Christmas in a Coal Region ‘patch town’


“Now about Christmas,” wrote the Kalmia correspondent for the West Schuylkill Press on December 31, 1877, just after detailing the latest mining accidents in the village’s coal mine. The author, writing under the pseudonym “Uno,” went on to detail how a simple Christmas was honored in the “patch town” of Kalmia, on the southwestern border of Schuylkill County.

Kalmia Village
Kalmia Colliery village, 1875 (Penn State)

The tiny village in of a few hundred souls had been built in the early 1870s around the “Kalmia Colliery,” a coal mine built atop several veins of valuable anthracite in Tremont Township. The colliery, operated by Phillips and Sheafer Co., had been opened in 1868 upon lands leased out by the Philadelphia and Reading Coal and Iron Company. By 1877, the company town contained dozens of small miners’ houses, a company store, and a small school house all built directly beneath the towering breaker where the Kalmia coal was processed. The mine employed about 300 men and boys in workings that stretched miles beneath “Fourth Mountain.”

The town itself derived its name from the mountain laurel that once graced this beautiful spot overlooking the confluence of Williams Valley and Clark’s Valley, but that had long since been replaced by the ever-present black dust of a coal mining operation.

Kalmia resembled communities scattered across the Coal Region in the 19th century. A small, company-owned town, the village did not contain many amenities. It existed for one reason and one reason alone: production of anthracite coal. For any of the village’s resident wanting to enjoy the conveniences of modern living in 1877, they would have had to walk several miles to Tower City.

Kalmia Layout
Layout of Kalmia Colliery (Penn State)

And this impacted the village’s Christmas celebration. The ladies of Kalmia assembled a Sunday school Christmas tree for the village’s children. Without a church in Kalmia, the schoolhouse sufficed for the secular and religious education of the boys and girls and this is where the Christmas tree was planted. The Christmas season, as marked in this far flung outpost of the Coal Region, contained a few intricacies that would have made it different than other patch town Christmases. One of the most striking is the use of a Pennsylvania Dutch character, as many of those settled in Kalmia and the neighboring villages surrounding Tower City were of German ancestry. That differed markedly from other patch towns scattered through the Coal Region, many of whom were of different ethnic extraction.

Below, you can read Uno’s dispatch from Kalmia in full and explore how a patch town Christmas was celebrated in 1877.

We have had several accidents at our colliery within the past few weeks, but none of a serious character. Wm. Miller had his hand crushed by being crushed between the buffers while coupling; James Tait had his foot badly bruised by a stick of timber falling upon it; Wm. Crawley was cut and bruised about the body by a fall of coal. All three of the above are doing well, and will be at work again in a few days.

Now about Christmas. The little hearts of our Sabbath School children were made glad on Christmas Eve, by a large Christmas tree, every limb of which bent under the goodies suspended to it. And it really made us feel quite happy to see the smiling happy faces of the little ones, (and big ones too for that matter), as each one got his share of the good things. Old and young seemed quite satisfied [with] what Santa Clause had sent them.

We had a very fine Sabbath School Exhibition on Christmas night. The pieces were well delivered, and some very good music was given by the choir, led by Mr. H.H. Davis. Every person enjoyed a hearty laugh at Mr. P’s Dutch character, “Yacob Strouse.” An entertaining feature of the Exhibition, was Mr. Frazer’s illustration of Infant class teaching. The way that class of small children answered questions, made the old folks look around; but I cannot particularize, were all done so well.

Featured Image: Kalmia Colliery and patch town as it appeared in 1875. From the July 30, 1963 edition of the West Schuylkill Herald

Kalmia itself was abandoned in 1887-1888. No structures remain from this patch town. 

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