Friday, November 17, 2000

Another history book published about model mining community

BY ANDY SCOTT
THE OBSERVER-REPORTER

NEMACOLIN - A lot can change in 22 years, and in this old mining community perched above the brown-green waters of the Monongahela, a lot has changed.

Nemacolin Mine, once among the world's largest and safest, is closed and most of its surface buildings razed. The elementary school is gone, consumed by fire nearly a decade ago. Many of the families who purchased houses from Buckeye Coal Co. have moved on, and new families moved in.

Memories of Nemacolin's halcyon days could well fade into obscurity with barely a whisper - something that lifelong resident Robert Korcheck is determined not to let happen.

The retired college professor recently published a second edition of his illustrated history of the mining community originally penned in 1978. The new edition was prompted by demand for the original, which sold out years ago, he said.

It contains a new foreword, detailing the mine's closure and sealing in 1986 and 1987, as well as some additional information about the original incorporators of the town's civic authority dating from the sale of the "company town" in 1946. But the body of the work - and its message - remains the same.

"Nemacolin was the model coal mining community in the world, and the model coal mine in the world, as late as 1944," Korcheck said. "I have to laugh sometimes when people are putting sewage treatment systems in towns around here. Nemacolin had a sewage treatment plant in 1917. All of the houses had running water, electricity and furnaces. It was at least 75 years ahead of its time."

Over the years, the original collection of 446 wood-framed single homes and duplexes has dwindled to 363, through age, neglect, and fires. No new homes have been built, leaving the community essentially as its designers envisioned it in 1917, he added.

But not everything is as it was. The hospital is gone, along with the pool hall, movie theater, school and other amenities.

"As far as I'm concerned, there are very nice places to live in town, and not very nice places to live. It's like anywhere," Korcheck said. "The mine really helped the community. When the coal company owned the town, the houses were absolutely beautiful."

There was a price, of course. An unkempt lawn could cost a miner his job, and consequently, his home. Company police enforced beauty standards with billy clubs and blackjacks.

"Things have changed," he said. "You couldn't believe the great collegiality that existed back in the 1940s and 1950s when everyone worked in the coal mine. You had to work in the mine to live in the community. Everybody had that in common."

Korcheck's own father spent 51 years of his life underground. He swore that none of his sons would work in the mines, and none ever did. Two became professional baseball players, one of whom also became president of a college in Florida, and Robert Korcheck went on to a career teaching English at California University of Pennsylvania, West Virginia University, Morgantown, W.Va., and Duquesne.

They weren't alone, he claims. At a reception held in conjunction with Carmichaels Area School District's all-class reunion a few months ago, Nemacolin natives returned in droves.

"We had probably 15 who became millionaires, many who became doctors, lawyers, engineers, teachers, all very successful," he said.

The second edition of "Nemacolin: The Mine-The Community, 1917-1950" is available at Gabler's Drugstore in Carmichaels or by calling (724) 966-7900.

Copyright 2000 Observer Publishing Co.