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Sign lays out coal, coke history in Morgan Valley

Patrick Varine
| Sunday, Aug. 6, 2017, 10:00 p.m.
A sign provides details about historic coal and coke mines in the Morgan Valley area near the former Broadford distillery on the banks of the Youghiogheny River in Connellsville Township, Fayette County.
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A sign provides details about historic coal and coke mines in the Morgan Valley area near the former Broadford distillery on the banks of the Youghiogheny River in Connellsville Township, Fayette County.
Workers wait for a load of coal during the height of the region’s coal and coke boom.
Submitted
Workers wait for a load of coal during the height of the region’s coal and coke boom.
Once the site of a gristmill and distillery, this six-floor brick building is now a museum that houses the many treasures and stories of the West Overton Village, and any photos from any era of the village's history are welcomed.
MARILYN FORBES | FOR THE TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Once the site of a gristmill and distillery, this six-floor brick building is now a museum that houses the many treasures and stories of the West Overton Village, and any photos from any era of the village's history are welcomed.

The proponents of a grant-funded research project into the history of coal and coke mines in the Connellsville Coke Region are hoping it will draw additional attention — and possibly additional miles of trail — to the area.

“This is where Henry Clay Frick began his empire,” researcher Cassandra Vivian said of the site where the sign now stands.

West Overton Village and Museum — in partnership with the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, its Bureau of Recreation and Conservation, the Environmental Stewardship Fund, Jacobs Creek Watershed Association and Rivers of Steel Heritage Corp. — has finished the research and installed sign­age showing details about historic coal and coke mines in the Morgan Valley area.

Erected near the former distillery on the banks of the Youghiogheny River, the sign outlines some of the industrial history of the Morgan Valley, which runs northeast for roughly 10 miles to the banks of Jacobs Creek in Everson.

“You can actually see the distillery behind the sign,” said West Overton Village administrative coordinator Aleasha Monroe. “The coal and coke ovens are no longer there, but you can kind of envision what it would have looked like when they were active.”

West Overton is the birthplace of Henry Clay Frick, who at one point owned most of the mines and ovens in the valley.

Vivian, who lives in Mt. Pleasant, moved to the area in 2007 and quickly found a dearth of information about an industry that was crucial to the United States' success.

“The whole coal and coke industry began in the Morgan Valley,” Vivian said. “The people responsible for it in the early mines — names like Frick, Schoonemaker and Rainey — were the start of the coal bonanza that took place.”

Western Pennsylvania, she said, was a major destination for immigrants arriving in the United States between 1870 and 1920.

“It was either for the coal mines or the steel mills,” she said.

Vivian is hopeful that a third grant application will come through from the Fayette County Cultural Trust to continue her research.

“I'd like to delve deeper into who all these people were, and what their roles were,” she said.

She is also hopeful that in the future, the existing Coal and Coke Trail of Westmoreland County will be extended across the Youghiogheny, where it would meet up with the Great Allegheny Passage and increase access to this local history.

“If they come through there, it would be wonderful,” she said.

The Coal and Coke Trail runs from Mt. Pleasant to Mildred Street, just outside Scottdale.

Patrick Varine is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-850-2862, pvarine@tribweb.com or via Twitter @MurrysvilleStar.

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