A historical marker honoring those who worked long hours underground,
mining coal, was dedicated Thursday during a ceremony at Penn State
Fayette, The Eberly Campus.
The marker, which will be located on Route
119 near the entrance of the university, reads: "Located in Fayette and
Westmoreland Counties, the region's abundant high quality Pittsburgh vein
coal yielded superior coke, used to smelt iron. This refined form of coal
was produced in beehive ovens from the mid-19th century to the 1970s.
Immigrant and migrant workers who settled here after the Civil War
provided labor for the booming coke industry. Byproduct ovens built near
steel mills eventually rendered beehives obsolete."
administrative officer with the Bureau of Archives and History of the
Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, said historical markers are
a way of remembering the past and honoring those who came before us.
James said today's coal miners may be the "last generation" of traditional
coal miners, noting that technology is changing the way mining is done.
Evelyn Hovanec, associate professor emerita of English and American
Studies, said it's important the coal mining culture is never forgotten.
Hovanec said she was teaching a humanities class in the late 1970's when
she decided to begin researching the coal and coke industry and studying
the lives of coal miners and their families.
"This is, as far as I'm concerned, a very special night," Hovanec said,
referring to the dedication ceremony. "We are acknowledging people who
deserved to be acknowledged a long time ago and never were. This marker
will remind others that something special happened here, and some very
special people lived here."
Hovanec said the country would not have prospered without the rich coal
veins located in, and the superior coke produced in, southwestern
"Pittsburgh, the Steel City, could not have existed," she said.
Fayette County Commissioner Chairwoman Angela Zimmerlink, who attended
Thursday's dedication ceremony, said she hopes the stories of those who
worked in the coal and coke industries are never forgotten.
Zimmerlink said she enjoys hearing stories - some good, some sad - from
those who mined coal.
"You can hear the pride in their voices," Zimmerlink said, noting that she
hopes their stories, and their work ethic, are never forgotten.
Penn State Fayette Chancellor Emmanuel Osagie said people are, for better
or worse, a product of their history.
"There's a saying that says when you forget your history you begin to
perish," he said, noting that the culture of the Connellsville Coke Region
must be preserved. "The more you understand your history, the better you
can live and work together."
Joseph A. Sbaffoni, chief of the Bituminous Mine Safety Division of the
Bureau of Deep Mine Safety, said generation after generation of
southwestern Pennsylvanians entered the mines in order to provide for
Sbaffoni said his grandfather arrived here from Italy in 1906 and entered
"My father followed his father into the mines, as I followed him,"
Thursday's dedication ceremony kicked off a three-day conference at the
university that will focus on coal mining.
The conference, entitled "Living Together, Working Together:
African-American Miners and the Coal Culture of Southwestern Pennsylvania,
1870-1970," is being sponsored by Penn State Fayette's Coal and Coke
Heritage Center and the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.
Pamela Seighman, curator of the Coal and Coke Heritage Center, said the
purpose of the conference is to bring together interested scholars and
citizens in an effort to explore the cultural and ethnic history of miners
and their families in the bituminous coalfields of southwestern
Pennsylvania and the surrounding regions.
The conference will run through Saturday. A schedule of events can be
found at www.coalandcokepsu.org
09:52:01 AM EDT
Herald Standard 2007