Posts Tagged ‘Garrett County’

ShallmarI recently recorded the story of Shallmar for the podcast Wildfulness. I became interested in the story of the town since I first heard about it more than 10 years ago.

Shallmar would have come and gone like so many coal towns in America, except for the national attention it garnered in 1949 when the residents were starving. This is that story.

Also, if you would like to learn more about the story, I wrote Saving Shallmar: Christmas Spirit in a Coal Town. 

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Photo courtesy of the Garrett County Historical Society.

“My camera lens does not lie. It took just what it saw, no more, no less,” Leo J. Beachy once wrote.


His camera captured faces and scenes of Garrett County in the early 20th century. Horse-drawn wagons. One-room log schoolhouses. Historic buildings that have since been destroyed. Weddings and school classes. Dirt roads and mud streets.

“Of all the early Maryland photographers whose work I have seen,” photographer Marion E. Warren said in The Eye of the Beholder: Photographs by Marion E. Warren 1940-1988, “Leo Beachy had a sensitivity for human interest that was unique.”

It is a world that now lives only in the memories of the oldest citizens and for decades after Beachy’s death in 1927, it was believed as lost as the time that had spawned it.

Life as a Backwoods Schoolteacher

Leo Beachy was born in 1874 on a farm call Mt. Nebo near Grantsville. He was the seventh of 10 children born to Jonas Beachy and Anna Youtzy. Leo lived on the family farm his entire life never marrying or having children.

As an adult, he became a school teacher, teaching in small one-room schoolhouses, such as Negro Mountain School, Engle School, and Compton School.

“He wrote an article called ‘My Life as a Backwoods School Teacher.’ It was so sad to read. He was very unhappy,” his niece, Maxine Beachy Broadwater said.

According to the book, Legacy of Leo J. Beachy, Leo won a small Kodak camera as a sales premium from E. L. Kellogg & Co. With this camera, he took his first picture. It was of his mother staring up at the sun.

“When he developed the picture, he wrote, ‘Lo and behold, I thought I was Rembrandt,’” Broadwater said, recalling some of her uncle’s writings.

His interest in photography sparked, he soon found himself a larger camera that took pictures on glass plates. However, he didn’t do much with it at the time and stored it away in a trunk.

“What induced me to take up photography was that I wanted our home photographer to go to that old log school where I taught my first school and take some pictures of it and the great hills lying about it and the rocky Savage River. He never got the pictures for me,” Beachy wrote.

He remembered his camera and took the picture himself. Pleased with the results, he began taking other pictures of classes, places, and people of Garrett County.

Beachy suffered from a crippling disease that caused him to give up teaching. Today, the disease can be identified as multiple sclerosis, though it did not have a name at the time.

Beachy threw his work efforts into photography.

“Aunt Kate would carry him on her back to the wagon and get him on. Then he would drive to where he needed to be and someone there would carry him off,” Broadwater said.

Over the next two decades, it’s not known how many glass-plate photos that Beachy took, but the estimates are in the tens of thousands. He also began making a national name for himself. Motor Trend ran some of his National Road photos in 1925 and National Geographic ran at least one of his photos in 1926 of a Garrett County snow scene.

Former President Theodore Roosevelt also admired Beachy’s work when he judged a photography contest. Beachy had entered a picture of “Speedy” Bittinger on his motorcycle and sidecar delivering mail along the National Road and won the national contest.

Beachy died from complications of multiple sclerosis on May 5, 1927. He was only 53 years old. He is buried in Otto Cemetery, near Grantsville.

beachy_cove_garrett_coA Legacy Lost

Broadwater was only six years old when she helped her brothers load boxes of her uncle’s glass plates onto a wagon to clear out Beachy’s studio so that it could be converted into a chicken house.

“I still feel guilty about it today, but I was young and I did what I was told,” Broadwater said.

The glass plates were taken to a creek and dumped into it where they shattered.

Luckily, Beachy had been a prolific photographer and the boxes dumped into the creek were not the only boxes of his photographs.

A Legacy Found

In 1975, a friend came into the library where Broadwater worked and showed her a set of 75 glass-plate negatives.

“The minute I saw them I knew they were Uncle Leo’s,” Broadwater said.

Then a few years later a man who was renting property next to the old stone Casselman River Bridge, commented to Broadwater that he wished that Dr. Alta Shrock, the founder of Penn Alps, would get rid of the boxes of old glass plates in the old wash house. The boxes were so heavy that they were collapsing the old shelves they were sitting on.

Broadwater called Shrock, who gave her the plates, around 2,500 of them. They had been rescued from a dump many years before, stored away, and forgotten. Kate Beachy had apparently held back some of her brother’s glass plates to preserve them. She eventually forgot about them and when she moved to New York, the new owners of the house found the boxes of glass plates and took them to the dump. Luckily, someone realized they had historic value and rescued them, although he, too, eventually forgot them.

