Fracking, Strip Mining & the Amish


St. Clairsville, Ohio: Griffin Park Church 8/4/12

         We’ve been driving byways for the past 16 days.  This is another report from the road.


          Energy’s past and present we’ve seen in signs: from upstate New York diagonally across western Pennsylvania and northern West Virginia’s over the Ohio River and then north to Lake Erie.

           Mainly yard signs, they spot the landscape.  Around Cooperstown and Cherry Valley, New York, they disdain fracking.  A couple of hours away, just across the Pennsylvania border on the back road we chose, a large sign at the first bar read ‘Welcome Drillers’.


          ‘Stop the War on Coal Burn Obama’:  So read yard signs throughout the Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio coal fields.  You see them so often you usually don’t think of their contexts which are usually well-kept, even prosperous-looking houses.

          The six-times larger sign on the lawn of the pictured Giffin Park Church in St. Clairsville, Ohio, however, has a story that’s too good not to share.

          A story in the Pittsburgh Press for Jan. 8, 1964, is headlined, ‘Coal Official Quits Post to be Pastor’.  ‘James Hyslop has retired as vice president of the Consolidation Coal Co. to become pastor of the church he founded.’  He’d also built this beautiful church where he’d preach for a quarter century.

          The Press reported Hyslop had joined Hanna Coal in 1940 rising to be president of what became a division of Consol in 1950, a post he held for 11 years.  He retired as Consol’s vice president for government relations.

          Consol remains one of America’s largest coal companies.  Hanna Coal in Hyslop’s time had deep and strip mines in eastern Ohio.  Hyslop was long before and well after his retirement Ohio strip mining’s public face.  This 1951 Associated Press wire story, for instance, quotes Hyslop on an early Hanna reclamation effort.


Robert Mitchum as the Rev. Harry Powell in ‘Night of the Hunter’
          When I saw Robert Mitchum as a psychopath pretending to be a preacher in ‘Night of the Hunter’ (1955), I thought of Jim Hyslop.

           Hyslop’s church like reclaimed strip mines is beautiful but sterile. It now houses social services agencies and is used for the occasional wedding.  Its lawn sign and handsome shell continues its founder’s message.


           We’ve returned to upstate New York, to beautiful Geneva on Seneca Lake.  A block from our B&B, anti-fracking sign sits in the window of 1850s brick house.

           Two weeks ago, in Cooperstown’s farmers market, I was surprised to see two Amish couples working stalls.  Taking shelter from a squall, we struck up a conversation with a couple selling the best home-made ice cream – fresh peach – I’ve ever tasted.  Ever!

           The couple and their two daughters farm 100 acres not far from baseball’s Hall of Fame.  They rely on a pair of Belgian draft horses.

           Across western Pennsylvania and then back north, from Guernsey County into Geauga County, Ohio, we saw black buggies and an occasional dog cart.  The rapidly growing Amish population seems to be reclaiming family farmland. 


Northwestern Pennsylvania: Amish Buggies at Laundromat 8/11/12

           In Portage County, not far from a yellow sign with a black buggy on it, were signs of the same size and shape as the anti-fracking signs signaling an authorized route for Chesapeake Energy’s fracking service vehicles.

            I wondered, not for the first time on this trip, if the plain folk would save us from our rapacity.


  1. t.j.welsh said:

    There are two tms which will define this century and shape the political life of the global community. The first is culture referring to the shared meaning that enables cooperation and tolerance. While our old culture dies the new has yet to issue forth. The second term is marketisation, so horrid,where everything is valued exclusively in money terms, a price!where the dynamic of these two terms meet is where all of our futures will be defined. Our rapacity,Peter,will only be tamed when we engage in deciphering the dynamic of culture and marketisation. The choice is either a consumer, materialist culture where the market provides the culture,or a cooperative humane culture where evidence informed our civic discourse. Perhaps the Amish have already arrived at the latter.

