Loyalhanna village residents find peace decades after coal played out

If you turn off Route 981 just south of Saltsburg, at the sign for the Hoover Stone Quarry, you soon will wind up in the hamlet of Moween.

Tucked into a bend of the Conemaugh River, the curiously named village is the relatively isolated home of commercial contractor Tuscano-Maher Roofing and a mixture of homes, some dating from the early 20th century.

In the decades before 1950, things were much livelier in this corner of Loyalhanna Township. The community grew up alongside the coal portals of two Moween Mines, developed beginning in 1906 by the Keystone Coal Company.

As it grew, the coal patch added about 55 homes for the mine workers, including some duplexes, and the more spacious mine superintendent’s dwelling. According to information compiled by New Alexandria historian Raymond Washlaski, Moween also was graced by the coal company store and office building, a hotel, a school and a powerhouse.

In 1917, the Moween mines employed 142 men and boys and produced more than 152,000 tons of coal. During World War II, there were as many as 211 miners at work at Moween.

A Moween miner’s time sheets from 1943 show the coal operator was paying him $1 per hour. That same year, production was down to 122,000 tons.

While Moween’s older homes are among the legacies of the local mines, a few landmarks provide more immediate reminders of the coal operation.

The Tuscano-Maher Roofing office occupies what used to be the coal company store.

Lisa Schardt has lived in the same nearby house since her birth in 1962.

Her father, Ralph Schardt, worked as a local miner until he suffered a cardiac injury while lifting a heavy obstacle that had trapped him and a co-worker during a mine collapse.

Schardt’s uncle, Benjamin Clawson, was the shopkeeper at the company store and lived in the attached dwelling where her sister now resides.

The old wood stove her uncle had is among the original features of the home that is long gone. Since the Moween mines closed in about 1950, Washlaski said, Schardt remembers the company store only as a vacant building that the local kids would sneak into to play or shelter from bad weather.

“We used it as a bus stop on rainy days,” she said, remembering the shuttered store’s large display windows. The upper floor, she noted, had “very dark wood, and it was always cold.”

Tuscano-Maher moved into the building in the late 1970s and employs 70 at a complex that includes several additional structures.

Hikers and bicyclists on the local West Penn Trail, which mostly follows an old railroad line, can spot another Moween mining remnant: a series of stone piers, spaced across the Conemaugh, once supported a bridge the mining company used to shift coal over the river to an Indiana County tipple for loading onto trains running on the Pennsylvania Railroad’s Conemaugh Division.

The now-tranquil outdoor setting is among the appeals for trail users. Schardt, who works as a nurse at Excela Latrobe Hospital, enjoys the same qualities living in rural Moween.

“It’s always been very beautiful,” she said. “I feel peaceful. It’s pretty neat when you have a herd of deer that comes to eat in your yard, and you wake up in the morning to find wild turkeys sitting on your steps.”

As for the coal patch’s name, it might have been derived from Native American lingo. The name alternately was spelled “Mooween,” which corresponds with a native term for a bear.

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2021-09-13 23:01:00

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