I've been meaning to write about our visit to the Eckley Miners Village since our trip to the Poconos last July. For one reason or another it has been pushed aside. Last week Bob Kramp wrote about his summer visit to a Pennsylvania coal mining region at Life's Journey and that jogged my memory. As far as I know there are no coal miners in my family tree but I found Eckley fascinating.
The weather was not great the week we traveled but we took a chance one day and drove to Eckley which is a few miles northeast of Hazelton.
Our first surprise was the empty parking lot. We were the only visitors when we arrived. The museum was undergoing renovations but the friendly staff more than made up for that. We paid $15 for both of us which included admission to the museum and a tour.
Even though there were only the two of us they started a short video that provided us a history of the region and the town. It really added to what we were to see later. Following the video we browsed through the museum displays and headed outside to await the arrival of the volunteer that would give us out tour. Meanwhile another visitor turned up. It turned out he, too was from upstate New York. (If you go, call ahead to find out what time the tours will be offered. We had to wait about an hour.)
One of the most interesting things about Eckley is that people still live there. Not just anyone can move in however. To live there you have to be a descendant of someone who lived there in the past. Talk about living in the shoes of your ancestors! Today, only Main Street is preserved. This map shows how the town was laid out in 1874.
All of the buildings in the town were owned by the mining company and were laid out in a definite class structure. Along Main St the most prosperous residents occupied the far western part of the town. The further east up the street you lived the less affluent or important you were. The two other streets in town would have been were the newest immigrants to town lived. As they made money and moved up in status they could move onto Main St.
The Visitors Center is located at the eastern (right) edge of the map and our tour began there. Our first stop was the Catholic church. It would have served primarily the Irish. Those Catholics from other parts of Europe mostly walked to nearby Freeland where there were several other churches to serve each ethnic group.
Next stop on the tour was a typical duplex house.
Notice the summer kitchen in back. The mining company was quite happy to let tenants make improvements to the houses, at the tenant's expense of course. There is enough land with each house to allow for reasonably sized gardens.
The first side of the house that we toured was set up as it might have been for a family starting out in town. The furnishings would have been very basic and the family would most likely have taken in several boarders to make ends meet.
These houses had only four rooms on each side. This was the front room. The parents would have shared the room with some of the children and the other children and boarders would have occupied the upstairs rooms, which are not open to the public.
The kitchen stove also served as the heat source for the home. No shelving and a minimal number of cooking utensils.
Furnishings and tableware were very basic. There was no covering on the window.
The other side of the house depicted life after the family had better established itself.
No longer sharing the front room with children, the couple have added furnishings and painted.
A bigger stove and more utensils are evident. The stove would have been moved out to the summer kitchen when the weather warmed and back sometime in the fall.
A nicer table and chairs have been added and the woman of the house might have shown off her needlework as a window covering. (Embroidered on the valence is Mila Horencina. Is this a phase or a name?)
Moving on down the street we next toured the Protestant church. This church would have served the mine bosses, the town doctor and other important people in town. This building is not original to he town. It was moved here from White Haven, PA, however it closely matches the church that had stood in Eckley.
As you walk down the street and near the western edge of town you will see a few single family dwellings.
The doctor's home was large but included his exam room and surgery downstairs. Hired by the company, the miners still had to pay for his services.
In 1969 Eckley was used as a movie set for the filming of The Mollie Maguires. The town had changed so little from the 1870's that the production company only had to remove TV antennas and move the electrical service underground. The company store and the breaker were built as props for the movie. While the movie was a box office failure it probably saved the town of Eckley from demolition. Today the town is owned by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. (The events depicted in the movie did not transpire in Eckley)
Movie prop breaker. If you check the map above you will see that "breaker 2" stood at the southern center edge of town. I don't know if a breaker ever actually was located here. Check out Bob Kramp's photo of the breaker.
When I was looking for more information on Eckley I checked the Library of Congress digital archive. I found no pictures of Eckley but I was soon lost for hours looking at images of other coal mining towns and the people that lived there. Many of these pictures have names on them, especially some of the photos of breaker boys. If you have miners in your ancestry you should spend some time looking at what they have available. While many of the photos are labeled, many more are not so be sure to look through all of the pictures in a group.