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Voices from Beaver Hill

Beaver Hill Coal Mine and Company Town

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 copyright c  2006 by Marilee Miller.  This is a work in progress, a rough draft. 

                                  PART   1  

          Life in a Company Town

     1 - 3   HOUSES & MORE

saloons, Rayer's Card Room, showhouse, community hall  - - this part
is to be revised.


CCHM?(copy?)  (CBR tax-suit) Aug 27 1895, or just prior. .  The company saloon opened at BH yesterday.  We never heard of a license being granted by the court, but then that doesn’t matter there.

(RR phy) CCH H Feb 26, 1895.  C.B. News.  Petition for a saloon at Beaver Hill, or Coaledo, has been passed around and received numerous signatures.

(Bhz1) (a-p) CCH R Feb 8?, 1896.  …week.  The new saloon bldg at B.H. burned down.  Belonged to mine co.

[M where is Mrs McK com ment abt saloon.  The part abt Beaver Hill not knowing it was Beaver Hill, use under minephysical.]

Menegat:  Well, I do remember these here 2 saloons.  …  I went into the saloon, the larger one.  They had a couple of pool tables and card tables and a bar and a barber shop and shoeshine parlor.  It was a pretty good sized hall. 
McK:  …How everybody got the idea of this here double saloon there, afterwards a fellow got hurt in the mines and he went and studied to be a barber.  So then they made a barber shop out of this other place right down there by the hotel or boarding house.  And then he put in candy and put in a pool table and done barbering.  That’s how he made his
living then.  So everybody got to thinking that was a saloon, but that was like a little old cigar store.  He sold tobacco.  They let him have the candy to sell there instead of selling in the store, and tobacco.  Just to help him out.  I don’t know, he got hurt in the mine some way or another.  His name was Rayer.  His wife was the schoolteacher.
(Theater 1-2)
[McCutcheon; Rayer; dry; cardroom; theater.]  [The turned-into: saloon vs. theater.]

Chappell5.     During the “nineteens” (1911-19), in what has been dubbed “the balmy days of Beaver Hill”, Jim McCutcheon kept a saloon.  As a matter of fact, for a number of years the town supported two saloons.  Came the end of the logging camps near the mine, and a decline in mine production, the saloons got short shrift.  Of course, during
Prohibition, they had to close down.

     A man named Rayer had been injured down in the mine.  Just to help him out, the Coal Company allowed him the commission certain items, rather than stocking all the goods at the company store.  Rayer took over one of the empty saloons, putting in a cigar store to sell tobaccos and candy.  Along the line, the fellow had acquired experience as a barber.  So he included a barbershop, a card room, some pool tables, and a shoeshine parlor.  [McKelvie7; Menegat7]

     Around 1920, Mr. Rayer also put in a theater  -- a separate building from the card room, above the level of the boardinghouse and businesses.  [Menegat 1]  [McKelvie 10]  [M. but see McK. 9, and it had been a saloon McK 4-5].

     Many of the miners’ youngsters saw their first real movies – cartoons, Westerns, comedies -- while living on the hill.   (But others couldn’t afford to attend the movies.)   Rayer had the reputation of being careful what features he showed; something which would interest many persons, yet suitable for children.  [Winsor 3.  Menegat 1.]   [aside:  Menegat 8.  [John Menegat says that was the first movie theater he ever saw in his life
and that he especially liked the cartoons.]

     [see McKelvie]    At that time in movie history, it took time to change from one of  film to another.  But owner Rare didn’t object!  The longer the intermissions, the more the movie-goers fraternized and milled about – and bought from his concession stand.  Mr. Rayer hired a boy, Alex McKelvie, to hawk candy and other snacks.   McKelvie also swept up at night – but in later years reflected that at his age he probably didn’t get the room very clean. 

     The room did double duty.  Movies on Sunday nights.  Dances on Saturday nights.  Says Alex McKelvie, “They’d push the chairs around to the sides, and everybody would dance like mad.  Then they’d put everything back to look like a theater.”  [McKelvie10]  [M.  I have note here or in next para, saying see Arnot p1, 2]

     Some have said that before Prohibition, saloon-keeper McCutcheon sometimes gave free shows paid for out of the liquor profits.  [Wilson?  Verify source, comment. Or McK?]

