The Liars Den: a landmark for Mather

Mather’s Liars Den has been the spot of tales – tall and all – for nearly a century

November 30, 2017
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“The Liars Den,” a gazebo-like structure, was constructed at Third and Main streets in Mather’s town square in 1919 about two years after the town was founded.

For almost a century, the Liar’s Den in Mather has stood as a landmark and reminder of the town’s coal mining heritage.

The original den was built about 1919, several years after Pickands, Mather and Co. began digging shafts for its new coal mine and building what was called a model mining town, with its neat rows of homes and wide streets lined by trees.

Situated in the middle of the town square, a crossroads of the community, the den, a gazebo-like structure, was a place for workers to stop before and after work to talk about mining, issues of the days and other subjects of interest.

“Back in the days, that was where the miners would meet to talk,” Mather resident Rachelle Maison Zebro says.

“That was where the biggest fish was caught and where the biggest deer was shot,” she says, referring to the tall tales that must have been told there that gave the den its name.

In the days of the Mather Mine, which operated from 1919 to 1964, only miners were allowed at the den, says Glenn Yorko, 85, a lifelong Mather resident.

“When I was growing up, we weren’t allowed on the Liar’s Den – the coal miners didn’t allow it, kids weren’t allowed there,” he says.

When he turned 18 in 1950 and went to work at the Mather Collieries, Yorko could go to the den, though, he says, he visited the site “only once in a great while.”

The men would talk of sports - Mather had a good baseball team, Yorko says, and they’d talk about other subjects, including mining. Of course, people talked and simple feats may have been embellished.

“If they mined as much coal in the mine as they said they did at the Liar’s den,” Yorko says, “they would have had a big stockpile.”

Several years ago, a group of residents, led by Zebro, began an effort to restore the den, to save what residents felt was one of the last important vestiges of the old town.

Zebro remembers being up near the den at a Memorial Day service several years ago. “I was so embarrassed to look at it, the way it had been let go,” she says.

At one time the town had everything, including a furniture store, theater, pharmacy and barber shop. “We have nothing left in this town,” she says. “This needed to be saved; it’s a part of history.”

Not much is known about the construction of the den.

The original Liar’s Den had the date 1919 painted on its steps, which led many to believe that is the year it was constructed. However, a picture of the town, taken a year earlier, showed little development in the area, casting doubt on that date, Zebro says.

Pickands, Mather and Co. began constructing the mine, known as Mather Collieries, and houses in the town for the mine’s workforce, in 1917, according to G. Wayne Smith’s “The History of Greene County Pennsylvania.” The mine shipped its first coal in the summer of 1919.

Zebro says it is believed the den was constructed by the miners, and that at one time, bands performed there for the community: “The Mather mine had its own band and on Saturday nights they would play there.”

The den also may have played a small role in the one catastrophe for which Mather is known to this day– the Mather Mine disaster. On May 19, 1928, an underground explosion at the mine took the lives of 195 coal miners. With the den only about a block away from the mine entrance, it obviously was a place people would congregate. “That is where a lot of women went and waited for word,” Zebro says.

But mainly, the den was known as the place where miners met and discussed the days’ events, especially in the early years, when people didn’t have televisions and few had automobiles.

And it was primarily men who would loiter at the den. Women were not welcome there. Zembro says she remembers even when she was young, parents never allowed their daughters to be at the den, because it would risk giving them “a bad name.”

In later years, after the mine closed, the den became a site for young people to congregate. Generations of Mather youth have met to hang out at the den. At times, according to one newspaper account from 1976, it also brought complaints of bad behavior and vandalism.

About two years ago, Zebro and other residents of the community who wanted to see the den rehabilitated approached the township supervisors.

Morgan Township Supervisor Shirl Barnhart says residents had wanted the den restored; however, an inspection revealed the structure was unsafe. Even the concrete had begun to rot. “It was a landmark in Mather and we saw the need to keep it intact,” he says.

However, if the township was going to invest money in it, “we had to do it right,” he says. This would involve building a new den, in compliance with today’s building standards and including the addition of a wheelchair ramp.

“We tried to keep it as original as possible,” Barnhart says. The new den is the same size as the old one, but it also is much more sturdily built. The footer on the structure is five feet deep and the concrete walls, one foot thick. “It’s pretty much bullet proof,” Barnhart says.

The center pole of the old den also was salvaged and was incorporated in the new structure, he adds.

The old den was demolished in the fall of 2016 and construction of the new one was begun. The new Liar’s Den was officially dedicated May 27 with a town festival.

Part of the legend of the old Liar’s Den, passed down from the early days, was that mining tools had been buried in the foundation during its construction.

During the demolition last fall, however, nothing was found. Apparently the legend was untrue, or a lie, Barnhart says.

To continue the legend, however, plans for the new den called for placing a set of mining tools in the new foundation. It is even mentioned that they are there on the den’s new dedication plaque. But when asked whether those plans were followed, Barnhart would not comment. He laughed. “You have to keep the legend of the Liar’s Den alive,” he says.

Bob Niedbala worked as a general assignment reporter for the newspaper for 27 years in the Greene County bureau. He received a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Pittsburgh.

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