Boswell Historic District
The Boswell Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1994. Portions of the text below were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document.  Adaptation copyright © 2009, The Gombach Group.
The Boswell Historic District, Somerset County, is located in the northeast corner of Boswell Borough, in a valley at the base of the Laurel Hill Mountain, on the east side of the Quemahoning Creek, nineteen miles south of Johnstown and twelve miles north of Somerset off State Route 601. The roughly rectangular Boswell Historic District includes a five block area of Boswell Borough, incorporated in February, 1904, and an extractive site, principally constructed by the Merchants Coal Company of Baltimore, Maryland, during the first decade of the 20th century. The resources of the extractive facility are located on the northwest side of the Boswell Historic District and include the remaining extant mine resources and the archaeological remains of the mine. The Boswell Historic District is 81 acres and is roughly bounded by Hower Avenue as the southeastern boundary, by Atkinson Way and the Quemahoning Creek as the northwestern boundary, Main Street as the southwestern boundary and by Juniata Street as the northeastern boundary. In 1980 Boswell Borough covered 0.7 square miles, or 448 acres. There are 116 resources in the Boswell Historic District, including 91 contributing and 25 non-contributing, constructed by the coal company and private investors. Overall, the Boswell Historic District's 91 contributing resources maintain a high degree of integrity and strongly convey the feeling of the district's historical function as a planned coal town and extraction facility. These contributing resources consist of utilitarian industrial buildings, four types of vernacular dwellings, and a variety of commercial, social and institutional buildings. The contributing buildings are primarily vernacular in design, with a few examples of Italian Renaissance and Colonial Revival style. The integrity of the Boswell Historic District is still intact, although the new owners of the former company houses have altered the exteriors of the houses. These exterior modifications are acceptable because they do not fundamentally change the size, design, location, or feeling of the original buildings which successfully convey their original purpose.
Boswell was founded by this Baltimore-based coal company to extract the high-quality semi-bituminous coal that underlies 14,000 acres of the surrounding area including the planned community. The company sent engineers and geologists to determine both the quality and quantity of the coal in the region and concluded that it met both these criteria. Boswell was named for Thomas T. Boswell, the first president and supervisor of the coal company. William J. Vickroy, a civil engineer from Windber and Charles E. Hower, the coal company's first mine engineer, laid out Boswell and an 1,100-foot slope entry mine with accompanying extractive resources in 1901 on farm land acquired from local farmers in rural Jenner Township, Somerset County, in 1900. The town was laid out on a forty- five degree grid pattern on a one square mile parcel of land containing 1,600 50' x 120' lots. Every sixteen lots and rear fire alley formed a square. The streets of Boswell were 36-feet wide, with 12-foot sidewalks on both sides of the streets and 20-foot fire alleys between. The alleyways provided access to the privies and gardens and for deliveries of services. The Boswell Historic District contains two commercial streets, Main Street and Center Street, at the center of the borough.
Boswell developed simultaneously as a mining community and an independent commercial town after its founding in 1901. The coal company sold off surveyed lots to private investors who constructed homes and businesses throughout most of Boswell Borough. The properties of Boswell on the southwest side of Main Street and southeast of Hower Avenue were excluded from the Boswell Historic District because they were privately developed and independent of the coal company. Main Street and Center Street were constructed independent of the coal company as the commercial center of the town. These two streets, bounded by Atkinson Way and Hower Avenue, developed simultaneously with the company-owned properties in the district. These streets were included in the Boswell Historic District because the retail businesses that developed here provided essential social, recreational and commercial services to miners and their families.
General Superintendent W. H. Morris and Charles E. Hower, the company's engineer, laid out a modern mining facility in 1901 and 1902, located on both sides of Atkinson Way and northwest of Boswell on both sides of the Quemahoning Creek. Besides this original mine, two other mines operated at Boswell during the 1901-1939 period of significance. The remaining extractive resources of the Boswell mines are not as extensive as the district's residential and commercial component. The Boswell Historic District includes a part of Orenda Mine No. 2, comprising two extractive buildings and the archaeological remains of some of the razed extractive buildings and structures. The powerhouse and the pump house are the only surviving resources from Boswell's nearly forty year mining period. These buildings are located in the northwest part of the Boswell Historic District across Atkinson Way from the main body of the district. Most of the mine's extractive resources were razed by the Davis Coal and Coke Company after mining ceased in 1939. The coal-fired powerhouse, including the engine, boiler and compressor rooms and lamp house, was completed in late 1901. This building, measuring 290 feet long, 44 feet wide and 40 feet high, was built of ashlar cut stone, laid in cement and with a side-gable slate roof. The powerhouse provided electricity for electrical equipment, hoist and hauling machinery and lights in the mine and the town. Miners also came to this building each morning to pick up their electric miners' lamps, recharged by the lamp man. The size of the original power house has been reduced because of deterioration of the structure after 1940 and today measures only 45' x 89'. The slate roof has been replaced with a metal tin roof. A portion of the north end of the structure was razed, exposing a metal truss roof system. The end wall of the building has been enclosed with corrugated metal. The original windows have all been infilled with concrete blocks. The former powerhouse is presently occupied by North Star Equipment of Stoystown. The company repairs and sells coal-processing equipment. The site surrounding the powerhouse is today cluttered with metal and machine pans.
Near the south bank of the Quemahoning Creek and behind the powerhouse are the deteriorating remains of the pump house. This structure provided water to the powerhouse and the mines. This abandoned cut-sandstone structure has only a partial roof and no windows because of long-term neglect and abandonment. In a field on the southeast side of Atkinson Way stood the machine shop, blacksmith shop, mule barn and a number of storage structures constructed between 1901 and 1910. Most of these buildings were built of stone. Archaeological foundations mark their location. Several pairs of stone abutments from the steel viaduct that once spanned the Quemahoning Creek are located on the west side of Quemahoning Creek and on both sides of State Route 601. The viaduct connected the mine entrance with the steel tipple. These stone abutments are located outside the Boswell Historic District.
