Alexander W. Rea was the founder of Centralia, Pennsylvania. Unfortunately, much of his story and early life have been lost to history. There are also no known pictures of Rea either. That said, here is what we do know about this important figure.
Alexander Rea was a mining engineer. He worked for the Locust Mountain Coal and Iron company. In 1842, the company purchased the land near the Bull’s Head Tavern in what today is Centralia PA. At that time, the area was simply called Bull’s Head.
A colliery would later be built near Bull’s Head, with large scale coal mining beginning in 1854 after the completion of the Mine Run Railroad. Rea moved to the area to oversee operations at the colliery. By 1854 had also relocated his family from Danville, PA.
After arriving in the area, Alexander Rea began drawing up plans for a town. He mapped out the future locations of streets and lots. He also gave the new town a name – Centreville. Rea saw Centreville as the future center of commerce for the mountainous anthracite coal region in Pennsylvania.
As the coal mining industry grew, so did Alexander Rea’s vision for Centreville. However, when he requested a post office for the town, the United States Postal Service would not grant one. There was already a Centreville in the county. Rea was then forced to rename his growing town Centralia.
In 1866, Centralia Pennsylvania became official. It was incorporated as a borough, and it had a population of around 1,300 residents. The town would continue to grow and thrive over the next few decades along with the coal industry. Although, Rea would never live see this.
On October 17, 1868 Alexander W. Rea was driving his buggy from the neighboring town of Mount Carmel to Centralia PA. Along the way, he was ambushed by a group of men. Later these men would be identified as the Molly Maguires. Sadly, Rea was killed and the money he had with him was taken.
Initially several men were arrested and charged. However, they were soon acquitted of the murder. The crime would go unsolved until 1876. In that year, a man named Kelly “the Bum” confessed to the murder. Kelly also implicated Patrick Hester, Patrick Tully, and Peter McHugh as being co-conspirators.
The men were quickly convicted and sentenced to death. They were hung in Bloomsburg, PA on March 25, 1878.
The location of Alexander Rea’s final resting place is a crypt in Riverview Cemetery, Danville, PA. Today, his memory lives on, as does the town which he founded.