Black. When Henry turned out the lights it was totally black—not a photon of light reached our eyes. The Lackawanna Coal Mine Tour took us several hundred feet below the surface on a track-mounted cart descending an inclined shaft where our guide, Henry pointed out the coal seams, explained mining techniques, demonstrated equipment and procedures and compellingly described the mine worker’s life. Then he flipped the switch plunging us into absolute darkness. Henry had worked in the mines and comes from a family that had done so for generations. He described the work as you’d imagine—dangerous, dirty and difficult.
Old photo of miners on their way to work. Janet poses in front what used to be her family's Duckworth building.
Scranton was a prosperous anthracite (coal) mining town until the mid-20th century. Booming through and following WWII, the mines shut-down by the mid-1960s. While there’s plenty of anthracite left, falling demand sealed the mines’ fate.
Janet’s Scranton ancestors lived a different and decidedly more comfortable life here than the miners. Her grandfather, a great uncle and great grandfather Duckworth were architects. They designed some of the grand houses and public buildings of Scranton, adjacent Dunmore and other towns in the vicinity. Another great grandfather, Leroy Fowler, served as superintendent of schools. And her Spencer ancestors, originally from Connecticut, and among the early settlers here when the area was claimed by Connecticut, eventually owned and operated some of the mines.
Three buildings designed by John Arlington Duckworth: The Grand Army of the Republic, Jermyn Hotel, and St. Rose Lima Church in nearby Carbondale.
Helpful Dunmore Cemetery staff escorted us to visit all three family plots, where we found headstones, monuments, even a Spencer mausoleum. We loved seeing some of the (still lovely) homes where ancestors lived—though the “Duckworth Mansion” was screened from the road by trees and a gate. Regrettably, the Duckworth Apartments had been replaced by a parking lot, but we found that a singular and still pleasing architectural style distinguished the Hotel Jermyn, the Grand Army of the Republic Lodge Hall, and several churches, all designed by great grandfather John Arlington Duckworth in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
The Duckworth angel in Dunmore Cemetery. Asaph Whittaker 1815-1868 --Janet's 3rd great grandfather.
We left Scranton to push further back through time. In Kerhonkson, New York, Leroy Fowler worked as a teacher, meeting and marrying Lamira Whitaker before they both moved to Scranton in the late 1860s. Kerhonkson is a tiny village with a few businesses, a post office, a church or two and several houses. Evidence suggests it was once a bigger and more important place.
In a small market cum convenience store we got directions to an obscure cemetery. Alas, we found no ancestors buried here, but we also received directions to the Pine Bush Cemetery where we eventually located a monument for Asaph D. Whittaker, Lamira’s father. A prosperous merchant, Asaph bequeathed substantial property to his heirs and is remembered with a fitting if unostentatious monument here.
On our way to Kerhonkson we detoured for a few hours in Paterson, New Jersey, where Janet’s third great grandfather James Duckworth first settled upon emigrating from Lancashire, England in the late 1820s. Known as the birthplace of America’s Industrial Revolution, Paterson was a planned industrial city, the brainchild of Alexander Hamilton. We could find no tangible trace of James or his family in Paterson, mainly because they moved to New York City within a few years.
Great Falls at Paterson. Paterson's museum displayed machinery used in the mills--maybe James is in the photo!
As we walked along a canal at the Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park, our Ranger/docent explained that Hamilton’s Society for Establishing Useful Manufactures hired Pierre L’Enfant in the 1790’s to engineer the network of canals to deliver flowing water to mills. At various points in the 19th century mill operators recruited skilled labor from abroad, so we surmise that this may have attracted James, as a young man with the requisite skills, to emigrate from Lancashire to Paterson in search of a brighter future. James is described in various documents as a turner, a machinist, and a mechanic.
James’ son John moved to Toronto as a young man and his grandson John moved to Scranton as a fledgling architect. Here, his son John followed his father into architecture attending Cornell University for his professional schooling.
Duckworth home in Scranton at 607 Webster. John Spencer Duckworth attended Cornell University.
So, we visited Ithaca, NY and the sprawling and very scenic Cornell campus as our final stop on this stretch of Janet’s ancestral trail. We joined a group of parents with prospective Cornell student offspring on a tour guided by an enthusiastic and knowledgeable young woman, a senior in the College of Industrial and Labor Relations. We learned a lot about the university and it’s clearly a very different and much larger place than it was a century ago. Still, we spotted a handful of buildings that appeared to have been here for John Duckworth’s class of 1912, and perhaps gained insight into a long family tradition.
Happy Travels, Janet and Stu
Hey Stu, My family, from my dad back worked in the mines, in fact my dad died of black lung like a lot of my relatives. When do you guys get back?
Hey Rob, we're now back from a fascinating trip--we'll do a couple more posts to bring all up to date, including one on Stu's family history. The miner's work, indeed seems grim--sorry about your dad. Guess we should all be thankful for our comparatively easy lives. Thanks for your comments.
The Duckworth angel - wow. I love ancestral pilgrimages -- did you inherit the Duckworth $ Janet? If so, let me know . . . .
Unfortunately, I think the Depression inherited most of the money, at least on our side of the family! Stu and I are history geeks so we love finding the places where our ancestors lived, walking through the old cemeteries, visiting the local museums, libraries and more. Thanks for you comments.
Again you found so much that was great for your family history but enjoyable for the rest of us.