Welcome to the Colver Home Page
DedicationThis site is dedicated to the memories of the miners and railroad workers who lived and worked in Colver and the surrounding communities and were responsible for developing the social capital that so defined the community. Coal mining is one of the toughest, dirtiest along with being one of the most dangerous jobs in the world. Colver coal miners worked 300 feet below the ground in pitch darkness, in an area not more than 4 feet high, their work area defined by the light of their miner's lamp. Railroad workers likewise had a dangerous and demanding job, involving large moving equipment in the extreme weather conditions sometimes found on the Allegheny Ridge.
The PartnershipThe town of Colver is inextricably intertwined with a partnership of two Eastern capitalists, B. Dawson Coleman of Lebanon and John Heisley Weaver of Williamsport. Both Coleman and Weaver were active in developing coal resources prior to the formation of the partnership. In 1904 Weaver opened a mine at Possum Glory, now known as Heilwood. Coleman was also active in the northern part of Cambria county purchasing mineral rights. About 1909 Coleman and Weaver organized the partnership and purchased a mine owned by the Nanty Glo Coal Company and shortly thereafter began purchasing mineral and surface rights just north of Ebensburg. Click here to find out more about B. Dawson Coleman and John Heisley Weaver.
Unrelated to Coleman and Weaver, a lumber tramroad in the Blacklick Creek valley was chartered as a common carrier in 1904. This was the Blacklick-Yellow Creek railroad and was an under-capitalized, poorly maintained, and lightly constructed railroad. According to S. H. Jencks, Chief Engineer for the C&I, "the said lumber company.... wished to dispose of their railroad, which was nothing more than a streak of rust on rotten ties. They had one locomotive that had to venture over the tracks from Rexis, near Vintondale, to a point near Stiles' station on the C&I once a day to hold the charter."
With their experience in operating coal mines, Coleman and Weaver also were very aware of the logistical problems involved in getting the coal to market. The existence of a common carrier railroad (the Blacklick-Yellow Creek railroad), conveniently available for sale, was an opportunity to control the logistics. Some time in 1909-1910, Coleman and Weaver purchased this railroad and shortly thereafter renamed it the Cambria and Indiana Railroad. At the time of purchase, the railroad only interchanged with the Pennsylvania Railroad at Rexis. The decision was made to extend the railroad to meet the Possum Glory Branch of the Cherry Tree and Dixonville Railroad (CT&D). The CT&D was jointly owned by the New York Central and the Pennsylvania railroads and thus gave Coleman and Weaver the option of shipping coal over either the Pennsylvania or NYC Railroads. This prevented either the Pennsylvania or NYC railroads from charging excessive tariffs or imposing controls over the C&I and indirectly control over Coleman and Weaver.
The MineFrom all appearances it appears that the mine was intended to be an up to date mine using modern means of mining. In order to develop the coal rights, Coleman and Weaver purchased several farms, centering about the William's farm and Reese farm, approximately 6 miles North of Ebensburg. In late 1910, work began on the development of the mine which became the Ebensburg Coal Company. In 1911, work began on the C&I rail line and the area which would become the C&I shops. The exact location of the mine was determined by the fact that the mine could be operated as a "slope mine" by which the coal could be hauled out by electric trams (Motors) through tunnels built into the face of a hill(slope). The Cambria Freeman Newspaper of Ebensburg and the Johnstown Tribune reflected the excitement of the county as work began on the mine and the new town with a series of news items as the work progressed. Details of the mine were published by the Cambria Freeman on Jan. 27, 1911 -- that the shaft was 135 feet, the "slope" or "drift" was 350 feet, and a rock tunnel 2,000 feet long. The Johnstown Tribune published a two page spread on April 8, 1911 with many of the details of the town and mine, including pictures. The Tribune added some details such as the slope dropped 120 feet in the 350 foot run, that the mine was to be equipped with a "new system of electric haulage."
The coal seam mined was the Lower Kittaning, known locally as the Miller or "B" Seam. The main bench ranged from 42 to 48 inches in thickness.
