- Associated Press - Saturday, May 21, 2016

MARIANNA, Pa. (AP) - Follow Interstate 79 to the exit nine miles north of Waynesburg, and the signs give you a choice.

Turn one direction toward Prosperity. Turn the other, and the road leads to Marianna.

President Theodore Roosevelt chose the latter in 1908 to tour what was then a state-of-the-art coal mining town. Generations of workers followed the same road, and built an industrial powerhouse known around the world. During World War II, civil engineers erected a watchtower overlooking Marianna because they assumed an Axis air attack on America’s East Coast would target the huge coal mine on the bank of Ten Mile Creek.

The winter Joe Glad came home from that war, he went to the Marianna Mine to ask about a job. The foreman emerged at shift’s end, took him to the company doctor and said, “I want this guy examined. He’s going to start working for me tomorrow morning.”

“That’s the way things were,” said Glad, 88, who moved to Marianna when he was 2, just before the Great Depression.

The yellow brick houses of this former company town in Washington County cling to hillsides over dark gray fields of coal mine waste. The quiet roads that lead to them pass by Marianna’s ghosts: the lot where the company store sat, where the movie house played, where the bar beckoned and the school stood.

A fire closed the mine in 1989. By then, the steel industry it fueled had all but burned out. Owner Bethlehem Steel decided not to reopen the mine. After decades of slow, steady decline, Marianna’s reason for being vanished overnight.

“They’re closing the bank, and they’re talking about closing the post office,” said Linda Hinton, 48. “Even with the (Marcellus gas) well money coming in, the town is still - we’re trying, but things are still going away.”

Across the Greene County line and nine miles south on I-79, most storefronts on High Street in Waynesburg remain open. Even as the coal industry that built this region declined, the rise of natural gas kept the economy above water. But now that’s slowing down, too, and coal’s plight has only worsened.

Just over five months ago, Alpha Natural Resources shuttered Emerald Mine No. 1, just southwest of town, and laid off more than 200 well-paid workers. Without a federally approved extension, their unemployment insurance will run out this month.

“We haven’t necessarily seen any huge impact - it’s coming,” said Melody Longstreth, executive director of the Waynesburg Area Chamber of Commerce.

Waynesburg isn’t Marianna. In addition to its gas industry, Waynesburg benefits from being the seat of county government and home to Waynesburg University, a school with more than 1,500 students. Just outside town, State Correctional Institution Greene employs 693 people full time to guard more than 1,700 inmates, including most of the state’s death row prisoners, according to the Department of Corrections. Marianna was built around one mine.

Likewise, the coal industry isn’t what it was when Bethlehem shut down its mine. At its height, the Marianna mine employed 900 people to mine its corner of the Pittsburgh Seam, whose coal contains more energy per volume than any other coal seam in the country. Alpha Natural Resources told state regulators that closing Emerald would affect one-third as many people. Those people live across the region, rather than in one town.

Longstreth’s brother-in-law is among them. He and his wife, who live in Morgantown, W.Va., had their second child in April.

“It’s been an eye-opening experience, seeing what you have to do, the paperwork you have to fill out to qualify” for job retraining and other federally funded programs, Longstreth said.

Even when the job retraining process works, learning a new career often takes longer than six months. That can leave a chasm between the last unemployment check and first paycheck, said Bob Wilson, 31, of Jackson Township, who lost his miner job in the Nov. 13 layoff.

Wilson and David Hathaway, another laid-off miner, founded Career Opportunities After Layoffs - COAL - to help fellow miners find job retraining and other employment assistance. They’ve organized events and job fairs, even as both search for work.

Recently, Wilson began looking for startup capital for a supplement and nutrition business.

Hathaway, 36, of Waynesburg “put in probably 100 applications, and he’s only gotten one phone call,” Wilson said. Another former co-worker moved his family to Tennessee in late April after months of searching and hundreds of applications yielded nothing that paid well enough and came with health insurance for his family.

People used to supporting families on single incomes that reached six figures are entering a job market in an area where the median household income is half that.

“No matter what the training is, you’re going to have to decide to go where the work is,” said Nancy Davis, the energy industry liaison at Westmoreland County Community College’s Waynesburg campus.

That’s a worrying proposition for people who built their businesses around those miners.

“The thing with coal and coal mines is they’ve had stability for a long time. If you were from these areas, that’s what you did,” said Chester Lampman, regional representative for the state Department of Labor and Industry’s Rapid Response Coordination Service. The service monitors industries for layoffs, and then acts as Pennsylvania’s first responder, mobilizing government agencies and community organizations to cushion the blow.

“I don’t know if 10 years ago anyone thought the coal industry would be where it is now,” Lampman said.

John Bruno’s father started Mickey’s Men’s Store on High Street in Waynesburg in 1965 to sell clothing to miners: work clothes for their shifts, suits for weekend nights on the town. When coal began to slump, the rise of natural gas drilling about 10 years ago filled the gap.

“That’s basically what saved our business,” said Bruno. “If it wasn’t for that, we wouldn’t be here.”

But as drilling slowed, business began drying up. Last year, Bruno’s store’s revenue was two-thirds of what it was in 2014. This year, he’s selling even less, he said.

“If the oil and gas thing turns around, it could go right back up again,” Bruno said. But he’s not sure it will. “You hear this and that. You don’t know what to believe, so you just take it one day at a time.”

Or you leave, abandoning home for a shot at stability.

“It’s not anything different than our parents’ or grandparents’ generation did,” said Kathy Manderino, Secretary of Labor and Industry.

Manderino grew up in Monessen. Her mother’s family worked in steel mills.

“There was a whole stream of folks from Monessen and Donora who moved out to Gary, Indiana, and Chicago when they were looking for that skill set,” Manderino said.

Eventually, if something doesn’t replace coal jobs, the choice of whether to stay ceases to be a choice at all.

When Marianna native Hinton graduated high school in 1985, “there was nothing for anybody here anymore. … The younger people, they had to get out.”

Marianna lost a generation. Those who stayed are slowly dying off, said Hinton’s mother, JoAn Ansell, 73. After college, Hinton lived in Washington, D.C., before returning to Marianna in 2002. Demand for properties was so low, she and her husband paid $2,000 for a four-bedroom home. Population fell from more than 1,000 people in 1960 to fewer than 500 in 2010, according to the Census.

Bit by bit, the town’s past is vanishing. Most of the mine buildings and untold numbers of homes and businesses have been torn down. Even the tombstones in the cemetery outside of town, some written in the Cyrillic alphabet of Russian immigrants, are wearing smooth.

Glad built a model of what the company town once looked like that’s so large it takes up half of his two-car garage. He speaks of its history with enthusiasm, but sorrow sometimes creeps into his voice.

“It’ll never be like it was,” he said. “That’s gone.”

___

Online:

https://bit.ly/23SjiFM

___

Information from: Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, https://pghtrib.com


Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.

 

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide