WIGGANS

DECEMBER 10, 1875

The Dispute

There exists, among some, a controversy over the exact location of the O'Donnell house.

Local history, including the well documented testimony of a distinguished Schuylkill County gentleman by the name of Tom Ward, clearly places the Wiggan's Patch Massacre having taken place at the house pictured below.  This photograph shows the back section of 140 Main St. Wiggans (Boston Run) where Charles O'Donnell was dragged outside and murdered. In his writings, Mr. Ward talks about an oxblood cherry tree located in the back of the house. Several stories about the massacre reference a cherry tree.

Now, there are those who argue this is not the correct house.  This house, the naysayers say, is located in Boston Run, not Wiggans!  These individuals believe that the actual house where the murders took place was demolished long before 2006.

Perhaps - if their belief was based on today's street addresses, it might be true.  Modern day Wiggans Patch is a restricted area of only a few homes located along the highway heading towards Mahanoy City from Gilberton, and laying directly west of the left turn off towards Shenandoah. The patch where the house stood is now called Boston Run. It was not Boston Run in 1875, however. It was Wiggan's Patch.

There is more to the story.

During the mid to late 1800's, the patch known as Boston Run existed further much further west on the road towards Gilberton, back across a set of railroad tracks.  There was a colliery there, the Boston Run Colliery, that opened about 1866 and remained in operation until 1939.  Those homes that made up old Boston Run are long gone. At that time, Wiggans Patch took in all the homes along the road west, from directly past the turn to Shenandoah and continuing past the spot where the O'Donnell house stood.  Old maps show a great many homes in Wiggans during that time period where now there are only empty lots.

The following information about what happened in the area of Wiggans, Suffolk, and Boston Run is in the words of a 1935 social studies report written by the students of Mahanoy Township High School. 

In the year 1929, the Philadelphia Reading Coal and Iron Co. decided to build a central breaker, which was to be located in the vicinity of St. Nicholas.  The first step taken was to remove the one row of houses, which was nearly one half the village of  Suffolk.  In August 1929, people occupying those houses received notices from the company to move.  After they had moved, in a short while the houses were
torn down.

After the removal of the houses they built the new bridge which is now in use
at St. Nicholas.  The work of the bridge was completed in 1931.
  

In regard to the relocation of Boston Run, the students had this to say:


Within the last twenty years Boston Run underwent many changes.  The entire
location was changed also the source of water and many other things.

Boston Run was first built because a breaker and mines situated in that
territory was prospering.  Naturally a few homes were first built so the
men could be near their work.  Gradually new homes were built and people
began moving to work in surrounding territory.

The breaker was situated on top of a coal bank and the homes were built at
the bottom of the bank.  The homes were rather crude.  They did not have
running water and they used lamps for light.  The women walked a mile for
their water

They were rather closed in, being at the bottom of a bank and used the trains,
which passed near by, for travelling.  With the introduction of constructing
highways through rural communities the location of  Boston Run was changed. 
A highway was constructed about a thousand feet from the houses and the people
wishing to be near the highway began building homes near the road.

The people who lived at the foot of the bank moved over to the other homes. 
These new homes were much
better than the old ones.  They had electric lights installed and running water,
which eliminated the walking to wells.

Boston Run now holds about twenty-five homes, two families living in a block. 
The highway runs through the community with homes on both sides.

In the news reports of the time about Wiggans Patch and the murders, the house is described as being along the road to Gilberton "at the Wiggan's & Treibel's colliery". Jack Kehoe, in his testimony during the Inquest of Frank Weinrich, described the house as "In Wiggan's lower patch ... " Another Shenandoah Evening Herald article places the O'Donnell house "where the unfortunates lived is situated on the north side of the patch and is the second last house to the west end." Thomas Murphy, one of the boarders at the O'Donnell house the night of the murders, testified the house was "on the Shenandoah side of the street."

Let us journey back in time a bit and put things in perspective.

Why the confusion?

Consider this theory.  Perhaps, in order to salvage the village name Boston Run from extinction, the local post office decided to keep both place names.  The house addresses along the road between the Shenandoah turn off and Gilberton were split between them. In 1943, the O'Donnell house was owned by the Ward family. Thomas Ward has documents - letters, electric bills, and other utilities - that identify the house as both 140 Main St. Wiggans and 140 Boston Run. It is likely that this is the reason those unfamiliar with the change in street addresses are dubious about the home being the infamous O'Donnell House (or as many locals refer to it, The Mollie Maguire House).

In his family history, which can be located at the Schuylkill County Historical Society in Pottsville, Tom Ward writes that his father, Thomas A. Ward, was born in Mahanoy City, Pa., on February 5, 1894.  Thomas Ward, Sr. grew up in Ellengowan - another small coal patch not far from Mahanoy City along the road to Shenandoah. Later, when he and his wife, Ethel Shaeffer Ward, married the couple resided in Mahanoy City.  In 1926, the family moved to Frackville and finally to 140 Wiggans (Boston Run) in 1929.  They had 9 children, among them Tom Ward, the writer. 

Tom Ward relates, "At 140 Wiggans was where a family involved with the Molly Maguires had lived.  I didn't know this until I was older.  We moved from Frackville to Wiggans when I was in the first grade which was about 1929. I had recently read an article where someone said that blood would appear on the floor of the staircase landing. That never happened while we lived there."

Another notable Schuylkill County historian, Mr. William O'Brien, retired Editor in Chief of the Shenandoah Evening Herald, also positively identified the home as the one in which the Wiggan's Patch Massacre occurred. 

Those who will continue to cast doubt that the home was the one belonging to the O'Donnell family are entitled to their suspicions.  However, Northern Schuylkill County is a close knit community where oral history is quite reliable, especially concerning landmarks. Most families have local roots that have been planted here for generations.  That makes them excellent sources of information in areas where little or no written documentation exists.

In the meantime, while curious historians continue their search for the missing link - the elusive deed for 140 Main St. Wiggans (Boston Run) - readers can weigh the information available and decide for themselves.

Which side of the debate do you take?