by Bucky Schriver
for The Frostburg Express
Charles & Mary Quinn Preston
Charles Meshack Preston
Another Victim of "Preston's Luck"
Perhaps no other family’s roots are more intricately intertwined with the history of Georges Creek coal mining than those of the Preston family.
John Thomas Scharf's History of Western Maryland (published in 1882) lists George Preston as being one of the earliest settlers in the area known today as Allegany County. Prior to the Deakins Survey of 1787, George was already occupying what would become soldier's lots 3649 & 3650, near the village of Zihlman. In the Maryland Tax Survey, recorded four years earlier, George Preston was listed as owning and paying taxes on a 152 acre parcel in the same area, listed as "Preston's Luck."
In both the 1800 and 1810 census reports, George Preston and Peter Preston were living next to each other in the area of “Wills Town.” Their relationship has not been ascertained, but Peter was apparently either George’s son or nephew. Beginning in 1813, Peter and his wife, Sarah Elizabeth (Durbin) Preston, began acquiring property in Allegany County. During their lifetimes, they owned a total of more than 400 acres. John Henry Alexander and Philip Tyson (principals of the newly-founded Georges Creek Coal & Iron Company which built the Lonaconing Iron Furnace) purchased an 8 acre railroad right-of-way near Vale Summit on August 26, 1836, from Peter Preston. Coal deposits were later discovered on the Preston property in the same area, and were noted in a description of another right-of-way sale in 1837 as "a coal mine belonging to "said P Preston, commonly called New Coal Mine." The small stream that runs parallel to State Route 55 in Vale Summit, and intersects with Braddock Run in Clarysville, still carries the name "Preston Run."
Charles Meshack Preston, the second great-grandson of Peter Preston, was born in Barton on June 6,1899, to Meshack and Anna (Crawford) Preston. On Christmas Eve in 1929, Charles married Eckhart native Mary Quinn. Born in 1907, Mary was the daughter of Benjamin and Barbara (Knapp) Quinn. By 1945, Charles and Mary Preston had eight children, and the family resided in a rented home on Big Lane in Midland. The Prestons had recently purchased a house on Bowery Street and were looking forward to moving into their home in Frostburg.
On Tuesday, November 13, 1945, Charles was working as an oiler and shoveler on a steam shovel for the Russell Mining Company, a subsidiary of the Hazelwood Company. The mine was located in Knapp's Meadow, near the Old Coney Cemetery. The Russell Mining Company was a strip mine, and Charles Preston was shoveling spillage from the coal that was loaded onto the trucks at the site. The steam shovel operator had loaded another bucket and had it suspended in the air, waiting for the next truck to arrive. The operator stepped out of the cab to speak to another employee when the bucket of coal suddenly fell, crushing Charles underneath. He was rushed to Miner's Hospital in Frostburg by his foreman, Ellis Boal. Charles lingered for four days before passing away on Saturday morning, November 17th. His wife Mary and members of the Frostburg Blood Donor Club, Joseph Spates and Oliver Wittig, provided the blood for transfusions that were administered in the attempt to save Charles Preston's life.
His funeral was held on Tuesday, November 20th, at the family home in Midland. Services were conducted by Pastor Raymond Crowe of the Grace Methodist Church in Midland. Charles Meshack Preston was laid to rest at Allegany Cemetery (Frostburg Memorial Park) in Frostburg.
On March 2, 1948, slightly more than two years after the death of her husband, forty year-old Mary (Quinn) Preston died of a heart attack, leaving eight orphaned children. The four youngest children spent the remainder of their childhood years being shuffled between the homes of various friends and relatives, including a four year stint at the Swartzell Methodist Children's Home in Washington, D.C.
Like a methane explosion in an underground coal mine, the premature deaths of Charles and Mary Preston fractured and scattered this tightly knit family. Charles' fatal accident was the latest in a series of tragic accidents that befell the Preston family in Georges Creek coal mines. Three of Charles Preston's ancestors had been killed in separate accidents in Barton's Potomac Mine: Meshack Tobias Preston and his father-in-law, John Greenhorn were killed twenty-seven days apart in 1886, and fourteen year-old Alfred Metz was killed in 1894.
The Coal Miner Memorial Statue Fund is accepting contributions for the placement of a bronze statue that will honor all of our Georges Creek miners and name those who perished while mining. Tax-deductible donations can be mailed to
Foundation for Frostburg CMMSF
P.O. Box 765
Frostburg, MD 21532.
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