The Merchants Coal Company constructed a variety of miners' and managers' housing to attract and house its employees working at the isolated mine. The coal town developed in Jenner Township before a railroad entered the town. The former company housing varies in size, massing and materials, although all four types of houses in the Boswell Historic District were constructed on surveyed lots measuring 50' x 120' on 36-foot wide streets with 12-foot sidewalks on both sides of the street with 20-foot fire alleys in the rear. Each type of housing had uniform facades that were characteristic of industrial towns, whether or not planned by experts. Most of the extant workers' housing in Boswell was constructed between 1901 and 1912 by the Merchants Coal Company. Original workers' housing was concentrated exclusively on both sides of Susquehanna Street and Juniata Street bounded by Atkinson Way and Morris Avenue. Susquehanna Street is the northeast boundary of the borough and was excluded from the historic district because of the 22 houses on this street 18 houses would be non-contributing including 11 single family dwellings constructed after 1950 and three significantly altered original dwellings. The company constructed additional workers' housing on Quemahoning Street, Center Street and Main Street, which was intermixed with private housing and commercial establishments. The coal company did not build any housing on Stony Creek Street. Five types of both single and double housing for miners' and their managers' were built in Boswell by the Merchants Coal Company. It constructed 102 houses by October, 1902, of which thirty were double two-story frame houses. The company constructed an additional 180 houses in 1905. All of these houses were constructed of stone, brick and wood. A majority of the houses were constructed with slate or tar paper front- or side-gable roofs. Interior walls were plastered, and most of the houses were supplied with water and equipped with electric lights. Drinking water was obtained from a 150-foot artesian well with water pumped by a 5-inch plunger pump manufactured by the Westinghouse Company. Water was stored in a 60,000-gallon water tank. Electricity was produced at the powerhouse for the mine's machinery and lights and for Boswell's commercial district and residential housing.
Four of the five housing types of Boswell are evident within the Boswell Historic District. The company operated a brick factory on the southeast side of the Quemahoning Creek capable of producing 30,000 hard bricks daily. The two-story twelve-room semi-detached brick duplexes are the most abundant type of miners' housing found in the Boswell Historic District. They are located on Susquehanna Street, Juniata Street, Center Street and Main Street. The largest concentration is located on both sides of Juniata Street, where 21 dwellings are extant. All of these brick houses were built on 50' x 120' residential lots with a 20-foot alley in the rear acting as firebreak and for trash collection. Each house measured 30' x 32' and contained twelve rooms with six rooms on each side. Two bay windows were located on each side of the duplex, and each house had a wooden porch measuring 8' x 30' across the front. On the first floor of each house was a kitchen measuring 12' x 12', and a living room and dining room, each measuring 15' x 15'. There were three bedrooms on the second floor with two 15' x 15' bedrooms and a 12' x 12' bedroom above the kitchen. There were no closets in the house and all walls were plastered directly on the interior brick wall. Each semi-detached house had three chimneys, one at each end of the building, with a third chimney shared by both units. The original side-gable roofs were finished with slate, although these roofs have all been resurfaced with asphalt shingles or tar paper by the new owners. The houses had no basements or inside plumbing except for a small sink in the kitchen. Each house was heated with coal purchased from the company and stored in a wood storage shed in the rear of the house near the alley next to the wood privy. There are a few surviving outbuildings in Boswell.
The second most popular type of miners' housing constructed in the Boswell Historic District were the two-story ten room frame semi-detached duplexes. Each side of these ten-room semi-detached houses had five rooms with a kitchen, living room, dining room on the first floor and two bedrooms on the second floor. The houses had a full front porch with four bay windows. The roof was either a side-or front-gable originally covered with tar paper. These dwellings are located on Susquehanna Street, Juniata Street and Main Street. The house at 224-226 Juniata Street has the best integrity of this second housing type. These two-family houses lacked a basement, and all five rooms were plastered on wood lath. On both sides of Center Street, between Morris Avenue and Atkinson Way, are six frame and six brick houses. The company built the houses to alternate between brick and frame construction to act as a fire break.
The high demand for "Orenda" steam coal at Boswell increased the number of miners in the town and created a severe housing shortage. One type of miners' housing constructed to meet this shortage was the one-story frame single-family type constructed in 1911-1912. The single-floor bungalows, known as "the cottages" by local miners, were constructed on Juniata Street and Quemahoning Street. Each cottage had four rooms, including a kitchen, living-dining room and two bedrooms in the rear of the house. The four rooms each measured 12' x 14' and had pine floors. All rooms were plastered directly on interior wood lath. Each house had a slate gable roof and a single chimney located in the center of the house. There are seven surviving cottages on the southwest side of Juniata Street. Eight one-story single-family frame "cottages" were also constructed outside the Boswell Historic District on each side of Quemahoning Street between Garrett Avenue and Gibbons Avenue. These houses rented for $8 per month, including electricity and water, in the 1920s. The cottages were also sold by the coal company to miners who wished to purchase them, or to the public. These houses have been extensively remodeled by the new owners with the addition of rooms in the rear and single car attached garages. All the pine houses have been resurfaced by the new owners with aluminum and vinyl siding.
The other type of company housing constructed to meet the housing shortage is not found within the Boswell Historic District. The Eureka Lumber Company, a local contracting firm, was awarded a contract in June, 1911, to construct six four-family row houses. The houses were built on both sides of State Route 601, on the opposite side of Quemahoning Creek from the district. These one-story row houses were constructed of tongue-and-groove wood boards and rested on cement pillars, located every eight feet. The row houses had four-rooms per unit and side-gable roofs covered with tar paper. Two of these six row houses are still extant, located on Pine Lane off State Route 601, across from the Quemahoning Creek. One unit has been altered beyond recognition. The second row house is on the verge of collapse because of long-term neglect and abandonment.
