The New Castle Coal Mine Accident and the Death of Frank C. Stow

Entrance to a W. Va. coal mine: a "drift" mine. The live-wire was only shoulder -high in places inside, and unprotected. Location: West Virginia.

Frank C. Stow (1858-1901) wore many hats in his short life. He worked as a plumber at the time of his death, but had been a general laborer, the Courthouse janitor, a constable, the jailer, a fireman, as well as being reported an excellent dancer. Frank was very active and liked in the community, but an avoidable accident in the New Castle Coal Mine ended his life and his legacy.

Frank’s branch of the Stow (sometimes spelled Stowe) family’s history in Tuscarawas County started in the 1830s with the arrival of Norman Stow (1827-1911) from New York. Norman was a cabinet maker by trade, though apparently was willing to perform any number of woodworking and general construction work throughout his lifetime. Norman married Drusilla Stiffler (1832-1900) in 1856 and, two years later, Frank Stow was born.

Frank was only in his early twenties when he was hired to serve as the Courthouse janitor, at the time a job more akin to facility manager. Frank was responsible for the day-to-day maintenance of the Courthouse and any other projects related to it that might come up. A newspaper article in 1886 lauded Frank’s work, saying that he “keeps everything about the gilded temple of justice in neat and apple-pie order.” Frank was also active in the New Philadelphia Fire Department and, at one point, suffered an injury to his eye while in the performance of his duties. He married Mary Knaer (1868-1951) in 1894 and, during that decade, served as a Constable. Frank’s testimony for, or against, someone was considered gospel.

The Coal Tipple at Lock Number 14 on the Ohio-Erie Canal. (Source:

Sundays were typically a day of rest, but on Sunday, March 17, 1901, Frank Stow was asked to make some plumbing repairs at the New Castle Mine. The mine was situated along the canal very near the New Castle Lock (Lock 14), from whence it received its name. Being a Sunday, the mine was not working and it provided the mine operators some time to make repairs to piping that, attached to a gasoline engine, pumped water from the deepest parts of the mine. Two men, and a 16 year old miner, accompanied Frank into the mine to assist if needed in the repairs. Other miners gathered outside the mine as the men went in to work.

It was around 3:30 in the afternoon when the four men entered the mine, with the gasoline powered engine pumping away. They had not started working long when the 16 year old complained of a headache and decided to leave and get some fresh air. He did not make it far before he collapsed to the ground and somehow managed to crawl his way out of the mine. The miners outside, realizing something was wrong, went into the mine only to discover one of the men was also crawling his way out of the mine.

Headline in the New Philadelphia Democrat, 21 March 1901.

The miners discovered the unconscious bodies of Frank Stow and the third man, one of the owners of the mine, when they entered as far as the gasoline engine. The men were dragged out of the mine and a call was made for doctors to come to the mine right away. A half-hour later the doctors arrived and determined that the third man was still alive but that Frank Stow had died. It was determined that all four men had suffered from carbon monoxide poisoning from the gasoline engine.

Click here to read the entire newspaper account of the accident.

During the twenty years when Frank Stow’s name appeared in the New Philadelphia newspaper, it always appeared associated with something positive that he had done, been a part of, or simply a positive reflection on him as a person. When he died, that same newspaper dedicated almost half of the front page to the events surrounding his death and printed his name in bold letters in the headline. That Frank Stow was respected and liked was obvious. Frank and Mary never had children; no one to pass along his story. I hope that this little post does something to remedy that. Frank C. Stow is buried in Section D, Fair Street Cemetery in New Philadelphia.

© Noel B. Poirier, 2021.


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