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A walk through the past – Eckley Miners’ Village

June 2019

Eckley Miners’ Village offers an insight into life in Pennsylvania’s anthracite coal region, with an authentic coal mining patch town. 

Coal companies would establish a coal town or coal patch to house the workers that toiled in the company mines.  Many of these “towns” were very exploitative of their workers, as the company owned the houses, which were rented to the workers, along with any stores in town, forcing many of the poor and unskilled immigrants who worked in the mines to purchase all their supplies and food at the “Company Store” usually at inflated prices.  Some coal operators even paid their workers in “script”, essentially credit that could only be redeemed in the company store.

Eclkey was originally called Shingletown, where the surrounding forests provided wood for the production of wood shingles.  After the discovery of coal in the area in 1853, four miners, Richard Sharpe, Asa Lansford Foster, Francis Weiss and John Leisenring established the Council Ridge Colliery.

The following year, the company had built a town, featuring two rows of red wooden frame houses, churches, a stable, a store house, a doctor’s house, schools, a company store building and other buildings need for the colliery such as the breaker.

Originally named Fillmore, the village name was changed in in 1857 to Eckley in honour of Eckley Coxe, son of Judge Charles Coxe, whom had granted the company the 20-year lease on the mining and village property.  There was already a town called Fillmore in Center County, north-west of Harrisburg.

The mine employed mostly immigrants from England, Wales, Ireland and Germany, but by the 1880s, immigrants from Slovakia, Poland, Ukraine, Lithuania and Italy were employed in the mines. 

By the 1960s, Eckley Village was facing demolition (some buildings had already been demolished).  In 1969, when producers of the film “The Molly Maguires” came looking for a locations to film their historical drama about the real-life infiltration of secret society of Irish coal miners by undercover Pinkerton Detective James McParlan in the 1870s, Eckley was selected as the primary location as little had to be done to transform the village.  Television antennas were removed, overhead wires were buried and a coal breaker and new company store, to replace the original store which was demolished in the 1940s, were built. 

Although the film, starring Sean Connery as Mollies leader Jack Kehoe and Richard Harris as McParlan, was box-office failure, but it did succeed in saving the village, which was turned over to the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. 

In 1970, Eckley Miners Village officially opened.  Most of the remaining buildings were restored and the movie company store and breaker were both incorporated into the village.  A new visitor’s centre was built on the site of one of the village schools.

Visitors can walk the down Eckley Main Street and interact with the costumed interpreters, either on guided or self-guided tours.  Throughout the operating season, various special events are held at Eckley including Halloween tours, WWII swing dance and military recreation weekends, Civil War weekends and Italian Festivals.

Sources: http://eckleyminersvillage.com, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eckley_Miners%27_Village

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.

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