Centralia, Pennsylvania has lost another resident, bringing its total population to under five people.
In the fall of 2016, Kathi Womer moved out of the borough. By doing so, her home became the property of the State of Pennsylvania and, like with so many of the town’s other buildings, will be demolished.
For years, the Womer family, including Kathi and her parents Carl and Helen, lived at the end of Wood Street in Centralia, PA. They were important fixtures within the community.
In 1962, the Centralia mine fire began only a few hundred feet away from Womer’s house in Odd Fellows Cemetery. Helen Womer was an early activist calling for state and federal officials to take action.
Carl Womer would later serve as the town’s last official mayor. When other residents took settlement offers and left, the Womer’s held on to their home, fought, and stayed.
Helen passed away in 2001 and Carl in 2014. Kathi remained in the borough until 2016, when she moved away. Her relocation is a reminder that the impact of Centralia’s mine fire disaster is still being felt today, over 50 years since it began.
Many thanks to Jason Gunoskey and others who have sent pictures of the Womer’s house since it was abandoned. It’s important to remember that even though this house is now owned by the State of Pennsylvania, it was once someone’s home.
If you are visiting Centralia PA, please be respectful of each home, sign, cemetery, and property. Graffiti, trespass, and littering are still illegal within the borough.
As a former resident of Centralia, it’s a shame.
Was she forced to leave?
why did she move?
Technically, it wasn’t her home, but her father’s. The government cut a deal about 10 years ago with the few remaining homeowners that they could stay in their homes, but upon death, the property ownership would revert back to the state. When her father passed in 2014, she began looking for another home.
Just finishing David DeKok’s book on Centralia and the fire. He didn’t paint the best picture of Helen but I’m sure she was doing what she thought was best under terrible circumstances. It’s a tragic story and one that has fascinated me. My thoughts and prayers to all with ties to the borough.
In the book did it say how much money she received?The reason I ask because one of the first to leave only received11,000 dollars even though it was appraised at 36,000 right before the fire broke out.They had a baby and stayed for 7 yrs and they left because of health problems.Tyvm Judy
Did you know any Walsh or Wynne families
I just watched a YouTube documentary called Centralia full documentary….I cried…a lot! I’m 29 years old and I’m not a big Cryer but I literally cried! I hope to go there soon and see it but I don’t have the funds…I want to see it before it all goes…I’m going to tell my children and future children about this town! I officially hate pensilvania for doing this to such a historic and amazing town! I’m just in so much shock and amazement and anger and sadness…I loved the updates on how the people are doing and all but it’s not fair!! When I saw the documentary I had to know what happened like an urge and I wanted to help save Centralia just like John wanted to…I really felt what they felt….now I’m just sad…
I agree completely
Feel the same way when we went up there. This past july
Why do you blame Pennsylvania?
All states burn there garbage dumps but this time it went wrong and the whole coal mine caught on fire
They should not have burned over a coal mine……..
Just read David Dekok’s book too. Excellent and very powerful. I understand the reluctance of the residents to leave their town. The book made me so angry with the authorities who let Centralia down. I want to visit. God bless Centralia.
Was there today and the house has been ransacked. Door is gone. More graffiti. Every window broken. It’s a shame. Today was my first visit. I walked the streets and thought to myself what it must have been like when it was a thriving town. Very sad.
Were there a lot of state police around? I want to take my teens to see Graffiti Hwy but read that cops are shooing people away.
It was sad to to see the house so destroyed. We didn’t know the back story until reading this, but we said at the time abandoned or not this was someone’s house. Didn’t see any police around and there were lots of people walking the graffiti highway.
I just came from a visit to Centralia (6/4/2017). I first learned of the fire perhaps 30 years ago but had not thought about it until I discovered Renee Jacobs’ book, Slow Burn. She lived there during the volatile period when the town’s residents decided to seek Federal funds to relocate. After purchasing her book I continued to review material on the town, including the movies and David DeKok’s excellent history of the town’s plight, and Joan Quigley’s also excellent human interest story of the town’s folks, including her relatives. The story of Centralia has evolved from one of a fire, started by a maintenance fire at the town’s dump, the failed attempts to extinguish the fire, and the extreme health risks to residents, to a tale of the “hangers on” who did not want to leave their homesteads and history. The videos tell the tale of the last few and one has sympathy for their plight, but lost among the videos is the story of those that left, after suffering years of degraded health due to carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide in their homes. Their evacuation was delayed and their health endangered by those wishing to stay, and many of those wishing to stay did not live in the most impacted areas.
