Thompsontown, a small community in Chest Township, began as an early 20th century mining community and likely reached its peak of population and coal output during World War II.
Tiny mining hamlets with their homesteads, tipples and perhaps a store or two have all but disappeared from Clearfield County’s landscape. Those that remain, often house a few families with adult job commuters and retirees. That has become a common scenario for the last half century, or more, in older mining villages in rural Pennsylvania.
Thompsontown was named for Harry Thompson, who owned and operated the mine there. There was a small school but no post office. The Pennsylvania Railroad line was extended to Thompson’s mine from nearby LaJose.
Many miners, there, rented company-owned houses. They were basic structures in which parents somehow raised their often-large families. The mining operation also owned and ran a company store.
These stores were usually well stocked with basic food, clothing, household items and mining supplies. Some company stores charged fair and affordable prices for their wares, but, too often, many did not. Miner’s wages were low and they often lived on credit, i.e. chronic debt.
There were downsides to mining life during the late 19 and early 20th century. Low wages, company store debts, dangerous working conditions with little enforceable safety regulations, health hazards such as black lung and miner’s knee.
Mining low seams of coal, by hand, that were no more than a few feet high was harsh physical labor that would wear miner’s bodies out long before their time. Child labor was common, in order to help load coal cars. The grandchildren of these miners still tell stories of men walking home, in winter, with wet and frozen mine clothes.
Mr. Thompson did provide his miners with company housing that was close to the mine. He also provided a bath house where miners could get cleaned and change clothes at the end of their shift.
The 1941 photo shows the Thompson town tipple, where coal was loaded into railway cars. Coal production in 1941 was both immense and vital. Railroads, steel mills, electrical power generation and much home heating depended upon coal.
That year also saw the coming of World War II to the United States. American society would be changed forever during the war years. After the war, by the early 1950’s, deep mining as it was known in Clearfield County, would diminish, year after year.