According to the Sesquicentennial Cambria County history published by the Cambria County Historical Society, the first coal was shipped in October 1911, however the Cambria Freeman indicated the first coal was shipped in August, 1911. During the first year the mine produced 22,300 tons of coal and was ranked 25th in the district. Some histories of the town state that the first coal was pulled from the mines by mules, but this item only appears in later histories, it appears that the Colver mine used electric motors from the start. Jencks indicates that the first coal was brought out of the mine through the shaft and taken over a tram road to a temporary tipple near 20 Row about October 1, 1911. The Johnstown Tribune article stated that this tram road was to be about 1500 feet long with a slope of 5 degrees and that the cars were to be dropped to the temporary tipple by the use of wire cables.
The first mine opening and shaft were up near what became "20 Row." When the tunnel was completed, the coal was brought out through the tunnel to the main tipple. The slope entrance was used for years as an air intake for the mine. Sometime in the 1922-1923 timeframe, the shaft between Second and Third street was sunk and a complex that included a washhouse (or bathhouse), hoist house, shaft house and steam plant was constructed and became the main mine entry for the miners. By the 1940's the mine was so extensive that ventilation was becoming a problem and in 1946 an airshaft was sunk near Belsano ("Main Y" ) and in 1950 a washhouse was added at that site becoming a mine portal. In 1953 another shaft was sunk near the Colver "T" ("Main F") This was unique in that it was a partitioned shaft which was an air intake on one side and air exhaust on the other. A wash house was also added at the same site and it also became a man portal.
The TownFollowing a pattern of naming conventions by Coleman and Weaver, the name Colver for the vicinity of the mine was derived by using the first syllable of Coleman and the last syllable of Weaver. (Note: In 1916, a second town was developed near by, using the name "Revloc" which was the reverse of Colver. Revloc was operated by the Monroe Coal Company which was another operating company of Coleman and Weaver.)
First to be developed as Colver were locales called "9 Row," "20 Row," and "Shantytown." These were developed near the mine and tipple and that area was known as Colver. Twenty Row, Nine Row and Shanty-Town were built between 1911 and 1913, Nine Row was reserved for the mine bosses and Shanty-Town was for the "foreigners.". The Colver we know today was first known as Colver Heights (some early C&I timetables refer to it as "Mount Colver"). According to some oral history, the actual location of Colver Heights was established at the suggestion of Mrs Weaver. Later Heights was dropped from the name.
Some names of the farms purchased remain as part of the street names. For the most part Colver was built on the Reese farm and the name survives as the main street of Colver, Reese Avenue. The mine and C & I Railroad were built on the Frances property and the name survives as the names of an avenue. Coleman and Weaver Avenues were the other avenues. The cross streets were numbered from one to eleven, however only 9 streets were developed during the time the town was owned by the coal company. There was also a Williams Avenue laid out on the South side of town, but again the town was not extended any further south than Long Avenue.
According to the Cambria Freeman newspaper of June 30, 1911, there was then 40 houses and other structures in Colver and a contract to build 60 more houses at $800 each was let to John E. Miller of Ebensburg. Other items of information carried in the same article were that the road through the woods to the town was just about completed and the railroad had ordered 200 steel hopper cars from the Cambria Steel Company.
According to S. H. Jencks, in September 1911 the engineering staff for the C&I were assigned to oversee building operations for the town of Colver. The engineering staff "... built a small reservoir as a temporary water supply, ran the water lines to the houses and graded streets, and did whatever else was required to get a town on its feet." The remains of the first reservoir can be seen in the little dip between Tripoli and Colver.
Most of the design work was done "in-house" by the engineers of Coleman and Weaver, however in a departure from the norm, the Hotel and Presbyterian Church were designed by a noted designer, Horace Trumbauer of Philadelphia, who is best known for his work at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and Duke University. The company opened and operated a quarry for stone which was used in the institutional buildings of Colver. The remains of the quarry can be seen off the western side of the road to Bakersville and 20 Row from 5th street.
In order to provide an adequate water supply, the company constructed
Vetera Dam about 6 miles from Colver. Jencks notes that a temporary
dam and pump house construction began in May of 1913. In September
construction of the permanent dam was started, but was not completed
until spring of 1914 since the work had to be supervised by the Department
of Waters in Harrisburg. Jencks complained that poor oversight
on the part of the state extended the time required for the construction
of the reservoir.
