Jon Kennedy
Jon Kennedy

Jon Kennedy's 'Postcards from
the Nanty Glo in My Mind

A special Jonal: A review of
Colver, Mr. Coleman's Town

Colver, Mr. Coleman's Town
By Telford (Jack) Hill
Booksurge, November 2008
140 pages, quality paperback, dozens of photographs
$16.99 plus shipping from Amazon or $16 plus $3 shipping, directly from the author

I grew up at Belsano, a few miles from Colver, which seemed already in the 1950s like a coalmining town in decline (though the mine still had several decades of productive life ahead at that time). Colver's main claim to fame for us was that it had a small hospital which, though never as popular among Belsanoans as the Ebandjief Clinic in Nanty Glo or the hospitals in Johnstown, was sometimes resorted to as the closest and, in some cases, the least expensive option. Its head and usually only doctor, Dr. A.D. Martin, was known for accepting hardship cases, even of members of families not residing in Colver or involved in the mine he was paid to serve.

Besides the story of Dr. Martin, Colver native Telford (Jack) Hill tells the fascinating story of one of Pennsylvania's major movers and shakers, B. Dawson Coleman, who hailed from Williamsport, and his erstwhile partner, John Heisley Weaver. Between them, they controlled some of the richest and largest bituminous (soft) coal fields in Pennsylvania and West Virginia during the boom years of the American coal industry. They built the town of Colver on an Allegheny mountainside shortly after the turn of the twentieth century, and created its name from the first three letters of Coleman and the last three of Weaver. The Colver mine was properly known as the Ebensburg Coal Company.

Later they moved their attention a few miles south and started another coalmining town, Revloc, which is Colver spelled backwards. Weaver also lent his middle name to the major mine in Nanty Glo, Heisley Mine, which he owned in its heyday, and the Indiana County mining town of Heilwood, which was originally called Heisleywood.

John Heisley Weaver

The two entrepreneurs, who both sat on the board of directors of the Baldwin Locomotive works in Philadelphia, also founded and ran one of the most successful railroads in Pennsylvania history, the C&I or Cambria and Indiana Railroad, which is also covered in Hill's history. Colver's mine was its first industrial client and the town its first home, before it moved to the Eleanor Yard just outside Nanty Glo. They had acquired an earlier, unsuccessful railroad, the Yellow Creek and Black Lick, to provide the C&I its first rights of way, rails, and rolling stock. Presumably, Yellow Creek is the main waterway in central Indiana County and the Blacklick Creek the main one in central Cambria, so the renaming was not a great stretch. One wonders why they didn't name it the C&W Railroad.

Colver reached a population estimated at 4,000 at its peak, and, like most Pennsylvania coal towns of the era, it supplied, through the provision of its founder and owner Coleman (who eventually went independent of Weaver) everything needed for life in the town: housing, stores, an entertainment center, a park, a dairy, schools, and churches. But the conveniences came at the price of personal liberty, as the company-paid police force also kept the town's residents in check.

This very attractive book contains dozens of historical photographs and reproductions of artifacts from coalmining history and includes details on the 1922 strike in the coalfields that eventually led to the acceptance of the United Mine Workers union for the industry. Labelled by the U.S. Department of Labor the country's most dangerous industry, mining needed the safety check of an organized workforce. Hill's own father died in a mine accident in Colver Mine in 1952. During the 1922 strike, Colver and many other Pennsylvania coal towns were occupied by the Pennsylvania Militia, which was sent in by the governor to protect the mine properties from its striking employees. Though I wondered if Jack Hill was inspired to use the subtitle "Mr. Coleman's Town" after the example of Denise Weber in her book on Vintondale, Delano's Domain, that description of Colver actually appears in dispatches a member of that Militia sent back to his hometown newspaper in New Castle.

There are lots of fascinating details about the Blacklick Valley mines and towns of Nanty Glo and Vintondale in this very readable book; it would be a great Christmas present for anyone with an interest in Pennsylvania mining history and lore.

—Webmaster Jon Kennedy


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Jon Kennedy's latest book is The Everything Guide to C.S. Lewis and Narnia, now in stores, from Adams Media, F&W Publications. From May 9, 2007 through July 2, 2008 his blog entries or "Jonals" were articles inspired by readings in Lewis's work that didn't fit into the book. Click here for a list of all articles in the C.S. Lewis Overflow series. The book is available for purchase in support of the Liberty Museum in Nanty Glo and is also available on Amazon.

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