by Polla Horn
for The Frostburg Express
James Harmon Michaels ~ Durbin John Hockenberry
The Georges Creek basin consists of three distinct watersheds radiating from the east side of Big Savage Mountain near Frostburg. The basins form the valleys of Jennings Run to the north, Braddock Run to the center and Georges Creek to the south. Jennings Run winds its way northeast past the mining villages of Borden Mines, Zihlman, Morantown, Slabtown, Mt. Savage, Sunnyside and Barrelville. A total of 55 mines existed along Jennings Run, changing ownership and names as quickly as the seasons change.
Located on the east bank of Jennings Run at Barrelville, the Parker Mine may have been one of the earliest mines in the Cumberland Coal Region. It consisted of the Blubaugh and Parker seams. The Parker seam, at three feet thick, was very difficult to mine by pick, but the coal was wonderfully suited to blacksmithing and commanded a higher price. By 1908, machines for digging coal were installed, greatly increasing production.
Peter Paul Michaels (1864-1934) and wife Minnie Martens Michaels 91868-1964) lived on the Wellersburg Road in Mt. Savage where they raised eleven children, seven girls and four boys. Their fifth child and oldest son, James Harmon Michaels began working with his father as a coal miner before his 12th birthday. A few years later he was joined by a brother, Charles Bernard Michaels. Unfortunately, these young boys had to give up their childhood to help support their many siblings
Charles, just blossoming into adulthood, had been working in the Cumberland Potomac Mine for only three weeks. On September 9, 1921, he was working with a group of men cutting coal with a machine when a portion of the roof fell, hitting him on the head. The weight and force of the fall fractured his skull, killing him instantly. He was 19 and one of the most popular young men in the Wellersburg area. Charles was buried in St. Patrick’s Cemetery in Mt. Savage.
Charles’ older brother, Harmon, worked as a miner until he joined the Army, Company F, 5th Engineers, in 1917. Peter and Minnie celebrated the safe return of their son from the battlefields, and later, his marriage to Emma Rosilia Saylor. A cottage on the Barrelville Road became home to the newly weds. A daughter Dawn Catherine was born in 1930.
The joy that Peter and Minnie experienced turned to tragedy again on December 2, 1937 when they lost another son to the harsh conditions in the mines. Harmon went to work in the Parker Mine of the Parker Hi-Grade Coal Company. He was working with mine foreman, Melvin Reed and Carl Hockenberry. The trio had removed a pillar and were loading a car when a piece of rock gave way hitting Mr. Michaels across the hips crushing him severely. He was taken to his home where he was examined by Dr. Bostetler. He was then transported by car to Miners Hospital where he died several hours later. According to his obituary, it is believed his injuries were aggravated when no ambulance was used to convey him to the hospital. He was buried in the Wellersburg Church Cemetery. Rosilia Michaels became a widow at the age of 29 and Dawn Catherine was fatherless at the tender age of eight.
Carl Hockenberry’s father, Durbin, was born on January 23, 1888 in Juanita County, PA. The census for 1920 lists him living in Wellersburg with his wife, Orpha, and five children. Four additional children were born between 1921 and 1928. By 1940 the family was living in Mt. Savage. The black soot of the underground mines seemed to have run through the veins of the Hockenberry family. Mr. Hockenberry’s other sons, Vernon, Carroll, and Ernest were also coal miners.
On February 21, 1946 Durbin Hockenberry was fatally injured by a fall of rock in the same Parker Mine, and like Harmon Michaels, Durbin was working with mine foreman Melvin Reed at the time of the accident. The two had just cut an area with an auger machine, dislodging a prop. After loading several cars with coal, the weakened roof gave way crushing Mr. Hockenberry through the hips. He was taken to Memorial Hospital where he died at 4:30 PM at the age of sixty.
Durbin’s son Carl surely had a double dose of shock and grief when his father’s fatal accident revived the memory of the nearly identical accident that he witnessed in 1937. Melvin Reed was present at both accidents but was spared. He seems to have been protected by a guardian angel. Durbin Hockenberry was laid to rest in Cook’s Cemetery, Somerset County, Pennsylvania.
The communities along Jennings Run certainly saw their share of tragedy in a few short years.
The Coal Miner Memorial Statue fund is accepting contributions for the placement of an educational memorial near the crossroads of state Route 36 and the National Road in Frostburg. A bronze statue will honor all of 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. Bow 765
Frostburg, MD 21532.
We welcome updated information and encourage your participation.
Contact Polla Horn at email@example.com
Bucky Schriver at firstname.lastname@example.org
to share your thoughts and stories. Be on the lookout for future “Miner Recollections.”