Friday, June 28, 2013

More about the Thomas Family's new home in America

I was thinking about my Thomas ancestors and their journey to America. It seems similar to many folks' ancestors in that the Thomas family came for a better economic future, from the South Wales coal mines to coal mines in Western Maryland.

You can see yesterday's post about the 175th anniversary this week of their sailing here, entitled, "The 175 Years Ago: the start of the Thomas family in America." But what of the world they came to? What was life like in Lonaconing, Allegany, Maryland?

Luckily I had the answer right at my fingertips in an article mentioned by Pat Thomas' page about the Barque Tiberius' ship's list. I copied the URL at the bottom of Pat's page and plugged it into my browser and went to a lovely and helpful write-up about the very place my Thomas ancestors move to. "Lonaconing: Home in the Hills", by Mary Meyers, describing "The Growth and Development of Lonaconing, Maryland". So today I thought that I'd copy some of it below, or at least the parts that give a better description of the mining town that was Lonaconing.

And because it says I need to do this, here's the USGENWEB notice that must accompany the text:

In keeping with our policy of providing free information on the Internet, data may be freely used by non-commercial entities, as long as this message remains on all copied material. These electronic pages may NOT be reproduced in any format for profit or presentation by other organizations.

OK, now we're good to go:) So here's something about Lonaconing, thanks to Pat, Mary, and Pat Hook who transcribed Mary's text. Hugs to you! What a blast it is for me to read this and think about Benjamin Thomas and his family arriving there in 1838!

The earliest white settlers-farmers, hunters, and woodsmen-came to Lonaconing in the latter part of the eighteenth century. They came with their families, prepared to stay, although the area at that time was an unbroken forest with just a wagon trail and bridges over the creek. Their names live on in their descendants, residents of Lonaconing to this day -- Duckworth, Fazenbaker, Green, Dye, Grove, Van Buskirk, Knapp and Miller, to name a few. The stone house built in 1797 by Samuel Van Buskirk still stands in Knapps Meadow.

Lonaconing can trace its beginning as a town and a commercial center to the coming of the George's Creek Coal and Iron Company, a Baltimore and London, England, syndicate which purchased 11,000 acres of land along the George's Creek and, in 1837, built a furnace complex to manufacture pig iron, using coal and coke rather than charcoal for the smelting process. The Lonaconing iron furnace was the first in the United States to successfully use bituminous coal and coke in making pig iron.

Besides building a furnace it was necessary for the company to bring in workers and furnish houses for them. The local farmers contracted to erect log houses-about 20 from West Main Street to Watercliff and Knapps Meadow. The furnace workers and their families lived under the "Rules of Residency" set down by the George's Creek Coal and Iron Company. The company endeavored to meet the needs of the people. A store was opening and a post office established. A doctor was brought in to care for the health needs of the community. From the beginning, education and religion held a high priority.

The furnace produced pig iron from 1839 until 1855, when, because of a combination of circumstances, the operation ceased. By then the mining of coal had assumed a much more important industrial role and the George's Creek Coal and Iron Company, which already owned thousands of acres of land along with the mineral rights, turned to coal mining as its sole interest.

The developement of the coal industry issued in an era of growth and prosperity for Lonaconing as well as all of the George's Creek environs. Numerous coal companies were formed and mines were opened on all hillsides. Workers flocked in from Scotland, Wales, England, Ireland and Germany. Business was booming and all varieties of stores came into being to meet the needs of the people. Transportation improved and the railroad made several runs each day, bringing in people and materials and transporting goods to the market.

Hotels were opened in the vicinity of the railroad station and provided livery stables for the many "drummers" who came to sell their wares. Using Lonaconing as a base, these men would hire a horse and wagon and travel the country roads with the various items needed in households along the way. Many of these drummers were so successful that they were able to open stores in town to sell their merchandise.

Eventually other businesses offering employment and economic stability were a glass factory, silk mill, brick plant, grist mill, ice plant, undertaking establishments, blacksmith, carpentry and tin shops, saddlery and livery stable.

With the growth of the population, schools came into being, each section of the town having its own small school, with the largest in the town proper. A library was established and newspapers published in Lonaconing furnished news of the world as well as items of local interest.

Music played an important part in the life of the town and a city band, along with several cornet bands, had no difficulty in getting members. Plays were presented in the "Opera House" by traveling companies and also local talent. Later, two moving picture theaters were quite popular with the residents.

My Welsh ancestors prized education and music as well as hard work and family life so I can easily envision them being happy upon arrival in Lonaconing. At least that's how I like to think of them on this 175th anniversary of their sailing for America: basically, it was worth the trip!

Many thanks for use of the image!
Please visit this page for more images and old postcards from Lonaconing.

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