Centralia PA Early History
Before the town of Centralia, PA existed, there was a vast expanse of mountain wilderness inhabited by tribes of Native Americans. That changed in 1749 when the Native Americans living in what is now Columbia County, Pennsylvania sold their land to colonials for 500 pounds.
In 1770, colonial settlers surveyed and explored the wilderness land while building the Reading Road. This important trail linked Reading to the western frontier outpost of Fort Augusta. The fort was located along the Susquehanna River at the site of present-day Sunbury. Modern Route 61 largely follows the path of the historic Reading Road.
By 1793, Robert Morris had acquired the land which would one day become Centralia, Pennsylvania. Morris was a Revolutionary War hero and signer of the Declaration of Independence. He went bankrupt in 1798 and was sent to debtors prison.
At an auction held in Philadelphia in 1830, a former French sea captain named Stephen Girard purchased Morris’ lands for the total amount of $30,000. Girard had heard there was anthracite coal in the area. His later survey of land confirmed this to be true.
Although, Girard did little with the land he purchased. In 1832, Johnathan Faust opened the Bull’s Head Tavern in the area. This gave the town its first name – Bull’s Head.
Mining Begins and Centralia Founded
In 1842, the land surrounding Bull’s Head was purchased by the Locust Mountain Coal and Iron Company. A mining engineer named Alexander Rea moved his family there and began drawing up plans for a town which included a network of streets and lots.
Rea named the town Centreville, as he hoped it would become the center of commerce in the region. However, he later changed it to Centralia, PA as the U.S. Post Office already had a Centreville in Schuylkill County.
Large scale mining did not begin in Centerville until the Mine Run Railroad was completed in 1854. Suddenly, massive quantities of anthracite coal could be efficiently transported out of the mountains to market.
Shortly thereafter mining camps began to spring up in the surrounding forests, and people moved into the growing town. In 1856, the Locust Run Mine and Coal Ridge Mine were opened. Soon the Hazeldell Colliery began operations in 1860. Finally, the Centralia opened in 1862 and the Continental in 1863.
Centralia continued to thrive and expand. The borough was officially incorporated in 1866. Around this time, the population stood at about 1,300 residents. To put that into perspective, the Pennsylvania State Capitol of Harrisburg only had about 23,000 people living there.
Unfortunately, Alexander Rea met an untimely end on October 17, 1868. On that day, he was traveling between Centralia and the neighboring town of Mount Carmel. He was murdered in his buggy by a gang of the Molly Maguires.
The Molly Maguires were a group of Irish-American miners who disliked the Anglo-Americans that owned the mines. Their uprising and criminal acts live on in the legends and folklore of the region even today.
Centralia Pennsylvania Peaks
The town of Centralia, PA peaked in the late 1800s. In 1890, the federal census put the town’s population at 2,761. At that time, the vibrant borough had five hotels, 27 saloons, seven churches, two theaters, one bank, and a post office, as well as 14 general and grocery stores. The production of anthracite coal had brought prosperity to the village.
However, it was not to last. In 1917, the United States became involved in World War I. Many young men left coal mining towns, like Centralia, causing production to decline. After the war, a series of strikes further weakened anthracite output.
In response, new forms of energy arrived on the market. Most prominent of these was cheap fuel oil. With high heat and a relatively clean burn, it further chipped away at the demand for anthracite coal.
Things only got worse when the stock market crashed in 1929. This forced the Lehigh Valley Coal Company to close five of its mines in and around Centralia, PA.
During these tough economic times, many desperate miners turned to “bootleg mining.” Bootleg miners would enter abandoned mines and begin extracting coal from them. Many times, they used a technique called “pillar robbing” which would remove that coal that supported the roof of the mine. This led to collapses and ground subsidence.
While things picked up a bit in 1941 with the outbreak of World War II, any hopes were short lived. The Centralia Council, still holding onto the prospect of coal’s future riches, acquired the rights to the minerals beneath the town in 1950. The town’s population was 1,986 that year.
Still, anthracite coal mining was slow to die in the region. It continued through the early 1960s, at which time nearly all of the remaining companies shut down. With little work, people began to leave.
