by Polla Horn & Bucky Shriver
for The Frostburg Express
Henry "Harry" Devlin
Henry Devlin left his home in Glasgow, Scotland, and arrived in America on board the ship Europa on April 8, 1870. Henry made the journey with Bernard Keating and his wife, Margaret. Both Henry and the Keatings settled in Lonaconing. Henry Devlin and Bernard Keating found employment in the underground coal mines. On Aug. 18, 1872, Henry married Ann Elizabeth Woods at St. Mary of the Annunciation Church in Lonaconing. Witnesses to the marriage were Ann’s older brother Thomas Woods and Mary Mooney. Ann was a native of Keady, County Armagh, Ireland, and the daughter of Terrence Thomas Woods and Sarah Hughes Woods. By the time that the 1880 census was compiled, Henry and Annie Devlin were parents of four sons and a daughter (Henry, 7; Andrew, 6; Terrance, 5; Sarah, 3; and Christopher, 11 months.) The family lived in a house that they owned on Big Vein Hill in Lonaconing.
Within the next 20 years, Henry and Annie added seven more children to the brood (Thomas, born in 1882; Hugh, 1883; Katherine, 1885; Mary, 1887; Bernard, 1889; John, 1892; and Anna, 1895.) Son Thomas apparently died before 1900; the fate of Thomas Devlin was not discovered. In the 1900 census, Henry and Annie’s four sons, Henry Jr. “Harry,” Terrance, Christopher and Hugh, were also working as coal miners to help support their parents and siblings.
Sometime shortly after 1900, son Harry Devlin left the underground coal mines and found work as a fireman for the B&O Railroad on the Cumberland to Connellsville, Pennsylvania, route. Although Harry was injured in an accident, he recovered and was back to work by December 1903. On Dec. 23, 1903, five days after celebrating his 30th birthday, Harry was a passenger aboard the B&O Railroad’s Duquesne Limited on his way from Connellsville to Lonaconing to spend the Christmas holidays with his family.
The passenger train, pulled by B&O locomotive No. 1465, was headed eastbound at 50 miles per hour. In addition to the engine and tender, the train consisted of eight cars (two Pullmans, a dining car, three day coaches, a baggage car and a scaled express car.) Near Laurel Run, 5 miles west of Connellsville, a westbound freight train lost a load of 60-foot-long timbers in a sharp curve just as the passenger train was approaching from the opposite direction, and the logs fell across the eastbound tracks. The passenger locomotive partially cleared one of the logs, but while passing over it, the back of the log was lifted and caught the tender. The tender was vaulted over the top of the locomotive and landed on the rails, 100 yards in front of locomotive 1465, blocking both tracks. The locomotive and the smoking car that was positioned directly behind the tender derailed and went down over the hill together, toward the Youghiogheny River, ending up side by side. The boiler dome was knocked off the locomotive and it filled the passenger car with hissing, scalding steam. Forty-three passengers were immediately scalded to death, five more died aboard the relief train before it reached Connellsville station and eight more died soon after arriving at Cottage State Hospital in Connellsville. By the time the final tally was taken a few days later, between 65 and 70 people had died as a result of the accident. None of the passengers aboard the smoking car survived to tell the tale.
Further tragedy was averted when the conductor Helgroth, conductor Edward Baker and baggage master Thomas Dom, who were aboard the passenger train, ran down the tracks and lit matches to warn an oncoming train; locomotive No. 49 was able to stop just one-half of a car length from the site of the derailment. A few days later, Helgroth died at Cottage State Hospital from injuries suffered in the accident.
The horrible situation was made worse when the B&O Police arrived and discovered several people on site who were rifling through the clothing of the dead in search of money and valuables. The clothing of additional victims was later found in disarray, appearing as though their bodies had also been plundered before the rescuers had arrived on the scene.
