Eckley Miners' Village
The mid-19th century to the early 20th century was a time of industrial growth and innovation in the United States. For many years, the substance that fueled the Industrial Revolution was coal. Beneath Pennsylvania's northeast region lay 95% of the nation's supply of anthracite coal. Anthracite was used in the factories that produced goods and in the large steam locomotives that transported them. Although anthracite is difficult to ignite, its slow burning properties and extremely high temperatures made it perfect for these heavy tasks.
With demand for coal at an all-time high and transportation to the mines severely lacking, mine owners built company towns around mining operations. The "coal patches" provided housing for the miners and their families. The semi-detached, two-story, wooden-frame houses were uniformly and poorly built. Large, better-constructed homes were reserved for bosses, foremen and mine owners.
The layout of these towns was nearly always the same design, with the houses lined in rows. The boss' house was situated next to the entrance to the mine so he could keep an eye on the day-to-day operation. Each "patch" also had at least one company store, which was equipped with everything from food to mining supplies.
At first glance, the company housing and store may seem convenient, but it actually kept the miners indebted to the company. The workers' families could also receive store credit so by the time they were paid there was little money left over. It all went back to the mining company. To assure that the miners didn't join a union, they were kept in a permanent state of indebtedness and under the constant fear of eviction.
As coal production slumped after WWII, the number of "patches" also decreased. Mine owners either leveled or sold the houses. Some of the towns that were located close to other sources of employment still exist today.
Eckley Miners' Village was one of the towns that experienced the decline after coal operations ceased. During its heyday, over 1,000 people lived in Eckley, now just a handful remain. Eckley had everything the mining families needed, including stores, schools and churches.
Like other coal operations, Eckley attracted droves of immigrants who were seeking work and political or religious freedom. Early immigrants came from England, Wales and Germany, soon to be followed by Irish and then finally southern and eastern Europeans. It is for this reason that Pennsylvania's coal regions are still a patchwork of ethnic diversity.
The mining town sat in a state of decline until 1970 when the village was rebuilt for the Sean Connery film, The Molly Maguires. A year later, the site was deeded to the Commonwealth of PA, to be administered by the Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission.
The Village Today
Though coal operation in Eckley is silent today, the village remains to tell the story of the hearty mining families whose hard work forever changed northeastern Pennsylvania. Visitors to Eckley Miners' Village can start their tour at the visitor's center, where they will view an orientation video. The exhibits in the visitor's center help to characterize the daily lives of the miner, his wife and their children.
None of the three original breakers survive today. The breaker on site is a prop from The Molly Maguires. The breaker was where large lump coal was cleaned and sized to smaller, more marketable pieces.
The Company Store built in 1968 is also a movie prop and can be visited from Memorial Day through mid-October. The building also houses the Museum Shop.
The village would not be complete without a miner's dwelling. The double house that remains probably was occupied by the first-class or contract miner, because it is slightly larger than a typical laborer's house. One-half of the house has furnishings typical of a new miner about the year 1890. The other half of the house displays furnishings that an established miner may have had. Behind the house is a summer kitchen where the cooking and baking was done so that the house would remain cooler during hot weather. The stove was moved back inside the house during the cooler months.
The mine's original owner, Richard Sharpe, lived in the large Gothic Revival house in the village. Built in 1861, the Sharpe family lived comfortably away from the miners' houses.
The tour also includes two churches. The Church of the Immaculate Conception was built in 1861 primarily for the Irish who were Roman Catholics. St. James Protestant Episcopal Church was originally built in 1859, but due to low attendance after mining operations slowed, the structure was removed in 1938. St. Paul's Protestant Episcopal Church of White Haven was moved to the village in 1974. The "new" church is almost identical to the original.
Accidents were a grim reality in the life of a miner. The company doctor treated accident victims as well as the villagers who were too sick to heal without medical attention.
In addition to the tours, Eckley Miners' Village welcomes speakers and hosts events throughout the year. For two frightening weekends this fall, the village offers Halloween Lantern Tours. Guests can take a nighttime tour of a haunted 19th-century mining village. The tours will be held Oct. 16 through 18 and Oct. 23 through 25. For a complete listing of all the events held at Eckley Miners' Village, go to www.eckleyminers.org
IF YOU GO:
2 Ekley Main Street,
Weatherly, PA 18255
9 miles east of Hazelton, Luzerne County. Off Route 940
Hours of Operation:
Guided walking tours are available Monday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. Memorial Day weekend though mid-October (except for special events). Organized group tours are available March through November. The museum is closed on major holidays.