McAdoo

Some notes and thoughts about McAdoo, PA. 

Even though I’ve long known that life was hard for working people in the industrial era, it came as a shock to me that our ancestors began working at such tender ages and had so little opportunity for schooling.  Our great-grandfather, James J. Haggerty (b. 1835 in Ireland) was able to read and write, according to census data, but his older brother Cornelius (b. 1827) was illiterate, as was Cornelius’ Irish-born wife Margaret.  In their children’s generation, it seems that no one had more than a primary school education, whereas I had always assumed, for some reason, that everyone had been able to stay in school through the eighth grade.  By age 11 or 12 people were usually working; many historians observe that it was not unusual for children as young as 7 or 8 to be working at barely-paid jobs, 10-12 hours a day, the boys as laborers in the mines or elsewhere, the girls as “servants,” which meant as domestics or in restaurant or hotel work.  Apparently it was common practice for a mother to keep one daughter at home to help with the housework, which was considerable in an age when soot from the coal stoves had to be wiped off the walls and mopped off the floors; clothing had to be soaked, boiled, rinsed, wrung out, and hung to dry; bedding had to be aired; food had to be bought, brought in from the garden, cooked, and either served or preserved; young children had to be supervised, fed, bathed, and de-loused; elderly and sick family members had to be taken care of, helped to the outhouse or assisted with the chamber pot, and so on.

In the coal company towns, often rudimentary and hastily built, people lived in minimal comfort.  Posted online are pictures of the Eckley Miners’ Village near Hazleton, built in the 1850s.  Amazingly, some of the houses are still occupied, and the single street of the old company town, together with the breaker, has been preserved as a state monument.  The place is really touching and sad.  Many scenes from The Mollie Maguires (starring Sean Connery) were filmed there in 1970.

When the companies had exhausted a vein of coal, they often tore down the workers’ houses and reused the lumber to build the next town.  For example, Honey Brook, where our family lived for at least 40 years, no longer exists, and all that’s left of Audenried (about a half mile away) is 6 or 7 ramshackle houses, which are still occupied; the rest were either torn down or left to rot.  Interestingly, the remaining Audenried houses are on a narrow dirt road called Tamaqua Street, which was the address of Aunt Katie and Uncle Hughie in 1910 (40 South Tamaqua Street, where Hughie continued to live long afterward).  In a conversation with Mary Nester Zukovich (b. 1920 in McAdoo) and her friend Julie Subolish, I learned that Tamaqua Street was the main thoroughfare in the area until the state of PA built highway 309, which replaced most of Tamaqua Street, leaving only a little segment of the old unpaved lane.  Mary Zukovich also told me that her ethnic group, the Poles, like all other Eastern Europeans in McAdoo, were referred to generically as “Hungarians” by the earlier settlers.  Apparently, there was large-scale immigration to PA from the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the decades before World War One.

Our Irish great-grandfathers and their American-born sons and daughters enjoyed a certain privilege by virtue of being English speakers; by comparison with the second-wave immigrants of the period from 1880 to 1914–mainly people from Eastern and Southern Europe–they held positions of some responsibility and earned higher wages.  For example, James Haggerty, Sr. was a road supervisor in 1890, and his sons Michael and Hugh Haggerty were railroad engineers of some sort.  Yet as far as I can see from the census data, over a period of 80 years (roughly 1860-1940), no one in our immediate family was able to rise in the ranks to become a foreman or a “miner” per se (that is, a person with the knowledge and skill to open a mine and organize the extraction process).  These positions were filled mainly by Englishmen, Welshmen, and their US-born descendants, most of them Protestants.  Joseph Haggerty was an innkeeper, but inns were pretty rough establishments in those days.  No one seems to have been able to open a business such as a dry goods store or a grocery.  As for the women, if they were working outside the home they seem to have worked almost exclusively as servants from 1870 to 1910 (although Ellen Haggerty was a dressmaker in 1900, and Joseph’s daughter Mary was a teacher).  For decades, they too seem, for the most part, to have been unable to move into less exhausting, better-paid work.  It’s sad testimony to the rigors of the industrial age and to most working people’s limited prospects for “upward” mobility.

Generally speaking, Irish laborers were a key force not only in mining but in building the canals that served the mining industry (as well as other enterprises) and, later, in building the railroads.  They were despised for their poverty and their Catholicism; they were barred from many forms of employment; they were segregated in urban ghettos or put up in the hinterlands in boarding houses and makeshift bunkhouses; and for decades they were publicly ridiculed and condemned.

I hope, though, that even in the McAdoo years, people in our family, and others, were able to find some enjoyment.  There were rail lines linking the mining areas to Hazleton (only 3 miles away) and thus to Hazle Park, which opened in 1892.  In the summer there were outdoor festivities, including wiener roasts, celebrating “Irish Day,” “German Day,” “Italian Day,” etc., and free band concerts on grounds decorated with beautiful flowerbeds, shrubbery, shade trees, and benches.  A bit later a grandstand and a ballpark were built, and in 1909 there were two performances a day (except Sundays) at the new vaudeville-movie theater.  (The Irish were famous for their roles in minstrel shows.  I wonder if our family members ever saw one?)  In the winter there were sleigh rides and ice-skating.  By the 1920s (after most of our family had moved to Crabtree), the park had a dance pavilion, bowling alleys, boating, swimming, tennis and handball courts, and a roller coaster.  The equivalent in the Pittsburgh area was Kennywood Park, where my mother must have gone at some point; I remember that she loved roller coasters (unless she was remembering family visits to McAdoo, which may well have included a day at Hazle Park—if in fact any such visits took place).  Interestingly, the roller coaster was an adaptation of the early gravity railroad used in mining operations—industrialism put in the service of amusement.

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