Arnot p1, 2. 
Lyman:  To go back to…  You mentioned there was  a showhouse….  What kind of  things appeared at the Beaver Hill showhouse?
     [Voice1:}  Let’s not say it was a showhouse.  On Friday nights they had the show,  Saturday nights they had the dance, and Sunday nights we went to church, all in the same building.
     Lyman:  …A community building, then…
     [Voice2:]  Well, McCutcheon… from here, they used to live here [M. in town where Arnot and Tobin lived].  At that time, they run the show on Friday nights.
     Lyman:  …And this was a movie?
     [Voice:]  Yes.
     Lyman:  And of course in those days, they were silent movies. …Two reelers, or something like that.
     [Voice:]  Yes.
     Lyman:  What did it cost to get in to a movie?
     [Voice:}  A nickel, I think, for kids, and ten or fifteen cents for grown ups….  [Other voice:] The little ones all looked in through the knotholes. [laughter].  We did that a lot of times…

     Sometimes people teased Mr. Rayer about being the joint keeper, because he ran the pool room.  He was short and stocky, but not fat, and red-complexioned.  Mrs. Rayer was a good deal taller than her husband, and very thin.  Both dressed fairly much in keeping with the miners and their wives, overalls and a shirt for the mister, a calf-length skirt for the missus – rather than adopting the business suit of some of the managers.
     His step-daughter grew up in Beaver Hill, and later married Eddie Corey, one of the sons of the mine manager [date.]  By the time the grandchildren began arriving, two little boys born in Oregon and Alaska respectively, the Rayers had adopted a little Greek girl, whom they raised.  [part about delivering milk to pool hall, under Soden-and meat man].

     [Varney].  From time to time when teachers proved difficult to find, Mrs. Rayer taught at the school.  Some years, she walked over the hill to teach at the lumber camp at Conlogue   [assume part about Conlogue and payment under school.]   [M.. 2006  news item abt Elizabeth Rayer attending teacher's institute.]

     After the Beaver Hill mine closed, apparently the Rayers moved to California.  Mrs. Rayer died there, in the vicinity of Oakland, about 8 or 10 years later.  (He dead before?) 

(Theater 5-6.) 
Ruth Varney.  Florence Corey used to wind the old phonograph and put records on.  Hawaiian music.  Had masquerades, diff. Dances.  Dressed in homemade ginghams and good trousers and white shirts.  They wore what they had to wear.  Once in a while for summer, organdy with ruffles.  (cont. under store, or??)

     Dances.  Fry gave every Sat. night in old theater bldg.  Clarice (Fry) Haverman still around but her brothers dead?

     Bill McLiman, Eugene – went to dances.  The Fry girls were good looking.  Gene and Arlene Moody were musicians (lived Conlog district) played for BH dances.  (Movies were paid for by saloons  [source?]  Hugh Brown’s story about dad and beer, or elsewhere??.  I think it’s under Family Life now.]  (Is source for above PP McKelvie?)

Chappell 10.  No theater in 1919-20.

Ruth Varney.  Not much leisure.  Most worked.  When men congregated, was at pool hall.  Women didn’t congregate.  Stayed home.
[McKelvie 10]     McK:  Oh, it was in a different building altogether.  And before that – well I guess they still did.  They held dances there every Saturday night.
     M:  Then where was this theater?
     McK:  It was across the street from the boarding house, just across the railroad tracks.
     KM:  It was in the theater that they held dances?
     McK: Yes.   [theater sun dances sat]

[McKelvie 11]
     M:  Did you go to the dances?
    McK:  I was too young.  I went to them; stand and watch them.  Sometimes they had pretty good music, they’d come from Coos Bay or Coquille or somewhere.  KThe last I heard they were having most of the musicians that lived at Conlogue.  That’s right across the hill; they’d walk over.  They were playing.  That was after we left. A fellow down there said he was one of them; that he used to go over and play.  So they must have still had a pretty good  crowd there.  [at BH].
    Chappell 5.  Later on, they logged off all that country above there, all around, and the loggers always came down [to the saloons.]  [M.  But that was during prohibition.  Moonshine appears to have been available to some.  But what time period is Chappell really referring to?]
CB Times Mar 22, 1919.  (LP-22).  A social and dance was given at the hall at Beaver Hill..in honor of Mrs. Hugh Brown…  [M. full quote is under Brown in Family life.  This part is to indicate there was a “hall” in BH 1919.]