Since that time, Broadwater has worked hard to preserve her uncle’s legacy by caring for the glass plates and displaying the scenes captured on them.

“I never met Uncle Leo, but I feel as though I know him through working on the glass-plate negatives,” Broadwater said.

Her efforts had paid off as he uncle’s talent has come to be appreciated.

In his book, Maryland Time Exposures, 1840-1940, William Stapp, curator of photography for the National Portrait Gallery, wrote, “Beachy’s photographs are entrancing pictures, composed with naïve charm … (They) are compelling, summoning up visions of a style of life blessed by innocence … They reassure us about our past, and thus give us comfort for the present and for the future. That is no mean accomplishment for an unpretentious small-town photographer.”

Remembering Leo Beachy

You can view a documentary about Beachy, “Leo Beachy: A Legacy Nearly Lost”, on the Garrett County Historical Society website. The documentary originally aired on WQED in Pittsburgh.

Life Magazine also published many of his photos in 1990 in a 10-page feature. You can view many of the photographs on the Garrett County Historical Society website or by visiting the Grantsville Museum.

The Maryland Historical Society also has a small collection of Beachy’s glass-plate negatives that it acquired in 2010.

Broadwater has also published four volumes of small books with hundreds of Beachy’s photographs reprinted in them.

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Editor’s Note: This is part one of two posts about the 1911 mine explosion in Elk Garden.



Residents gather at Mine No. 20 in Elk Garden, WV, waiting to hear word about survivors after a 1911 mine explosion. Courtesy of the Kitzmiller Mining Museum.


The ground trembled around 8:30 a.m. on the morning of April 24, 1911. Some people in Elk Garden, WVa., might have wished it was an earthquake, not that the town had ever experienced one. But that was better than thinking about the alternative. There had been an explosion in the nearby Davis Coal and Coke Company No. 20 mine where most of the men in town worked.

People ran from their homes and hurried toward the mine to see what had happened, and more importantly, if anyone had been injured or killed. “Many of those who stood round the slope heading were parents, brothers, sisters or wives of those entombed and great feeling was shown, many wringing their, hands and crying aloud, while others, the more courageous, set about planning means of rescue,” reported the Cumberland Evening Times.

The nearby town of Thomas was notified and sent two fire engines with rescue crews to Elk Garden on the Western Maryland Railroad. A count was taken of the miners who had exited the No. 20 mine. Twenty-seven were missing. Only five have been able to make their way out of the mine.

The men working in No. 20 had left for their shift at 6:30 a.m. Work had slacked off during the winter and the miners were only working two days a week. That made it tough going financially for the Elk Garden miners so when the chance had come to work an extra day, they had made sure not to be late. Even so, it wasn’t a full shift. The men who had been called into work were cleaning up the mine in preparation for the next day’s work.

Superintendent Robert Grant organized a rescue crew from the men in town, most of the miners themselves. The rescue crew entered the smoking mine, hoping for the best. Though Grant knew where the men had been working, he kept running into passages closed by falling coal. They snaked their way through passages until they got as close as they could to where the miners working at the time of the explosion had been.

People from town brought bolts of bed ticking and cloth to build temporary brattices for the rescue crews so that air could flow into the mine. All of the actual brattices in the mine had been blown out by the explosion.

Many of the wives and children of the trapped miners returned to their homes, trying to keep their hands and minds occupied with thoughts other than they were now widows and their husbands had died horrible deaths.

As word of the explosion spread, men began arriving from other areas to help with the rescue efforts. A large group of men from Thomas, WV, was one of the first on the scene. Davis and Coal Coke Company officials notified the Department of Mines in Washington so that a rescue car could be sent to help.

“Work was then begun, making a cross cut through the wall of coal towards the entombed men. Gas still lingers very heavy in the mine and work is possible only at short intervals, and then the strain on the rescuers is terrific,” the Cumberland Evening Times reported.

In fact, four rescuers themselves were overcome with the gases in the mine. They were pulled from the mine and treated for afterdamp, which is left in a mine after a fire or explosion. Afterdamp is a gas mixture made up of primarily of nitrogen and carbon dioxide. It can suffocate a person is he inhales too much of it.

At 3,000 feet into the mine, the rescuers dug towards the miners not knowing whether they were dead or alive. By evening, it was estimated that the rescue crew was about halfway to the room where the miners had been working. “As the way progresses the work grows harder and the prisoners will probably not be reached until tomorrow afternoon,” the newspaper reported.

Monday evening, a body was found. He was identified as Wilbur Shears. A few hours later, near midnight, five more bodies were found. They were loaded onto wagons and driven into Elk Garden where a temporary morgue had been set.

The grieving began, but there still remained hope, though fading.

