Mason County Memories : The American Dream, Part II


Continuing from last week’s article, local records also show us that the “American Dream” wasn’t a reality for everyone. While the Eggenschwiler family did fairly well, others came to America expecting an enormous amount of wealth and died tragically in the local coal mines. A perfect example comes from the experience of other immigrants to the Bend Area.

In the 1800s, it was not uncommon for immigrants to hear “that in America, the oranges grew as big as your head all over the ground, and the doorknobs were made of gold.” When these poor German, English, and Welsh immigrants arrived, they saw no golden doorknobs and found that the “oranges” were actually pumpkins. Yet, most had spent the last of their money reaching America and had no choice but to find a job. Many immigrants found jobs in the factories and mines of the northeast, in cities such as Philadelphia and New York; however, many also found their way to Cincinnati and the various towns along the way.

By 1870, the Bend Area was a veritable melting pot, with Welsh, English, German, Swiss, Scottish, and Irish immigrants working alongside African-Americans and native born white Americans. There was certainly discrimination, as salt company owners divided their towns into areas known as “Dutch Row” and “Irish Row,” and some remnants of this era persist in modern nicknames. However, the immigrants themselves tended to be fairly tolerant due to the work at hand. It’s hard to hate someone when you’re deep inside a coal mine and need to work together or die.

As we saw last week, some immigrants, such as Charles Eggenschwiler, quickly gained a safe job in the company store. This was not your “average” immigrant experience. Many of those jobs were given to those who could speak English, such as native born Americans or Englishmen. Those who couldn’t speak English or had thick accents, which tended to be the German and Welsh immigrants, were instead put to work in the coal mines and salt furnaces. These were both extremely dangerous jobs, and quite a number of works died from accidents.

One such immigrant was Peter Embleton. His family came to America in 1850, along with the Soulsbys and Holts, and arrived in the Bend Area by 1860. Peter was a coal miner, and went to work for the Julhing Coal Company. He worked there until 1890, when he was killed in a slate fall.

There is also the story of Richard Jenkins. He was an immigrant from Wales, who worked as a teamster for the Hartford Coal and Salt Company. While working for the salt company, he lost his leg in an accident. It didn’t kill him, but it severely hindered his ability to work.

These are only two of the thousands of stories from our region. It wasn’t uncommon for someone in the coal or salt industry to lose fingers, a leg, or even their life. Many of them also died poor, and lie in unmarked graves in our local cemeteries. For example, Brown Cemetery in Hartford has 550 or so burials, and around 200 of them are unmarked.

Today, our area still carries the genetic remnants of these immigrants. Virtually our entire county can trace their ancestry back to the Irish, Welsh, German, English, or a combination thereof, and almost everybody can say they’ve got a relative who worked in the mines.

Information from the writings of Mildred Chapman Gibbs.

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By Chris Rizer

Special to the Register

Chris Rizer is the president of the Mason County Historical and Preservation Society. More information on the organization found on Facebook at Mason County Historic Preservation. The next meeting of the Mason County Historical and Preservation Society will be held at the County Library, in Point Pleasant, at 6:30 p.m., Sept. 23.