Connellsville Coke Region research project seeks mine workers’ stories |
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Patrick Varine
Above, the Alverton Mine tipple and modern coke ovens. Alverton had the last remaining coke ovens operating in the United States. They were shut down by new pollution laws in 1982.

If your father or grandfather worked in a mine in the Connellsville Coke Region, researcher Cassandra Vivian wants to hear his story.

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,” said Vivian, who researched coal and coke production in the Morgan Valley this past summer. “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.”

Additional grant funding from the Rivers of Steel Heritage Corporation now paves the way for the next phase of research.

“The builders and owners were only part of the story. Average people built the mines, extracted the coal, and turned it into coke,” she said in a release announcing the next round of research.

Vivian and project officials will host a series of meetings during the next two years to explore the local stories of mine workers and their families who lived and worked between 1860 and 1920.

The first phase of research was completed under the Jacob’s Creek Watershed Association, and a second phase under the Westmoreland Fayette Historical Society. This third phase will fall under the Fayette County Cultural Trust.

Vivian has been the project director and researcher for all three projects. The entire project is in partnership with the Rivers of Steel Heritage Area, and funding was provided in part from the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Bureau of Recreation and Conservation, Environmental Stewardship Fund, administered by the Rivers of Steel Heritage Corporation.

Anyone interested can contact Vivian at 724-542-4949.

Patrick Varine is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-850-2862, [email protected] or via Twitter @MurrysvilleStar.

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