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Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Eckley PA - Life in a Coal Patch Town

All pictures taken with iPhone 7.
Thanks to my Dad working in one of these - the
only dirt I got on my hands was chalk

Lulu loves shopping - I wonder if she
would have liked just one store

I am one generation removed from living in a coal patch. Both my Mom and Dad were raised in these tiny company-owned villages during their formative years. Mom grew up in the Vulcan - near Mahanoy City - and Dad forever called Seek - the capital of Coaldale - his home.

Patch towns were set up near the mine and breaker so that workers could walk to work and back. This was before automobiles were the normal way of life. When Ford made the car affordable to the masses - it took autos a while to hit these company towns. 

On my visit home to Tamaqua PA for my 50th reunion last month - we had a little time to spare. We were staying at a Residence Inn near Hazleton - so a visit to Eckley Miners Village fit the bill. It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon and I was really surprised when we found the village empty. The museum was open - we paid our $8 admission. But what we really wanted to do was walk the main street from end to end. 

Company towns were self-contained hamlets - with company stores - company sponsored churches - company pubs - and cheaply build connected homes. If you worked for the coal company - they rented you a house - and you could buy whatever you wanted at the company store. They even extended you credit - so you could buy picks - shovels - dynamite - so that you could work in the mines. From the famous song "16 Tons" - you "sold my soul to the company store."

My Mom lived in the Vulcan. It was/is on the top of the mountain where I-81 passes Mahanoy City. I still have plenty of cousins living there. Mom went to Mahanoy Township Schools - in downtown Mahanoy City there were 2 high schools just a few blocks from each other. They were Mahanoy City and Mahanoy Township. 

My Dad lived in Seek which is the part of Coaldale closest to Tamaqua. The story of his upbringing gets more incredible every time I tell it. My grandmother - Bertha Brouse Everhart Hontz - had 4 kids. My grandfather Roy Shartle Everhart worked for the mines. One day in 1923 - he decided to leave town - and my grandmother - with 4 small kids. Stories say he went to Kentucky looking for work - I guess that is why I like the name Pennsyltucky so much. Other stories say he came back - but my grandmother would have nothing to do with him. I never found out for sure what happened to him - until a search of government records found that he was killed in action on a Merchant Marine ship in 1942. He was a fireman/water tender in the engine room that was hit directly by a Nazi torpedo. 

The coal company was ready to throw the family out of the company house - but they were allowed to stay when it was agreed my Dad would go into the mines upon graduation. In 1934 - he marched in graduation at Coaldale High School - and kept walking down the hill to Number 8 breaker. He worked there for 25 years from 1934 to 1959 - when it closed forever. 

You can see why Eckley Miners Village has great meaning to me. It is now a state historic site. The town is a shoe string community - laid out on one narrow long street. The original mine and breaker buildings are gone - but in 1970 - for the filming of "The Molly Maguires" Paramount build a mock breaker. 

I am oversimplifying it to say that laborers lived on one side of town - skilled workers and management were on the other side of town. My Mom used to say - no one crossed the railroad track after dark. On one end of the town is a Catholic Church to tend the miners from Ireland - Italy - etc. The other end had a more upgraded building for the Protestants from England - Wales - and Germany. 

Anthracite - a metamorphic rock - was the type of coal mined in the Coal Regions of Northeast Pennsylvania. It is a relatively clean burning coal that gives off even heat and virtually no smoke. During the world wars - it was very valuable because ships using it as fuel gave off very little smoke. Submarines would be looking for smoke on the horizon. Thus - Anthracite coal miners were exempt from the military draft.

Eckley main street runs east and west

Some the homes are dilapidated 
Miners had gardens to raise vegetables 

Laborers lived in double blocks
In the movie - The Mollies - 
set this store afire 

Many of the homes are still occupied.
Wires and pipes are hidden underground 

The Protestant Church

The mine owner's home

A small hospital 

Single homes for the skilled workers

This is a replica breaker. Coal was brought up out
of the mine to the top. It was dumped thru machinery that
minded the coal to different sizes

In the movie - the train to
Philadelphia rode this track

This Irish Catholic Church was on
the East End of town

Just a few miles away to Freeland. This was Freeland MMI -
Mining and Mechanical Institute. It was a school
set up to train young men how to mine. Today it is an
endowed college prep school.
Lulu taught there for 8 years.

The museum has this coal breaker - made of coal. 

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