Stone was also used by the Merchants Coal Company in the construction of their mine buildings, managers' housing, and most of their commercial buildings. Stone was obtained from a number of nearby quarries. The use of non-wood material in the construction of company towns was an extremely rare occurrence. An estimated 95% of all miners' houses built in the United States were constructed of wood by 1920. Coal company officials lived in private homes on Main Street or in the four surviving ashlar stone houses constructed between 1901 and 1910. The spacious two-and-one-half story cut stone house at the southwest corner of Morris Avenue and Stony Creek Street near Fulton Square was the residence of the mine's superintendent. The original two-and-one-half story sandstone building was built in 1905, measuring 38.7' x 47.5' with a combination hip and gable roof and several dormers. The building was known to long-term Boswell residents as "The Diamond" after Andy Diamond, a mine superintendent during the 1920s. The Davis Coal and Coke Company sold the building to the American Legion Home Aid Association in 1945 for Boswell Post 461. The building is presently occupied by the Boswell American Legion and serves as a social hall and clubhouse. A large concrete-block addition measuring 10' x 57' x 37' was built on the side and the rear of the building in the late 1940s. This change does not greatly affect the original design of the house or its ability to convey its original functions. These alterations are located in the rear of the building, and the front facade of the building has not been changed to accommodate this renovation.
The fourth type of housing in the Boswell Historic District is represented by three sandstone semi-detached duplexes constructed for the company's managers around 1901. Each stone house measured 32' x 32', comparable in size to the 30' x 31' workers' brick duplex. The floor plan of the managers' houses was similar to the workers' brick houses, but each house had a small washroom on the second floor and a half basement for a furnace. Each side of the building had six rooms with a slate side-gable roof. Each house had a partial wood front porch measuring 16' x 18' with two bays per side. Two managers' houses are located at 224-226 and 228-230 Quemahoning Street at the corner of Quemahoning Street and Morris Avenue, while the third manager's stone house is located at 200-202 Center Street.
The Merchants Coal Company used stone quarried in the immediate vicinity to construct their managers' housing and most of their corporate building and extractive resources. These buildings were all constructed between 1901 and 1905. The choice of this building material was dictated by the availability of sandstone, skilled masons and a conscious commitment by the coal company to construct sturdy and attractive buildings. The use of ashlar stone gave Boswell a more striking appearance than that found in other contemporary coal towns. The company's store, the bank and the office were built on the northwest side of Morris Avenue facing the Fulton Square. Charles E. Hower and William J. Vickroy designed Fulton Square and Union Square as open space for the community in 1901. The former site of Fulton Square is now occupied by two metal garages and a metal office building constructed during the 1970s and owned by the borough and the water company. The construction of these non-contributing buildings and structures has completely obliterated Fulton Square as a viable town square. The company store is located on the corner of Morris Avenue and Stony Creek Street. This vacant two-story building measuring 120' x 57' was constructed by local contractors in 1902 of cut ashlar sandstone. It has five double-hung windows with pointed arches and Gothic-type panes on the second floor of the facade. A loading dock and the remains of a freight door is on the Stony Creek Street side. Boswell's first post office was located on the first floor in the rear of the store until 1920, at which time a new post office building was constructed outside of the district's boundary.
The original company bank, known as the First National Bank of Boswell, is located at 412 Morris Avenue between the company store and company office and across the street from the former Fulton Square. The bank building was among the first buildings erected in Boswell. The bank was incorporated in 1902 with capitalization of $30,000. The building is of Colonial Revival style and measures 48.5' x 26.5'. It is a two-and-a half story cut sandstone building with a stone foundation and a shingle hip roof with three dormers. The bank had two entrances, one located on each side of the building. The bank had a large, elliptical window opening which has since been filled with siding and a smaller, stationary window. The building was abandoned in 1919 and the company bank moved to a new building at the corner of 301 Main Street and Morris Avenue in the commercial center of Boswell. The 1919 building is a three-story brick building strongly influenced by Italian Renaissance style. The building has decorative stone accents and a symmetrical facade with simulated arched and oculus window openings. The brick work is a patterned brick surface with brick faces and ends exposed. The bank served the nearly 2,000 citizens of Boswell and the residents of the nearby coal towns of Acosta, Gray and Jenners during the 1920s. The Merchants Coal Company office, constructed in 1901, is located at 404 Morris Avenue next door to the First National Bank in 1901. The 24' x 52' building, unlike the bank, the company store and the superintendent's house facing Fulton Square, was constructed of red brick with a stone foundation. Why the coal company constructed it of brick rather than stone is unknown. The most distinctive feature of the building is its two-story corner rear brick turret. Miners came to the office twice monthly to get paid, entering in one door and leaving by a second door on the opposite side of the building. The building was sold to the Church of the Nazarene by the Davis Coal and Coke Company in 1946 and today is used as apartments.
The company sold or donated lots to private investors for the construction of several social buildings in the Boswell Historic District, including two churches, two rectories and a parochial school. These five buildings are still extant and maintain excellent integrity. Originally, Boswell Borough had four churches, of which two churches are located in the historic district. St. Andrew's Lutheran Church (corner of Main Street and Merchants Avenue) and the Covenant Presbyterian Church (corner of Allegheny Avenue and Hower Street) were constructed during this period but both churches lie outside the historic district. Saints Peter and Paul Russian Orthodox Church and St. Stanislaus Roman Catholic Church and its parochial school are located within the Boswell Historic District. They were built to serve the religious and educational needs of miners and their families. A majority of Boswell miners were Italian, Pole, Russian or Slovak. St. Stanislaus Roman Catholic Church was organized by Father J. Sass of Windber, who served the parishioners of Boswell until 1905, at which time Father Anthony Baron assumed duties as the church's pastor. The original St. Stanislaus Church of Boswell was constructed on Juniata Street in 1902-1903 and served its congregation until the completion of the present St. Stanislaus Church in 1918. The original church was moved from Juniata Street its present location at the corner of 326 Quemahoning Street across the street from St. Stanislaus Roman Catholic Church. This is a non-contributing building because this two-story aluminum sided, privately owned single dwelling has been heavily altered. The newer church, located at the corner of Quemahoning Street and Hower Avenue, is a yellow brick and cut stone two-story building, constructed between 1907 and 1917 and opened in 1918. The church was designed by Walter Myton, a Johnstown architect, who also designed a variety of residences, churches and public buildings in western Pennsylvania, including the City Hall of Johnstown.