In today’s world we protest the smallest risks to our health and seek restitution. The residents of Centralia suffered risks many, many times what we would accept today. Although the mostly likely cause of the fire is the town’s carelessness in managing their dump, the residents deserved better from their governments. Government exists to help its citizens. The inaction in dealing with the Centralia fire over bureaucratic rules and philosophies of conservative government and avoidance of Federal involvement is the real tragedy of Centralia.
One can mourn for those that were forced from their homes, but the real concern should be for those residents with small children and elderly parents whose health and well being were damaged by inaction on the part of government and community leaders. Helen Womer would have been a better citizen had she shown the same enthusiasm for protecting the children of the community rather than her house.
I was there on memorial day, lots of people there. Is the fire still burning under centralia or has it move. I kept touching the ground but didn’t feel warm at all. Planning to fo back soon
It’s still burning and thought to burn for another 250 years
The fire is no longer under the town. It has not been for several years, according to DEP personnel I spoke with over a year ago. I met David DeKok, very nice, personable man. It is seriously believed that the fire didn’t destroy the town; the government did.
I’ve always been fascinated by ghost towns, this one in particular. Such a sad story overall, I have respect for the residents that stayed to take care of their town despite those that abandoned it. We are given charge to take care of the Earth we are given, and the story of this town is one that I’ll never forget. I would like to visit there sometime with all due respect to the residents, just to experience the silence and empty feeling. Maybe someday.
I visited Centralia on Sunday, June 4, 2017 with David DeKok. We then went to see the movie in a near by town. There were 20 or 30 other people in various places when we visited. The cemeteries were open and we saw the former Womer house, quite vandalized. There was no visible smoke anywhere we went but David did show us a spot where you could feel a little heat and smell the fire. You can see bore holes and vent holes in various places. David had some interesting pictures before and after the property by out. Reading his book is the best first step in understanding what happened to Centralia. His tour is also interesting. I read that six people were fined during our visit for walking on the graffiti highway.
My father went to Centralia high school.his father moved there in 1904
Anyone know the hutnik family? I’m doing reaseach on Steven hutnik
Bernadette Hutnick was a good friend and classmate of mine in Mt. Carmel High School. Graduate class of 1978.
I just went to Centralia. It is sad what happen .People need to stop trashing the place .be respectful we look and we left.God bless Centralia.????
Hi everyone, I am an Italian photographer and I would like to meet the few inhabitants currently living in Centralia and tell their stories in a photo reportage. Would anyone be able to help me in contacting them?
when the goverment does a eminent domain its pretty much over
Was this house demolished yet?
I went there and I didn’t see the house. I believe I was in the correct place because the lot across the street has a chain link fence around it. I remember seeing that in a video someone did on the house. That video was posted 8/31/17
I believe the house in reference is the Womer house. I was in Centralia a couple weeks ago. It has definitely been demolished.
Is Anyone Still Living There? Thank you.
Is Centralia still a legally incorporated borough? Thanks. Mike
yes! i know someone who works for the IRS in nearby hazleton and he said they still pay taxes and get audited. there’s still a borough hall/fire station in town that i believe are functioning.
Myself and a friend were there yesterday, 9 November 2018. Counted 4 homes. We drove over from Indiana. Very sad and was blown away by all the dumping and graffiti. To those that are still there wow, you are amazing and strong willed. If you saw a little Honda cruising around that was us. Amazing and sad. We plan on Coming back next summer.
The residents could have moved from a toxic ghetto to somewhere much better on the government’s dime. I have no sympathy for the people who remained.
No sympathy? You’re an idiot. “The government’s dime” is worth cents on the dollar compared to what actual property values are. How about you buy a house for $100k somewhere and get booted out with a $15k check. Yeah. It really gives you an advantage. People who stayed did so because they couldn’t afford to start over or mortgage another home, you twit.
Somewhere much better? Well luckily for those who remain they probably don’t want or need your sympathy. Some people value their histories, community, family homes and the memories that were made there. I have sympathy for you for being such a careless, hateful human. “Somewhere much better”? Let the government push you from the home you busted your ass to buy and see how you feel then, getting a fraction of your homes worth to move leaving behind everything and everyone you know.
With a few exceptions, many residents in the first wave of buyouts got about one-fifth of the assessment value of their homes. That’s not something a middle-class family can easily recover from.
It’s difficult for those of us who grew up in a city to understand how people could love their town so much, but they did, and it was a main part of their lives.
One former resident who was interviewed years later said that all the seniors who agreed to move in the first wave of buyouts died within six months. They were heartbroken.
