The Story Of Centralia, Pennsylvania

[Public Domain Image]

Centralia was incorporated as a borough in 1866. The anthracite coal industry was the principal employer in the community. Coal mining continued in Centralia until the 1960s, when most of the companies went out of business. Bootleg mining continued until 1982. Strip and open-pit mining is still active in the area, and there is an underground mine employing about 40 people three miles to the west.

The borough was served by two railroads, the Philadelphia and Reading and the Lehigh Valley, with the Lehigh Valley being the principal carrier. Rail service ended in 1966. The borough operated its own school district with elementary schools and a high school within its precincts. There were also two Catholic parochial schools in the borough. The borough once had seven churches, five hotels, twenty-seven saloons, two theatres, a bank, a post office, and 14 general and grocery stores. During most of the borough’s history, when coal mining activity was being conducted, the town had a population in excess of 2,000 residents. Another 500 to 600 residents lived in areas immediately adjacent to Centralia.

It is not known for certain how the fire that made Centralia essentially uninhabitable was ignited. One theory asserts that in May 1962, the Centralia Borough Council hired five members of the volunteer fire company to clean up the town landfill, located in an abandoned strip-mine pit next to the Odd Fellows Cemetery. This had been done prior to Memorial Day in previous years, when the landfill was in a different location. The firefighters, as they had in the past, set the dump on fire and let it burn for a time. Unlike in previous years, however, the fire was not extinguished correctly.

On March 19, 2011, I was finally able to visit Centralia, Pennsylvania. Unfortunately, due to the current state of Centralia, it exists on few maps, and it is a sensitive topic amoung current residents who still live in the area. After doing extensive research on the Internet for quite some time, I had expected to find at least a few standing buildings that would indicate that a town stood here at one time. Unfortunately, when I arrived, I found nothing but crumbling pavement and empty streets. Cracked sidewalks among forgotten plots of land filled in the spaces where buildings once stood.

You can see my photos of Centralia on Flickr by going here. There is also a Centralia group on Flickr. Other photos of the trip to Centralia are featured in another post entitled Pennsylvania’s Forgotten Places, Buildings, and Things.

Overgrown Abandoned Sidewalk This abandoned section of sidewalk lead to nowhere. This was just one of several I found, but perhaps the most intact one of all. Empty plots were overgrown and abandoned.

Don't STOP Believin'One of my favorite photos from the trip is the one shown here. Someone spray painted this stop sign on a street corner in Centralia, so that it says, “Don’t Stop Believin’.”

Do Not Back Over With Tour BusThe DEP has placed monitoring wells like this one in various places all over Centralia. This one happened to have, “DO NOT BACK OVER WITH TOUR BUS” written in the cement surrounding the pipe. Ironically, the area has become a tourist attraction of sorts with folks traveling from all over to have a closer look after hearing and reading all the buzz on the Internet. One group I talked to while visiting traveled from London England.

Few Roads Lead To CentraliaWhat once was a respectable town has been completely bulldozed into a group of dirt piles with broken road segments leading nowhere.

Forgotten MattressAnother view of Centralia, this time showing the overall landscape of devistation. In the foreground, an old mattress.

Centralia continues to be in the news, both in media, and on numerous blogs on the Internet. If you decide to visit, you should know that the ground here is unstable, and the air may be unhealthy to breathe. The place has its own share of hazards, so you have been warned. Here are a few blog posts I came across while doing some research for this post:

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