St. Stanislaus Parochial School was built at the intersection of Stony Creek Street and Hower Avenue in 1911, located next to St. Stanislaus Roman Catholic Church. The Sisters of Bernadine operated the school between 1911 and 1955. The children of the sizable Polish community of Boswell attended this two-story rusticated, cut sandstone school building measuring 45' x 108' until its closure on June 3, 1955. The impressive sandstone building is now used as a community social hall. The Sisters of Bernadine Convent is located at 324 Stony Creek Street, next door to the parochial school. The circa 1901 former convent building, a two-story frame house with a shingle gable roof, is vacant and is scheduled for demolition.
Saints Peter and Paul Russian Orthodox Church, located at 308 Quemahoning Street, was built in 1918. The church is a two-and-one-half story brick building with a common short facade and a center bell tower. The church is distinguished by its formed metal onion shaped domes and Byzantine crosses. The two-story brick house, next door to the church, served as the church's rectory, although today it is a private single-family dwelling.
A variety of commercial buildings and private residences was constructed on Main Street and Center Street during the period of significance. These two streets were originally designed as the commercial and business center of the borough. A number of commercial buildings from this period are extant on both streets, although their original uses have been altered. The former Somerset and Merchants Hotels, First National Bank of Boswell, the Mary Lee movie theater and the Isaacson Brothers' department store on Main Street are extant, although none of these original businesses have survived. The buildings are used as apartments and house a variety of small commercial establishments. There were a funeral parlor, a boardinghouse for single or transient miners and several confectionery and grocery stores on Center Street, but none of these business have survived.
The Boswell Historic District is an excellent example of a planned, nearly complete and minimally altered coal town of southwestern Pennsylvania of the first quarter of the 20th century. The Boswell Historic District evokes the historic feeling of a planned mining community because it maintains its integrity of feeling, location and setting. Some dwellings have been razed, but only one former extant company house in the district is defined as a non-contributing resources because of significant alteration. The dwelling at 212 Juniata Street has been irreversibly altered by the current owners. The integrity of the house has been destroyed because room additions to the front, both sides and rear of the house has changed the size, scale and feel of the original housing. The integrity of the semi-detached brick houses is the strongest of the variety of miners' housing. Most of these buildings have had little exterior alteration since they were sold after 1943 to private owners. Front porches have been removed or replaced in some of the brick houses and all the original slate roofs have been replaced with asphalt shingles. A few new owners have added rooms in the rear of the buildings to enlarge the kitchens and add bathrooms. Some of the original windows have been replaced with energy-efficient ones. Most of the frame buildings and four-room bungalows have been altered more than the semi-detached brick houses. Most owners have covered the frame houses with aluminum or vinyl siding. Some owners have added a garage, and all the slate roofs have been replaced with asphalt shingles. New owners of the cottages, constructed between 1911 and 1912 and located on the southwest side of Juniata Street have added vinyl or aluminum siding over the original tongue-and-groove pine houses. Each of the houses has an attached single car garage and an enlarged kitchen in the rear. Many owners have also added front and rear porches. These alterations are acceptable because the buildings still convey their original functions.
Of the 116 resources in the Boswell Historic District, there are 25 non-contributing resources. These buildings and structures are so classified because they were constructed after the period of significance or experienced incompatible alteration to original resources. There are two new single-dwelling houses, and a mobile trailer. The only altered original company house in the Boswell Historic District is located on Juniata Street. The remaining 21 non-contributing resources, including eight mobile homes, new housing construction and commercial buildings, a car wash and two borough storage garages, are dispersed throughout the district. There are five non-contributing resources on Stony Creek, six on Center Street, three on Morris Avenue, one on Hower Avenue, six on Quemahoning Street, and three on Main Street. The mobile homes in the historic district have been on otherwise empty lots since the 1960s. The integrity of the Boswell Historic District on the whole is excellent in spite of these modern improvements and new constructions. These non-contributing resources are scattered throughout the district and do not strongly affect or intrude on the district's integrity.
The Boswell Historic District is an example of a planned coal town and extractive facility in southwestern Pennsylvania in the first four decades of the 20th century. It combines the extractive facility and mining communities property types defined in the Bituminous Coal and Coke Resources of Pennsylvania Multiple Property Documentation form. It is significant in the areas of industry, community planning and social history. It is significant in the area of industry for its association with the bituminous coal industry, Pennsylvania's foremost extractive energy industry between 1740 and 1945. Boswell was one of the many coal towns that developed during the first decade of the 20th century in northern Somerset County to export the region's high quality and almost unlimited supply of steam coal. The Boswell mines were modern, medium-sized extractive facilities. The Boswell Historic District is significant in the area of community planning as an example of a company town partially built, owned and operated by a coal company. Boswell was built during the industrial welfare movement. The construction of a variety of well-built miners' and managers' houses, a company store, an office and a bank on company-owned lots, and the donation of land for the construction of churches and a school within the Boswell Historic District by the Merchants Coal Company which founded Boswell, offers a good example of corporate paternalism. The Boswell Historic District is also significant in the area of social history. Labor-management conflicts in Boswell reflected existing tensions in the state's bituminous coal industry. Boswell miners joined the nationwide strike called by United Mine Workers of America on April 1, 1922 by shutting down Boswell's Orenda Mine No. 2. The Boswell Historic District is also significant in the area of architecture. Contributing architecture consists of utilitarian industrial buildings, four types of vernacular dwellings and a variety of commercial, social and institutional buildings. Finally, the Boswell Historic District is significant in the area of archaeology-historic. The Boswell Historic District contains two extant mining buildings and the remains of a machine shop, blacksmith shop, mule barn and a number of storage structures constructed between 1901 and 1910. The above and below ground remains may yield information about past technology and machinery used in mining bituminous coal, about the layout and scale of facilities at Boswell, and about the daily lives of miners who worked at these facilities.
