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Salute to King Coal 2018

  • 16 news coal kickoff.jpg
    Volunteers Jan LeVan of Tamaqua and Scott Herring of Hellertown display the logo to be used for the 250th anniversary of anthracite coal, set for 2018. DALE FREUDENBERGER/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS
Published July 16. 2016 09:03AM

Celebrating the anniversary of coal is a tricky business.

That’s because there are many different interpretations of its history.

If you ask 10 historians for the history of coal, you’re likely to hear 10 different stories.

But there’s a move afoot to launch the 250th anniversary of coal in 2018, predicated on the first successful industrial use of anthracite, according to historian and marketing strategist Scott Herring, Tamaqua native now of Hellertown. Herring, a geologist, has spent nearly 50 years capturing images of Pennsylvania’s coal regions in black-and-white and color photography.

In general terms, 2018 would be a key year, says Herring, because it marks “the foundation of the continuity of hard coal.”

Earliest use

The first known use of anthracite coal dates back 1750 when a Native American brought some to a gunsmith in Nazareth to supplant an exhausted supply of charcoal.

Between 1750 and 1755, anthracite coal was being used in the Wyoming Valley. During the Revolutionary War it was sent down the Susquehanna River to be used by the arsenal at Carlisle.

Obadiah Gore of Nazareth used anthracite coal in his blacksmith forge. Some historical accounts list that date as 1768, in others it took place “by 1769.”

When it comes to the exact date, “nobody knows for sure,” says Herring. “The date has been in dispute.”

A Wyoming Valley land purchase was made from the Native Americans to pursue anthracite, making way for the first coal towns, among them Plymouth, Pittston and Kingston.

In 1791, pioneer Philip Ginder (also Ginter, Ginther) examined some black rocks at the site of present-day Summit Hill as he returned from a hunting trip.

But by then, anthracite coal already had served many purposes. Indians were known to have used lumps of coal in their campfires in the 1600s; records indicate the use of anthracite coal in forging arms for the Continental Army at Carlisle’s government arsenal in 1775.

A Wilkes-Barre blacksmith used coal in his forge in 1769 and it was burned in the city’s Fell Tavern fireplace as early as 1808.

So, while the actual discovery and discoverer of coal will remain nebulous in the annals of history, the adaptation of its industrial uses and its ultimate impact on the growth of a nation and its people is accurately recorded.

Discoveries

In the Blue Book of Schuylkill County, 1916, written and published byElla Zerbey Elliott, the author names co-discoverers: “About 1790 and 1791, Nicho (also Necho) Allen, who lived on Big Spring on the Summit of Broad Mountain, and Phillip Ginther of Lehigh County and one Tomlinson of Northumberland County, all three discovered coal, through the uprooting of trees, and as the legend goes, ignited it to warm themselves by it while out hunting.”

(Elliott was referring to Isaac Tomlinson of Shamokin.)

The tales go on and on. The important thing, say organizers of the 250th milestone, is to get everybody on the same page, from Tamaqua to Scranton.

“We want to get everybody kicking it off,” says Herring.

“I’ve already contacted over 200 organizations from my list of 1,200.”

First steps

A logo already has been designed by Matt Leavens of Kulpmont, an art teacher at Lourdes Regional High School.

His design, called “Battle of the Thick-Heads,” incorporates the image of a miner struggling with a mule as it hauls a loaded coal car.

The term thickheads, says Herring, is a salute to the pride and stubborn determination of the strong-willed people of coal country.

Leavens visited the No. 9 Mine and Museum in Lansford on July 10, with friend and former miner Daryl Hartman of Coal Township. Leavens said he’s honored to be part of the upcoming salute.

“I think it’s great to keep the history alive,” Leavens said.

The ninth annual Coal Miners Heritage Festival served notice that plans will be formulated for a gala regional celebration.

“We will be urging all organizations to get involved,” says No. 9 Mine and Museum volunteer Jan LeVan of Tamaqua. LeVan said the focus will be on heritage and the hardworking people who contributed to our quality of life.

“If you have someone in your family who was involved with mining, come out to the events,” which will honor a group that included “some of the most patriotic of those immigrants. They fought in WWI, World War II and Vietnam.”

Herring says a timetable of events will be announced.

LeVan, a board member at the No. 9 Mine, says she’d like to see a local festival dedicated to the anniversary.

“We’d invite those from Lackawanna, Luzerne and the Hazleton area, all of the historical societies.

The strength of the celebration will rely on participation from folks living in or associated with the hard coal fields of eastern Pennsylvania.

Organizers believe it can be a uniting force.

“There’s unity in community,” LeVan says.

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