Colver is considered to be a good example of a planned company town. View a 1923 map of the town with some notes added by Penn State Researchers. The main street through Colver is Reese Avenue. Coleman Avenue and Weaver Avenues parallel Reese Avenue to the North and South. As you study the layout of the town, you will note that the lots on the North side of First Street plus the lots immediately adjacent to Reese Avenue between 1st and 4th street were used for the C&I housing, the lots further removed from Reese Avenue were used for the Ebensburg Coal Company. The area immediately adjacent to Reese Avenue from 5th street to 9th street was also laid out for housing, but never used by the company.
Colver was built in basically 7 sections, with the last houses being built in 1923. A 1924 Sanborn Fire insurance map shows 405 houses in Colver. Coleman and Weaver made the decision early on not to sell individual lots because they insisted on having control over the work force, citing the example of the Berwind-White coal company selling the houses and lots to the miners of Windber. In fact this control was exercised in that some of the miners were evicted from their homes in Colver July 10, 1922, the same day they went on strike as part of a general coal strike during the summer of 1922. It was not until 1948 that the miners were able to buy the houses they lived in.
A blacksmith shop and stables were located on the lower part of Fifth
The HousingColver reflects many of the housing and industrial reform ideals that were being advocated at that time, (now appearing very primitive by the standards of the 21st century). For the coal miners the result was single family houses on fairly large (by standards of the time) lots instead of row style or tenement type housing. Management housing was generally indistinguishable in appearance from the miner housing, however this housing generally had 6 rooms and a bathroom. For the ordinary miner, initially two houses shared a cold water spigot between the houses. (In cold weather the tap had to be propped open to keep from freezing.) Each house had one outhouse and a coal bin combination. Each of the rooms had one bare electric bulb suspended from the ceiling. Power and water were free, provided by the coal company. One single white enamel sink was provided and was drained through the wall to the ground outside. Coal stoves were used to heat and cook and were the property of the individual. Houses were balloon frames (the studs run from the first floor sill to the top plate on the second floor) with weather board outside siding and painted gray with white trim. In 1928, the houses were covered with green asbestos shingles to cut down on the painting. The six room houses did have a full bathroom. In the 1910's and 1920s the four room houses rented for $6 a month or $3 a paycheck. The rent only increased to $9 a month in the World War II years.
A few of the houses were 3 room, one story in an "L-shape" built in 1900 and purportedly brought to Colver from Starford, a Coleman and Weaver property in Indiana County as the mine there was worked out. These houses were generally referred to as "The Shanties." For these shanties, there was a shared (but partitioned) outhouse combined with a coal bin. The Johnstown Tribune article of April 8, 1911, noted that these houses were for the "foreigners."
You may also view an aerial view of Colver from the 1930's here.
There is a wide disparity in the houses built for the C&I workers and the coal miners, the better (brick) housing being provided for the C&I housing. The C&I houses on the North side of First Street and part of Reese Avenue were built between 1917 and 1919.
It does not appear that Coleman and Weaver saw themselves as any type
of social reformers. It would appear they wished to insure that they
had a stable work force to operate the mine and that by providing good
housing and amenities they could accomplish this end. Jencks
notes for 1912 said that there was a need for 2,500 miners in the county.
Community InfrastructureThe company attempted to provide "everything." The owners also provided a general store, movie theater, arcade, snack bar, post office, and a hotel. At one time there was a skating rink on the second floor of the amusement building. Also provided was the water system, sewer system (mostly an open drainage system), electric power system and the telephone system. Steam was provided to heat the store, theater, hotel, and other buildings along Reese Avenue as well as some of the management housing. As much as anything, the fact that there was a hospital to serve the miners and their families defined the new town (and company) as being a very progressive community. Provisions were made for three churches, a Presbyterian(1915), a Roman Catholic (1912), and an Eastern Orthodox (1916), reflecting the ethnic makeup of the community. It was noted that there was a playground for the children in the park across from the company store. The police force were Coal and Iron Police and a jail (click here) was built on Third Street near the washhouse. The company sponsored a fire company, community band for concerts and dances, gun club, baseball teams (Colver Colts) and leagues. Gardening was encouraged and prizes from $2.50 to $25.00 were offered for the best gardens and vegetables.