It was during this time of change that the now infamous Centralia mine fire began in the spring of 1962. Stay tuned for the second part of the town’s history from 1962 to the present day.
Today, in September of 2014, the government has to sit in waiting the for death of those few residents remaining who have been granted the right to live in their residence until their death. The government must prolong tearing into the approximate 2 trillion dollars in anthracite coal which lies beneath the ghost town of Centralia.
I was just up there recently. The place where its located is on a beautiful area. Unfortunately, people feel its now a trash dumping ground. Garbage n Graffiti everywhere. Its a very sad thing to see.
Rita: This is some neat stuff. I know that my brother, David, visited Centralia several years ago and found the tombstones; I think though,
were Bissell’s, but I forget the details. No doubt he will comment on this when he reads his email.
So that’s how the Brennans’ arrived in Germantown. I loved U-Jimmy. He had such a quiet presence about him – but you knew he loved children. He was so kind to us and always displayed his tomato garden w/ such pride. As my father used to say he was sorry we didn’t know his Mother; he revered his Mother, and spoke to me often about his Mother; our upstate kin….
I’m totally depressed about this whole ordeal its just mind blowing. it seamed like a lot of happy folks living the way people should what a tragic shame. my heart feels for all of them…
The photograph of Locust Street in 1960 is dated incorrectly. Based on the cars in the photograph, it is at least 1965.
Good catch. It’s been updated 🙂
I am obsessed with its uniqueness and my real love for silent hill. How many lives were claimed in the disaster?
I wonder which car you are looking at John Helle. The white one on the left is a 1962 Chev Belaire.
To this day …ppl. still live there?? They must be elderly right? Ingesting those toxic fumes…got to be some sort of resistance toword it by now. Right??/Or wrong?….
I just found this so interesting to find out more.
So what is haunting Centralia? I didnt see anything about being haunted.
I’ve just been watching a programme about the hauntings it’s called My Ghost Story s5 ep5 that’s what brought me here to read more about the place. Very interesting stuff.
I was there Halloween weekend 2016 and really enjoyed it. Didn’t get to see the entire Town but plan on coming back next year. We also took pictures…. wish I could show them
Omg I bet you had a wonderful time there I don’t live far from PA and just found this story never heard it before grabbed me right up
is this place hunted i just wanted to know bc i watch silent hill and it based off of it
yes it is
Of course not Shawna. There’s no such thing as being haunted except in the imaginations of those who want to believe in the supernatural or more accurately, unnatural.
I visited Centralia every year from 1992 till 2000. My kids and I walked highway 61. It’s very sad what people are doing with the trash and graffiti. It’s a beautiful place. I hope to go visit it again one day. Can’t wait to read the second part of the story.
Hello from Northern California,
I have a question: Are there geographical maps and the marking of locations of the mines and coal? I ask for just some idea to the extent of nature’s evolution process.
i would like to contact someone who knows anything about the 5 hotels that were in centralia pa back in the early 1900s also anything about saloons from very early to when the town shut down
Interesting g history. Me neighbor moved from there in 1942.
We visited Centralia many times on our way to Mount Carmel . . .It was strange to see and smell the coal smoke, rising from the ground in the cemetery . . .
My neighbor in north GA is very familiar with Centralia. He is now in his 80’s. I think he was mayor there in the 60’s, Charles Timko.
I have an object with a name on it; “Ann Gaughan – Centralia, Pa.”. Dated to about 1880 and looking to find any history about her. Thanks, David
My Mom’s first husbands family was from Centrailia. The lasat name was McGinley. Some, including her first husband Joseph, are buried in St. Ignatius cemetery. He was killed in a car accident a few months before their son (my half-brother) was born. As a child, we would go there often to visit my brother’s Gramam McGinley. I believe she said he had an great uncle who also owned a bar there. His grandfather, who played bugle, would walk from Centralia to Mt. Carmel every Memorial day to play in a parade or something like that. I have pictures of the family and the bugle and wish there was a historical society to donate things to.
Ashland and Girardville both have Historical Societies and there are many people who might be interested in them
Can anyone tell me about Centralia. I am writing a book about it from the very beginning when it first came about. If you have any stories please contact me at either my phone number (215)601-0326 or my email email@example.com