Monday, September 20, 2010

Daily dose of Lucas County: Fry Hill

Sunday's fog burned away Monday on an uncharacteristically --- for mid-September --- hot (high temperature of 90 degrees), humid, sunny, hazy and windy day. But the breeze atop Fry Hill was cool at 3 p.m. This is a cold, cold place for a winter burial (a great-aunt and great-uncle of mine are buried here, so I've done that), but height has its advantages --- including the view --- during other seasons.

This is the cemetery that serves the town of Lucas and the area round it in western Lucas County, perched high on the northern ridge of the White Breast Creek valley. Although Lucas was founded in 1867, when the Burlington & Missouri River railroad was built along the valley floor, it seems not to have had a cemetery of its own during the early years when it served as a regional market town.

In the 1870s, however, exploitation of vast coal reserves began and Lucas boomed. A twin town, Cleveland, was founded in the hills just to the east of the east city limits of Lucas, and it boomed, too. Cleveland was the "good" town --- deed covenants prevented the sale of liquor within it. There were however plenty of saloons in adjoining Lucas, the "bad" town. The good die young they say, and Cleveland did --- vanishing almost without a trace. Lucas continues to prosper modestly. The late great labor leader John L. Lewis was a native of Lucas and the John L. Lewis Memorial Museum of Mining and Labor, in Lucas, memorializes him and an industry that has vanished from Lucas County.

Fry Hill Cemetery was platted about 1880 on hilltops above Cleveland owned by the White Breast Coal & Mining Co. The story goes that it is called Fry Hill in honor of Shadrack Hill, a young Welsh miner who died on Nov. 30, 1880, at the age of 24 and was the first to be buried here. It is a very large cemetery, but burials are widely spaced --- as if those interred here wanted plenty of elbow room.

Many of the miners who lived and worked in Lucas and Cleveland were English and Welsh, and descendants of those old families still are here.

Leaving Fry Hill, I took the back roads north and east to Poverty Ridge, then turned down it to head back into Chariton. One of these days when the roads are good and dry, if they ever are, I want to head down into Swede Holler --- in the same neighborhood --- and see what's going on there.

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