There was a garage on 8th street which was the only commercial establishment not owned by the coal company or its subsidaries. The company very carefully created subsidary companies -- there was the Colver Land Company (1910) that owned the land and houses, the Colver Electric Company (1917) that provided power, the Colver Water Company (1913), the Colver Telephone Company (which by some quirk has a date of 1874), the Colver Amusement Company (1912) that owned the theatre, and the Colver Store Company (1913). Click here to see addional notes on the corporations that were the legal entities of Colver
Jewtown and TripoliThe town was very tightly controlled, although it was not as tightly controlled as other company towns. No other commercial establishments were permitted in the town. The only bar was the in the Hotel and as Jencks noted, "The common herd was not welcome within the hotel..." That did not stop the Colver residents from obtaining alchocol. What did occur was two communities sprang up just outside the town, one being Tripoli (called "Tripalow" by the residents) and "Jewtown," now known as Bakersville. Tripoli was about one half mile immediately to the East of the town and Bakersville was just South of 20 Row. These appear to have been robust little communities.
Jewtown was the first of the two outlying communities. The 1920 census shows Jewtown as having two grocery stores, a dry goods store, and a bakery. In 1922 a bottling company was established and later on a dry cleaning shop. One of grocery stores was owned by a Russian national and the other by an Austrian. The dry goods store was also owned by a Russian national. The bakery was owned by an Italian. In addition there were two Italians listed as being "retail merchants." These men most likely sold goods from door to door from horse drawn wagons (on credit) and collected in full each payday.
One of the stores moved from Jewtown to Tripoli sometime in the 1930's. Since the town was so tightly controlled, there were no establishments outside the hotel bar that sold liquor in Colver, several bars were established in Tripoli.. In addition the Slovak Club and the Italian Club were constructed in Tripoli and the union hall.
The SchoolThe first school was a 50 foot one room building and Miss Viola Parrish was the first teacher. The room contained some seats, one table, a coal stove, but no blackboard. There were 98 students in grades 1-7 by the end of 1912 requiring the addition of two more teachers. A four room brick school was built in 1913 and before the year was out, four more rooms were added. In 1921 four more rooms and an auditorium was added, and in 1927 a larger school was built next to it. View photographs of the schools as seen from Weaver Avenue between 5th and 6th Streets. The coal company provided much of the funding for the schools, but built by the Cambria Township School Board. The Company exercised some control by the fact that some of the mine officials were members of the school board.
The HospitalThe first hospital was two joined 6 room houses on First Street. Later as the mine operations increased a new mine headquarters building was built uptown and the old mine headquarters became the hospital. For more details on the hospital, Click here.
The United Mine Workers bought the hospital in 1940 and operated it
until closed by the state in 1974. When the UMW bought the hospital
the charge for each person was $2.00 per month for the hospital and $1.50
for the office (very much like today's HMO's). This charge also provided
medicines except for the more expensive prescription drugs. Dr. Martin
continued to fill in at the hospital off and on from 1965 until 1972 when
he completely retired.
The Company StoreThe Company store was also notable. A Grit article of July 9, 1916 noted that the company store had 28,000 square feet, employed 19 persons, and carried over $40,000 in merchandise. A slaughter house was right next to the store which provided fresh meat for the store. In addition, Coleman and Weaver operated a farm which supplied the store with milk, butter, cheese and eggs. According to the same article, the milk was bottled and sealed under government inspection. The company store had several charge systems where the residents could charge their purchases and the charge would be deducted from the worker's pay. For larger purchases the payment period was extended, much like installment payments of today. Many company stores required as a condition of employment that the miner purchase all his goods at the company store. The Ebensburg Coal Company did not make this a requirement of employment, however each miner was required in his contract to permit the company to deduct purchases made at the company store.
The company store was sold to a private individual in 1963, however the charge system continued until 1977. The store is now closed and only a convience store remains in Colver.
