Survey of valley proclaims area's uniqueness
Unique Coal Fields
by Polla Drummond Horn
For the FROSTBURG EXPRESS
Around 1838 the Maryland mining company commissioned several men to explore a coal field around the town of Frostburg, Maryland to discover the advantages of that field. The area explored is what we now call the Georges Creek Valley.
In his report to Matthew St. Clair Clark, president of the Maryland Mining Company, Mr. Benjamin Silliman describes the coal field as running north to south for about 25 miles and being three to four miles wide. The boundaries are formed by Dan’s Mountain to the east and Savage Mountain to the west.
He describes Frostburg as a “village of 400 inhabitants which is very nearly the middle point between Wheeling on the Ohio, and Baltimore on the Chesapeake and is on the great National Road, eleven miles from the nearly complete C&O Canal. One advantage he saw was the transportation of the coal to other areas.
In mining countries it is not uncommon that the surface ground is sterile but, Mr. Silliman declares that “here the grass is exuberant, forming rich meadows. The extensive forests are filled with oak, hickory, butternut, beech, maple, chestnut and white pine.”
The report does not tell us where Mr. Silliman is from but he certainly fell in love with Western Maryland. He goes on to point out the advantages of several streams for irrigation and hydraulic power. He, also, proclaims the advantage of coal seams which run from the top of Savage Mountain, down the valley to the top of Dan’s Mountain “uninterrupted by dykes or walls of rock” as in Europe or other coal fields of the United States.
Not only does he proclaim the uniqueness of the area, but, also, the coal itself. “The coal of the Frostburg region is of peculiar character. We are not aware of any like it in any other countries or among other American coals”. It is a link between bituminous and anthracite coals. The coal here is more difficult to ignite and burns with less flame but it endures much longer and gives more intense heat. There is very little sulfur in our coal and Mr. Silliman noticed that “there is very little sulfur odor as smoke arises from the chimney”. He was also surprised to note that there is “so little smoke or fumes that it does not even soil the furniture of a room”.
I believe our mining ancestors would have been proud of Mr. Silliman’s report and the unique advantages of this area and our coal.
In the same year as this survey was done, 1838, there was a man named John Welsh who was working at open mining in Lonaconing.
According to the Lonaconing Journals 1837-1840 open mining was usually carried out on a series of terraces and was inexpensive and did not require skilled miners. With little supervision, laborers could remove earth above a vein and then take out the ore.
At 10 A.M. on June 1, 1838, John Welsh was “blownup” by his own carelessness and was instantly killed. The miners, out of respect, did not work the balance of the day and attended the funeral at 2 P.M. on June 2nd. He was interred at Mr. Shaw’s chapel. (Now an area called Moscow.)
The Coal Miner Memorial Statue Fund is gratefully 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 George’s Creek Valley 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
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