by Polla Horn
for The Frostburg Express
The power of water: Jenkins, Whiteman, & Thomas
Edward Jenkins, the son of Philip and Annie Jenkins, was born on April 11, 1878 in Bedwas, Monthmouthshire, Wales. Edward came to the United States with his family aboard the SS Ohio on October 3, 1881. The family of seven settled in Frostburg, where he and his brothers became coal miners. Edward married his wife, Leora, in 1903. They had four children: James, born in 1904; Richard, born in 1905; Roy, born in 1906; and Blanche, born in 1907. Edward, along with his father, Philip, Sr., and his brothers, William, James, and Philip, Jr., completed the construction of the Hoffman Drainage Tunnel in 1906. This engineering triumph helped to improve the working conditions of many miners, possibly saving lives. Edward Jenkins died in 1934. His wife, Leora, died fifteen years later in 1949. They are buried in Frostburg Memorial Park.
John Thomas Whiteman was born on September 30, 1895, in Lonaconing, MD. He was the son of James Whiteman and Eliza Green Whiteman, and the eldest of their eight children. He signed a draft registration on June 15, 1917; he was 21 years old, unmarried, and working at New Central Coal Company near Lonaconing. He was described as being of medium height and build, with dark brown hair and brown eyes. He married Olla Durst on June 10, 1918 and they became the parents of five children: Ruth, born in 1919; Cecil, born in 1921; Earl, born in 1922; Carl, born in 1925; and Don, born in 1926. The family lived on Beechwood Street in Lonaconing. John died in 1934. Olla became a widow, with five children under the age of fifteen, when she was only 35 years old. She buried her husband in Laurel Hill Cemetery and joined him there 47 years later on October 15, 1981.
William Hurst Reed Thomas was born June 9, 1872. Our research has not identified his parents or siblings. He married Jessie V. Albright in 1900, and they lived in Borden Shaft. After moving to Frostburg, their five children were born: Carl, born in 1902; Margaret, born in 1904; Annie, born in 1906; Nellie, born in 1909; and Emma, born in 1915. As was the situation in so many of our mining families, William’s son Carl joined his father at a young age, working as a laborer in the mines. Their daughter Margaret died in 1926 at the young age of twenty-two. William’s beloved wife Jessie died in 1933, followed a year later by William himself in 1934. They are buried in Frostburg Memorial Park.
Edward Jenkins, John Thomas Whiteman, and William Hurst Reed Thomas had several things in common: all three were coal miners, married, and parents of several children. All three worked together and died together at the Bowery Furnace Mine of the McNitt Coal Company. Mr. Jenkins was the mine foreman, and Mr. Thomas and Mr. Whiteman were assistant foremen. On November 16, 1934, they were discussing how to extend a side-track switch in the second south heading with Superintendent James Jenkins (brother of Edward Jenkins,) electrician Edward Horton, laborer Henry Glime, and laborer Simeon Whiteman (brother of John Whiteman.) When they decided to break for lunch, four of the men left the area. Edward Jenkins and William Thomas remained, continuing the conversation while standing along the right hand rib. John Whiteman also remained, and, while standing on the left hand rib, sounding the roof, a 30 foot long, 10 foot wide, and 2 ½ foot thick fall instantly killed all three men.
The Bowery Furnace Mine had been previously owned by the Piedmont and Georges Creek Coal Company. The McNitt Coal Company took a lease on the property in October of 1932, and began shipping coal in 1933. After leasing the mine, the McNitt Company began replacing some of the old rotted timbers with forty pound steel rails used as cross bars. These steel bars were found bent and mangled, but not broken, under the fall of coal and shale. An inspection found that the fallen coal had become separated from the solid rock above by water seeping in between the two layers. That which had broken away had been resting on the steel beams for quite some time before the fall occurred.
Edward Jenkins, along with many other miners, had worked hard to construct the Hoffman Drainage Tunnel, completed in 1906. It was a success: water drained from the mines, resulting in access to more coal, additional jobs, and better working conditions. Twenty-eight years later, Edward and two of his co-workers succumbed to this force of Mother Nature. Water was still at work, creating hidden weaknesses in between the seams of coal and rock. Treacherous working conditions: something all coal miners had in common.
The Coal Miner Memorial Statue Fund is accepting contributions for the placement of an educational memorial near the junction of state Route 36 and the National Road in Frostburg. A bronze statue will honor all our Georges Creek miners and name those who perished while mining.
Tax-deductible donations can be mailed to the
Foundation for Frostburg CMMSF
P.O. Box 765
Frostburg, MD 21532.
We welcome updated information and encourage your participation. Contact
Polla Horn at firstname.lastname@example.org
Bucky Schriver at email@example.com
to share your thoughts and stories. Be on the lookout for future “Miner Recollections.”