The Grubal family from left to right: (top row) Anna, Veronica, Julia; (middle row) Anna, Imro Jarishinsky, Barbara, Andrew, Anna; and (bottom row) Katherine, Andrew and Shophia. 1905 Slovakia.
Learn a little about the early days of the coal and coke region in the excerpt from Patch/Work Voices: The Culture and Lore of a Mining People.
In the eighteenth century, groups of English, Welsh, Scotch-Irish, and German settlers crossed the Alleghenies and settled at the foot of the mountains. They hunted, fished, and farmed the land, and they tamed it. They built their towns—Beeson Town (later Uniontown), Connellsville, Brownsville. They lived off the land and the earth waited. Industrial growth came to the area via its transportation network—the National Road, the Youghiogheny and Monongahela Rivers. Iron ore was discovered and iron furnaces sprang up.
And the people diversified.
They farmed and mined and smelted. The Civil War came and went, and industrialization became a powerful force. Power was needed for the machines. Stronger materials were needed to make the machines, and the earth waited. The early inhabitants of the area farmed, mined iron ore and smelted, but coal was in the earth. Coal was a form of power and the earth became restless. Some decided to use the earth’s power and to mine its coal, not for domestic purpose, as early families in the area had always done, but for industrial purposes. It was discovered that this coal, the coal of the Pittsburgh seam, particularly in the Connellsville region, was extremely good for coking and steel making.
And so it began.
To relieve the earth of its coal, people were needed, and the original inhabitants were too few in number for the largeness of the task. The word went out, and the migration from the corners of the Western world to this area began. It was a migration which would take decades for completion and which would bring together an array of differing peoples.
They came here, from the late 1800s on, for a variety if reasons—to be with families, to provide for the necessities of life, to ensure better social conditions, but above all they came because of a need, because of a desire for better economic opportunities for themselves and for their families. They came—more English, more Welsh, more Irish, more Scotch, more Germans. They came—the Slovaks, the Poles, the Yugoslavians, the Russians, the Hungarians, the Ruthenians, the Italians, the Blacks. They all came to work within the earth, and they stayed.
Through the years these people adapted to a new existence and, in the process, produced a culture, which was a unique blend of ethnic and industrial attitudes, customs, and practices of both Europe and America. Their lives have become a part of the history of the bituminous coal industry, and it seems only fitting that an attempt be made to chronicle a few of their stories.
And so the earth and the people—of necessity—came together here in southwestern Pennsylvania. The people mined, they lived, they fought, they laughed, they struggled, they died, and they preserved in this land.
—Patch/Work Voices: The Culture and Lore of a Mining People, 1977.
“We are fast losing our foreign population in these towns — one generation — and they are American through and through. Yet the word foreign is a misnomer. It is true only insofar as the endings of names trace a line back to the shores of Western Europe and Central Europe.” (Success Magazine, 1924)