James Owen of Penrhos

and his descendants

The "Big quarry" tunnel involved a major investment of money, time and manpower but those in the know anticipated it would produce a good return in the long term and would provide employment locally for years to come. [YD 15 Aug 1895] Its importance prompted the local Welsh bard to write this poem (translated from the Welsh but the original, published in Y Drych, 27 Aug 1896, can be seen here). The project was of huge significance to the local community and to employment on the Pennsylvania side of the ridge at a time when so many other quarries had been abandoned:

In 1896, the Maryland Geological Survey listed eight active quarries: Delta & Peach Bottom, York & Peach Bottom, Proctor Bros., Peach Bottom, Excelsior, Peerless, Aiken & Co., and Stubbs/Cambria. Six other quarries were abandoned. This compared with only four active quarries and three abandoned ones on the Pennsylvania side of the ridge (Mathews 1898:221). [noted in this series of reports from the "US Department of the Interior National Park Service", Sect.8 p.13]

By the spring of 1896 the huge tunnel, 600 feet wide and 800 feet deep, costing $5,000 was nearing completion and was expected to be ready by the end of June. It was about 90 feet below the water surface and 20ft above the bottom of the quarry and was expected greatly to facilitate the removal of slate. Such tunnelling involved supervision by a specialist company. It was reported that it would be managed by Jones and Rosser of Kingston, Pa., but their proposals were thought to be impractical [Y Drych, 12 Sep 1895] so the contract went to John H. Thomas & Son of Wilkes-Barre, Pa. Despite their supposed expertise, two of Robert’s employees would be killed during the tunnel’s construction [YD 14 Nov 1895, 12 Sep 1895, 19 Mar 1886, 25 Jun 1896 1907 biography ] and sadly Robert lost another of his employees just before Christmas when Humphrey H. Evans, operator of the hoisting engine, died, aged only 50, after suffering a stroke at the quarry. [YD 24 Dec 1896 & Delta Herald-Times 18 Dec 1896]

Quarry workers faced continual danger from injury and death. The Delta Herald routinely documented accidents. One 1897 report noted that several men narrowly escaped injury when a derrick fell at R.L. Jones' quarry (Delta Herald 3 Sept 1897).[noted in the above series of reports, Sect.8 p.9]
Robert and Isabella’s family was not immune to the dangers; one Tuesday morning J. Hayden Jones, Robert and Isabella’s eldest son, who by then was helping Robert supervise one of his quarries, was seriously injured using the hoist in the quarry. [Y Drych, 15 Sep 1898]