Irregardless of the Grit article, many of the residents considered the merchandise overpriced and of lower quality than could be purchased elsewhere. Those miners and C&I employees who could do so tended to shop in Ebensburg, Carrolltown, and sometimes Barnesboro. As mentioned above, there were merchants in nearby Bakersville (Jewtown) and Tripoli, several of whom delivered using horse drawn wagons
The Dairy Farm
Another unique element in Colver was the Dairy Farm.
located immediately to the North of 9th Street (the bottom of 9th Street).
A road went up from the farm to 9th Street. As previously mentioned,
it provided dairy products to the store, and also was the location for
some prize animals. The aforementioned Grit Article mentioned
prize Holstein and Jersey cattle. From what we can find, this
was a modern up to date operation. This was discussed further by
Barton Richards, a trooper with the 104th Cavalry in a letter to the New
Castle (Pa) Daily News, when he visited the farm in late July, 1922.
He noted the presence of named prize animals, a Holstein bull, a Poland
China brood sow, and some collie dogs noting their blood line.
Richard's letter also made made note of the cleanness and high state of
maintenance with in the barns and the addition of automatic drinking fountains
for the cows. The Dairy Farm also had an orchard which provided apples
to the company store.
Labor RelationsThe Grit article of July 9, 1916 made a elaborate case that the miners were well satisfied with the working conditions and over the "progressive" attitude of Weaver. Grit claimed that the miners made between "$25 and $40 a week" and later in the same article that "...the houses have from four to six rooms and rent at from $8 and $12 a month," giving a clear implication that the conditons were such that there was no need for the miners to organize. Nevertheless labor strife dogged the company almost from the beginning. Jencks states in his notes for 1912 that "Labor Organizers and Agitators were beginning to give trouble..." and in 1915 a stockholder of the company, E. F. Saxman, came to Colver to "take a hand in management" of the labor situation. On October 20, 1915, Saxman routed a carload of union organizers from the hotel using his fists on a few "to show he meant business," chasing them back to Ebensburg. Jencks noted that this was the real beginning of trouble with the union.
For the most part, those who worked in the mine at Colver considered themselves fortunate to be there. When asked why, the response tended to be that -- the pay was good, the work was steady, and it wasn't any worse than anywhere else. In fact from reviewing the literature on the status and plight of the soft coal miner, Colver living conditions appear to have been much better and the manangement better than other mine communities.
The author recalls visiting the issue with his mother, the specific question being "What was it like during the depression?" The response was "We had a car, refrigerator, radio, and your Dad worked 3 or 4 days a week."
As mentioned earlier, Colver was tightly controlled. Since the
company owed the entire town, comings and goings were closely monitored.
Margret Mulrooney cites one case where a young man was stopped and questioned
as he went to visit a friend in 20 Row and Russel Edwards recalls his parent's
automobile being stopped and having to show proof they lived in Colver.
In May of 1922, a notice was published in the Indiana, (Pa) Times declaring
Colver to be a "Closed Town."
The Militia Occupation
On April 1, 1922, the United Mines Workers called a strike in the bituminous coal fields. Revloc went out on Strike on April 6, but Colver remained at work until July 10. On July 10, 1922 the Johnstown Tribune stated that the miners at Colver had gone on strike. The Johnstown paper reported that immediately the Coal and Iron Police were brought into the town. On July 21, the state militia was mobilized and stationed in various locations throughout the coal fields, one of the locations being Colver. Newspapers of the time indicate that the First Squadron of the 104th Cavalry was stationed near Ebensburg and that Troop A, First Squadron, 104th Calvary occupied Colver and patroled the roads from 6 A.M to 6 P.M, using both horses and a truck for patrols. One of the facets that can be inferred from the reports of the occupation was that the troops saw this particular mission as protecting the property of one B. Dawson Coleman. Click here for Details of the Occupation. There was no violence, and upon demobilization the report was made that only once were shots fired and that was when a carload of drunken Coal and Iron police fired into the camp. One source said that there was a roadblock by the Militia at the Colver T" (where the Colver road joins the old (first) U.S. highway 219.) Click here for a discussion of the issues in this strike. It was not until 1933 with the passage of the National Industrial Recovery Act that the miners were able to unionize.