Harry’s family was alerted on the following morning (Christmas Eve) to hurry to the Cottage State Hospital if they ever wanted to see him alive again. His parents, Henry and Ann, and Harry’s younger brother Terrance left immediately for Connellsville. The three family members were able to spend a few hours at Harry’s bedside before he passed away on Christmas Day.
In Harry Devlin’s obituary, it was noted that he was a member of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Lonaconing, the Ancient Order of Hibernians and Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen. In the Baltimore Sun on Dec. 28, 1903, it was reported that the funeral cortege for Harry Devlin was one of the largest ever seen in the Lonaconing area. The Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen from Connellsville attended en masse. The group, numbering over 300, traveled on a special train from Cumberland to the gravesite. There were more than 100 floral offerings. High Mass Requiem was observed at St. Mary’s Catholic Church. It was stated that “Mr. Devlin was quiet and preferred to be unseen, but his generous nature and his real worth gave him prominence among his associates.”
Harry Devlin was laid to rest in St. Mary’s Catholic Cemetery on Water Station Run Road in Lonaconing. Instead of a joyful family reunion, the Devlin family would remember Christmas Day 1903 as the day when this horrible accident claimed the life of Harry Devlin, the beloved brother of nine surviving siblings and oldest son of Henry and Ann Devlin. Harry’s father, Henry, would follow him to the grave four years later. His mother, Ann (Woods) Devlin, labored on for 29 more years. Ann passed away on Sept. 1, 1936, and was buried with her husband and son in St. Mary’s Cemetery. Bernard and Margaret Keating, the friends with whom Henry Devlin made the ocean voyage to America in 1870, are also buried in St. Mary’s Catholic Cemetery in Lonaconing.
The Devlins were all devout Catholics. Harry’s sister Sarah Devlin chose to make her religious faith her life’s calling. Sarah became a nun, taking her vows on New Year’s Day, 1901. Sarah adopted the Christian name Mary Leonarda. On Jan. 10, 1951, Sister Mary Leonarda marked her 50th anniversary as a nun, celebrating her Golden Jubilee at St. John’s Orphanage in Philadelphia. The former Sarah Devlin passed away on Nov. 27, 1962. and was buried in Mount St. Joseph Convent Cemetery in Philadelphia.
Like his departed brother Harry, Bernard Devlin worked as a fireman for the B&O Railroad and was later promoted to engineer. John Devlin, the youngest of Harry’s siblings, worked as a coal miner in his younger years. On Aug. 18, 1915, John Devlin married Bridget Stakem, the daughter of Daniel and Bridget (Byrnes) Stakem, in a ceremony held at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Midland. On March 25, 1924, John Devlin was cutting a roof prop at the Consolidation Coal Co.’s No. 16 Mine, 1 mile north of Midland. John was holding the prop in place with his foot when the prop slipped and he accidentally cut through the ligaments of his first three toes. Remarkably he lost no time due to this accident. Shortly afterward, John decided to change professions and went to work as a butcher at Devlin’s Meat Market in Midland. The business was passed on from Bridget’s parents, Bridget and Daniel Stakem, who operated a meat market at the same location in Midland from the early 1880s until their deaths in 1919 and 1920, respectively. John and Bridget Devlin continued to operate the meat market in Midland for nearly 40 more years.
The Devlin legacy is perpetuated today in the form of real estate. The site of the former meat market was later the Midland post office and is presently the site of Devlin’s Pub in Midland. This property has remained in the Devlin family for 140 years. The home that Devlin family patriarch Henry Devlin and his wife, Annie, purchased on Big Vein Hill in Lonaconing in the late 1800s is still owned by their descendants.
The Coal Miner Memorial Statue Fund is accepting contributions for the placement of
an educational memorial near the crossroads of
state Route 36 and the National Road in Frostburg. .
A bronze statue will honor all of our Georges Creek Valley miners,
and name those who perished while mining.
Tax-deductible donations can be mailed to the
Foundation for Frostburg CMMSF
P.O. Box 765
Frostburg, MD 21532
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