by Bucky Schriver
for The Frostburg Express
Remembering William Gillespie
Andrew Gillespie was born at County Monaghan, Ireland in 1832. Ann Callaghan, also a native of County Monaghan, was born in 1846. Andrew and Ann married and began their life together in Ireland, where their first four children were born. Margaret was born in 1866, Catherine in 1867, Martha in 1868, and William in 1871. In 1874, the family immigrated to America and settled in Pekin, where Andrew applied his acquired skill as a coal miner. The Gillespie's next five children were all born in Pekin. Edward was born in 1875, Andrew, Jr. in 1876, Michael in 1878, John in 1879, and Mary Ann in July of 1884.
Andrew and Ann’s son William was born at Kilmore, County Monaghan, Ireland on June 15th, 1871. On December 13th, 1889, eighteen year-old William was severely injured while working in Ryan's Mine in Pekin. Ryan's Mine was a small, family operated mine owned by James Ryan. William was carried to his home, where he suffered for four days before passing away on December 17th. William Gillespie left behind his parents, four sisters, and four brothers to mourn his loss. Young William's passing surely cast a pall of grief over the Gillespie family's Christmas celebration in 1889 and for many years afterward. The location of William's grave site is unknown, but he is most likely buried in Saint Gabriel's Cemetery in Barton, where his parents were later interred.
On April 27th, 1943, William Gillespie's younger brother, John, drowned in Baltimore Harbor. According to his WWII Draft Registration, he worked for the WPA at Edgewood Arsenal. He was six feet tall and 200 pounds, with blue eyes, black hair, and a ruddy complexion. According to The Evening Times, Cumberland, Maryland, Friday, April 30, 1943: "Drowned Man Has Two Sisters Here: Cumberland police were asked today to aid in the search for two sisters of man whose body was recovered Tuesday from the Baltimore harbor. Detective B. F. Gaffney was advised by Baltimore police that John Gillespie, who roomed there at 122 Market Place, was drowned in the harbor and that cards found in his pocket indicated that two sisters, names unknown, resided in Cumberland. Baltimore police were told that Gillespie had resided in the Market Street rooming house about 15 years. Any information regarding the sisters may be given to headquarters here, telephone 1680."
William Gillespie's next younger brother, Edward Patrick Gillespie, is buried in Saint Gabriel's Catholic Cemetery, in Cook County, Illinois. Ironically, the cemetery bears the same name as the one where his parents are buried in Barton. William's sister, Margaret Miller, is buried in Frostburg Memorial Park. Two other sisters, Catherine Woods and Martha Coyle, are buried in St. Mary's Catholic Cemetery in Lonaconing. William's brother Michael is buried near Charleston, WV. The baby of the family, Mary Ann, married Ralph Ritchie. Mary Ann and Ralph had six children. Both only lived to the age of fifty-one, and are buried in Akron, Ohio.
William Gillespie's nephew, Edward O. Gillespie, was born in Westernport on December 15th of 1908, nineteen years, almost to the day, after the death of his uncle William. Edward O. was the son of William’s brother, Edward Patrick Gillespie. The Gillespie family made their home on Wood Street. Edward graduated from St. Peter's Catholic School in Westernport and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia. Edward retired as a security guard at the Westvaco Paper Mill in Luke. He developed a reputation as a talented painter of portraits and landscapes, several of which still adorn the town of Westernport. One of Edward's paintings hangs in St. Peter's Catholic Church, and another is displayed in the Westernport Museum. Edward O. Gillespie retired in 1977, died on September 28th of 1992, and is buried in St. Peter's Catholic Cemetery in Westernport.
The Gillespie family’s Irish roots had been re-planted in Pekin. The towns of Barton, Moscow, and Pekin were originally part of the estate of William Shaw. Formed between the years of 1825 and 1860, the towns were named after the existing coal mines. Pekin was founded in 1867. The town took its name from the Atlantic Coal Company's Pekin Mine, which was opened in 1865. The Pekin Mine was a series of drift openings in the Pittsburgh (or Big Vein) seam, on the southern face of Detmold Hill. The mine preceded, by sixteen years, the arrival of the Georges Creek and Cumberland Railroad in 1881. In the early years, the mine shipped coal via a tipple on the Cumberland and Pennsylvania Railroad, which it reached by a 1500 foot inclined plane. The mine continued to operate under various operators until 1957.
The decade of the 1880s took a severe toll on the little town of Pekin. Accidents in the underground coal mines had robbed the community of three young men. Fourteen year-old Harry Sammons was killed in 1880, and thirteen year-old James Duffy was killed in 1890, less than ten months after the death of William Gillespie. Through the gates of Saint Gabriel's Catholic Cemetery in Barton passed many sad processions, carrying Georges Creek coal miners to their early graves. Martin Sexton, John Darby O'Brien, Sr., John Darby O'Brien, Jr. and James Duffy are all buried there.
In the mid 1900's, the post office in Pekin was renamed Nikep, possibly to avoid confusion with Pekin, Illinois. Pekin Street, in what is now known as Nikep, was the main road in the late 1800s. The houses all faced the railroad, which was the lifeline of the local coal mines. The decline of coal mining led to a reduction in rail traffic, and the Western Maryland Railway never restored service to the Georges Creek area after the devastating flood of 1996. In the 1930s, Route 36 was built and the residents of Pekin now look backward on the railroad, literally and figuratively, just as our Coal Miner Memorial Statue Committee looks back to preserve the memory of William Gillespie and all of our fallen George’s Creek miners.
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 Valley 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.
Contact Polla Horn at firstname.lastname@example.org
Bucky Schriver at email@example.com
if you have a story of your own to tell. Look for more “Miner Recollections” in the coming weeks.