a newspaper man adjusts his pen

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Trail to a tragic story

People who walk or bike the Yough River Trail through Rostraver Township find themselves surrounded by tranquility along the former Pennsylvania and Lake Erie Railroad.

Many pass through the area near Cedar Creek Park in Westmoreland County without ever knowing that the tunnels under the path are part of an old coal mine with a story that is anything but peaceful.

Nineteen miners were will killed there in a methane gas explosion in June 1901, even though a company boss had posted a danger signal before the disaster. The warning, however, was ripped down by another boss who apparently was more concerned about coal profits than the employees. That boss would also perish inside Port Royal Mine No. 2.

Crowds were kept back from the portal by ropes. Relatives and friends of the missing miners were warned that the gas could set off another explosion that would rock the area like an earthquake, according to a story published at the time in The New York Times.

But that didn’t hold back the Rev. Carroll of nearby Smithton who volunteered to lead a search party into the portal. The company warned him against going into the mine about the same time that a second blast took the lives of 10 or more rescuers, the newspaper reported.

Seven bodies would be recovered before the mine was flooded and sealed four months after the initial explosion. The bodies were found side-by-side in what the reporter referred to as the “death chamber.” Some men were still holding their lamps or mining tools when they died. Other bodies were forever entombed inside the deep mine.

The Rostraver Township Historical Society has erected a new memorial to these mining victims alongside the popular hiking and biking trail. For more information on mining history in Westmoreland, check out Ancestry.com. It just may startle you to find out how many other miners met their deaths there over the years.

(Captions: An unidentified man strolls along the Yough River Trail in the area above the abandoned Port Royal Mine No. 2. A new memorial to the mining disaster in Rostraver Township that has been placed beside the trail. Please note that the Beveridge name was spelled wrong on the honor roll, and that the victim was not related to the author of this blog.)

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