Among those soot covered faces in the left photo, above, is my grandfather, Gust Doyle. He's standing in the center of the back row. It's nigh on impossible to recognize him compared to the photo on the right but I was assured by his daughter that indeed, that is Gust. Of the two photos, I believe he was younger in the #7 Mine photo.
I've never been into or observed the workings of a coal mine but in my brain float images of a dark and dangerous environment with the sounds of hammering, pounding, and explosions. I imagine dirt and grit from head to toe, and the darkness of night all day. The scrubbing that must have been required to clean one's skin upon returning above-ground surely turned it pink or red, or possibly raw! And how did they live without sunshine?!
The mines in Stoneboro and the rest of Mercer County, Pennsylvania, were sources of bituminous coal, less hard than anthracite, but no less dirty and dangerous to mine. As far as I know, none of my direct-line ancestors were in mine accidents but there are several Doyles and Fromans listed on the Pennsylvania USGW Archives of Mine Accidents who may be collateral relatives.
In searching for Stoneboro Mine #7 I was hoping for photographs. Instead, GoogleBooks provided Coal Mines by B. H. Rose, a 1910 publication which told me that Mine #7 was operated by the Mercer Iron & Coal Company. The vein was called Brookfield Bed A with a thickness of 4½ feet. It was a shaft mine where both machines and picks were used. Its daily capacity was 700 to 1000 tons. It did not record the number of employees who mined those 700-1000 tons/day. Mine #7 seems to have extracted the largest quantity of coal per day of all the local mines. It was serviced by the Bessemer and Lake Erie Railroad.
I asked Tressa Doyle Wilson, Gust's daughter and my father's half sister, about coal mines and the miners in our family. I knew that my dad grew up on a farm and that he had worked for a while in a coal mine, but I wanted more information. Below is what she told me about a mine on their farm property.
Most of the men in this area were coal miners. They had to walk several miles to and from work. Dad [Gust] and Pap [William Doyle, Gust's father] worked in the mines. This was the main source of income.
The coal mine your Dad [Lee] worked in was in our pasture field. In the late 1920's Dad, Pap and your Dad dug the shaft for the mine. The shaft was 35 feet deep but I don’t know the other dimensions. I’ll never know how they had the knowledge and wisdom to know there might be coal at the bottom of the shaft they were digging. They had to keep shoring the sides to keep it from caving in. Also had to build a ladder for ascending and descending. There wasn’t any heavy equipment at that time – they had to do all the digging by hand. They struck coal at 35 feet. They built a tipple and a building for the hoist what would bring the loaded coal cars up the shaft to be emptied in the bins and returned to the bottom of the shaft. Your Dad helped with all of this. [Lee was born in 1913 and would have been 15 in 1928.]
Until the coal mine was in operation our main source of income was from the milk we sold. When we started to sell coal I’m sure the income from it was almost as good as the income from the cows.
Digging a coal mine by hand would have been a huge, labor-intensive undertaking. I have a hard time imagining how it would be done, considering that I have trouble digging a 2' hole for a plant. I think digging a small mine with only a few miners would have required courage, steadiness, and extreme care to succeed.
Other coal miners among my ancestors:
Andrew Doyle, Gust's grandfather, was a miner in Northumberland, England, in the mid-1850s and '60s. He came to America to find work in 1869, when he was 32, because, wrote Tressa, "the mines in England were being mined out - making it difficult to earn a living." He settled in Mercer County, Pennsylvania. His wife and children came one year later. Andrew eventually owned a small mining store in Stoneboro.
William Doyle, Gust's father and Andrew's son, was 7 when he arrived in the U.S. It is possible that he worked in the mines in England but I believe that laws had been put into effect by then preventing children from working in the mines until they were 10 years old. He may have worked in the mines in Stoneboro as a youth. It is certain he worked in the mines as an adult.
Abel Armitage, my maternal great-grandfather, was born in Bradford, Yorkshire, England in 1821. Sometime between 1851 and 1861 he began working at the Trimdon Colliery in Durham. He immigrated to the U.S. in 1863 or 1864 and worked as a coal miner in the Steubenville area of Jefferson County, Ohio. The 1870 and 1880 census records both record him as a coal miner but by 1880 he was disabled. Perhaps he was injured in a mine accident. He died sometime after 1880, though I can find no record of his death.
John Froman/Frohman is my paternal grandmother's father. He appears in the 1870 U.S. census living in West Salem Township, Mercer County, Pennsylvania. From what I can gather, he passed away in 1872 but I have been unable to find information about his death or an exact date of death. Until I learn more, I will wonder if he died in a coal mine accident.
It is hard for me to imagine being a coal miner or living in a coal mining community. I wonder how, after an 8- or 10- or 12-hour day in the mine, my grandfather Gust was able to do the work necessary to keep the farm going. How did he manage in the winter when the days were were short and he and missed most of the daylight hours? I'm grateful for his work ethic and that it's been passed down through several generations.
Below are some postcard photographs of coal mining in eastern Pennsylvania where anthracite was mined. (Click on any of them to see them larger.) They were uploaded to Flickr by j3net and are on her Photostream where she has additional coal mining images.