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And then there were four – Pennsylvania’s lost town close to extinction

April 2017

The population in Centralia, Pennsylvania, in the heart of anthracite coal region, dropped to only 4 people in the fall of 2016 when Kathi Wormer, daughter of the Borough’s last official Mayor, Carl Womer, moved out of the house on once occupied by her parents.

The home at 102 East Wood Street, originally occupied by Carl and Helen Womer, was only a few hundred feet from Odd Fellows Cemetery where the fire started in 1962.

Unfortunately for Kathi, she has no rights to her parents house and was forced to move out.  Under terms of a settlement agreement with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in 2013, upon Carl’s death the following year, the home became property of the Commonwealth and will now be demolished, leaving only 5 other houses, a work garage and the municipal building standing.

Not long after the fire started, Helen Womer became involved in lobbying the state and federal officials to do something to extinguish the fire.  Attempts were made but all failed due to everything from excessive bureaucracy to downright incompetence

There has even been suggestion over the years that the fire was purposely allowed to keep burning so that the residents would have to move out, allowing interested mining companies to harvest the coal that lay under the Borough.

In the wake of a $42 million federal general relocation plan that allowed the residents to sell their homes to the government, the Womers were among the residents who refused the initially voluntary buy-out and fought to stay in the town that they loved.  Even as neighbour after neighbour sold their homes to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, which were then torn down leaving nothing but empty, now overgrown lots and empty streets, the Womers held firm in their desire to stay.

In fact, today the Womer residence is the last house on Wood Street.

Carl Womer would later serve as the last official mayor of Centralia and lived in the Borough most of his life.

Womer served in World War II with the U.S. Army’s 274th Infantry of the 70th Division during World War II, participating in the Central Europe and Rhineland campaigns.  He was discharged with the rank of Staff Sergeant.

Womer worked as a machinist with Rockwell Industries in Reading, Pennsylvania for more than 25 years, retiring in 1987.

Helen Womer passed away in 2001 and Carl in 2014 at the age of 90. He was buried with military honors beside Helen in in St. Ignatius Cemetery, on the other side of Locust Street from his old home.

Kathi remained in the residence until the fall of 2016, when she left the family home for the last time.

More than 50 years after the mine fire began, it’s impact is still being felt today.

 

 

Sources:  http://www.centraliapa.org/centralia-loses-another-resident-home-abandoned/, http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/newsitem/obituary.aspx?pid=171129868

About the author

Bruce Forsyth

Bruce Forsyth served in the Royal Canadian Navy Reserve for 13 years (1987-2000). He served with units in Toronto, Hamilton & Windsor and worked or trained at CFB Esquimalt, CFB Halifax, CFB Petawawa, CFB Kingston, CFB Toronto, Camp Borden, The Burwash Training Area and LFCA Training Centre Meaford.

Permanent link to this article: http://militarybruce.com/and-then-there-were-four-pennsylvanias-lost-town-close-to-extinction/

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