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Henry Gassaway Davis

Henry Gassaway Davis was born in Woodstock, Maryland in 1823. His family experienced financial hardships and tragedy when Henrys father died around 1835, yet the family was determined to work hard and maintain their home.

Henry began his career with the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad at age 20. He proved himself capable, intelligent and businesslike and by 1858 was ready to start his own ventures in coal, banking and timber. With his savings, Davis began buying property with potential for coal and timber.

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Over the years, the Davis Brothers, including William and Thomas, built a powerful empire in railroads, natural resources and politics. In 1884, prospectors for H.G. Davis & Bros. discovered the Kittaning seam of coal between Thomas and Davis and a mine was opened. A mine for the Freeport seam was also opened near Thomas, but closed by 1885 because the coal was perceived to be inferior. However, mining continued in the area and Stephen B. Elkins, Henrys son-in-law, entered into the partnership.

In 1887, two coke ovens we're constructed and the Freeport coal was found to be excellent for making coke. The company was reorganized as the Davis Coal and Coke Company in 1888.

Coking is a process in which coal is burned without oxygen, driving off water and volatile gases. Coke was (and is) essential for steel-making, which at the time was one of the largest industries in the United States and was centered in Western Pennsylvania, not far from Thomas. When coal and coke began production in Thomas, the town became a gear in an immense industrial machine, powering steel mills that built Americas cities and skyscrapers, building the rails and bridges that connected coasts, and fueling factories, locomotives and steamships.

The Davis Coal and Coke Company had over 500 coke ovens, which we're beehive-shaped and built with bricks, burning at the height of production. The company town was called Coketon, and was located adjacent to the town of Thomas. Coketon was a self-contained coal town and consisted of the coal mines and associated industrial buildings, housing for company officials, bosses, laborers and their families, the Buxton and Landstreet company store, and the railroad depots. Coal towns we're designed to provide everything that a company and it's employees would need, but because of Coketons proximity to Thomas and the areas sizable population, many coal company employees shopped, spent time and even lived in Thomas. The two towns depended upon each other.

Mining and coking we're exhausting jobs, not for the weak or faint of heart. Salvatore DiBacco started work in the coke ovens as a teenager, the day after he arrived in Thomas from Italy in 1889. He described the experience in his autobiography:

[A]fter a good night a fellow country man told me if I wanted to go to work with him. I did not know where we we're going about mile we stopped, and it was coke ovens. The front wall of the furnace, he stack a long pipe with water sprinkles on the coal then he turned the water on and this was how they made coke, with big blazes of fire blowing out of each furnace as you put water on the coke. If you did not watch out you could easy get yourself burn. As you got the coke cooled down you began to draw the coke from each oven this was hot and tiresome job but after you get used to this, it was not such a bad job.

Salvatore received 48 cents a day for cleaning one coke oven. Later, when he began working as a merchant, he always kept the memory of the hot, exhausting nights working the ovens as incentive to work hard to make his store successful.

New technologies rendered the coke ovens obsolete in 1915, but coal continued to be mined through the 1940s.

Although the 15-mine operation surrounding Thomas was the sixth most productive area in the state, only one mine disaster occurred over the course of it's history: an explosion killing 25 on February 4, 1907. From 1915 to 1921, 1 million tons of coal annually we're shipped out of the Thomas/Coketon mines. The coal industry started a slow decline through 1950, when only two underground mines we're still in operation. The last underground mine closed in 1956.

Hoffman/Cooper Residence

The houses Gothic Revival architectural elements include a steeply-pitched central gable and pointed arch window. The house originally had an open front porch with gingerbread (ornately carved) molding.

130 East Avenue

This brick commercial structure was originally the A&P Grocery store. Though at first glance it looks like a plain brick structure, decorative brickwork reveals that the original owner did value architectural details.

Posted in Art Post Date 09/15/2016


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