    August 14, 2012
  2. Kris Whiteleather said:

    As we know the plain folk have not saved us thus far. Certain individuals do, of course, stand strong against the rapacity you see, but they have been reduced to shrill parodies by those who stand to profit.

    Much of the real power of America, the middle class, is easily distracted by diet fads, prurience and sports. “Bread and circuses” again and again from time immemorial to the present.

    There are coal mines first dug by the ancient Romans that continue to produce acid mine drainage today…yet we still mine coal and dump its overburden into streams in the same way. Fracking has a different name, but it is still the same massive, unnatural, detrimental exposure of citizens to industrial waste to profit the powerful at the expense of the “plain folk”.

    At least locally, if the plain folk think fracking on their land will let them go to McDonalds (bread) or the races at Watkins Glen (circuses) they are more than happy to poison their neighbors.

    Wow! I am more cynical in print than I am in person.

    August 15, 2012
  3. […] ‘Then they wrote it all down as the progress of man.’  That’s just what coal men did, as I’ve written.  Source: Peabody Energy home page. Accessed […]

    October 11, 2012
  4. Bruce A. Hyslop said:

    As it happens, I too am an Ohio attorney. I grew up in Mt. Pleasant, Ohio, Jefferson County. My father was Andrew Hyslop, James Hyslop’s brother. My parents moved to St. Clairsville in 1959, after I had gone to college.
    I read with interest your comments on my uncle as evoking memories of Robert Mitchum in Night of the Hunter, “a psychopath pretending to be a preacher.” As those are somewhat strong words, meant to be shared with the world on the internet, I am wondering what you know about James Hyslop which would lead you to conclude what you have. Did you attend Giffin Park Church, pictured in your blog? Did you not like James Hyslop’s theology, perhaps? Did you get to know him in some fashion? Maybe you have some revelations long hidden from public view, which would support your comments. After all, in the movie, Mitchum was a murderous fellow with the word “LOVE” tattooed on the fingers of one of his hands, I recall.
    As the “face of Ohio strip mining”, my notion is that you were too young to know him personally as a child, given your brief bio I have read. Or, perhaps you were a budding environmentalist in the 60’s?
    And, you might be further alarmed to know that my father, Andrew Hyslop, was chief engineer for Hanna Coal, who with Marion Power Shovel designed the Mountaineer and, subsequently, with Bucyrus Erie, the Gem of Egypt and The Silver Spade, all gigantic power shovels that criss-crossed the Belmont, Harrison and Jefferson County terrains exposing coal seams, the ore from which fed power companies, the steel industry, private homes and yes, many coal mining families like the one I came from.
    While I didn’t grow up in St. Clairsville, the town you wish in your blog to reclaim, the “Paradise on the Hill”, as many referred to it, I know that coal was important to the economy and the way of life about which you seem to rhapsodize.
    Perhaps you would care to share in your blog format what factual basis you have for your references to James Hyslop. . . . or perhaps that was not intended to be seen by our family?
    Bruce A. Hyslop
    Ohio Supreme Court No. 0007570

    August 26, 2013
  5. Peter Kinder said:

    Thank you, Mr. Hyslop, for your detailed response.

    I left Ohio in 1977, and my connections with Belmont County ended save for brief semi-annual visits to my family in St. Clairsville. My family were conservationists and preservationists. From the late 50s onwards, they were deeply involved with efforts to regulate strip mining locally and nationally. As a law student, I worked at ODNR on the first regulations under the 1972 Ohio act.

    Our family law firm represented a significant Hanna competitor in deep mining. My beliefs about coal generally were not those of my parents’ or grandparents’ generations. I would count myself among environmentalists from my early 20s.

    Yes, I knew James Hyslop by sight from early boyhood, to say ‘Hello, sir’. Yes, I attended some services at the Giffin Park Church. And, yes, mine are the impressions of childhood and youth. They were shaped by my family’s deep feelings about surface mining’s effects on what came to be called ‘the environment’ and on the communities of Belmont, Harrison and Jefferson Counties. Those views became and are mine.

