The ghost town of Centralia is a borough whose population has since declined from 1,000 in 1981 to only 10 in 2010. This has been driven by the coal mine fire that has been burning from underground since 1962 posing the danger on inhaling toxic gases among other risks. This gas comes from the coal mines in the area.
Mining activities started in Centralia in the year 1856 with the establishment of two mines in this area. These were the Coal Ridge Mine, the Locust Run Mine and were later followed by the Hazeldell Colliery Mine (1860), Centralia Mine (1862) and Continental Mine (1863).
In 1865, the Lehigh and Mahanoy Railroad found its way to Centralia. It was a branch of Lehigh Valley Railroad and this opened up a market in eastern Pennsylvania for the sale of coal originating from the town of Centralia. Alexander Rae was the founder of this town whose anthracite coal industry acted as the main employer.
Members of the Molly Maguires murdered the town’s founder on 17th October 1868 in his buggy as he was travelling between Centralia and Mount Carmel. After this incidence, 3 convicts were hanged to death on 25th March 1878. This was followed by other incidents of arson and murders, since the town later became the center of Molly Maguires activities in the 1860s.
It is said that the first Roman Catholic priest in Centralia by the name Father Daniel Ignatius McDermott cursed the land after being assaulted by 3 members of the Maguires in 1869. Word also goes round that he talked of a day in future when St. Ignatius Roman Catholic Church will be the only structure that will be left standing in this town.
The era of the Maguires’ came to an end in 1877 when most of the leaders were hanged, though it is believed that descendants of members of this criminal group lasted until the 1980s in Centralia Town. The population of Centralia hit its peak in 1890 with the total number of inhabitants at the time standing at 2,761.
By this time there were several facilities in place including grocery stores, seven churches, a post office, five hotels, a bank, 27 saloons, a bank and 2 theaters. Production continued to hit the highs for several years, until a certain time when most of the young miners enlisted in World War I. This forced production to dip.
Today, various points surrounding the area where the town lay have underground fire that emits toxic gases to the environment around. Only a few buildings are left after most of them were brought down by the Columbia County Redevelopment Authority, while some have been reclaimed by nature. A visit to this former town will reveal new-growth forest thriving in some area and what appears to be a field with numerous paved streets. The cemeteries here are intact as well as St. Mary’s church which is the only one remaining and continues to hold Sunday services every week.
Though this church has not been affected by the underground fire yet, caution needs to be exercised when one is visiting the area since various spots within it have become inhabitable.