HOME>WEST PA>WINDBER COALFIELD>PORTAGE AREA

PORTAGE AREA COAL MINES

Portage is a small borough about 12 miles northeast of Johnstown. It was a commercial center for surrounding coal mining communities and a stop along the Pennsylvania Railroad. Due to inclement weather I didn't get to photograph much of the actual Portage town. It looked like peaceful small town Americana to me, albeit with an Appalachian twist.

www.addlikebutton.net


USGS Ebensburg and Beaverdale quadrangles

In the above map I have underlined the coal company towns (patch towns) in red.


Nov. 2020 image by author

The Portage Area Historical Society has identified these Portage homes as being company houses. The author has searched and came up empty in his search for which company built these houses.


Nov. 2020 image by author

Some more of the altered and modernized company houses in Portage. St. Michael's Orthodox Church is in the background.


Nov. 2020 image by author

Front of St. Michael's Orthodox Church in Portage.


Nov. 2020 image by author

Plaque on St. Michael's with Eastern European writing on it. As you can see, the church was founded in 1915. It is listed here as a Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church, but it is now part of the Orthodox Church in America.


Nov. 2020 image by author

This church in Portage is now Holy Cross Polish National Catholic Church, which is a denomination that is not under the Roman Catholic Pope's authority. But the structure was orignally St. John the Baptist Roman Catholic Church.


Nov. 2020 image by author

This structure in Portage used to be UMWA Local 498's union hall.


Nov. 2020 image by author

In a quiet little park on the edge of Portage stands this memorial to the Sonman mine disaster. 63 men were killed in an explosion in Koppers Coal Company's mine at nearby Sonman on July 15, 1940. A New York Times article from July 16 stated that the dead numbered 47, with 21 survivors, but apparently that was incorrect. Detailed information about the disaster can be found here.


Nov. 2020 image by author

Names of some of the deceased victims of the Sonman mine explosion. I couldn't get all of the names in the picture because someone planted bushes right up against the back of the memorial monument.


Nov. 2020 image by author

A few of the coal company houses remain at Sonman. I believe that Sonman Shaft Coal Co. constructed them on a lease from Cambria Mining and Manufacturing. The history of Sonman is a twisted labrynth going back to the late 19th Century; through various mines named Sonman Nos. 1, 2, 3, and 4, Sonman Shaft, Sonman Drift, and Sonman Slope; and includes owners and operators named A.C. Blower Company, W.H. Piper and Company, Sonman Shaft Coal Company, Loyalhanna Coal & Coke Company, Koppers Coal Company, and finally Eastern Gas and Fuel Associates. Eastern operated Sonman Slope mine until at least the 1950s.


Nov. 2020 image by author

Even after all of the mining that has taken place in the area over the years, I still found this active coal mine and prep plant at Sonman. The sign on the loadout reads, "Thank you Donald Trump. We're back to work."


Dec. 2021 image by author

A few of the former coal company houses remaining at Sonman, with the Amfire coal mine in the background. There is also another section of extant company houses on the hill behind where I was standing.


Nov. 2020 image by author

A few people still live at Shoemaker, a coal camp of the Shoemaker Coal Mining Company. The Shoemaker mine was a drift mine.


Nov. 2020 image by author

This company-built house at Shoemaker, which I believe to be uninhabited, is notable for its originality, such as the 6 over 6 windows, rubble stone foundation, and wood siding on the front. Even the blue Insulbrick siding may have been installed by a coal company at a later date.


Nov. 2020 image by author

Coal company houses and large slate dump at Bens Creek, Pa.


Nov. 2020 image by author

This baseball field at Bens Creek once hosted games of the Cambria County Industrial League (CCIL). The CCIL was a collection of coal company- and steel company-sponsored teams that was popular until the 1950s. These teams not only helped to quell labor unrest, but also helped "Americanize" immigrant workers. And, again, in the background is the huge Bens Creek slate dump.


Nov. 2020 image by author

Company "patch" houses at Miller Shaft.


Nov. 2020 image by author

Larger company homes at Miller Shaft. The mine in the "B" seam was opened by Miller Coal Co. by 1917. It was later Johnstown Coal & Coke's Portage No. 4 mine.


Nov. 2020 image by author

The former office of the Miller Shaft coal mine.


Nov. 2020 image by author

Another view of the former Miller Shaft mine office.