Menegat 1.  There’s a kind of gully in between the town and the hill where the mine is built.  This would be kind of round, and the houses would be right in here. 
M.  do you know which one of these buildings was which?  
Menegat. Yeh.  This was a saloon, this was a warehouse, and this was a general store.  That was a saloon, and the second thing there was a saloon.  They were built right together.  Then there’s a big warehouse in
tghere.  And this general store was the last one [building].  And an office building up overhead.  [M. 2000.  This doesn’t tie with what Fern Chappell said about Madison’s.  But I haven’t really got comments about where the timekeeper and office personnel worked. ]

M.. Where was the theater?  Menegat: Right up in the center.  M.  Just part of the houses? 
Menegat: …stairway… right up the hill.   And on the first flight [landing], here was the theater…  And there were about 4 different landings.  And on the top of the first landing was the theater.  [barbershop.]  This was the first place I ever got a haircut.  And the hospital in there someplace.  This would be the mines.  And the track continued up in here, then it kind of went around up here where they had these coal bunkers, where they
loaded [the RR train.]  …And in here, now, kind of along here in this area, a baseball field.

Menegat 8.  Across from it [what? Theater?] was kind of a double set of tracks.  Then there was flights of steps that went clear to the top of the hill, for the people to walk up to go to their homes.  It was sort of in the center of town.  And that was the first movie theater that I had seen in my life.

  NEEDED?  Arnot: xxxl…  And there was a …showhouse.  And you went up steps to that.  There was so many steps and then a landing, so many more steps and a landing.  I think there was 6 flights of stairs, with the landings.  That took you up on to the hill.



     While the company buildings dominate the lowest level, miners’ houses saunter along the hillside’s contours.

      “ ---Just row after row of houses around there,” says John Menegat,.who lived at Beaver Hill in his childhood.  “They were all built alike,  they were just a carbon copy of another.”

     Lyle Chappell, who once taught school in the camp, adds his own observation.  "[In 1919] there was a bunch of empty houses on the
hill.  Used to be quite a community.  It was nothing like it had been.  [Chappell 14]

     The view, looking up from the valley, takes in out-jutting house corners supported by wooden stilts.  The houses have no permanent  foundations.  The space under each house, used for storage, often would be referred to as “the cellar.”  But it was not enclosed against cold weather.  A school teacher at Beaver Hill for a year, Fern Delong (later, Chappell), remembers the way storm blasts pushed up into the cellars.

               During that 1919 winter, there was some religious sect that  
         predicted the world coming to an end on the 17th of December.
         There would be a big storm and the world was coming to an
         end…. It was in all the papers; it was advertised a lot. 

               I was living all alone…in one of these little houses… [with one]
          side [of the building]… way up off the ground…. Well, there was
          a terrible storm.  [strong emphasis.]  And the wind just blew so
           hard up through that valley.  It felt like the walls were…curving
           in…[from] those heavy gusts.  And my bed just shook…all night
          long.  …I was so frightened.  And so I went down and stayed
         with Mary Whereat [daughter of Manager Whereat; his house was
         sturdier] for about a week, and then she came up and stayed with
         me for another week in my house. 

          [The world didn’t come to an end?]   No -- but you know, the…
          empty…house right next door to me collapsed.  …A cow and a
          calf…had gone under for shelter, and it killed both of them.  So
          that’s how bad the storm was.     [Chappell]

      The way in for the people, on each level, was the long flight of wooden stairs, then following one of the dirt trails running along the backs of the houses.  Thus, the front doors could also be said to be the back doors.  (But there was only one entrance.)