Dissolution of the Coleman and Weaver PartnershipThe Coleman and Weaver partnership was dissolved in 1922. Coleman took possession of the mine at Colver and sold his share in the C&I to the New York Central. Weaver kept the Heisley and Monroe Coal Companies and a 60% interest in the C&I Railroad. In 1948, Weavers 60% interest was sold to Bethlehem Steel Corporation. On August 1, 1956 the Ebensburg Coal Company was sold to Eastern Gas & Fuel Associates. Later Eastern Gas and Fuel sold the property to the Peabody Coal Company
The Train RobberyAnother interesting event in the life of the town came on October 11, 1924 when the train robbery occurred. The C&I train carrying the coal company payroll cash was stopped and the payroll was taken. Unfortunately one of the payroll guards was killed in the robbery. This is pretty much considered to be the last great train robbery in the United States.
Colver Boom YearsThe population of Colver was estimated to be 2,000 in 1924 with the existing housing. No more houses were built until after World War II, but the population was estimated to be nearly 4000 just before World War II. Overcrowding was the norm, some people can recall 4 room houses having 10 people living in them. Families looked for single men who worked the night shift, the men slept during the day and the children slept in the same beds at night.. Almost all homes had at least one boarder.
Colver was a tough town. Mrs. Martin, the doctor's wife, mentioned walking to the post office shortly after they got there and there was a body in the ditch. The first chief of Police was killed in the line of duty. (See the entries on the Coal and Iron Police page.)
In essence, Colver did not undergo any significant changes between 1923 and the late 1940's. A service station was added across the street from the company store in 1925. The "Street Car" service was discontinued in the 1930's and the tracks removed. Also in the early 1930's the dairy farm was discontinued as an operation of the coal company. World War II saw in excess of 600 men from the Colver area go into the service and 16 men died in the service during World War II.
The Mountaineer Herald of August 24, 1933 reported that Eleanor Roosevelt, wife of President Roosevelt unexpectedly called at the Colver and Revloc "mine works" staying overnight in the new Ebensburg Inn.
During World War II, the Colver mine produced 6,000 tons of clean coal daily with a work force of 1,400 hand loaders at one time. In 1950, the mine was completely mechanized with production of 5,400 tons daily..
Beginning in the 1950's Colver began to go into a decline. As the demand for Coal decreased and with increasing mechanization, layoffs became common. The houses were sold to the tenants starting about 1948 and as was mentioned earlier the company store was sold to a private individual in 1963.
An addendum to the Jencks journal (under a letterhead of the C&I Railroad dated January 12, 1973) notes that on January 1, 1973, the work force was 240 with a daily production tonnage of 1,550 tons.
Colver NowThe Colver mine was closed in 1978. The C&I Railroad operations out of Colver stopped in 1990 and the C&I ceased operations completely in 1994.
The mine has been sealed, however an unfortunate by product of the mining operations must still be dealt with -- Acid Mine drainage. There is a water treatment facility at the site of the Y portal near Belsano where mine water surfaces through 4 bore holes. The mine water is treated with lime and then aerated to oxide the sulfur. The water flows through two settling ponds before entering the Black Lick Creek. The resulting water is clean enough that there are fish in the discharge. This facility is operated by the last two remaining employees of the Ebensburg Coal Company. They are very proud of the fact that there have been no environmental violations.
In 2001, the population is just over 1000 made up of approximately 430 families. The town is essentially a retirement community and a bedroom community for nearby industry. It is noted that the residents still go to the post office every day to pick up their mail and life goes on.
Historic DistrictColver was designated a National Historic District in June of 1994 under the auspices of America's Industrial Heritage Project of the U. S. National Parks Service. Due to the singular nature of its industry, Colver has survived relatively intact since its inception in 1910 and that fact makes it fairly unique in Pennsylvania's industrial history. The historic district area is roughly bounded by Ninth Street, the Ebensburg Coal Company Power Building, and Bakersville, Cambria Township.
Colver Power ProjectIn 1992 Colver was selected as a pilot project to reclaim waste coal as a source of power. In 1995 the Colver Power Project was brought on line and as such has earned environmental honors. This plant is classified as a "Small Power Producer" and as such is capable of producing 1102 megawatts of electricity.
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Last Update Jan 28, 2002
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