Bits, pieces about Barrell and Barrelville tantalizing

Cumberland Times-News: Thursday, January 23,2003

From the museum: VanNewkirk

Barrelville is a cluster of houses between Corriganville and Mount Savage where the road to Wellersburg diverges from Route 36. It is popularly supposed to take its name from the manufacture of barrels for the whiskey distilleries in Cumberland, or perhaps for use in a pickling process. Barrell with two Ls was actually the name of a man who at one time had title to thousands of acres of coal land in that neighborhood.

Samuel B. Barrell seems never to have lived in Allegany County, but he was one of the first to recognize the potentials for mining the area. Until railroads were built, there was no way to ship coal in quantity to the eastern markets, but groundbreaking for the B&O Railroad on July 4, 1828, and for the C&O Canal on the same day, prompted the formation of a number of mining companies.

The Frost brothers, Isaah and Meschach, incorporated the Maryland Mining Co. in that same year and seven years later Samuel B. Barrell and Munro Weightman organized the Boston and New York Coal Co. and began buying up large tracts of land.

Barrell came from a well-respected family in New England. Weightman, who was a resident of Washington, D.C., was apparently related in some way to another Weightman who made a fortune in pharmaceuticals and was, at one time, thought to be the wealthiest person in Philadelphia. Between 1835 and 1840, the partners bought about 30 large tracts of land between Frostburg and the Pennsylvania line.

They were obviously interested only in the mineral rights. In the case of William Ward, the terms of purchase included a lifetime lease permitting Ward to continue occupying his house and cultivating his fields. When they acquired a large section of the Rose Meadow property from Squire Jack Porter, the deed included permission to transport coal from the already-existing pit to the National Road.

Local newspapers of the 19th century usually reported the amount of coal that had been shipped that week from Georges Creek mines. Unfortunately the weeklies of that period are not available in the Frostburg State University library so we have no information about the activities of the Boston and New York Co (incorporated 1841). In 1843, a Barrellville Mining Company (Md. State Archives) was incorporated, by Barrell, William Ridgely and John Pickell perhaps only as a reorganization of the Boston firm, but there again information is lacking.

In 1842, there was a map of the mineral rights in the Frostburg area, drawn by George Sears Greene. It clearly shows a large tract identified as belonging to Mr. Barrell. Then, in 1849, the Parker Vein Coal Company  (Md. State Archives) acquired those thousands of acres, raising the question: Was this a new company or did Barrell and Weightman simply change the name of their corporation?

1850   Incorporation of the .Wellersburg and Jennings Run Rail Road Company.

Katherine Harvey, in her Best-Dressed Miners, makes two significant comments about the Parker Vein Co. She reported that Parker, along with several other coal operators in the area, planned to build houses for their miners and that the new development would be called Barrellville.

Not long afterward the Parker Vein Co. was involved in a scandal, involving accusations of stock watering. ( June.1854   It was discovered that a corporation termed the Parker Vein Coal Co., which had been organized a few years previous for the purpose of developing the mine, and had constructed ten propeller steamers for the transportation of its coal, had flooded the market with an issue of stock much in excess of its capital.Unfortunately, Mrs. Harvey was concerned only with the impact of the charges on the men who worked in the mines. She had access to accounts in the Baltimore Sun, which are not available in Frostburg, so we are left with more questions. What happened?

Presumably the Parker Vein Coal Co, with or without Samuel Barrells involvement, gave us what we know as the Parkersburg Road, connecting Eckhart Mines with Morantown.

Samuel B. Barrell, on the other hand, has lost not only the second L in his name but even his identity as a person of importance. In a single land transaction in 1836, he was party to the exchange of more than 2,000 acres in Allegany County for $700,000 which we would have to multiply by a factor of perhaps 100 if we try to translate that fortune into present-day buying power.

We know very little about him, but those bits and pieces are tantalizing, and proof that Barrelville did not derive its name from a container factory.