by Bucky Schriver
for The Frostburg Express
The Tragic Death Of A Beloved Mine Foreman
Douglas Somerville was born in Lanarkshire, Scotland in 1861 to William and Janet (Napier) Somerville. The Somerville family immigrated to America in 1870, and settled in Lonaconing, MD.
Douglas found employment in the Georges Creek Coal Company's No. 16 Mine, also known as the Dug Hill Mine. Originally opened in 1871 as two separate openings, known as Lonaconing No. 3 & No. 4, the two headings were interconnected by 1881, and appeared in the Mine Inspector's Annual Report in that year as a single opening, under the Dug Hill name. The mine was located in Knapp's Meadow, 1/2 mile west of the Old Coney Cemetery.
In 1889, Douglas married Margaret Paton Walker. Margaret's family had emigrated from Scotland in 1869, and also established their home in the Georges Creek Valley of western Maryland. By 1914, Douglas and "Maggie" Somerville's brood had grown to ten children.
Douglas Somerville was eventually promoted to the position of mine foreman. In that role, he exhibited a caring and conscientious attitude that earned him the respect of his fellow miners. This is exemplified by a story in the Cumberland Evening Times on April 29, 1911. The mine's ventilation fan had broken, and Somerville immediately ordered all of his men out of the mine. In the story, it was said that "ordinarily the air is very good in this mine, and the foreman pays special attention to the ventilation. There is no better or more competent foreman in this area than Douglas Somerville. He takes care of his men."
At 9 am on January 8,1914, foreman Douglas Somerville's concern for the well being of his miners led him to check the mine ventilation fan. In the 1880s, huge fans began replacing fires in the mines as the means of creating the necessary ventilation. Thereafter, the ventilation was commonly provided by sixteen foot diameter, four foot-wide paddle-type fans. Somerville was adjusting the screw on the crank shaft of the huge fan at The Dug Hill Mine when his overcoat caught in the fast-revolving blades, and he was whirled around with terrific force, slamming his head against the wall surrounding the fan housing, fracturing his skull. The mine engineer quickly turned off the fan, but it was too late to prevent severe injury to Somerville.
Douglas Somerville was taken to the Cumberland and Pennsylvania Railroad station in Lonaconing, for transport to the Western Maryland Hospital in Cumberland, where a physician had been summoned to perform surgery, but Somererville died en route at 11:30 am.
The funeral was in charge of Silver Wave Castle, Knights of The Mystic Chain. Founded by the Freemasons in 1871, twenty-one of the founding members of the secret organization were Pythians. After the funeral service at the family's home in Knapp's Meadow, the body was taken to Oak Hill Cemetery in Lonaconing, by a special train of The Georges Creek & Cumberland Railroad. After Douglas Somerville's fatal accident, his brother Nathaniel assumed the duties of general foreman of the entire workings of The Georges Creek Coal Company.
Douglas Somerville's death left his wife Maggie with ten children. The six still at home, ranged from five to sixteen years of age. In the 1920 census, the family was living in Gilmore, and 27 year-old David, Maggie's eldest son, was working as an electric motorman for the same Georges Creek Coal Company. As was customary in the event of the death of the father, the eldest son took his place as the primary wage earner, to provide for his mother and younger siblings.
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. 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.