Herrick thrived during mine era

Long ago there was a mining camp settlement near Adena where families of miners came to live and the older males went to work in the deep and dark mines. The name of the small establishment was Herrick.

The story is told through the eyes of Ann Hotary Mitchell, who wrote a letter on June 29, 1993. It is addressed to whom it may concern, so the original letter holder is unknown, but a copy of the letter was kept intact by John Parkinson and Roger Sliva, both of Adena. She since has died, and likewise people who went through the Herrick experience, as it started in the early 1900s.

Here are her memories of the mining town:

Herrick was my home in the early 1900s, with my parents, Joseph and Mary Hotary. They came to the United States from Europe in the late 1800s, with my father being of German descent and my mother Hungarian. They spoke their language fluently and eventually learned to speak English.

My father, as were most arrivals, was destined to become a miner. This was a far cry from his younger days as a captain in the German Army under Kaiser Wilhelm. My mother was from a poor family and was employed as a nursemaid to the area rich people.

We lived at several mining towns, among which was Robeyville, near Adena. I was born there on Feb. 9, 1912. Later the family moved to Herrick, a coal mining camp as they called such little towns near mines. There I spent my childhood days and I must say they were happy days.

My dad worked first in the mine as a digger and finally became a track layer. My mother was a homemaker and had a hard life, bearing 13 children, of which seven survived. She had a reputation as an excellent midwife as we had no doctors. She was a wonderful cook, baking many loaves of bread and making soup so good the American farmers would stop for some of that great “hunkey soup.”

Our house was the last in a line on the hillside, No. 40. The front porch had one step on the uphill side. The back of the small house was very high with a steep hill leaving a large space underneath. This was just right for storing things. None of the yards had grass on the steeper part, only cinders, a partly burned coal or ash. The lower level had grass.

There was the outside privy, chicken coop where our family had geese, hay barn and the cow barn for our Holstein cow, Blackie. We had a nice vegetable garden, with fertile soil. In season, we had plenty of vegetables but we never did any canning for the winter season. I don’t know why.

The Hotary children led the life of small town kids in a peaceful time — not a care in the world. Our parents were religious people and taught us the right way.

I have many happy childhood memories such as playing marbles, baseball, playing in the creek with the crawfish, tadpoles and fish as companions. You could see them all in the clear water. We would climb trees, walk the railroad tracks, run over the mountains, through the dark woods, pick blackberries and dew berries, chase snakes away and invent all kinds of games and activities.

Some children I remember were Paul Halubek; the Alberts, Andy, Steve and Billy and an older sister who lived in Akron; the Melchioris, Charlie, Andy, Johnny, Joe, Katy-Ann, Susie, Mary, Helen and Julie; the Krupinskis, Johnny, Sophia, Jennie; and others whose names escape me. It was a long time ago, she noted.

We also had tragic times. Mr. Melchioris was killed in the mine before the last child, Johnny, was born. Mr. Krupinski was killed by a train as we went to pick up his children returning on the train from a movie in Adena. Somehow, he got on the wrong track and the train hit him. The train stopped and backed up to the scene. The children got off and discovered their father’s body. It was so terrible.

My father’s brother, Andy, and his wife, Kate, moved to Herrick from Cleveland. They were big city people and why they moved to Herrick, I don’t know. They had five children and my uncle could speak perfect English, maybe that is why he didn’t care to work in the mine. Instead, he was a moonshiner during Prohibition. The sheriff was always after him. Once he was absent and Aunt Kate decided to go shopping in Adena, leaving four of her children, with me to care for Willie, who was in his cradle.

When we saw the sheriff coming, one girl said, “There’s a bottle of moonshine in the house, what do we do with it?” I put it in the cradle with Willie. The sheriff and his gang made an illegal entry and searched everywhere, except in the cradle where Willie was yelling his head off. They wanted no part of that.

Money was scarce, so when the ice cream truck came, my mother would buy one scoop only for all of us kids. She could not afford a cone as that was a penny extra.

Sometimes, after pay day, she would go by train to Wheeling, the fare was 10 cents, and return with a bag of candy. All the kids in town were awaiting her return, so the Hotary kids never got much of the candy.

We cooked and heated with coal. When Mr. Arnold, the delivery man, was too lazy to deliver our order, we had to pick up loose lumps from the tracks and slate dump at the mine. We also had to carry water from the town pump for cooking and washing.

The washing job was terrible as miners clothes were very dirty. We rubbed and wrung clothes by hand because we had never heard of a washing machine.

We always had plenty of milk as Blackie was very productive. We made butter in an up-and-down motion churn. The butter was washed by hand in clear spring water until no milk showed. We kept it and other perishables in a niche in the hill under the house. It was cool there.

My mother would boil milk to pasteurize it, probably one reason we had few serious illnesses.

We did have our share of mishaps: Stone bruises from going barefoot and cuts and scrapes. One time, my brother, Steve, put pebbles in his nose. The secretions turned green before we knew what had happened. What a mess!

My brother, Chuck, chopped his knee with a hatchet and accidentally shot himself with a .22 rifle. Luckily it was only through the flesh of his arm. Mom covered it with cobwebs; strangely, that was very effective.

Being the youngest girl, I got the hand-me-downs from the older kids. I hated those high top button shoes for cold weather. I preferred rubber boots with felt liners.

When small, I got my hair clipped close as my brother, Andy, wouldn’t get his cut unless I did. One day mom said, “She’s a girl — stop that!”

I never got a real doll until I was 12 and had to give it to a girl who was visiting from Cleveland. Mom would make dresses and rag dolls from flour sacks, even paint on faces. I thought they were wonderful. We made do with everything.

There was no radio, no electricity and no television. But we were happy with what we had.

We had a one-room school house, first through eighth grades. We had an excellent teacher, Clara Busby. She was a little chunky and on slippery winter days, the boys would pull and push her up the steep hill to the school.

When my oldest brother, John, was old enough to work, but too young for the mine, he started as a helper in Bennie Battista’s store. We also dealt (shopped) with the Stergios Brothers Store.

Much later, my brother, John, went to Detroit to work in the auto industry. There he bought a Ford touring car and had it shipped to Herrick. What a dude he was with his new car. He gave the children our first rides in his 1922 car. In 1924, he bought a new home in Detroit and in 1925 moved the entire family to Detroit.

That was a sad time for me. I loved Herrick and my friends. The big city was terrifying to me.

My dad died in 1926 after developing black lung from the mine leading to heart problems. My mother died in 1955 with pancreatic cancer. My brothers have passed on and in 1993 only three girls remained.

My husband of 60 years drove me to Wheeling and Adena to find the Herrick site. The only thing identifiable was the creek and railroad bridge. How sad, it was. There was no town, only trees. If only we could return to as it was.

We did not have a camera in those days. So, I have no pictures.

(Hotary Mitchell lived in Clinton Township, Mich., at the time of the letter writing. She was 81.)