The Pennsylvania anthracite coal region is an area of the state that is rich in history, fueled our nation’s industrial revolution, and it fascinates me to no end. The region is filled with countless coal towns, many of which are still dominated by the now scaled-back mining industry. A few of these small towns and cities are still holding on strong, while others’ futures look somewhat bleak. On October 16th, 2014, I set out on a 150+ mile road trip, photographing these towns, and the scenery surrounding them.
The route took me from my home in Williamsport to Jim Thorpe. Even though I left before sunrise, I still ran out of daylight before I was able to photograph every city on my list. The towns and cities of Hazleton, Palmerton, Lehighton, and Shenandoah will see another day, along with Eckley Miner’s Village, a preserved mining camp that is now a historic attraction.
I have toured a few towns along this route many times before. The infamous ghost town Centralia, Pennsylvania is along the route, and I have toured and photographed the area five or six times since 2007. Also, in February of this year, I got some photos of the St. Nicholas Coal Breaker in Mahanoy City, PA. Sadly, this hulking historic structure is slowly being demolished. I’m glad I got photos when I did.
I rented Canon’s 24-105 f/4 L zoom lens and that was probably the best decision I could have made. I managed to plan this day during peak foliage. Peak foliage in Pennsylvania’s Applications provides some of the most beautiful scenery in the country. Couple that with the perfect weather, and the day couldn’t have been any better. Such a great road trip.
“But all of these cities are beautiful and fantastic in their own ways. The density and hints of how much larger they once were shows they all were brimming with industry. It shows the industrial might and producing power that Central and Northeast Pennsylvania once harnessed.”
Shamokin always fascinated me. I always loved how PA Route 61 snaked through the city, and the density and architecture lured me into wanting delve deep into urban exploration. Shamokin has seen better days and I felt like I was an outsider while I was there. But I loved it. This city is full of character.
Centralia is a near-ghost town that sits above the Centralia Mine Fire, an underground mine fire that has been burning since May of 1962. The fire was started by some burning garbage in an abandoned strip mine that was being used as the town landfill. Once a bustling coal town, the population has gone down from over 1000 residents in 1981, to less than ten residents in 2010. All properties in the borough were forced eminent domain in 1990 and then later condemned and demolished. The town’s zip code was revoked in 2002.
One of the biggest attractions now is the abandoned section of Route 61 that buckled and cracked due to the heat underneath the road. A bypass was created in the early 1990’s and the highway was closed to traffic. It became a very popular place for people to walk and explore the giant cracks that acted as vents for very visible steam from the heat below. A large amount of graffiti has been sprayed all over the road, and 4×4’s sometimes drive on the highway. There are giant berms at each end of the highway to deter motorists, but people found ways on. And on this day, so did I.
Pottsville. Schuylkill County Seat. Yuengling. Also, a downtown that makes me forget I’m in a city with a population of only 14,000. The density of this city caught my eye when my dad, brother and I went for a brewery tour not too long after my 21st birthday. I always wanted to revisit Pottsville again since then.
Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania
I ended the day in beautiful Jim Thorpe which absolutely blew me away. I have never seen so much architectural beauty crammed in such a small area. I was floored. It seems like a town that truly got out alive and kicking compared to the rest of the cities in that region. It is also known as the gateway to the Poconos due to its proximity to numerous ski areas, and the Switzerland of America due to it’s gorgeous scenery. It hosts tons of tourists pretty much every season.
The Road to Hazleton…
On my way to Hazleton, I took route 93 from Nesquehoning. The hill going up the mountain was so steep that I passed a truck escape ramp for the opposite way just as I started my ascent. After I crested the mountain, I was greeted with some of the most beautiful colors. Then I took a detour and found another live coal mine and also a historic landmark. I didn’t get to photograph Hazleton though. It was dark by the time I drove through town. Hopefully I’ll get that opportunity soon.
Jim Thorpe stuck out compared to many of the other areas I toured on this trip. I took a lot more photos there than any other city I was in. I couldn’t help it. It was just so beautiful. But all of these cities are beautiful and fantastic in their own ways. The density and hints of how much larger they once were shows they all were brimming with industry. It shows the industrial might and producing power that Central and Northeast Pennsylvania once harnessed. The future of these cities isn’t the clearest, but the region is significant in our nation’s industrial history. A lot of the coal mined by these hardworking towns fueled giant blast furnaces at facilities like Bethlehem Steel. A lot of the coal was exported overseas as well. I love this part of Pennsylvania. And I’ll be back again.