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The Colliery Engineer

Updated: Aug 16, 2020

Tunnel Ridge Colliery, Mahanoy City, PA

Living in the southern Pennsylvania Coal Region, it is not unexpected to have ancestors who worked in that principal industry. Between 1858 and 1953, there were 41 collieries in operation in the Mahanoy Valley (a colliery was a coal mine and the buildings and equipment associated with it).

Collieries in the Valley - Green indicates the Tunnel Ridge Colliery

I have already introduced you to my paternal great-great-grandfather, Ebenezer Morris. He immigrated from Wales to establish his life in America and that led him to work in the coal mines of Mahanoy City, PA.

Another relative who worked his adult life in a colliery was my paternal great grandfather, James Milton Blew. Born on 14 November 1859, he was the 8th child of Isaac A. and Ella Irene (Ellen) (nee Moyer) Blew and the sixth son. In total, there were 14 children and all but one would live to adulthood.

His father, Isaac A. Blew, was a farmer in Rush Township, Schuylkill County, about ten miles east of Mahanoy City. The property was next to his paternal grandparents, Levi and Mary Blew and adjacent to the farms of his maternal uncle, John Schlier, Jr., and grandparents John and Mary Schlier. The Blews were very close to the Schlier family. James' uncle Henry Blew had married his aunt Catherine Schlier who were also farmers.

James was attending school at least until he was 11 years old. By the time he was 20, his father had moved the family from the farm and established himself as a merchant in Mahanoy City. James and his brothers were employed as "laborers" and may not have been working in the coal industry yet.

Eventually James went to work at the Tunnel Ridge Colliery. It was established by George W. Cole as a breaker and commenced shipping coal in December 1863. It became a colliery in 1869 and was purchased by the Philadelphia & Reading Coal & Iron Company in 1879. The colliery employed 887 men and had its best year in 1901 when it produced 312,269 tons of coal. James was employed as a colliery engineer/fireman and was well known for that position. In traditional terminology a mine engineer was a senior person responsible for all boilers and machinery and for supervision of the enginewrights (people who built or repaired steam engines).

James and Ella

In 1885 he married Ella Irene (Ellen) Moyer. They would live on East Mahanoy Street, next door to Ella's parents, Simon and Eva Moyer. They would have seven children; a son and six daughters. Two of the daughters would die young. Eva Lavina died in 1903 at the age of 15 and the youngest daughter, Dorothy Ida, would die in 1906 at the age of 3.

Family history has it that James wheeled stones to the German Protestant Cemetery to build the monument that would stand as the headstone for his daughters until it was replaced in 1941. The cemetery is located on one of the hills to the southeast that overlooks the city.

Blew Headstone, German Protestant Cemetery

In August 1912, while engaged in welding work at the Tunnel Ridge Colliery, James ran an iron rod into his hand. Little was thought of the injury at the time. However, he had an iron splinter in his hand that ended up causing blood poisoning. He would suffer with that until he finally died from it on 29 January 1913 at the age of 53. Besides his wife, he left five children, ranging in ages from 27 to 13. His mother Christianna, who was 85, was living with his youngest brother, John Wesley Blew on his farm in Little Mahanoy, Northumberland County.

After James' death, Ella left Mahanoy City and moved to Norristown, PA where she lived with her daughters Caroline "Carrie", Leah Irene and Jesse Irma and her husband, Raymond Lawson.


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