Centralia Borough, Columbia County, Pennsylvania (PA) 17927

Centralia Borough

Columbia County, Pennsylvania

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Centralia Borough offices are located at 600 Locust Avenue, Centralia PA 17927.

Centralia has become a virtual ghost town as the result of a continuing mine fire burning beneath the town, having started in 1962. By 1992 the State of Pennsylvania, claiming eminent domain, condemned all of the remaining buildings in Centralia. In 2002 the 17927 zip code was revoked by the postal service.

Beginnings [1]

On one of the few level spots in the town the "Bull's Head" tavern was built in 1841 by Jonathan Faust, about a mile from the "Red Tavern" and on the Reading Road. This was the first house on the site of Centralia. The tavern later came into the hands of Reuben Wasser. In 1914 it was partially removed to make way for a store. In 1855 Alexander W. Rea, the first engineer of the Locust Mountain colliery, built a cottage above the tavern and brought hither his family from Danville. He made surveys in his spare time for streets and lots, and in the same year built a number of homes for the workers in the mines. This was the beginning of the town. In 1860 Jonathan Hoagland opened the first store opposite the tavern and two years later became the first postmaster. The village had been called "Centerville" for some time previous, but the name was changed to Centralia owing to conflict with another town of the former name in the State. Three years later the Lehigh & Mahanoy railroad was built through the town.

The advent of the railroad brought many persons to the town and several collieries were soon opened. This caused an application to be made for incorporation, and at the February session of court in 1866 the borough of Centralia was formally established. James B. Knittle was elected president of the town council ; L. S. Boner, town clerk; James Dyke, chief burgess. These officials soon had their hands full in attempting to quell the spirit of lawlessness that had developed among the numerous nationalities working in the mines. The chief of these troubles was the "Molly Maguire" murders. The first to fall a victim to the assassin's bullet was Alexander W. Rea, who was practically the founder of the town. Michael Lanahan and Thomas Dougherty followed as victims soon after.

Another trouble was the frequency of incendiary fires in the village. Between 1872 and 1878 scarcely a year passed without a severe and extensive fire amongst the dwellings and stores. This was suppressed, and the town experienced a comparative rest from conflagrations for a number of years.

Centralia was characterized by the large number of saloons within its corporate limits, one for every two hundred persons. There were twenty saloons, two drug stores, seventeen general stores and groceries, one jeweler and two butchers in the town.

The Centralia Water Company was chartered in 1866, a reservoir was built on the side of Locust Mountain and wooden mains laid through the town. The company later became financially involved and the property was sold in 1876 to William Brydon. By this time the mains had rotted and the supply of water was very inadequate. Brydon improved the property and service greatly. After his time the works were successively owned by A.B. Fortner, David C. Black, Edward Williams, A.K. Mensch, O.B. Millard, John W. Fortner, and others.

Owing to the pumping plants of the mines affecting the water supply the Locust Mountain Water Company was formed in 1881 for the purpose of building a dam across Brush Valley run to conserve the supply in a permanent manner. They constructed a reservoir on top of the mountain and laid several miles of mains. This removed the possibility of a water famine.

The fire protection of Centralia consisted of a volunteer company and a hose and ladder truck, but poor water pressure hampered the fire fighters greatly.

Centralia was populated chiefly by persons of Irish descent, while many nationalities were employed in the mines. There were three strikes in these mines since their opening, in 1868, 1897 and 1900. The Miners' Union had entire control of the labor situation and peace descended upon the field.

Centralia was connected with Mount Carmel and Ashland, in Northumberland and Schuylkill counties, respectively, by a trolley line, which made a long detour in order to overcome the steep grades. A fare of sixteen cents was charged for the trip of less than three miles.

Occasionally subsidences of the ground in portions of the town, due to the removal and rotting of mine supports, caused damage to buildings and roads.

Centralia had a strong financial institution, the First National Bank, having a capital of $25,000 and deposits aggregating over $106,000. It was organized Sept. 29, 1909, with the following directors: L. Fetterman, O.B. Millard, W.E. Davis, J.M. Humphrey, T.W. Riley, Dr. R.M. LaShelle, J.A. Moran, M.J. McDonnell, H.J. Heffner, J.W. Fortner, I.C. Johnston. It opened for business Dec. 1, 1909, with C.S. Henderson as the first cashier.

Back in the early 1860s, when the country was on the verge of the Civil War, Centralia, then but a little hamlet, took a prominent part in furnishing soldiers, and none has won more enduring fame than Capt. Jack Crawford, the poet-scout. "Little Johnny," as he was then known, ran away from his home in Centralia and enlisted at Minersville, and later became one of the famous heroes of the great struggle between the North and South. He was a member of the 48th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteers.

Of the many Centralia veterans who have passed away during the last half century there were nine buried in the Odd Fellows cemetery, and eleven in St. Ignatius cemetery.

Centralia Lodge, No. 586, I.O.O.F., was chartered Sept. 22, 1866, but the charter being burned another was issued Nov. 25, 1872. The first officers were James Thomas, James Thompson, C.B. Spurr and Seth Thomas.

Washington Camp No. 106, P.O.S. of A., was organized in 1866 with thirty-six members and these officers: J. P. Hoagland, president ; C.G. Freck, secretary; J.F. Scott, treasurer. It was reorganized in 1872 and rechartered in 1883, with twenty-four members.

The branch of the United Mine Workers of America at Centralia had a membership which included practically all the men employed in the coal mines and possessed a full treasury, from which various benefits were paid to the members in sickness, injury or old age.

Council No. 1006, Order of Independent Americans, had a large membership in Centralia and the surrounding villages.

In the schoolhouse at Centralia, built in 1858, the organization of most of the religious denominations of this township occurred. In this building services were held for some years, until it became engulfed by the caving in of an old mine working.

The population of Centralia was 1,340 in 1870; 1,509 in 1880; 2,761 in 1890; 2,048 in 1900; 2,429 in 1910.

  1. Historical and Biographical Annals of Columbia and Montour Counties Pennsylvania, Vol. 1, J. H. Beers & Co., 1915.

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