Nov. 2020 image by author

The other building remaining from the Miller Shaft coal mining complex is this former stable from when mules or horses were used in the mines.


Nov. 2020 image by author

Fomer stable and Miller Shaft houses.


Nov. 2020 image by author

Miller Shaft houses across the street from the old stable.


Nov. 2020 image by author

The coal company at Miller shaft must have built many structures from this yellow brick, including these garages for the residents / employees that owned automobiles.


Nov. 2020 image by author

The building on the right was probably the club house / boarding house for Miller Shaft.


Nov. 2020 image by author

This slate dump is on the edge of Miller Shaft.


Nov. 2020 image by author

Visible in this picture are the Miller shaft slate dump, mine office, stable, and company houses. Some of this coal refuse dump may have also served the adjacent Blue Bird Shaft.


Nov. 2020 image by author

Ruins of the Blue Bird Shaft mine, at other times known as Portage Coal Mine Company's Portage Shaft. As you can see, it is puking acid mine drainage into the local watershed. Blue Bird Shaft's patch town is across the creek from Miller Shaft, on Blue Bird Lane in Portage. There are a few company houses remaining, though I did not photograph them.


Nov. 2020 image by author

On the other side of Miller Shaft is the Red Bird coal camp. Red Bird mine was originally a slope portal operated by the Trout Run Coal Co. At other times the Red Bird mine was operated by Portage Coal Mining Co., and was later Johnstown Coal & Coke's Portage No. 6 mine.


Nov. 2020 image by author

The next old coal mining community past Red Bird is Fiddlers Green. The block building on the left was once the mine's repair shop.


Nov. 2020 image by author

Fiddlers Green was once Johnstown Coal & Coke Company's Portage No. 2 mine.


Nov. 2020 image by author

The former Fiddlers Green mine repair shop.


Nov. 2020 image by author

Remaining tipple foundations at Fiddlers Green. In the background are freshly reclaimed hillsides where mine ruins and slate dumps that I planned on exploring were located. I got there too late. Now all there is to photograph is green grass.

Beyond Fiddlers Green the Martins Branch of the Pennsylvania Railroad went on to Thermal Smokeless Coal Co. at Puritan and Martins Branch Coal Mining Co. at Martinsdale. Several of the mines along this branch were named Beachley No. 1 through 7 of the Cambria County Coal Co. at one time or another.


2012 image by Sam Baker

Ruins of a small coal mine near Portage.


2012 image by Sam Baker

Mine fan next to the mine ruins near Portage.


2012 image by Sam Baker

More ruins near Portage that the photographer described as "a mine trestle ruin."


2012 image by Sam Baker

Gob pile with the mine ruins shown above near Portage.


2012 image by Sam Baker

Also in the Portage vicinity is this collapsed tipple, another great photo by Sam Baker. Sam writes, "I do not have any info on these mines, other than they were closed by the mid 60's."


2012 image by Sam Baker

Bony pile near the collapsed tipple shown above.


Image courtesy of Portage Area Historical Society

A manway portal into an underground mine near Portage, Pa.


Sources:

Watson, H. A., and L. B. Berger. Equipment For Analyzing Mine Atmospheres. Information circular 7728, United States Dept. of Interior, Bureau of Mines, 1956.

Madarasz, Anne. “Industrial Baseball.” Pittsburgh Post Gazette, Aug. 2006.

Dougherty, Jim. "Recreation in the Coalfields: "The Case of Baseball."

The EADS Group. Portage Area Regional Plan, June 2013.

http://patheoldminer.rootsweb.ancestry.com (now defunct) by Ray Washlaski. Accessed here through the Wayback Machine.


WESTERN PENNSYLVANIA COALFIELDS

APPALACHIAN COALFIELDS HOME

History of coal mining. History of West Virginia. History of McDowell County West Virginia. History of Coal. Research history. History of Welch WV. Pocahontas Coal Seam. Historic Pictures. Historic Photographs. Genealogy research. Railroad books. Historic books. Historic Maps. Bluefield History. Beckley history publications. History. Polish immigrants. Black migration. Italian immigrants. West Virginia immigrants. Appalachian music. Appalachian culture. Ghost towns pictures. Geneology. Archaeology. Beehive coke ovens. Historic architecture. Historic buildings. Historic towns. Organized labor. Unions. United Mine workers. Archives.