When the Department of Mines’ rescue car arrived late in the evening, it brought with it oxygen helmets to protect the rescuers against afterdamp. They were instructed on how to use the helmets safely. The helmets allowed the rescuers stay in the mine longer in their search for the missing miners.

During the day on Tuesday, nine more bodies were found and then another five in the evening. “Some of the dead were burned about the face and hands, some were bruised and faces scarred, while others showed no external signs of violence, but seemed to be calmly sleeping,” the Piedmont Herald Reported.

At noon on Wednesday, the final three bodies were carried out of the mine. The wait was over for the families, but now the search for what had happened would begin.

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Gen. John Imboden

I was asked late last year to start contributing to the Wildfulness podcast, which covers topics about Mountain Maryland. I had never done one before, so I thought it would be fun. I would have time to learn a new skill without the pressure of producing a weekly show.


The story of the Confederate attack on Oakland, Md., was my first foray into podcasts.

Here’s the link to the Wildfulness blog if you would like to follow the podcast.

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After the Civil War ended, a young 24-year-old veteran returned home and decided that he wanted to be a teacher. He found a job as the schoolmaster for the school in Grantsville, Md., which was then part of Allegany County, Md. Ross R. Sanner was a man who commanded men in battle, and he turned those leadership skills into educating a new generation of young citizens.

“The writer (editor of the Oakland Republican) had the privilege of being one of his primary pupils in 1868 and among the readers of The Republican are many who received their first instructions from this grand old pedagogue and who have ever since held him in grateful memory and high esteem,” Benjamin Sincell wrote in 1916.

Sanner was born in Lower Turkeyfoot Township in Somerset County, Pa., in 1842. He had answered the call for soldiers in 1861 and walked to Uniontown to enlist in the 85th Regiment Pennsylvania Infantry as a 19-year-old private. He fought gallantly in various campaigns with his unit and soon started earning promotions, ending the war as a captain.

He was wounded at Folly Island in Charleston, S.C., and spent two months recovering in a hospital. He returned to duty and was injured a second time during the Battle of Petersburg. Sanner was fighting alongside his cousin, Norman Ream, when Ream was injured.

“He was six feet, two inches tall, and Captain Sanner carried him a mile on his shoulder to safety, the Cumberland Press reported. “Later Captain Sanner was wounded in the same battle and the pair became separated.”

It was this wound that caused him to be honorably discharged from the army on September 22, 1864, and he began collecting an invalid pension.


Grantsville School2 - pre-1909 (3)

Grantsville School prior to 1909. Photo courtesy of Alice Early.


Upon his return home, he attended the Iron City Business College in Pittsburgh and Mount Union College in Mount Union, Ohio. In 1866, he became a teacher in Grantsville, and also a husband when he married Alice C. Fuller.

He would eventually move on to teach in schools in Frostburg; Cumberland; Confluence, Pa.; and at the Soldiers’ Orphans’ School in Uniontown, Pa.

He moved to North Dakota for a number of years to try his hand at wheat farming, but teaching was his passion and he returned to the area once again and became the superintendent of schools in Oakland.

The in 1915, his career came full circle and returned to Grantsville to once again become the principal. They took up residence at the Casselman Hotel and Sanner enjoyed teaching with fewer responsibilities.

“In times of peace as well as of war he has stood by the best principles of government, and his influence over the minds of his pupils and those coming within his sphere has always been exerted for good,” according to Portrait and Biographical Record of the Sixth Congressional District of Maryland in 1898.

Three years after his return to his teaching roots, “Grantsville’s Grand Old School Teacher” passed away in Confluence at 76 years old from cirrhosis of the liver. He was buried at the Confluence Baptist Cemetery.

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Victor-Victrola.jpgWar can certainly be a time of danger, but there are other times when soldiers are in camp stateside or behind the lines when they can relax.

Camp Meade near Laurel was named for Maj. Gen. George Meade. It became an active army installation in 1917. During World War I, more than 400,000 soldiers would pass through the camp to be trained for the war. It was the training site for three infantry divisions, three training battalions, and one depot brigade.

During the course of the war, 704 Garrett Countians would serve in the military and most of them were sent to Camp Meade for training. The Garrett County boys in Camp Meade in October 1917 were part of a company of 250 men from Garrett and Allegany counties and Baltimore City. The traveling agent with the B&O Railroad who had charge of the Garrett County recruits when they were taken to Camp Meade, said of them, “The boys from Garrett county were the finest bunch I have so far taken to any camp.”

Once at camp, their training went well. “We arrived safely in camp, and most everyone is well and getting along fine with our drills, considering the time we have been here,” six of the recruits – Henry Byrn Hamill, Earl W. Alexander, Harry M. Setzer, Paul R. Liston, Robert R. Glotfelty, John W. Livengood – wrote in a letter to The Republican.

