Having been born in Loyalton, Dauphin County, Pennsylvania, in 1885, James Edward Batdorf had little control over his fate. In an area where nearly all employment was tied directly or indirectly to the world’s largest deposits of anthracite coal, he became a coal miner. Loyalton is an unincorporated community within Washington Township and it’s likely James went to one of the nine one-room schoolhouses in Washington Township, and dropped out after the equivalent of eighth grade to go to work. According to a 1900 Bureau of Mines report, 363 collieries in the anthracite region employed 143,826 workers, one-fourth of them boys under the age of sixteen.
Though deep-mining anthracite coal was tough and dangerous work—anthracite mine accidents in Eastern Pennsylvania in 1900 killed 411, injured 1,057, and made 230 widows and 525 orphans—it also offered substantial pay. A certified miner could earn twice the national average 1910 pay of $750 a year, equivalent of about $19,000 today. To be certified, a miner had to pass a test in English, buy his own tools and equipment, and hire his own laborers or, as they were called, butties.
Anthracite is the highest grade of coal in the earth. Anthracite burns cleaner, hotter, and four times longer than bituminous and is virtually smoke free, while bituminous combustion emits a sooty black smoke. The anthracite coal mined in Eastern Pennsylvania fueled iron blast furnaces to produce high-grade steel, drove railroads, and heated homes. The U.S. Navy especially coveted anthracite. The heat gave warships speed and the lack of smoke gave them stealth.
At 5’6’’ and about 145 pounds as an adult, James Batdorf was an ideal size for deep mining work. He was a family man, good friend, and a public servant. Following the New Year of 1906, when he was nineteen, he went to the state capital of Harrisburg to be a pallbearer for a family friend of his sister Frances’s finance Samuel Lutz. In August of that year James attended the marriage of his sister and Lutz in his parents’ home, where he still lived. Pastor Brown of the Evangelical Church performed the wedding of Frances and Samuel and they departed immediately to honeymoon in Atlantic City.
James and Frances were two of seventeen children born to Thomas Edward Batdorf and Mary Louisa Peters, both of whom were born in Dauphin County, Pennsylvania. Thomas, who shared the middle name Edward with his son, was the descendant of Batdorfs who were among the Palatines, so called because they emigrated from Palatinate, a region in southwestern Germany.
Due to economic devastation and religious persecution following the Thirty Years War that occurred from 1618 to 1638 in Central Europe, many of these Germans left for America. Those immigrants spoke a German dialect that became the Pennsylvania Dutch language still spoken today by the Amish. Four of Thomas and Mary’s children—Alvin, George, Kirby, and Norman—died in childhood. The other twelve—Verna, Stella, Cora, Harvey, Joseph, Frances, Oscar, James, Adam, Mary Ellen, William, and John—lived into adulthood.
James was raised in Loyalton and presumably attended the Stone Hill school house. He schooled until age 16, finishing eighth grade and was fully literate. Beulah was raised in Elizabethville where there were more public school choices. She could have attended the Fourth Public School house, W. Broad, Elizabethville that began classes in 1895. She attended until over age 11, finishing eighth grade and was fully literate. James and Beulah, according to the 1900 census return, were literate, able to read and write.
James grew up in Big Run and Beulah a few miles west in Elizabethville. After marrying, they rented a home and within ten years later owned a home free-and-clear, at 46 State Road 199. Later they owned a home at 480/542 North Street, Lykens valued at $4500 (1930) and resided they many decades.
In 1908, James, who often went by Eddie, twenty-three, married Beulah Wert, nineteen. James and Beulah settled in Washington Township to live next to her parents—John Wert, born in neighboring Northumberland County, and Adeline Row, born in Dauphin County…. (CONTINUED)