The Boswell Historic District contains two extant mining buildings and archaeological remains of Orenda Mine No. 2, one of the three mines operating in Boswell between 1901 and 1939. Associated with this extractive facility was the hybrid company town of Boswell formed in 1901 by the Merchants Coal Company, a Baltimore-based coal company. Although Boswell was laid out by this coal company, most of the community was owned by private individuals with a small portion controlled by the coal company. Included within the 81 acre Boswell Historic District are four types of workers' and managers' housing, two extractive resources and some archaeological remains of the mine. The Boswell Historic District has also a variety of commercial and residential buildings constructed by the coal company and by private investors, independent of the coal company. The Boswell Historic District has excellent integrity of setting, location and the feeling of a well-planned coal town and extractive facility in southwestern Pennsylvania in the first four decades of the 20th century.
Boswell was constructed in 1901 by the Merchants Coal Company, which was incorporated in Baltimore, Maryland in 1894 with capital stock of $20,000. Boswell was selected as the site of a coal town and extractive facility by Thomas T. Boswell, the first president and general manager of this coal company, to exploit the high quality semi-bituminous coal from the C-prime Kittanning seam underlying rural Jenner Township. Company engineers surveyed the area and predicted the extensive coal resources underlying the region, measuring 4 by 6 miles, to be 294,009,000 tons. This excellent steam coal was sold in eastern cities and in the West. Boswell's development began with the purchase of 149,000 acres of land from Oliver Peterson, Lucy Stufft and Freeman Gonder of Jenner Township in 1900.
Boswell was founded at a time when the bituminous coal industry of Pennsylvania was reaching its pinnacle. The increased demand for coal by the nation's expanding iron and steel industry and railroads after the 1880s created the expansion of Pennsylvania's bituminous coal industry. The Commonwealth was the leading coal producer and largest employer of miners in the nation. Between 1880 and 1899, Pennsylvania produced more than one-half of the all the bituminous and anthracite coal mined in the United States. The state produced nearly 30% of the nation's bituminous coal, producing 79.3 million tons of bituminous coal while employing about 108,000 workers in 1900. The state's principal bituminous coal producing regions were concentrated in the counties surrounding the Monongahela River and the semi-bituminous "smokeless" coal fields of the Broad Top Mountain and the North Central coal fields until the 1880s. Both state and out-of-state coal companies built hundreds of mines and coal towns in the rural coal regions in Armstrong, Jefferson, Cambria, Indiana and Somerset counties by 1900. Boswell was one of the many coal towns and mines that developed during the first decade of the 20th century centered in and around Jenner Township, Somerset County. Coal was mined in the region since colonial times by local farmers in the winter. Coal was consumed locally and never transported to distant market. Lack of demand for coal and poor transportation restricted the region's coal industry to a local and seasonal activity. The increased demand for coal made this underdeveloped coal region ripe for large-scale commercial coal mining. Like Boswell, the neighboring coal towns of Jenners (Consolidation Coal Company, 1914), Gray (Pittsburgh Consolidation Coal Company, 1910), Acousta (Somerset Coal Company, 1905), and Jerome (United Coal Company, 1914) were founded in northern Somerset County to exploit the region's high quality and vast supply of steam coal. The principal coal companies in Somerset County in 1920 were the Consolidation Coal Company, the Berwind-White Mining Company and the Quemahoning Coal Company. The Boswell operation owned successively by the Merchants Coal Company, the United Coal Company and the Davis Coal and Coke Company was not one of the larger operations in the county, but was a medium size coal mine.
Boswell is significant for industry and for archaeological remains. The Boswell mines were modern medium size extractive facilities that employed the latest machinery and mining techniques of the period. W.H. Morris, the first General Superintendent and Charles E. Hower, the company's first engineer laid out a modern 1100-foot slope entry mine, with accompanying extractive and processing resources, between June, 1901 to September 1902, at a cost of more than $600,000. The coal was first hauled out using a 1,000 horse-power steam locomotive and heavy steel ropes on June 15, 1901. Coal and Coke, a prominent contemporary trade journal, called the Merchants operations at Boswell "one of the finest in the country." The original Boswell mine was a slope entry with a nine percent grade for 8300 feet. High quality semi-bituminous coal was extracted from the C prime-Upper Kittanning seam with an average height of 5 1/2-feet. The company called this steam coal "Orenda" coal to distinguish it from their competitors. Orenda is an Iroquois word meaning "magic power" and although it is doubtful that this coal had magical power, without question it was a superior quality steam coal. An analysis of the coal underlying Boswell was made by the United States government in 1905 and the study attested to the high quality of the coal. The government report noted the following results: Fixed .56%. Volatile matter-16.72%, Moisture-1,00%, Ash-4.72 and Sulphur-.0.68 %.
All the steel and materials used in the construction of the tipple, boilers, generators, hoist engines, viaduct and fan houses were transported to the mine site by horse-drawn vehicles from Stoystown, eight miles over steep mountain roads, as no railroad had entered Boswell. The keystone of the slope entry stated: "Erected 1901, Merchants Coal Co., W.H. Morris, General Superintendent." This ashlar stone front entry was destroyed when the area was strip mined in the 1950s. Coal was extracted from the 5 1/2-foot seam using electric undercutting and pick machines manufactured by the Sullivan Machinery Company, and electric drills manufactured by the Ingersoll-Sergent Company. The mine was ventilated by a 16-foot Robinson fan, manufactured by the Robinson Machine Company of Monongahela City. The fan, located to the right of the mine's slope entry, had a capacity to circulate 400,000 cubic feet of air per minute. Coal was transported from the mine over the Quemahoning Creek on a steel viaduct or conveyor on six sets of railroad tracks to the steel tipple. The massive structure was built 92-feet above the creek measuring 1,080 feet in length, and 60 feet wide. The steel viaduct, constructed of 826 tons of steel, was built and installed by the Columbia Bridge Company of Pittsburgh at its Carnegie plant. The double steel tipple, specially designed by W.H. Morris, was also constructed and installed on the site by this company. Tipples are processing structures which son or load coal, sometimes in combination. The earliest coal tipples were of wooden construction, while tipples constructed after 1890 were of steel and wood and steel construction. The steel tipple at Boswell had four chutes for loading coal at different angles. Three chutes were used for loading coal cars for market, while the fourth chute dumped coal into a conveyor that fed it directly to the boiler room in the powerhouse for the production of electricity. The steel chutes were constructed by the Wagner-Palmros Manufacturing Company of Fairmont, West Virginia. The structure was fitted with a Phillips cross-over car dump, manufactured by the Phillips Mine & Mill Supply Company of Pittsburgh.
