Frank Charney


Frank Charney's Sunday Postcard

Descendant tells the story of early Nanty Glo
business pioneers James and Mary Dunn

April 1, 2012  

Dennis Simmers, son of the late Tom Simmers and the late Mary (Bellock) Simmers, gave me an excellent writeup about his great-grandfather, James J. Dunn, a long-ago prominent Nanty Glo businessman. (I grew up in the section of Nanty Glo called Dunn Town but knew very little about its history.) Dennis's father, Tom, also happened to be a Nanty Glo native. Dennis apparently has acquired the genes of his ancestors regarding entrepreneurship and presently has a supervisory position at Colver's Cogeneration Plant, and was recently elected as President of the Ebensburg School Board.

Recently, I had the occasion to photograph the tombstone of his great-grandparents located at Ebensburg's Holy Name Cemetery and, upon encountering Dennis, I asked if he could provide some information about their background.

Dennis also informed me that the one-time Levinson residence at the corner of Roberts and Caroline Streets in Nanty Glo was the homestead of the James J. Dunn family; also that his great-grandfather was the original builder and proprietor of the Home Hotel in 1907.

Thanks to Dennis for providing another piece to the puzzle filling in Nanty Glo's early history:

Honorable James Joseph Dunn and Mary Elizabeth Dunn

Born October 24, 1864, in Tullamore, King's County (now County Offaly), Ireland.

Moved to Scotland, then England.

Educated in public schools of Pemberton, England, and attended St. Cuthbert's High School, a Catholic academy still in existence.

Immigrated to the United States in 1884 at age 20, and married Mary Elizabeth Rogers in January 1885. The family alleges he met his wife on the trip to America.

James and Mary Dunn had nine children, and tragically the oldest four died within days of each other from illness thought to have been diphtheria.

James settled in Lilly originally, working in the mining industry and as a partner in a mercantile business.

In 1907 he moved to Nanty Glo and opened the first hotel in town, the Home Hotel. He then spent the rest of his working career extensively engaged in the real estate and building business in Nanty Glo.

James Dunn built so many houses in Nanty Glo that for generations one section of town was known as Dunn Town. In fact, present-day Rogers Street in Nanty Glo was named for his wife, Mary Rogers. Ultimately, James Dunn all but gave away all of his rental homes and mortgaged homes with the crash of 1929. Whatever people could afford to pay for the home is what he took.

James was a founding director of Miners' and Merchants' Bank in Nanty Glo and remained an officer of the bank until the market crash and bank failures of 1929-1930. The original bank building still stands today.

James Dunn's political life is a story in and of itself. James was elected to the State House in 1909, and re-elected in 1911. He presented the first Injured Workmen's Compensation bill during the 1911 session. It became law on June 2, 1915.

James served as the justice of the peace in Jackson Township for seven years, and at Nanty Glo for three years. He was also as a member of the borough council at Lilly for three years.

According to family historians, he would hire a band and hold a dance during campaign season.

During World War I, James Dunn served as local chairman of the Four-Minute Men. This nation-wide group of 75,000 people was commissioned by President Woodrow Wilson's Committee on Public Information. Their job was to present four-minute speeches anywhere they could: churches, meetings, theaters, granges, etc, on the U.S. Government's view of World War I. Today, we would probably call that propaganda.

Socially, Mr. Dunn was a member of St. Mary's Catholic Church, Knights of Columbus, Knights of St. George, and the Ancient Order of Hibernians (an Irish Catholic Fraternal organization founded in 1836 in the Pennsylvania coal fields). He was president of the AOH for seven years.

On a number of fronts I admire my great-grandfather James J. Dunn. At the age of 20, he immigrated to a foreign land with nothing, and fulfilled the American dream, rising to the ranks of small business owner, entrepreneur, and state legislator.

Personally, he faced the hardest challenge of his life with the death of four children in the span of days. He could have easily slipped away, or worse. Instead, he spent over the next 40 years of his life reaching higher and leaving a permanent mark on the Nanty Glo community.

He clearly cared for the people as exemplified by the construction of Nanty Glo, the Injured Workers' Compensation Act, and in establishing miners' rights in the Gallitzin area.

Even personally there is evidence of support to widows and children. In one case, he doubled the auction value received by the Orphans' Court for the property of a widow and her five children. The Court threw out the high bid and awarded it to Dunn, noting it was in the best financial interest of the widow.

I would love to travel back in time and just follow him around for a day.

— Dennis Simmers

The graves of James J. and Mary Dunn at Holy Name Cemetery, Ebensburg.

— Frank Charney    



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