Zanesville Times Recorder article
From the Zanesville Times Recorder, April 8, 2002

San Toy contains memories of coal mining days

Monday, April 8, 2002
By M. Downs

SAN TOY -- "How can it be a ghost town if there's a freakin' road sign that says: SAN TOY two miles?" bellowed the photographer.

He had a point.

It was our first time exploring the legendary ghost town of Perry County, but it certainly wasn't what either of us had expected.

My image of ghost towns was formed by spaghetti westerns, Scooby Doo episodes and that time the Brady Bunch went to the Grand Canyon.

The ghost towns I envision have long roads of vacant wooden buildings, like in the Old West; dusty doors that swing on an empty saloon; a few homeless burros wandering the streets; and in some cases, a grizzled and crotchety old goldminer.

But not San Toy.

Once a thriving coal mining town, San Toy now consists of three houses, a church, a couple crumbling foundations and some lush vegetation.

The little brick hut that sits next to a babbling creek is the former fire house building. The ruins of an old building that peeks through the brush was once a drugstore. And in the middle of a sparsely-wooded field is the old San Toy jailhouse, built of steel and stone. The San Toy Community Church still stands, and worship services are held regularly.

It's a significant difference from what the booming town of 2,000 it once was.

The beginning

San Toy was founded around 1900, when the New England Coal Co. began mining high grade coal in the area. When a second shaft was sunk, they became the property of the Sunday Creek Coal Co.

The town grew rapidly. There was a hospital, which was operated by the coal company; a movie theater, for the "movin' pitcher show;" three schools; a drugstore; about six general stores; a pool room; seven saloons; and many, many other things.

Betty McElhiney of Morgan County remembers a lot about San Toy -- she was born there. She is the daughter of May Martin Clay and John Glaspy, who was a tipple boss in the first mine, dumping the cars of coal, before going to work in the No. 2 mine.

It was tough work. Men dug coal for about 28 cents a ton. On average, most men could do four tons in a day. Of course, that was a time when you could get a loaf of bread for 10 cents, a pair of shoes for $2.

"We were dirt poor, but we didn't know it," McElhiney said. "Everyone around us was in the same boat. They all worked in the mines."

McElhiney has many fond memories of the place, including how she learned about different cultures in the small community.

"The first black man I ever saw was in San Toy," she said. "He showed up at the door one cold winter evening."

A co-worker of her father, the man had come to her parents' house, in need of some food for his children. He was timid about entering the home of a white family, but McElhiney's mother insisted.

They loaded burlap bags with potatoes, cabbages, apples, ham, beef and canned goods for the man.

As he left, the young McElhiney asked her mother why they didn't give him any soap. She thought he was dirty from coal.

"My mother sat me down and taught me right then and there," she said. "And she told me that I should never treat someone poorly because they look different, and that the color of a person doesn't matter."

McElhiney continues to have many other good memories of the place, rattling off places and names of former residents with ease.

"To me it was a nice little town," McElhiney said. "There was a nice cement walk past the church. We had a hospital and a barber shop. Oh, and I don't know how many saloons. In some ways, it was like a Wild West town."

The town did have a reputation for the bawdy and rowdy, even referred to as "the wildest place since the Barbary Coast," in the early 1900s. In the town's short history, there were at least six murders, including one public gun battle, and countless robberies.

"My mom always said it was a rough town," McElhiney said. "Even the doctor carried his lantern at arm's length on night calls, so everyone could tell who he was. People were always ready to shoot."

Just a few examples of this: Two Muskingum County natives were murdered in San Toy -- Willis Stotts was shot during a dispute over whiskey; his brother Gus was killed while preventing a holdup. In 1917, a pack peddler was slain for his goods. That same year, saloon owner Arthur Keeley was killed after refusing to serve alcohol to a young boy. And in 1924, Henry Coleman and John Marshall had a bitter gun battle in the streets over a $20 dispute. Coleman was fatally struck in the heart; Marshall was critically wounded in the lung.

The downfall

Across the nation, banks were going under. The stock market took a dive. And in San Toy, the mines were in trouble.

The No. 1 shaft had been destroyed by fire. And the No. 2 shaft officially shut down on March 31, 1927.

Some say the coal was still plentiful when the mine shut down, according to a 1968 Times Recorder article about the history of the town. They attribute the closure to the poor condition of mine equipment.

One former employee claimed March 31 was when the union contract expired. Rather than negotiate with the union or revamp the mines, the Sunday Creek Coal Co. opted to close down the whole operation.

As people moved away and the coal company disposed of its holdings, including many stores and most of the houses, the town dwindled.

San Toy even gained national attention when the 1930 Census report showed San Toy lost a greater percent of citizens than any other place in the nation.

"It was such a horrible thing when the mines pulled out," said McElhiney, who was about 8-years-old at the time. "I remember they took the houses down and put them on the train. Everyone left."

Then the inevitable happened.

A November 1931 Times Recorder reported the following: "Nineteen remaining voters in San Toy, Perry County, polled a majority of 17 to two votes at the election in favor of abandoning the place."

There wasn't much of the town left when Thomas Allen of Roseville was a child. He was born in San Toy in 1942. He also attended first grade in San Toy, but the school shut down before he could attend second there.

"As kids, we'd play around the mine shafts," he said. "We'd throw big rocks in them and wait to hear how long it took to hit the bottom. And they had these ties that went across the shaft, and we'd crawl right on top of it.

"Of course, our parents didn't know."

Houses were taken apart and moved. Some were just relocated to villages in Morgan and Perry counties.

The remaining buildings -- like the pharmacy, the smokehouse and the pool hall -- were valuable, because they were made with brick. Some San Toy children, like Allen, were paid two or three cents to clean them for people who wanted them for other buildings.

"But two or three cents was a lot then," he said, chuckling.

Now the mine shafts are filled with stone. The old sidewalks are overgrown. And fewer and fewer people remember much about wild and woolly San Toy.

But I discovered that San Toy has one of the most important features of any ghost town -- ghosts.

The ghosts of memories.

San Toy is truly filled with them.

It's the reason the place has character, even though the buildings tumbled long ago. It's the reason the town is remembered vividly, though the residents are gone.

And it's the reason the little place can still be considered a real, live ghost town -- even though it lacks burros.

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