The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Company realizing the economic importance of the Boswell mine constructed a branch line in September 1902. The Quemahoning branch extended from Frieden to Boswell, on the Somerset & Cambria branch of the Baltimore and Ohio. Shortly afterward, the B&O Railroad opened a large and commodious station providing daily rail service for both coal and passengers. The station included a waiting room, ticket office and freight house and was heated by steam generated at the company's powerhouse. The depot, no longer extant, was constructed on Atkinson Way behind the mine superintendent's house.
The Merchants Coal Company operated Orenda No. 2 (a slope entry mine) and Merchants No. 2 (a drift mine) in 1910, producing 475,000 tons of coal while employing 507 workers. The company also owned 5,000 acres of coal land at Tunnelton, West Virginia and 600 acres of coal at Elk Lick, Somerset County Pennsylvania. In 1917 it sold its coal holdings in Somerset County and West Virginia to the United Coal Company for about $2,000,000. This Pittsburgh-based coal company, capitalized at $4,000,000, was incorporated by the General Assembly of Pennsylvania in 1902. The company owned 1,110 acres of gas and steam coal, and leased 1,400 acres of coal land while operating mines in Allegheny, Westmoreland, Fayette and Somerset counties by 1911.The company had offices in New York, Boston, Pittsburgh, Chicago and Cincinnati with docks located at Milwaukee, Duluth and Cincinnati. The United Coal Company also operated the mine at nearby Jerome, Somerset County. The Davis Coal and Coke Company purchased the facility at Boswell and operated it from June 1918 until March 24, 1939. This Baltimore-based company owned mines at Kaiser and Kempton, West Virginia.
Orenda Mine No. 2 was the only mine operated by the Davis Coal and Coke Company at Boswell during the 1920s. Steam coal was transported from Boswell to markets in the eastern tidewater cities and to western American states on the Quemahoning branch of the Baltimore & Ohio railroad that connected with the Somerset & Cambria branch of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad. The company had piers at Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York harbor. The company developed an oversea bunker coal trade with sales agents in Cardiff, Wales during the 1920s. The Boswell mine employed 250 workers with an average daily capacity of 1200 tons in 1929. Boswell was a coal boom town during this period as its population rose from 1,878 in 1910 to 2,168 in 1920, an increase of 15%. Coal mining was the principal industry of Boswell from 1901 until 1939 although the borough flourished as a lumber and regional commercial center. The mine closed in 1939-1940 because the cost of transporting coal from its underground workings to the slope portal, a distant of three miles, made it too expensive to mine coal at a profit. Both the steel tipple and steel viaduct conveyor belt system were immediately demolished by the Davis Coal and Coke Company.
The extractive mining resources in the Boswell Historic District are not as extensive and lack the high integrity of some extractive facilities properties listed on the National Register, including Marianna, Washington County. The extractive resources of Boswell are comparable to those of the Robertsdale Historic District, also listed in the National Register. The district contains only two extant mine buildings, which are located in the northwest corner of the district. Both the powerhouse and pump house are adequate but not outstanding representations of these types of mine buildings. The mine's archaeological remains are located on the southeast side of Atkinson Way, in a field across from the street from the two surviving mine buildings. These remains include the machine shop, blacksmith shop, mule barn and a number of storage structures constructed between 1901 and 1910. These resources have the potential to reveal the mine's layout and its operation.
The Boswell Historic District is significant as a well-planned coal town constructed by an out-of-state coal company during the first decade of the 20th century. Boswell was founded in 1901 and incorporated in 1904 as a borough. The Boswell Improvement Company, a subsidiary of the Merchants Coal Company, was established to lay out the town and mine from pastoral land located in Jenner Township. The company surveyed and laid out 1600 original lots each measuring 50' x 120.' The company owned all the surveyed lots but a majority of these lots were sold to private investors by the company .The lots were put up for public sale on October 12, 1901, when 350 lots were immediately sold to private investors. Lots located inside and outside the Boswell Historic District were developed by investors for private housing and commercial and social buildings.
The Merchants Coal Company constructed a variety of well-built miners' and managers' houses, a company store, an office, and a bank on company-owned lots. The company sold or donated land for the construction of churches and schools within the Boswell Historic District. Boswell was an not a wholly typical coal town of southwestern Pennsylvania because the town was not entirely owned and controlled by the coal company. Most company towns were financed, built, owned and operated by a single coal company. Coal companies of this period were accused of having absolute and dictatorial control over their employees, a condition that was virtually impossible in many other communities in the nation. Miners rented their houses and shopped at the company store and often used company money called scrip. One severe critic of this absolute authority of the coal company over their captive labor market noted "their families lived on feudal islands in the country but were not of it." Boswell developed as a hybrid coal town community because only a small part of it was ever directly owned and controlled by the company. A majority of the borough was controlled and developed independent of the company by private investors. Most of the commercial and residential resources located on Center Street and Main Street were developed as the borough's new commercial and business centers by private concerns. The following businesses were located on Main Street between Hower Avenue and Atkinson Way in 1910: Merchants and Somerset hotels, a bowling alley, Chinese laundry, hardware store, jewelry store, grocery store livery. On Center Street, between Hower Avenue and Atkinson Way, the following businesses were established by 1910: livery stable, cobbler shop, confectionery and tobacco shop, and the Boswell hotel and bar.