     A miner had to pay rent to the Beaver Hill Coal Company.  Alex McKelvie, who also lived at Beaver Hill when he was young,  speculates that rent, circa 1917-20, may have amounted to $15 or $20 a month.  [McKelvie 17]

     The interiors of the dwellings were just bare boards, with no
insulation.   Occasionally, a miner may have put in wallpaper at his own expense, but this would have been rare.  A multiplex of cracks between floorboards admitted chilled air inside.  [McKelvie 17; Chappell 13.]

     Four small rooms comprised each look-alike dwelling.  A couple might make do with the kitchen and one other room, a “living room” with a bed in the corner.  With the rest of the house closed off, they could get along with almost no furniture.  [Chappell  19; Varney ].  On the other hand, large families crowded in with all their children.  Kids in those days weren’t raised to expect a bedroom – or even a bed – for each one.  Closets were non-existent.  Clothing hung on a row of nails along one
wall.  [Chappell 18; source for nails?]

     A flat-topped heating stove – coal fueled, of course -- doubled as cooking range.  [Chappell]  A man with a small horse-drawn cart would come along the rutty dirt lanes once in a while to deliver coal.  But to avoid the fee, some of the miners’ children gathered coal chips which spilled out of coal cars or discharged as coarse sediments down where the coal washer ran.  [Brown 4]

     Former resident, Mary Arnot, points out that one started a coal fire with wood, or kindling. 

                “My recollection …was the coal oil, or kerosene…you
          poured…on…[to make the fire go.]   And there’s been more
          young people and grownups with singed eyebrows…  Lighting a
          fire…pouring kerosene on it… [but]  there were still [burning]
          coals in there [the stove].”  [Arnot-Tobin]

     In each room, a solitary unshaded electric light bulb hung from a ceiling cord.  Household furnishings were simple: bureaus, saggy mattresses for old-fashioned metal bedsteads, a kitchen table with mis-mated chairs.  If the dealer at Beaver Hill couldn’t help, a second-hand store at Coquille might have just the ticket – say, a comfortable rocking chair. [Chappell 18]

    Since the miners’ next jobs might be in Wyoming, or Pennsylvania, they preferred not to freight household goods.  At least in the later years, there was always a fellow dealing in used furniture, even stoves.  He bought from departing miners, and sold to the newcomers.  He didn’t make much money – but neither did he charge much. [McKelvie? Or Varney?]  Over the years, who knows how many different dealers there may have been? 
     The last one is described as “a nice guy, the teamster of the place,” or “the odd-jobs man.”  His name was Webster.  A small man with a heavy-set wife.  Guy and Anna Webster seem to have lived at Beaver Hill for a number of the later years of mine operation.  [Ruth Varney.]

     This broker may have been the same man who delivered coal and large grocery orders  within the boundaries of the community itself, using a horse and cart on the little dirt trails between rows of  houses..  [McKelvie?]

    Occasionly, perhaps when the number of working miners got cut back, an outside dealer might acquire a load of goods, as, for example-–
                J .B. Fox [a merchant in Coquille] received a big lot of second
          hand furniture by Wednesday’s train from Beaver Hill.  He is
          offering some rare bargains.   [Coquille City Herald Mar. 25, 1901]

     Outhouses met the demand for sanitation.  “There was a little hole dug in each yard and every once in a while they moved it over,”  comments Alex McKelvie.   [pg 8].

     For many years, residents must have had to carry all their cooking and drinking water from a spring.  Mary Arnot clearly recollects her two sisters and herself being delegated as the water carriers.  " There was a spring between our place and Jap Hill.  …Of course, there were
three girls in the family.  So we carried the water."  [Arnot p3]  

Emily Kingsley Winsor also remembers going with her little friend, Margaret McKelvie, to get fresh spring water – in her case, only for the special times when a visiting priest came to the community.  [Kingsley-Winsor]

     For by the time of Emily's arrival, the company water system, located  “clear back up on the hill” [Menegat 3], piped cold water to a single faucet – cold water, only -- at each back porch.  [M.  see reservoir pix.]   Indoor plumbing?  Not hardly!  Running water?  Well, send Johnny to the porch with a pail!   Want hot water?  Set a kettle simmering on the back of the coal-burning kitchen stove.  [McKelvie 8, Chappell 8].  

