Marker Dedicated To Local Miners

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Friday, March 16, 2007
Historical marker dedicated to local miners
By Rebekah Sungala, Herald-Standard
03/16/2007

Contributed by Chris Valentovich

(From left) Pamela Seighman, Elaine DeFrank and Karen James, administrative officer for Bureau of Archive and History of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, unveil the Connellsville Coke Region Historical Marker at Swimmer Hall at Penn State Fayette, The Eberly Campus. Hidden behind the sign is Dr. Evelyn Hovanec, associate professor of English and American Studies, emerita director of the Coal and Coke Heritage Center. Ed Cope/Herald-Standard

(From left) Pamela Seighman, Elaine DeFrank and Karen James, administrative officer for Bureau of Archive and History of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, unveil the Connellsville Coke Region Historical Marker at Swimmer Hall at Penn State Fayette, The Eberly Campus. Hidden behind the sign is Dr. Evelyn Hovanec, associate professor of English and American Studies, emerita director of the Coal and Coke Heritage Center. Ed Cope/Herald-Standard

 


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."

Karen James, 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 Pennsylvania.

"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 their families.

Sbaffoni said his grandfather arrived here from Italy in 1906 and entered the mines.

"My father followed his father into the mines, as I followed him," Sbaffoni said.

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
 

Updated 03/16/2007 09:52:01 AM EDT

ŠThe Herald Standard 2007

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