They were healthy and happy. The Republican described them as “the finest specimens of young manhood in the country.”

They were bored, though.

The six recruits, who were representing all of the Garrett County recruits, asked if a subscription fund could be started to buy them a Victrola “as the time when off duty would pass much faster if we had a Victrola to cheer up the boys from ‘Old Garrett,’ and serve to keep them from getting blue,” the letter read.

Although today, Victrola has become a generic term for old phonographs, back then a Victrola was a brand of phonographs with an internal horn that was manufactured by the Victor Talking Machine Company. They are not the older versions of phonographs that Victor used in its logo. This version had an external horn, and a dog sat in front of the horn to hear his master’s voice.

True Victrolas were first marketed in 1906 and quickly gained popularity. That popularity helped bring down the price to roughly $100 ($1,870 today) depending on where it was purchased.

The Republican staff jumped into action starting the subscription fund not only for a Victrola but also records that could be played on it. Not waiting for the next issue, staff began notifying people in town about the request.

Within an hour after the subscription efforts began, $46.50 in donations had come into the news room from 41 donors. E. H. Sincell pledged the most ($5) and some people pledged as little as 25 cents.

One minister gladly donated a dollar to the fund, telling the editor, “Never do you start anything for the boys again unless I am in on the ground floor. If this is insufficient for the purpose or if you want to raise another fund for anything else to come to me.”

The citizens of Friendsville took up a collection and raised $11 from 11 donors. The Girls Club of Gormania raised another $5 and mailed it to the newspaper office.

After a week, $83 had been raised from 74 donors. Within two weeks the $100 goal had been surpassed, and the boys from Garrett County had an enjoyable way to pass the time by the end of October.

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Three Japanese snipers who got into a shoot out with U.S. troops and lost during the Battle of Leyte Gulf. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The Battle of Leyte Gulf is considered by many to be largest naval battle during World War II, so it is often forgotten that troops were sent ashore to capture Leyte Island once the gulf was won.

The United States’ victory in October 1944 secured the seas around the islands in the Leyte Gulf, but the Japanese still held the islands. On December 7, the 77th Infantry Division, under the command of Major General Andrew Bruce, made an amphibious landing at Albuera, a city on Leyte Island. The 305th, 306th, and 307th Infantry Regiments came ashore without incident, but that peace wouldn’t last.

Kamikaze attacks sunk U.S. destroyers. Japanese troops on the island regrouped and began fighting back against the Americans. Private Denver C. Sharpless of Deer Park, Md., was among the U.S. troops taking fire.

He had been overseas for a year after having gone through basic training at Fort Jackson in South Carolina. He had enlisted in the army at Fort Meade in April 1942 for the “duration of the War or other emergency, plus six months,” which was a standard enlistment for WWII.

The 30-year-old infantryman had just taken cover in a ditch during a firefight when he saw a Japanese soldier emerge from his cover.

“He was the biggest Jap I ever saw,” Sharpless told an interviewer while he was in the hospital recovering from a nerve ailment in his right leg. “Must have been more than six feet and I’m not exaggerating when I say that his head was as big as one of our helmets.”

The average height of Japanese soldiers during the war was under five feet five inches. Sharpless himself was only five feet eight inches tall and weighed 152 pounds.

Sharpless wasn’t too scared of the Japanese solider. Sharpless had found cover and he had his rifle. And that big, hulking soldier made an easy target.

Then the Japanese soldier saw Sharpless and dropped out of sight. The Japanese soldier began crawling and Sharpless saw him again when he passed through an open area 25 yards away.

“Then I began to get frightened because, when I pulled the trigger, my M1 wouldn’t fire,” Sharpless said. “I yanked open the bolt and saw that the firing pin was broken.”

Sharpless was considering scurrying away so he didn’t fall within the soldier’s sights. Then Sharpless saw another American with a Browning Automatic Rifle coming toward him. The American soldier had also seen the Japanese soldier.

Sharpless asked to borrow the man’s rifle, but the soldier told him that he wanted to take out the Japanese soldier. He fired a couple shots and the Japanese soldier went down.

“I wished at the time that I had a camera to take his picture,” Sharpless said. “He looked like one of those oversize freaks you see in comic strips.”

Besides fighting at Leyte, Sharpless also fought on Guam. He earned the Combat Infantry Badge for exemplary conduct under fire and the Philippines Liberation campaign ribbon. Despite surviving enemy fire, the nerve ailment manifested itself a few months later. It severity required that he be sent to a California hospital for treatment.

He was the son of Robert and Bertha Sharpless. His parents had divorced at a young age, though, and he had been raised by his mother in Deer Park. His father was a coal miner who lived in Swanton and had remarried.

Denver died in Ohio in 1991.

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