By Justin Strawser
January 23, 2022 - The legacy of the late Charles Harner lives on in a unique way at the Line Mountain Elementary School in Trevorton, Pennsylvania.
Harner, a former teacher at Line Mountain who died in 1967 at the age of 94, carved thousands of sculptures from coal in his lifetime. On Tuesday, his descendants visited the elementary school to view one of his sculptures that has been on display under glass in the building for 87 years.
The family of the late coal carver Charles Harner visited on Tuesday a sculpture displayed at the Line Mountain Elementary School in Trevorton. Pictured are Charles’s grandson Harvey Harner, 88, and Charles’s great-grandson-son-in-law Leo Chiaretti, both of Barry Township.
Photo: The Daily Item
“I enjoy seeing it,” said Charles’s grandson Harvey Harner, 88, of Barry Township, Schuylkill County. “It brings back memories, that’s for sure. I’ve seen it before, but I couldn’t have drawn it; I didn’t remember it that well.”
Harner visited the school with his wife, Zita Harner; Charles’s great-granddaughters Alisa Chiaretti and Michelle Harner; and Chiaretti’s husband Leo. All but Michelle Harner, who is from Douglassville, Berks County, are from Barry Township. Michelle and Alisa are cousins.
The carving took two years to complete and depicts the early days of anthracite coal mining at Franklin Colliery, which opened in 1849 in Trevorton. Charles Harner, a resident of Zerbe Township and coal carver at the former Trevorton High School, carved it by hand from one piece of coal in 1935. The high school is now the elementary school.
The family members don’t own many pieces of Charles’s coal carving — Harvey mentioned a two-inch high dog that he received for Christmas in 1941. He sold them in the 1960s and they traded hands several times and went to private collections, the family said.
On a ghost tour of the Schuylkill County Historical Society in October, they learned that the historical society owned at least 50 carvings. They took plenty of pictures and created a photo album through Snapfish, a digital photo printing service, they said.
“It’s really fascinating to see,” said Michelle Harner. “I’ve heard about some of these carvings all my life. This past year has been the first I’ve had a chance to see them.”
Harvey said he knew of one other piece at the former high school in Trevorton, now the Line Mountain Elementary School. He had seen it once before but none of his family members have ever seen it.
“We’re very proud to have found it,” said Alisa Chiaretti.
An engraving on the coal said it was made out of anthracite coal on May 25, 1935. It has been on display since then.
Principal Jeanne Menko said the carving has been displayed in the auditorium vestibule for decades. She moved it to the main lobby two years ago.
“I wanted people to see it when they came in,” she said.
Charles Harner worked as miner, carpenter, gas station operator and coal carving teacher at the former high school. During a span of 65 years from the time he was 17 until he was 82, he carved more than 1,000 pieces of coal sculptures, according to newspaper records.
According to an article about him, Charles was recruited to teach his hobby as part of the Works Progress Administration following the Great Depression. The completed carving shows “the entire method of extracting the coal from the mine, then taking the coal by railroad to Herndon and over the bridge into Port Trevorton for shipment by canal boats to Philadelphia,” according to newspaper records.
He stopped because his hands were no longer steady, according to newspaper records.
The family also visited the Freeman Victor Horner Memorial at the Trevorton Foundry. Freeman Horner, the grandson of Charles and cousin of Harvey, was a recipient of the Medal of Honor for his actions in World War II. He died in 2005.