the Tygart River, which join here at Fairmont, 128.73 miles south of Pittsburgh. The tipple where we loaded coal was at Kingmont, up the Tygart, two miles above head of navigation on the Monongahela, and we would snake our loads out of there in a river so narrow you could nearly jump across.

Now just imagine, in the old days you could take a good big steamboat from Fairmont, West Virginia, at the headwaters of the Monongahela, down to Cairo, up the Mississippi and Missouri to Fort Benton, Mont.--3,623 miles, or about as far as from the North River in New York to the East India Docks on the Thames at London. In fact the stern-wheeler E. H. Durfee made regular trips between Pittsburgh and Fort Benton in the years 1872 to 1876. Wouldn't that be something, to raise steam amidst the roar of industry on the Monongahela and keep that paddle wheel splashing until you began to run into buffalo and Sioux and the Rocky Mountains ?

This is taken from the book The Monongahela by Richard Bissell, part of the Rivers of America series, Rinehart & Co., Inc., New York, 1952, pp. 70-83. He wrote several outstanding books on towboating and the river life. The accounts are gritty and very realistic. He also wrote several successful Broadway plays including The Pajama Game.

August 24, 2009

About The Dog Labor Photo And A Little More

Here's a little about the image at the top of each page. It is an old undated real photo post card and shows the tipple of a fairly early primitive coal mine. This is the type of mine that was common before the big commercial coal companies came into the area around 1890-1900. Mining coal as a business started as early as 1818 in Fredericktown. This picture likely dates from 1900 or so but the scene would have looked the same at any time from 1820 to the 1920's. The coal wagons are being pulled by large dogs of different breeds. They look to me like a hound of some kind, a Heinz dog and a Labrador . Though worked, these dogs were likely well taken care of, they certainly look healthy. Using dogs instead of mules or horses indicates that the mine is quite a low ( 3-4 feet high ) vein of coal. This type of operation was known as a "dog mine." Those fortunate enough to have a much taller seam of coal on their property would have used mules or horses. A gentleman who seems to be quite well fed stands at attention in the foreground, likely the owner / operator. It's a wonderful image of early labor, showing the miners posing with their cap lamps and tools and the teamsters waiting to load their wagons.
This card was purchased locally some years ago, considering that and looking at the hills in the background I believe this was taken somewhere in Ten Mile Creek Country.

This was a sidebar on the page for several months and when I began to tweak / add to it today I thought it might deserve a post of it's own. It really is a unique image. I searched Google and Bing in vain for another picture of dogs pulling coal wagons. I searched for dog labor, dog coal, dog pulling, dog mine and nothing shows. Even this image does not show, but now that I used all those keywords in the last sentence, it will !

I have recently updated several posts: the Rices Landing one, and the Clarksville Bridges and the Iron Furnace. As I get more photos and information, I will likely add to or modify most every post or even break up some to expand on a subject. For instance, the above Clarksville Bridges and Iron Furnace will become a two separate posts somewhere down the road as the furnace deserves a post of it's own. All the more reason to check back with your favorite ones from time to time.
If you know a little or a lot about some aspect of the area that we all may like to know, please consider sharing it with me. I'd be glad to help you edit or elaborate on it. If any of your old family photos show mines or trains, train stations, boats or old storefronts, bars or hotels, people working or playing, in any Ten Mile towns I would love to see them and share them here. Even if Mamaw or Aunt Eunice is in the foreground it would be of interest. Sometimes the best pictures of a train station are taken on the day Mamaw went to Pittsburgh to get her hip surgery or the day sweet Aunt Eunice and her alcoholic husband finally went back home from their visit.

August 6, 2009

Major Mine Disasters In The Area

Mather Miners Memorial

Robena Monument at Hatfield Ferry


03-06-02 Catsburg Monongahela, Pa. 5 Explosion
11-21-03 Ferguson Connellsville, PA 17 Explosion
07-06-05 Fuller Searight, PA 6 Explosion
10-10-05 Hazelkirk No. 2 Monongahela, PA 2 Explosion
10-13-05 Clyde Fredericktown, PA 6 Fire
10-29-05 Hazel Kirk No. 2 Monongahela, PA 5 Explosion
11-15-05 Braznell Bentleyville, PA 7 Explosion
12-19-07 Darr Jacobs Creek, PA 239 Explosion
11-28-08 Rachel and Agnes Marianna, PA 154 Explosion
03-22-11 Hazel Canonsburg, PA 9 Haulage
07-30-15 Patterson No. 2 Elizabeth, PA 9 Haulage
03-13-17 Henderson No. 1 Henderson, PA 14 Explosion
06-02-20 Ontario Cokeburg, PA 6 Explosion
02-02-22 Gates No. 2 Gates, PA 25 Explosion
07-25-24 Gates No. 1 Brownsville, PA 10 Explosion
04-02-27 No. 53 Cokeburg, PA 6 Explosion
05-19-28 Mather No. 1 Mather, PA 195 Explosion
06-07-44 Emerald Clarksville, PA 6 Fire
03-12-45 Crucible Crucible, PA 5 Roof/Bump
09-23-57 Marianna No. 58 Marianna, PA 6 Explosion
12-06-62 Robena No. 3 Carmichaels, PA 37 Explosion

11-20-68 No. 9 Farmington W.Va. 78 Explosion
07-22-72 Blacksville No. 1 Blacksville, W. Va. 9 Fire

Consider that these listed are only the major accidents in the area. Many others died daily in the mines. In 1907 Pennsylvania lost 1614 with 5 disasters alone claiming more than 800 men, the other 800 lives were lost in normal day to day operations.
The high death rate among miners was due, not to spectacular gas explosions but to the steady picking off of workers in slate falls. In the entire US, in the thirty three years ending Jan.1,1939, 27,064 men died from slate falls, only 8,045 from explosions - 77 percent as opposed to 23%. The sudden smothering death of one or two miners at a time was so common it rated a couple lines on page two of the newspaper.
"On..........a slate fall cost the life of ........., an employee at the .........'s .......... mine. There will be a High Requiem Mass at St. .......'s Church on the morning of ......... The deceased leaves a wife and ....... children, etc."

Not too far up the Monongahela at Monongah West Virginia was the largest loss of life in any mine in US history , 362 men died after an explosion tore through Monongah # 6 and 8 on December 6, 1907. Not one man that was in the mine came out and lived.

Greene County Monument on Interstate 79.

The text reads :
On December 6, 1962, 460 Feet Directly Beneath This Site, 37 Miners Lost Their Lives In The U.S. Steel Robena Mine's Frosty Run Explosion. One Of The Worst Mine Disasters In Green County History.
The memorial features a likeness of famous mine labor leader John L. Lewis; on the reverse side is a roll of Greene County Miners. President of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) from 1920 until 1960 and founding president of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), John Llewellyn Lewis was the dominant voice shaping the labor movement in the 1930s. The CIO owed its existence in large measure to Lewis, who was a tireless and effective advocate of industrial unionism and of government assistance in organizing basic industry.
The date of dedication was May 26, 1995.

The Coal Miners Memorial at Bethlehem Center High School, Fredericktown, Pa. Not a disaster memorial but a beautiful statue.