    Shortly after writing this piece, I had a conversation with someone whose Belmont County connections are longer and deeper than mine. He told me that James Hyslop was a senior manager at the Willow Grove mine when the catastrophe occurred in 1941. He became an advocate for surface mining because nothing like deep mining’s appalling loss of life could occur with that technology. My friend also told me that your uncle — and father? — had emigrated from Wales where he’d learnt the mining business. From what I know of Welsh mining in James Hyslop’s youth, that history must have made Willow Grove a — I don’t have the right word.

    I have not been able to verify any of that, but considering my source it rang true. I have rethought your uncle many times over the past 12 months. I don’t question — much less regret — the positions my family and I fought for. But I have an unexpected respect for the integrity of your uncle’s advocacy.

    From the 1960s onward, I wondered at the unwillingness of the coal industry to compromise on reclamation. Driving through miles of reclaimed land today, land that’s worth something rather than less than nothing with high walls, I wonder what the fight was all about.

    By the way, the Gem of Egypt was responsible for getting me my job at ODNR.

    In the summer of 1971 it was working about a half mile north of I-70. I took a black & white shot of it using a long lens which made the Gem appear to be poised to eat the Interstate. My roommate framed an 8×10 of the image and put it up in his office at ODNR. His supervising AAG saw it, asked where it came from, and I had a job the following week.

    Again, thank you for taking the time and making the effort to respond to my post.

    August 26, 2013
  6. Rosemary Hyslop said:

    I am James Hyslop’s daughter. I lived at home many years and have many memories regarding the questions and subjects raised here.

    My father was two years old when his family immigrated from Auchinleck, Scotland to the the state of Indiana where there were underground coal mines. He finished 8th grade and worked in the mine some with his father who was a fire boss. He also took correspondence courses in electrical engineering. While working in the mines, he thought of wanting to improve the lot of the miner. Safety was uppermost in his mind from an early age.

    By age 16, he was chief electrical engineer of one of the largest underground mines in the country. It was after finishing a big electrical job that he looked at his hand that had done the work and confessed that there had to be a Designer of that hand. Thus began his serious study of the Word of God.

    I was two when we moved to St. Clairsville, about five months after the Willow Grove Mine explosion. Hanna was in the red and in a mess. My father began with improving labor relations, mine safety, living quarters for the miners, and cleaning up the smoking “gob piles” all around the area. Hanna soon got out of the red and became a successful, growing coal company. My father could have moved to Cleveland or Pittsburgh, but he wanted to be where the mines were. He loved his work.

    One of his biggest achievements was helping to write the 1952 Federal Coal Mine Safety Act. In 1961, Marietta College awarded him an Honorary Laws Degree. During his last years, before retirement, he worked hard in Washington DC facing up to government efforts to destroy the bituminous coal industry. He would have known how to answer Obama!

    When he came to Hanna, he started a men’s Bible study. That led to a weekly Bible study held at the Windsor Hotel in Wheeling, WV. Out of that came a nucleus of people from Wheeling, Cadiz, Cambridge and St.C. that met as an independent church. We gathered on Sunday in the American Legion Hall on Main St. for about ten years. Weekly prayer and Bible study was held in different homes. The church building was erected in 1959. Most of the people who made up that church have passed to the other side. I am one of the few left.

    The building and property was sold to Sheila and Bruce Smith in 2004. They added on to the back of the building keeping the beauty of the edifice which realtor John Goodman once called “the jewel of St. Clairsville.” The back part houses the offices of Sheila’s home care work. The sanctuary remains as it was with piano and organ. Not only weddings but other religious activities are held there.

    My father always felt torn between his work in the coal industry and Christian ministry. However, I remember his saying that “secular” work can be just as much for the Lord as “religious” work. I believe that was true for him.

    Rosemary Hyslop
    Keystone Heights, Florida

    June 22, 2014

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.