Editor’s note: Each week, “Miner Recollections” will spotlight Georges Creek coal heritage, and the sacrifices made by those who mined it, by drawing upon biographical sketches, family narratives and historical research.
The Union Mining Co.’s fire clay mines provided employment for many of the people of Mount Savage. The mines were located about 4 miles from the town on the eastern slope of Savage Mountain. According to the mine inspector, the condition of the mines was generally good in 1907. “Drainage is still a problem here, as it always was, and I suppose will always be, no matter what the grade, or how clean you keep the ditches, there is always a soft plastic-like condition.”
Labor in the clay mines was done mostly by mountain men whose timbering skills were superb. The mine inspector said, “I have seen them re-timber places that a coal miner would not think of attempting.” These men were accustomed to hard work and were experts at fore-poling. Fore-poling, relatively unknown in this area at the time, was a method of advancing a mine in loose, caving or watery ground. A sharp-pointed pole was driven into the ground ahead of, or simultaneously with, the excavating method. The sharp timber driven into the floor kept the prop from slipping in the soft plastic-like clay.
The men who worked in the fire clay mines did not make as much money per hour as those who dug coal. However, their work was seldomly interrupted; they worked more frequently, which raised their wages to nearly equal that of coal miners.
Louis Solomon Martin was a fire clay miner. Born in Mount Savage on Nov. 19, 1881, he was the son of Harry Martin and Mary Orndorff Martin. Louis was the sixth of their 12 children, sandwiched in between five brothers and six sisters.
Louis is not listed on the 1900 census with his parents; we don’t know where he was living at that time. He did, however, marry Eva Watkins on Oct. 7, 1903, in Mount Savage. Eva married “the boy next door.” Her parents, Richard and Edith Watkins, were natives of England and lived a few houses away from the Martins.
On Aug. 6, 1906, Louis rose early, the sun just beginning to reflect its rays on the mountain behind their home. Eva was already up frying bacon, potatoes and eggs; the smells had Louis’ belly growling. He ate a hearty breakfast, put on his clay-encrusted work boots, grabbed his lunch bucket and with a quick kiss good-bye, was out the door.
Louis’ workday was uneventful; at the end of his shift, as was the custom of clay miners, he tamped five shots of dynamite into the clay before leaving to go home. The shots would fire and bring the clay down in preparation for tomorrow. Louis then did something that fire clay miners never, ever, did; after listening for the shots to fire, and thinking he heard five blasts, he turned back to see the results. One shot that was “hanging fire” went off and struck him full in the face; he was killed instantly.
Eva Martin buried her husband on Aug. 8, 1906, in the Mount Savage Methodist Church Cemetery. Just two months before her third wedding anniversary, Eva had become a widow; she also suspected that she would soon become a mother. On Feb. 27, 1907, she gave birth to a daughter whom she named Dora.
Eva, not knowing what else to do, moved back home where she was surrounded by compassionate parents. She and Dora remained with her parents until they died. By 1940, Eva was living with her daughter Dora and her son-in-law Harold Sweene; she was the happy grandmother of three children. Eva never remarried; she died on Aug. 22, 1975, and was buried next to Louis. A stone was erected by the Woodmen of the World to mark their resting place.
The black crepe bunting, which had hung over the doorway when Louis Martin died, had barely been removed when another black bunting was placed above the door of the Lilly home in Mount Savage.
John E. Lilly, born on March 19, 1876, was the son of John Zacheas Lilly and his wife, Sarah. We have no information on the Lilly family until the census of 1900; at that time John’s father was employed as a railroad conductor. Mrs. Lilly reported to the census taker that she had given birth to 15 children but only 13 were still living. John, the oldest at 24, was employed as a brick molder; his younger brother James, 13, was a laborer at the brickyard. Both young men turned their paychecks over to their mother to help support the family.
John Z. Lilly died in 1903; it seemed as if, for the next seven years, that the black crepe was never gone from above the Lilly doorway.
By 1907, John Lilly had given up his job as a brick molder and was working as a coal digger in the New York Mining Co.’s Union Mine No. 2. On April 1, while he and his buddies were loading coal into cars, they discussed the bad roof in a nearby section of the mine. They told John that he should pull the breast coal down before walking into that area. John did not heed the warning; as he walked into that section of the mine, the roof gave way. He was crushed beneath the fall and died within minutes. John was laid to rest beside his father in St. Patrick’s Cemetery in Mount Savage.
In 1910, Mrs. Lilly was still living in Mount Savage. Only seven of her children were still living; she had lost her husband and six children within a 10-year period. Two of her sons, Joseph and Francis, were living with her and worked as machinists at the “company shop” in Mount Savage. The memories and ghosts of the past may have been overwhelming for the remaining members of the Lilly family; they packed up their possessions and moved to Ohio. Hopefully, the black crepe remained behind, never to be used again. Mrs. Lilly died in Mahoning County, Ohio, on March 8, 1929, at the age of 76.
“Miner Recollections Volume Two 2019” is a compilation which includes 250 pages of stories, pictures, maps, and an updated list of deceased miners. Proceeds support the installation of a life-sized bronze statue and the educational landscaping that will surround it. Books are available at Armstrong Insurance in Frostburg or by contacting Polla Horn at firstname.lastname@example.org or Bucky Schriver at email@example.com.