Saturday, May 31, 2008

Pennyslvania's Coal Heritage & Mine Too

The houses represented in Eckley Miners’ Village could have been any of the many houses I visited over the years in Pennsylvania. These miner’s double dwellings fill “patch towns” throughout the state. I’d seen this style home in Coal Run, Luzerne, Homer City, Red Barn, Brownsville, and Coral. My uncles who worked the mines over 90 years ago lived in this style of house with their families. I never thought of the historic value of these old men’s houses, houses which are now valued as a part of Pennsylvania’s industrial heritage.

Eckley Miners’ Village is listed in the National Register and is administered by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission as a living museum. This distinction drew me to visit this preserved “patch town.” It dates back to 1854 as a company-owned town that provided homes to miners during the Anthracite Era. Some of the homes among the 59 buildings are still tenanted by miners, their wives or widows, and their children.

The people who originally came to Eckley in 1860s boom days of anthracite mining arrived as immigrants from all parts of Europe and Russia. The promise of jobs in the coal mines drew them. The mining company tried to meet their needs by creating a town that included churches, a social club, company story, doctor’s office, and numerous double dwelling homes. We noted each remaining structure as Ed and I strolled along Eckley’s Main Street. A descriptive and numbered map-type brochure from the Visitor’s Center aided our self-guided walk through the past.

The Breaker building caught my attention above all else in this living history display. It’s a technical monument to a bygone era. It looms high above the town. I’d never seen a breaker so close to houses, right in the town. Even though the one standing today was created as a movie prop for the filming of Paramount Studio’s movie The Molly Maguires in 1968, it is impressive and the location is relatively accurate in that it stands near the site of one of the three original breakers.

In the breaker building, coal was cleaned and sized. Here, large lumps coal from the mine passed over large rollers with projecting teeth which broke the coal into marketable sizes. Then the coal passed through a series of metal screens to be separated into uniform sizes. It traveled down chutes to the young “breaker boys” – children who removed pieces of slate and rocks. Finally, coal passed to the railroad cars positioned at the bottom of the breaker for transport.

The orientation film shown in the Visitor’s Center gave me new appreciation for the dangerous work the coal miners endured. The display of mining and household artifacts told the story of the Sunday through Saturday life in a “patch town” of the 1860’s. It revealed a life of survival, family cooperation, and the back-breaking work of immigrant miners, my ancestors.

More on Coal…

Coal is big in Pennsylvania. Its’ so big, that a lump of coal can be bigger than a human. I stood beside this lump of coal displayed in the Visitor’s Center parking lot of the Eckley Miners’ Village.

Coal can be deadly. We found a memorial dedicated to people who lost their lives. They were not miners, just folks asleep in houses. They were victims of the Stockton Mine Disaster in 1865, an incidence of mine subsidence that swallowed a house. Lantern fuel in the house ignited, and then created and explosion killing the people memorialized at this site.

Coal is still abundant in Pennsylvania, a stock pile that can last for the next 100 years we were told. As evidence, we saw a strip mine where the work of heavy equipment named The Anthracite King had peeled away the land. The expanse of the mining made the big trucks and cranes look like Matchbox miniature toys in the distance.

Coal can be a Christmas surprise too. Have you heard the threat: “If you behave badly, Santa will leave a lump of coal in your stocking”? I’ve stashed a few lumps of anthracite in the coach just in case I’ll need some coal on December 25th.

May 26, 2008

Eckley Miner’s Village is located Weatherly, Pennsylvania in Luzerne County,

Approximately nine miles east of Hazleton off Route 940.

More information is available on the website

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