Historian Anthony F.C. Wallace has provided a wonderful gift for a family historian researching the past in a small 19th-century Pennsylvania coal town: he spent years researching and writing about the town of St. Clair, its industries and its people. The result is his book St. Clair: A Nineteenth-Century Coal Town's Experience With a Disaster-Prone Industry.
The book provides an amazing and thorough glimpse into the world of the people of Schuylkill County, its coal mines and the big business that controlled them, and a slew of other aspects of life in the anthracite region of Pennsylvania in the 19th-century.
This region provided hope for many new immigrants, people of varying ethnic backgrounds and religions, who looked to the coal industry in Schuylkill County for their living and their future. Irish, Welsh, English, German, and people of other ethnicities. Catholics and Protestants. All came to live their lives within the world of the coal mines and the industries that sprung up around them.
But as Wallace indicates in his book, "The churches...were supposed in Christian doctrine to be places where all social classes mingled in common devotion, but they were also bastions of ethnicity." I found interesting, however, his description of times when the ethnic and religious barriers came down for a time. "There were... occasions when some blending of congregations occurred. The most regular of these was at Christmastime, when all of St. Clair was invited on Christmas evening to attend the annual concert organized by the Sunday School at the Methodist Episcopal church." According to Wallace, "Attending services at another denomination's place of worship was a common Christmas practice in some other parts of Pennsylvania as well, permitting even Catholics and Protestants some admission of their mutual Christianity."
Knowing that this age and place was one where Irish Catholics had their own church and German Catholics had another (with similar situations for the Protestants), this is a nice bit of history to encounter.
Wishing a wonderful Christmas season to all of you, no matter what ethnic or religious background is yours. Merry Christmas to all!
The topic for this post was inspired by Thomas MacEntee's Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories at Destination: Austin Family. Check out his calendar daily this month for some good mini-memoirs of this nostalgic season. This post will be listed under Christmas Church Services on December 17.