We just visited 2 days ago. Not sure what I was expecting but I can say it is very sad. There were a lot of people riding 4 wheeler’s and dirt bikes up and down graffiti highway. The people walking had to move out of their way, the riders seemed to show no concern to the people walking. It was almost creepy, there was a parade of 6 of them that went past us and more riding through the woods along the highway. Their trucks and trailers were parked at 2 different places in the town. Just plain weird. I feel bad for the few remaining residents that have to put up with that. It’s just rude.
Few homes remain standing in Centralia. Most of the abandoned buildings have been demolished by the Columbia County Redevelopment Authority or reclaimed by nature. At a casual glance, the area now appears to be a field with many paved streets running through it. Some areas are being filled with new-growth forest. The remaining church in the borough, St. Mary’s, holds weekly services on Sunday. It has not yet been directly affected by the fire. The town’s four cemeteries including one on the hilltop that has smoke rising around and out of it are maintained in good condition.
As I was driving around the empty streets in Centralia recently, I came across one fellow weekend tourist from Pa. who told me this: that the subsidement which nearly claimed the young boy’s life in the early 1980s, and presumably precipitated the mass exodus from Centralia, is marked by an orange-colored rectangular plastic mesh surface in the middle of what is now an entirely wooded area adjacent to Route 61 North. The area that he identified seems to be to the right when entering the borough, just below the road leading to the dump. My curiosity peaked, I did a drive by. Traveling along 61 North, I did see an orange-colored pipe sticking up from the ground (perhaps three or four feet) on the right-hand side, but I can’t verify the orange-colored plastic mesh surface. The pipe, which I’m sure at one time released underground fumes from the fire, is even more evident from the alley way (Apple Street?) that runs parallel to 61N and joins Wood to Second Street. I imagine that this would have been the rear side of the houses on this block. I will say this, though: the area that this person described does seem to match up with the subsidement (marked with an “X”) that author Joan Quigley indicates in her book The Day the Earth Caved In. Again, the area appears to be just below Second Street but before one comes to Wood Street–the street where the former Womer house was located until a few years ago. If the orange mesh material is there and does indicate the spot of the infamous cave-in, I’m guessing it’s concealed within that now tree-filled area amidst the undergrowth. Can anyone confirm, deny, or shed any further light on this?
That’s exactly where the subsidence is, on Apple between Wood and the former ball field. The area is largely covered by a low hanging treebut can be seen. Basically if you’re walking opposite side of Apple from the former Womer property, the subsidence is right opposite the ball field end of the Womer property. The mesh fence is long gone, and there is no vent in the subsided area, but there is a borehole on Apple right by the corner of Todd Dombowski’s grandmother’s former property.
Did you know any Walsh or Wynne families in Centralia?
I live in Pennsylvania and have always wondered why they could not have diverted some water source to run underground. It would be a Epic shame to find out this was allowed to burn for some nefarious political purpose like greed.
If you read the book “Fire Underground” you’ll learn that it was just that which caused this mess. Pure bureaucracy and greed. It could have been fixed very early on for pennies but they didn’t want to give up what was excavated.
How many people are still in Centralia as of 2021? Just wondering.
Hey all! I’m from California but am extremely interested in visiting Centralia someday. I want to be respectful, of course, so I understand what limitations that may bring. Are visitors even allowed anymore?
You posted this a year ago but incase you haven’t gotten an answer, it’s free to visit as long as you’re respectful. But a fair warning, most of what was there is gone. It’s sad. Within a few years I imagine it will be a field. There is no longer a graffiti highway and almost all street signs, building, and remnants of the town are gone.
I am so sad for the people of Centralia. It makes me sad that surrounding communities, all of us, didn’t do something to help them. The state of Pennsylvania did not do well by them by offering a fraction of the homes’ values to the owners. How could they ever start over??
Thank you for your wonderful website and the stories of Centralia and its people, and keeping it alive. I don’t think many people here in the UK have heard of the place and what happened, but a few more soon will (I hope) as I have written an article for a membership magazine of a UK society which studies underground spaces (Subterranea – see the website below) and I hope it makes people reflect on government, bureaucracy and how the ‘little people’ are treated as if they don’t matter.
Best wishes to everybody involved with Centralia.
https://www.subbrit.org.uk for anybody interested. I will gladly send you a copy of the finished piece when it is published.
I’m gonna laugh when everyone is gone and the state finally gets to dig up the town for the coal and it’s been all burned out and destroyed and it was all for nothing. The state would be getting what they deserve for what they did to this poor town and it’s people. I guarantee you that if the fire REALLY has been burning since the 60s there isn’t much usable coal left under the streets.
No way. There is plenty of coal left the fire hasn’t touched yet. It has enough fuel for the fire 🔥 to burn for 200+years.