The collection of houses known as Stockton exists approximately two miles east of Hazleton and is one of those places one has to want to visit in order to get there. The only reason I knew I was on the correct road was due to its name: The Stockton Mountain Road. At one point a road crosses the Stockton Road, but the directions I had at hand told me to stay on the Stockton Mountain Road.
A little over a mile south of this intersection I saw the sign for the memorial and parked in the grassy area next to it. A wooden sign at the edge of the road marked the spot of the disaster and a short distance away was another memorial surrounded by an iron fence.
Walking over to it, I noticed the names written on it: Elizabeth Rough. Margaret Rough. Isaac Rough. Elizabeth Rough. George Swank. William Swank. Next to the granite marker is a second stone; this one was a government marker provided for veterans and I noticed it was for Isaac Rough. The people buried here were victims of a mine disaster that happened here on December 18, 1869. The six names listed on the marker are for the six bodies that were not recovered in the aftermath of the disaster.
At five in the morning on that December day, the ground shook wildly before opening up, swallowing houses as the mine shaft that ran beneath them collapsed. The abandoned coal shaft that swallowed them was a part of the East Sugar Loaf Mines.
A note: There does seem to be a debate about how often this mine shaft was being worked. Just about every article I’ve come across begins by stating the shaft had been abandoned for close to fifteen years, but ends with the statement two miners working in it were believed to have perished.
After I first posted this article, I received a note from a good friend who grew up in the region. David states that often companies would pay others to go into the mine and “pillar rob.” To “rob the pillar” means that the miners would destroy the pillars that were holding up the roof of the mine. As the pillars were being destroyed more weight was being supported only by the walls of the mine. The unsupported weight would eventually cause the roof to collapse. Looking into this a little deeper, it also appears that many of the small one or two person operations would apply this tactic, going into the abandoned mines and “robbing the pillars.”
The disaster happened when a hole opened up, dropping three houses roughly forty feet into the mine with no warning. The first two houses that fell into the mine belonged to the Swank and the Rough families. A third house also fell into the opening, but those inside managed to escape. The disaster claimed the lives of the Swank and Rough families who were listed as being killed in the collapse. Note: there is some debate on how far the buildings fell. The original articles state that they fell forty feet. However a later article that covered the placing of a stone for Isaac Rough states the bodies were buried under four hundred feet of earth. I do believe that the four hundred is a misprint.
The official list of victims is: George Swank, his wife and three children; Mr. Rough, his wife, daughter, and mother. The newspapers of the time focus upon a young girl who managed to escape death. The girl – I’m not sure which family the girl was a member of – jumped out of the house as it fell into the pit. Unfortunately as she landed on the ground, it crumbled beneath her feet and she fell into the opening. She landed on top of the ruins but was quickly rescued by neighboring families.
After saving the young girl, rescuers began the task of recovering the deceased. By the evening of December 20, the bodies of George’s wife and two of his children were recovered; they would be interred at St. John’s Cemetery near Hazleton. The bodies of Mr. Eaton and Mr. Baker, listed as miners in newspaper accounts, were recovered on Monday evening, but where they are buried and any other information about them remains elusive. The rest of those killed in the mine collapse were not recovered and were buried at the location of the disaster.
The cause of the disaster was due to the closeness of the shaft to the surface. Only twenty feet of earth existed between the surface and the mine shaft. When the mine collapsed, the falling dirt blocked the shaft off, making it impossible to recover the bodies via the mine. If these men were “pillar robbing,” then they may have caused the disaster that occurred that fateful day.
In 1924, a marker for Isaac Rough was placed at the spot, honoring him for his service with the Twenty-Eighth Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry during the Civil War.
I finished paying my respects to those buried here and to those who lost their lives in the mine collapse and left them in the silence of the cool afternoon sun. If you choose to visit, please be respectful of the area.
Note: In doing the research for this, I’m still pondering how many perished that day. The official count is ten people killed in the disaster. However, I’ve done a number of counts using newspapers and genealogical sites, and ten is not one of the numbers I’ve come up with.
Possibility Number One, using the newspaper accounts at the time of the disaster: George and his wife, their four children; Isaac Rough and his wife, daughter, and Isaac’s mother; These accounts list ten as being killed and then has an addendum of “plus two miners.” This gives a total of twelve killed in the disaster. Also, these accounts record Mr. Rough as being Mr. Retch.
Possibility Number Two, using the newspaper account for the dedication of Isaac’s tombstone: George and his wife and their nine children; Isaac and his wife and two children. This one has no mention of Isaac’s mother or the miners. This gives a total of fifteen victims.
Possibility Number Three, using cemetery information: Six are buried at the cave-in spot and three bodies were recovered. This count brings the total to nine victims, not the ten that newspapers listed at the time.