Friday, November 18, 2011

Polish Research Leads to Learning About Centralia, Pennsylvania

In doing some research for a client, I learned about the tragic story of Centralia, in Columbia County, Pennsylvania. I was pointed to this town by a passenger manifest reporting that a Polish immigrant (my client’s ancestor) was coming to America in 1910 to meet his uncle, who lived in Centralia. At the time, Centralia apparently was a coal-mining community, and from browsing through the census records for 1910, many recent immigrants from eastern Europe were living in the area, along with earlier immigrants from England and Ireland. Most residents were employed by the local coal-mining industry.

For a quick overview of Centralia, I went to Wikipedia. The entry for Centralia provided this information:

“Centralia is a borough and ghost town in Columbia County, Pennsylvania, United States. Its population has dwindled from over 1,000 residents in 1981 to 12 in 2005, 9 in 2007, and 10 in 2010, as a result of a mine fire burning beneath the borough since 1962. Centralia is one of the least-populated municipalities in Pennsylvania.

“Centralia was incorporated as a borough in 1866. The anthracite coal industry was the principal employer in the community. Coal mining continued in Centralia until the 1960s, when most of the companies went out of business. Bootleg mining continued until 1982. Strip and open-pit mining is still active in the area, and there is an underground mine employing about 40 people three miles to the west.

"All properties in the borough were claimed under eminent domain by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in 1992 (and all buildings therein were condemned), and Centralia's ZIP code was revoked by the Post Office in 2002. However, a few residents continue to reside there in spite of the failure of a lawsuit to reverse the eminent domain claim.”

Some maps on the Wikipedia entry for Centralia illustrate the result of the removal of buildings as a result of the mine fire. It's really very sad.

My own family history involves immigration for employment in mining, at least tangentially. When my paternal grandfather came from Finland, he apparently had plans to go to Houghton, Michigan, where there was a mining industry very early in the 20th century. He came first to Ashtabula, Ohio, however, and stayed there, instead, eventually becoming a farmer in Ashtabula County.

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