Saturday, September 8, 2018

Eckley Miners' Village


  In the mid 1800s hundreds of small company owned towns dotted the anthracite coal regions of Pennsylvania. Each centered around the towering headframe of a coal mine where husbands, fathers, and unmarried men, descended every day to spend up to 12 hours blasting through the rock, shoveling coal, breathing in coal dust, and hoping that there would not be an unplanned explosion, cave-in, or flood. Boys as young as 9 worked picking rocks out of the coal after it was broken into chunks, opening and closing ventilation doors, and leading the mules that pulled mining cars. The towns were isolated so the company supplied everything. Each town had a school, churches, and a company store where supplies were sold at inflated prices. Many miners were paid with company scrip that could only be used at the company store.


   Eckley was founded in 1854 and by 1860 had 150 houses. Mine foremen and their families rented the single dwellings. Miners and their families lived in one side of duplex houses which were different sizes depending on the skill level of the worker. In the late 1870s 1,500 people lived in the town but when strip mining operations started in the 1890s fewer workers were required and most people eventually moved away. Unlike many other mining towns, where the houses were sold when the mines closed, Eckley remained a company town. Very little changed over the years, so it made a perfect location for the filming of the 1970 movie, The Molly Maguires starring Sean Connery. The movie portrays the secret society of Irish-American miners who fought for miners’ rights and were considered heroes by some, terrorists by others. 


  The movie revived interest in the town and it was bought by a group of Hazleton area businessmen who deeded it over to Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in 1971. Over 50 original buildings remain including the miner owner’s house, the Catholic Church, and the rectory. The Episcopal Church was relocated from another town. The company store and headframe were built for the movie. Four of the buildings are opened for guided tours during the summer. A few more buildings are opened for special events. Self guided tours are also available by either walking or driving through the town. Some of the houses are still occupied and those properties are off limits.  A small visitor center features a movie and good exhibits about the lives of the men, women, and children who lived in coal patch towns. The ecological damage caused by strip mining is easily visible from the highway.


IMG_4113       IMG_4111IMG_4115IMG_4112IMG_4128IMG_4118IMG_4134

   The visitor center and gift shop are accessible but the museum doors are heavy. The town streets are gravel covered and run slightly downhill. Some buildings have ramps but the thresholds at the entrance doors are high.


  The parking lot is large enough for any RV.  Museum  40.99527, -75.85593



  1. I realize Eckley is in Pennsylvania, but I've spent some time in West Virginia and know about mine towns and the sad facts that go with them. Eckley looks like a living history museum. I'd like to visit it sometime.

    1. Tony and I were just talking about that. This part of Pennsylvania is so much like West Virginia. Both started as pristine areas of forested mountains. First came mining with all of it's destruction and pollution, then came logging, with vast swaths of land given back to the state and federal governments after it was clear cut and useless. Very few people shared in the wealth produced by the natural resources. Fortunately Pennsylvania, unlike West Virginia, has a lot of productive farmland, good road, rail, and river transportation systems, and more to it's economy that mining and logging. Just thinking about how the people in West Virginia were and still are being exploited makes me angry.

      Eckley is a pretty cool place. It's better to visit when the tours are held so you can go in the buildings. You can spend a week or so exploring the area and seeing all of the museums and mine tours.