Coal industry depicted in Adena man’s novel


    Adena resident Kerry George called upon his experience in the coal mining industry to write his first historic novel, “Black Damp Century,” which follows the lives of two families through the 20th Century and intertwines the bloody Battle of Blair Mountain in West Virginia. The 280-page story follows several generations of families tied to the industry and spans nearly 65 years between 1921-85.

    George spent months conducting research at libraries in Cadiz, Steubenville, Wheeling, Charleston and Maryland to obtain a factual account of the fight and acknowledged those facilities and others in his book. He even used family members’ photos on the cover, with his grandfather, Ralph Dematte, representing the 1920s while father-in-law Andy Petrilla depicts the 40’s. George himself is also seen during the 1980s.

    “I really got into it around July of 2010. I’ve written a lot of essays and letters that were published,” he said. “[The book] was released for publication on Nov. 13.”
    His hope was to retain the history of coal mining within families, something that holds significant meaning for him since he is a fourth-generation miner.
    “I believe most family histories are lost within a couple generations. I wanted my children and grandchildren and the children of other coalmining families to know what life was like for them.”

    He had plenty of experience to provide some realism, including the description of mining life and the locations. He selected Maryland as a backdrop to show that coal mining exists outside of Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia, areas that are often depicted in similar books. A common thread between yesterday and today is the industry’s struggle amid Environmental Protection Agency regulations, and George said problems during the 1970s mirror what is happening in modern times.

    “People my age will understand that in the late 70’s we went into a period similar to what we are now. The EPA was gaining strength and implementing rules that nearly crippled the industry. We lost up to 14,000 jobs in those years, and with the current political climate that would be repeated. I hope [readers] get a sense of what it was like for people who had that life,” he continued. “It’s more than just about mining; it’s life and relationships. There are no heroes and everybody’s flawed in some way.”

    For more information, check out the “Black Damp Century” Facebook page or order a book online for $14.95 at

    Read the complete story in this weeks print edition of the Harrison News-Herald.


    1. My father worked in a strip mine operation, the long defunct Powhattan Mining Company, as a dozer operator and later for Central Ohio Coal from which he retired.
      While coal mining brought jobs to Harrison and other counties of Ohio, West Virginia and parts of Kentucky, there was never a plan for what to do when all that coal was extracted, what would be left for future generations? The answer to that question is not much, witnessed by the decline of populations for Harrison County, parts of Jefferson and Belmont.
      I live in Washington State where the lines are being drawn in the sand as to whether the low sulfur coal deposits of that Powder River country of Wyoming should be hauled by long coal trains bound for shipping terminals along Puget Sound. If there is one thing which can ignite a controversy, a really big controversy–the contamination of Western rivers and their watersheds which drain into the Columbia River or Puget Sound. One thing to live in a land (Ohio) which saw massive contamination of the local water supply including most of the drainage for the Ohio River basin; quite another to contaminate, with coal runoff, those rivers which carry Salmon and Steelhead trout runs into the streams and estuaries of the Pacific Northwest.

    2. Hello Kerry,

      I was glad to see you seem to be doing ok.
      It has been a long time since we worked
      together at Georgetown #24 mine. I will have to
      pick up a copy of your book. Hope have a good

      A Friend

    3. Hi Mr. George,

      I graduated CHS ’59 and was in Cadiz in all it’s coal glory. Hanna, Consol, the A, B, C, & D, the Mountaineer, the Spade and the Gem. Wow, what a history. I will be picking up a volume. I will name drop here. John Torok welding shop d. 1960 Black Lung (would have been my father – in – law), Gene Benson shop at the Annex, Bob Brokaw (Sr. and Jr), Brokaw and O’Neil (my Dad) Mobil Station in Cadiz ’46 – ’67. Charles Busby, and many many more. Willis’s. Would you be relation to Gloria George and her sister, of Georgetown? If you care to communicate further, John O’Neil, Burbank, California.

    4. Always looking for information or stories on my grandfathers. Everett Lowmiller worked on the C shovel and Louis “Snook” Couch worked underground any info, pictures, etc. would be appeticed.
      Thanks Ken Lowmiller


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