Boston architect keeps Beddall family memory alive in Pottsville cemeteries

POTTSVILLE — On Arbor Day, amid the rebirth of spring, a solitary figure placed an American flag beside a gravestone in Charles Baber Cemetery.

Thomas G. “Tom” Beddall, 69, a retired Boston architect, has faithfully performed the ritual honoring his forefathers for 30 years.

Head bowed, he paused in a moment of silence for his grandparents and parents interred beneath modest markers on a family plot.

The Beddall family roots in Schuylkill County go back to the early 1800s, when Thomas Beddall emigrated from England to work in the burgeoning anthracite coal industry.

While in Pottsville, Beddall donated two large portraits of the family patriarch and his spouse, Thomas and Mary Shakespeare Beddall, to the Schuylkill County Historical Society.

He also donated the family history, some of it handwritten, to the historical society.

A fifth-generation descendant, he visited graves of Beddalls buried in Odd Fellows Cemetery, where they rest beneath a large Victorian monument. Then, he paid his respects to the family members buried in Charles Baber.

Although some family members left the region, Beddall said, successive generations insisted on being buried in the family plots at Charles Baber and Odd Fellows.

An American story

When Thomas and Mary Shakespeare Beddall came to America in 1837, they settled near Pottsville, a family history says. They also lived in New Philadelphia for a time, where the eldest of their 12 children was born.

Thomas Beddall, the patriarch, went into the coal business with Andrew Robertson around 1857.

Pioneers in the early anthracite era, they traded as Beddall and Robertson.

Together, they owned Lick Run Colliery and, later, Eagle Hill Colliery, near Cumbola, from 1861 to 1865. In all likelihood, coal from Eagle Hill fired northern industrial plants during the Civil War.

Beddall and Robertson sold Eagle Hill Colliery to the Philadelphia & Reading Coal & Iron Company in 1871.

After that, Beddall and Robertson opened a colliery at Helfenstein, a patch on the border of Schuylkill and Northumberland counties.

Thomas and Mary Beddall, eventually settled in a large house on Jackson Street in Port Carbon. It’s still there, but has been converted into apartments.

The Beddall family rode a wave of prosperity that followed the rise of the anthracite coal industry during the Industrial Revolution.

In the 1920s, Beddall family members lived next door to the house where novelist John O’Hara grew up at 606 Mahantongo St. in Pottsville. O’Hara, who left Pottsville for New York City in 1928, still lived there when the Beddalls resided next door.

Later, as they prospered in the coal industry, two of Thomas Beddall’s sons built homes side-by-side in the 1400 block of Mahantongo.

The Beddalls were able to send their children to prestigious schools like Andover College and Yale University — not uncommon among Schuylkill County coal barons of the era.

Their son, Edward A. Beddall (1859-1919), was the first of the family to go to college. He graduated from Yale, earned a degree in law and practiced in Pottsville.

Samuel A. Beddall was educated at the Cumberland Valley Institute, a private school in Cumberland County. He was a sergeant in the Civil War.

A mine superintendent, he was also a land agent for the mining interests of the Shafer & Gilbert estate.

A founding member of the Incandescent Light and Gas Company, Shenandoah, he was a director of the Shenandoah Heat and Power Company and a stockholder in Merchants National Bank, Shenandoah.

Thomas H. Beddall (1891-1960) — the patriarch’s grandson — graduated from Yale University. He left Pottsville for Miami, Florida, in 1926.

Because of his knowledge of the coal industry, Florida Power & Light Company recruited him to secure coal for its power plants. He died in Florida in 1960 and is buried in Charles Baber.


hey started America

Tom Beddall never lived in Pottsville, though he’s visited regularly for three decades.

He came back, naturally, to bury his father, Edward, in 1992, and his mother, Barbara, in 1999. He attended funerals of other relatives as well.

Tom grew up in Connecticut and, because his father had business interests in England, was able to attend Cambridge University. Later, he did postgraduate work at Harvard University, and he worked as an architect in Boston for 40 years.

Yet, on Arbor Day, 187 years after his great-great grandfather came in search of a better life in Schuylkill County’s coal fields, Tom Beddall placed an American flag on the family plot in Charles Baber.

“Pottsville was always in the background,” he said of his ancestors’ lives and, to an extent, his own.

What is it, he was asked, that drew him to return again and again to the family fountainhead.

“These are the people who built America,” he said. “This is how America got started.”