The Boswell Historic District is both a typical and atypical example of the planned coal mining community constructed between 1890 and 1925 in southwestern Pennsylvania. The planned coal towns provided better quality and more roomy workers' houses, improved water supply and better sanitation conditions, and consciously provided for the recreational, religious and educational needs of their employees, Beside Boswell, other "model" towns were laid out by "enlightened" coal companies in southwestern Pennsylvania during this period in Somerset County were Cairnbrook (Loyalhanna Coal and Coke Company) Jenners (Consolidation Coal Company), Windber (Berwind-White Mining Company). There were similar model coal towns throughout southwestern Pennsylvania. Boswell was built during the period of the industrial welfare movement. Proponents of this housing reform movement demanded that operators of mines and coke plants improve the horrific conditions found in most coal towns that provided substandard housing and services to sustain life. These towns were usually drab and dirty places with small, dilapidated, unpainted frame houses without weatherproofing and lacking decent sanitary conditions, water supplies or paved roads. Some enlightened coal operators were influenced by these new ideas on town planning, and came to believe that well-treated workers would become a contented, efficient and productive work force. A spokesman for this new corporate style of welfare paternalism noted "if we want respectable intelligent men and women to work for us, we must see that they have decent, healthy and comfortable houses." They were also concerned about labor unrest, strikes and violence that had increased in "Smokestack America" during the late 19th century. These coal operators tried to inspire company loyalty in their employees by undertaking a series of paternalistic programs to improve working conditions and life in the town. They constructed clean, healthy and beautiful towns with large and well-built workers' houses, charged fair and competitive prices at the company store and provided a variety of recreational activities for their workers. Most sponsored baseball teams and constructed playgrounds for children, while others constructed swimming pools and recreational halls for their workers and their families. This strategy of welfare capitalism was a conscious attempt by them to attract and maintain a stable labor force while discouraging the appeals of labor organizers from the United Mine Workers of America. The construction of Boswell by the Merchants Coal Company was an example of this corporate paternalism. The owners of Boswell were influenced by industrial welfare movement and concerns of labor unrest in the coal industry. The company constructed a variety of neat and spacious houses on wide streets with sidewalks in order to attract workers to their isolated mine in rural northern Somerset County.
The expansion of the coal industry in this period had quickly depleted the local labor force. The demand for unskilled labor acted as a powerful magnet attracting foreign-born workers from southern and eastern Europe to fill the labor void in the hundreds of isolated coal towns of southwestern Pennsylvania. By 1910 these unskilled, immigrant workers represented nearly one-half of all coal miners nationwide. And fewer than 8% of the foreign-born workers were English, Scotch, German or Irish. A majority of Boswell miners were primarily of Hungarian, Italian, Pole and Slovak extraction. Boswell was unlike most ethnically-segregrated coal towns because the various ethnic groups were dispersed throughout the Boswell Historic District and not concentrated into small ethnic enclaves. The small size of the community may account for this dispersion pattern of ethnic groups at Boswell.
Most of the original housing inventory survives in the Boswell Historic District. Four of the five types of company houses constructed between 1901 and 1912 are still evident in the Boswell Historic District and most maintain excellent integrity. All housing was constructed on 50' x 120' residential lots with wide streets and sidewalks, with a 20-foot alley way in the rear. The alleys served as firebreaks, for the removal of trash and through which the "honey-dippers" traveled to clean the privies. The most popular type of miners' housing in the Boswell Historic District was the twelve room brick semi-detached house located on throughout the district but concentrated on Susquehanna Street and Juniata Street. The ten room frame semi-detached houses was the next most popular housing type. This type of wood-frame buildings made up the overwhelming majority of coal miners' houses in southwestern Pennsylvania. The use of material besides wood in the construction of housing was a rare occurrence. A few coal towns, including Commodore and Luciusboro, in Indiana County, also had non-wood company housing.
The hybrid nature of the business district meant that the coal company was in direct competition with private investors in providing a variety of services to the miners and their families. The Boswell company store was owned by several subsidiary companies of the coal companies that operated the mines. The Quemahoning Supply Company was the original operator of the store and later succeeded by the Mercantile Company No. 5. From 1918 to its closure in the late 1930s it was operated by the Buxton & Landstreet Company, a subsidiary of the Davis Coal and Coke Company. The store sold groceries, dry goods, carpets, and mining equipment of high quality and at competitive prices. The Boswell company store is unusual because most companies restricted direct competition from private retailers. They excluded competing commercial activities to the periphery of the company-owned property. The Boswell store did not possess an economic monopoly in the community. The store faced stiff competition for the business of the miners and their families from the merchants of the commercial district established on Main Street and Center Street . The store stocked high quality merchandise that was competitively priced.
The company-owned bank at the corner of Main Street and Morris Avenue, the company store, faced stiff competition from the borough's three other banks. The company bank served both miners and the nearly 2,000 citizens of Boswell during the 1920s as well as the residents of the neighboring coal towns of Acosta, Gray and Jenners. This was one of the four banks in Boswell during its boom period as a coal town. The other banks included the People State Bank at 332 Main Street; Community National Bank at the corner of Main Street and Morris Avenue; and the Johnstown Bank and Trust at the corner of Center Street and Hower Avenue.
All the commercial mine buildings constructed by the Merchants Coal Company between 1901 and 1905 are extant. The bank, company store, office and superintendent's home are all impressive well-built stone or brick buildings and maintain their historical integrity.
