by James Rada, Jr.
Frederick County hides a wealth of natural resources underground. It is mined for iron, copper, gold, lead, silver, zinc, aluminum, stone, limestone, silica, calcium, and clay. At one time, Frederick County also had a short-lived coal mine or did it?
In October 1877, coal was discovered on the farm of Mary Ann Cretin near Motter’s Station. This was an amazing find. Maps of Maryland coal resources with the Maryland Department of the Environment show the state’s coal deposits are in the Western Maryland mountains, beginning beneath the mountains that run along the border between Garrett and Allegany counties.
After the mine opened, the Catoctin Clarion announced that it “is really amounting to something and coal in large quantities is being taken from it.”
People were apparently visiting the farm just to see the coal mine in operation. They said that the coal seam being mined was about a foot thick.
Samples of the coal were tested by a blacksmith whose last name was Weaver “who pronounces it equal to any he ever used for his purposes. All who have seen the specimens taken from the vein pronounce it genuine coal and the owner of the land is in high glee in anticipation of a big fortune,” according to the newspaper.
Many people were comparing it to the high-quality bituminous coal mined in Allegany County. Coal mining was a major industry in that county, and some hoped it could become so in Frederick County.
“This will be a big thing in Frederick County and the cost of coal in the future will be lessened a great deal,” the Catoctin Clarion reported. “It will also cause others to make an examination of their lands and probably bring to light some richer minerals, which must be about in this region so close to the mountains.”
Despite the hoopla, the newspaper announced that mining on the property had ceased in November after less than two months in operation.
“The proprietor is still hopeful, however, that a big let lies buried under the ground, but he doesn’t feel justified in digging for it just now,” the newspaper reported.
A letter that appeared later in the Catoctin Clarion suggested the coal mine might not have been what it seemed. The letter writer said that a man named Harris Bush had been hauling coal to Emmitsburg years ago when the load proved to be heavy to pull. Bush unloaded much of the coal to make it easier for his horses to pull the remainder. The letter writer believed this to be the source of the coal mine. Although the letter writer said the coal had been dumped near Motter’s Station, it doesn’t seem likely that it would have been the coal mine on Cretin’s farm. For one thing, the coal wasn’t found near a road. Also, witnesses saw the coal seam and coal being dug from the ground. Bush’s excess coal would have sat on top of the ground.
However, the Motter’s Station coal mine is improbable. It was found in a region where coal has not been found, even today. The coal seam also petered out quickly.
So, was there a coal mine in Northern Frederick County?
Cretin believed so, but when she died in 1899, no other coal had been found on her farm or in the county for that matter.
Although coal seams are only known to be found in Western Maryland, Motters Station once had a short-lived coal mine in the late 1800s.