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Eckey Miners Village, Pennsylvania: How Anthracite Coal Miners Lived in the 1800s
Eckley Historic District
History of Eckley, Pennsylvania
Eckley, Pennsylvania in 1850 was a small village known as Shingleton because making wooden shingles was the main occupation of the residents. In 1853, anthracite coal was discovered at Eckley and the future of the community was determined. The following year construction took place on the site for buildings which were necessary for a successful mining operation including a coal breaker, storehouse, and stable. Houses were constructed along a main street to house the colliery workers. Housing was a status symbol for the miners, it reflected your ranking as a worker. The main street you will see in Eckley today is not much different in appearance than it would have been in 1870, except the houses today would not be covered with a dusting of coal dust as they would probably have been during dry conditions at the time.
It was a painstaking job to construct the mine there. Digging began in 1854 and it was not until late October that the first load of coal reached the surface.
The Workforce: Immigrants from Europe
The first setters in Shingleton were English and Welsh. As the mining operation grew immigrants from Ireland. Southern and Eastern Europeans arrived seeking work in the mines, and, by 1910, much of the work force consisted of Lithuanians, Italians, Poles, Russians, and Slovaks comprised a large part of the work force.
At the zenith of the anthracite coal industry over 150,000 miners worked in the mining area of Northeastern Pennsylvania and the amount of coal extracted in 1917 was over 100 million ton.
Millions of Men and Billions of Tons of Anthracite Coal
To Get the Historical Background See The Movie: “The Molly Mcguires”
For the prospective visitor to Eckley Village a good place to learn about the miner’s relationships with the mine owners would be to view the movie The Molly McGuires (1970) starring Richard Harris, Sean Connery, and Samantha Eggar. The plot of the movie involves the ongoing disputes between the mine owners and workers who were trying to unionize. Work in the mines was hard, dangerous, and low paying. The miner owners were attempting to infiltrate the Molly McGuires, a secret organization, which was a forerunner of the miners' efforts to form a union. The scenery in the movie, a sharp contrast to the mine working conditions, would make this trip worthwhile.
What a Vistior to Eckley Will See
Although the Miners' Village is open on most days of the year, the best time to visit is in spring through late autumn. They do have a web site with which includes a mapping feature. My snapshot below illustrates how I can find it from my home in New Mexico (although I would not have a problem being a native of that area).
Some of the highlights of your visit will include:
- A Visitors’ Center which gives an orientation to the village as well as a number of exhibits
- Two churches, one Catholic and one Protastant
- a coal breaker where coal was separated from impurities
- the company store which has a Museum Shop
- the owner’s home
- a miner’s dwelling
Tours and reenactments take place during the "tourist season" particularly on weekends. In mid-June that have a weekend event called "Patch Days" that and other events are listed on their web site calendar of events. The folks there are friendly, so if you are considering a visit call ahead for information on upcoming events.
Getting to Eckley, Pennsylvania
Eckley is easily accessible by car. The area in an around Eckley is rural area not far however from the crossroads of Interstate 80 and 81. Traffic in the surrounding areas ranges from rural to suburban to small city with Hazelton (pop. 25,000 ) and Wilkes-Barre (pop.40,000 ) within a 50 mile radius.
Eckley Miners' Village, Eckley, Pennsylvania
Interested in Other Aspects of Coal Mining and Coal Use?
Eckley will allow you to investigate one aspect of mining: what it was like to live and work in a small village in rural Pennsylvania as a miner and his family. Within driving distance of Eckley are other aspects of mining:
In Scranton, at McDade Park one can take an actual tour of a coal mine at the Lackawanna Coal Mine Tour which takes you 300 feet underground for a real file experience of what it was like to work in almost total darkness.
Anthracite powered the trains and the trains moved the coal to heat homes in America's major cities, the train museum at the Steamtown National Historic Site would also tie in with an Eckley visit,