Boswell is significant because of the role it played in shaping the labor history of Pennsylvania's coal industry. Labor-management conflicts in Boswell reflected existing tensions in the state's bituminous coal industry. The struggle between miners and management permeated the development of the coal and coke industry in Pennsylvania since the 1850s. Appallingly unsafe working conditions underground, low wages, exorbitant rents and exploitative high prices at the company store and the mandatory use of scrip were all sources of these tensions. Workers in response to these horrific conditions demanded the right to join the United Mine Workers of America, founded in 1890. Non-union miners believed membership would alleviate these difficulties and improve their daily life at work and at home. Three coal companies operated the Boswell mines between 1901 and 1939 and the management of each company was bitterly hostile to their workers joining the miners' union. The UMWA tried to organize Boswell miners and the nearby mining towns in a number of organizing drives since at least 1903. Boswell and Garret miners, located between Somerset and Myersdale, struck unsuccessfully for union recognition that same year. Despite paternalism, they demanded union representation, a union check weighman and reclassification of some unpaid work that management designed as "deadwork." Operators countered by importing "scabs" to work the mines and forcibly evicted miners and their families from their company housing. In addition, the company store suspended credit and called in all outstanding accounts. These aggressive actions by the coal company were successful in breaking the strike. Miners gave up their demands and returned to the pits as non-union workers. The UMWA again called a nationwide strike on April 1, 1922 and asked non-union miners to leave the pit and join them. John L. Lewis, the recently elected sixth president of the UMWA, called this strike "The Verdun of Organized Labor." The Washington contract of 1920 had expired and union operators wanted to roll wages back to the lower wage standard established in 1917. Unorganized miners in Cambria and Somerset counties answered the call. Orenda Mine No. 2 miners shut down production as did militant miners in the neighboring non-union communities of Jenners, Gray, Acosta, Kiel and Ralphton. They refused to work until a series of demands were granted them including union recognition. The Davis Coal and Coke Company refused to consider any of their miners' demands and immediately evicted miners and their families from their rented houses. Credit at the company store was called in on all outstanding accounts and the company began importing scab replacement workers. The ruthless and hated Coal and Iron Police were hired to coerce miners to return to work. The coal company appealed for court injunctions limiting the miners' ability to picket. Twenty-five residents of Boswell were arrested. Several were convicted and imprisoned during the lengthy strike. Evicted miners and their families constructed tent colonies on the outskirt of Boswell. The local UMWA district office constructed a number of wooden barracks for striking miners and their families although many still spent the harsh winter of 1922 and 1923 in chicken coops, barns or outside. The national strike of 1922 was settled in New York in August but non-union miners in Boswell who had passionately supported the strike were excluded from the settlement. The strike continued at Boswell until August 1923 when the strike fund was depleted and striking non-union miners reluctantly returned to work underground, ending their 17-month strike. They remained unorganized workers until 1933 and the revival of the moribund UMWA during the first Roosevelt administration and the passage of the National Industrial Recovery Act. Coal production had declined by 40% and the price per ton of coal had continually dropped since the onset of the Great Depression in 1929. The Keystone State became the backbone of the new emerging and militant UMWA. The cry to organize spread throughout the isolated mining villages of Pennsylvania including Boswell. Miners at Boswell were successfully organized into a local of District 2 in 1933 with little resistance from the coal company.
Coal mining was a particularly dangerous occupation during the period coal was mined at Boswell. Tens of thousands of miners, usually foreign-born immigrants, died digging coal in unsafe conditions for low wages. The Department of Mines of Pennsylvania kept detailed records of mining accidents that successfully documented how dangerous mining was during this period. The agency defined a major mining disaster as one in which five or more workers were killed. There were 64 major mining accidents in Pennsylvania from 1884 and 1945 according to this arbitrary standard. The three mines of Boswell were dangerous places to work at between 1901 and 1915. They were the sites of two "major" mining disasters in 1909 and in 1915. A methane gas explosion on January 26, 1909 took the lives of five miners. A second disaster on August 31, 1915 caused by an electric spark from an locomotive set off a gas explosion. Eighteen miners died immediately and four more died of their injuries in a hospital at Johnstown. The closing of the mine at Boswell in 1939-1940 forced local miners to travel to the nearby coal towns of Jerome and Jenners. Many miners' wives and daughters found work at the garment factory that opened at the former company store. Others found work at the shirt factory opened by Philip Jones on Atkinson Way. The company store closed with the demise of coal mining in 1939 and remained abandoned until 1943 when the Dorfman and Hoffman Garment Factory, a New York-based company reopened the building as a ladies' lingerie factory. The company operated similar garment factories at the former company stores in the neighboring Jerome and Cairnbrook, Somerset County. The Boswell factory employed approximately 400 persons in 1957. The work force was 98% women and the lingerie was sold throughout the United States. The Jerome factory, located five miles northeast of Boswell, cut the material while the women employees at the Boswell factory assembled and finished the garments. Both these factories were closed in 1983 and 1988 respectively. The borough's peak population of 2,168 was reached in 1920 while the 1980 population was 1,480. The community has a few small commercial businesses on Main Street, and most of the borough's inhabitants are now retired miners and their families.
Blackburn, E. Howard and Welfley, William H. History of Bedford and Somerset Counties, Pennsylvania. New York-Lewis Publishing Company, 1906.
Chervanek, Louis B. editor. The Community Story Jenners-Boswell-Jennerstown. Boswell, PA: Jenners-Boswell-Jennerstown Joint High School Junior Historians, 1962.
Hall, Clayton C. History of Baltimore (Volume 3). Baltimore, MD: n.p., 1912.
"Merchants Coal Company's Orenda Coal," Coal and Coke, No. 21 (1 November 1905).
"The Quemahoning Coal Plant," Coal and Coke 9, No. 19 (1 October 1902).
Pennsylvania Department of Mines. Report of the Department of Mines of Pennsylvania Part 11-Bituminous, 1910. Harrisburg, PA: C.E. Aughinbaugh, State Printer, 1911.
Pennsylvania Department of Mines. Report of the Department of Mines of Pennsylvania Part 11-Bituminous 1919-1920. Harrisburg, PA: J.L.L. Kuhn, State Printer, 1925.
Pennsylvania Department of Mines. Report of the Department of Mines of Pennsylvania Part 11-Bituminous 1929-1930. Harrisburg, PA: n.p., 1932.
Sanborn Map Company. Boswell, Pennsylvania. New York: Sanborn Map Company, 1910, 1916, 1930.
Somerset County Planning Community. Somerset County Historic Resource Survey, Prepared by Glessner, Lehman and Kendall, 1986.
Interviews with long-time residents and former coal miners at Boswell. The interviews were conducted in July, August and September 1993. The following informants provided historical material pertinent in the writing of the Boswell Nomination: Maurice Bertolini Sr., Phylliss Ickes, Len Lichvar, Ralph Persuhn, Joyce Rynick and Shirley Lisbon.