     A few miners, probably not too many, put in a kitchen sink  – [Menegat 3] not hooked up to the water line because that would mean an extra expense, but set in a counter to provide a work-space, and possibly a hole through which to dump waste water directly to the outside ground.

     With no refrigeration in town, no ice available, the company store did not stock perishables, hence the need for residents owning their own cows for the milk.  A lot of families also kept chickens for the meat and eggs. 

    Here is a newspaper report during the community’s heyday.

               Henry Holm, of the Marshfield Cash Market, recently made
          arrangements by which he assumed charge of the butcher shop at
          Beaver Hill.  Having had  considerable experience in this line, it is
          safe to assert that the business there will be conducted in a
          manner satisfactory to all.   [Coquille Bulletin Feb 14, 1902, citing
          from Coos Bay News.

     Later on, Alex McKelvie recalls a rancher who lived halfway between the town and the Junction – an Italian, he thinks.  Whenever the man butchered, he would walk in from his place carrying meat on his shoulder  – quite often, goat meat.   McKelvie believes that after the mine closed around 1921, the fellow acquired a meat wagon (a truck) and served the Englewood region near {Marshfield], among other places, and then the man eventually went back to Italy.  [McKelvie]   

     Sometimes Beaver Hill residents slaughtered one of their cows, and sent part of it around for immediate sale by the horse-drawn delivery wagon. 

     Meat had to be cooked while still fresh.  The cooler at each house was “just a box…with screens on it to keep the flys out.”  [Arnot-Tobin

     Of course, people also caught fish to supplement their meager grocery allotment.  And a plentitude of wild ducks called at the marshy wetlands in their migrations.  Doubtless a number of  them found their way into the family cooking pots, as probably also meat from the wild hogs and
deer abounding in the woods in those years.

               from Coos Bay News.  Two deer were killed at Beaver Hill,
          Sunday.  The snow drove them out of the woods, and a resident
          of town shot them from a window of his dwelling.  [Coquille City
              Herald Feb 14, 1899

               Wild hogs are numerous in the woods around Beaver Hill.
          [Coos Bay News  Jan 2, 1900]

     [Besides this, ] Mary Arnot declares emphatically --“Everybody had a garden.”  [Arnot: 5]  In Emily Kingsley Winsor’s opinion, however, although some people tried to keep up small vegetable gardens -- a few potatoes, carrots, turnips – the steep slope and poor quality of coal country soil was not the best for gardening.  [Kingsley-Winsor 19].  And, Hugh Brown concedes that growing flowers in a mining camp just wasn’t worth the energy of caring for them. [Brown]

     During the wane of activity at Beaver Hill, one rancher’s daughter from the Beaver Slough area went along with her father on his several visits to the camp.  She says there was no beauty inside the houses.  People did nothing to better appearances.  She never saw any ornaments, frills,  bric-a-brac – not even a brightly colored pillow.  Except for a bit of  used furniture and meager personal belongings such as clothing, the houses looked just as they did when standing empty.  [Ruth Varney]. 

     However, one trio of sisters “always had white dresses…[for] Sunday”, even though that meant a lot of extra washing and ironing with flatirons.  [ca 1915 ]  [Arnot p 4]   And Emily Kingsley Winsor pictures the white, crisp lace curtains at the windows where the more particular of the ladies lived the last year the mine ran.  [Kingsley-Winsor]

     It’s likely that a few persons, among the many nationalities and individual tastes, were as creative as possible on a limited scale.  However, a general lack of concern for comfort and attractive
surroundings may have indicated the impersonalness of holding a job in a coal mining town.  Overnight, miners might be forced to move on to find work elsewhere.

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 copyright c  2006 by Marilee Miller.  This is a work in progress, a rough draft. 

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