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Coal and Coke Heritage Music Festival celebrates regional history

Mining Tools
Tools created by blacksmiths and used in the mining industry included (from left): hammer, hoof nippers, tool caddy, drive pin, Christopher pick and chisel. [Photo by Susan Brimo-Cox.]
8/29/2011 —

Now in its fourth year, the Coal and Coke Heritage Music Festival continues to celebrate and educate festival goers about the rich history of southwestern Pennsylvania’s coal and coke region. This September 10, when the festival again takes place at Penn State Fayette, The Eberly Campus in Uniontown, Pa., the Coal and Coke Heritage Center will be open for tours and will be featuring a special exhibit about the importance of blacksmithing to the mining and coking industries of years past.

Elaine Hunchuck DeFrank, an oral historian for the Coal and Coke Heritage Center, explains, “Blacksmithing was a valued trade and coal and coke development hinged on the hands of the smiths. Every operation employed a blacksmith and some very small operations were serviced by a neighboring smith.”

In the hundred years between 1870 and 1970, a stretch 30 miles long and 3 miles wide between Mount Pleasant in Westmoreland County to the north and Smithfield in Fayette County to the south was known as the Connellsville Coal and Coke Region. The local coal mines and beehive coke ovens in the region provided the world-class fuel for Pittsburgh’s burgeoning steel industry.

DeFrank, who has researched local blacksmithing extensively, reports farriers were needed to shoe the horses and mules used in pre-mechanical mining operations, while blacksmiths made and repaired the many tools—including shovels, picks, drill bits and more—used by miners and the men tending the coke ovens.

“Some of those tools are on display at the Coal and Coke Heritage Center in the lower level of the library building on the Penn State Fayette campus,” DeFrank says.

According to DeFrank’s research, in the late 1700s blacksmith shops were found along what would become the National Road, present day Route 40. Then in 1867, John Moore, an émigré from England, bought property in Merritstown that had a blacksmith shop. Moore and and his four brothers, Earl, Orie, Ira and Robert, were blacksmiths and farriers and served the needs of growing communities along Route 40.

By the turn of the 20th century, Wildey’s blacksmith shop and livery stable was operating in Uniontown, and there were other blacksmiths and farriers in the region, as well. Lazonia Christopher and his wife, Sarah, migrated from Pisgah, W. Va. to Fairchance, Pa., in 1901. After working at several mines as a blacksmith, Christopher opened his own blacksmith shop around 1908, helped by his four sons.

DeFrank says Christopher and his son, Earnest, soon became known for their solid-steel “Christopher Pick,” a miner’s tool with a specially-tempered tip. “The popularity of the pick prompted Christopher to apply for a trademark and in 1925 a registered trademark bearing the Christopher name was documented in the U.S. Bureau of patents.”

The Industrial Revolution and technology eventually displaced blacksmiths, but their history is important, DeFrank points out. Not only did these tradesmen provide for the coal and coke industries, they provided services for area farmers and others.

Visitors to the Coal and Coke Heritage Music Festival will be able to see some of the tools blacksmiths made for the mining and coke industries, and they will be able to see a blacksmithing demonstration. Nick Ireys from Touchstone Center for Crafts in Farmington, Pa., will be demonstrating blacksmithing at the festival at various times during the day—at 1, 3 and 5 p.m.

The Coal and Coke Heritage Center will also be featuring its latest book, “Another Time Another World: Pennsylvania Bituminous Coal, Coke, and Communities” by John A. Enman, as present-day miners will be talking about the high-tech mining industry of today.

The Coal and Coke Heritage Music Festival is a family-friendly festival that offers musical entertainment of all kinds, as well as food, local arts and crafts, the popular Kiddie Koal Mine, and Zambelli fireworks. This year the S.H.I.F.T. Car Show will also be taking place at the festival. Featured entertainers include Johnny Angel & The Halos, Harold Betters, The Stickers, Dr. Zoot and the Suits, Tres Lads, Augsburg German Band, and NewLanders, plus local dance ensembles and other entertainers. Tickets are $5; children 4 years old and younger get in free. Miners also get in free with their Miner Certification Card, UMWA Card, Company ID Card, Miner's belt or Miner's hard hat. Additional details about the festival are available at The Coal and Coke Heritage Music Festival website: www.coalandcokemusicfest.org.

Key sponsors of this year’s festival include Alpha Natural Resources, Geneva Marketing Group, Herald-Standard.com, The Advisory Board of Penn State Fayette, PA Department of Tourism, CRH Catering and Gerome Manufacturing.

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