25 May 2020 - ECKLEY MINER'S VILLAGE SAVED FROM DESTRUCTION BY A MOVIE
ECKLEY MINER'S VILLAGE
SAVED FROM DESTRUCTION
BY A MOVIE
This eerily well-preserved coal-mining town was saved from destruction by a Sean Connery movie. Few places in North America allow you to walk simultaneously in the footprints of 1860s miners and 1970s Sean Connery.
Nestled in the hills and dips of eastern Pennsylvania coal country, the
village of Eckley was planned and built in the 1850s to house laborers
working in Council Ridge Colliery. By the turn of the century, Eckley
comprised families from Wales, Germany, Italy, Slovakia, Poland,
Lithuania, and Ireland. It was one of dozens of similar “patch” towns
speckled across the region, owned by powerful mining companies to ensure
at least some of their workers’ wages returned to the corporation in
the form of rent and supplies purchased from the company-operated
general store. Active into the early 1900s, Eckley and many of its
surrounding mines were sold off in the face of declining profits after
World War II.
Eckley would have met the same fate as most mining communities from the
era—either development or demolition—had it not been for Sean Connery.
Well, Paramount Pictures. While scouting locations for a film about the
notorious Molly Maguires, a gang of Irish mine workers known for
intimidating company bosses throughout the 1850s, Paramount settled on
the eerily well-preserved Eckley. After The Molly Maguires’
1970 release, the town was donated to the Pennsylvania Historical and
Museum Commission. Around 20 individuals still reside in the village
year-round, many of them descendants of original Council Ridge miners.
Today, visitors can wander down Eckley’s main street, tracing the
hierarchy of mine labor from shacks occupied by unskilled slate pickers,
past two-story clapboard houses built for skilled miners, toward the
cozy single-family homes reserved for superintendents and bosses.
Finally, at the western-most end of the street stands an impressive
Gothic Revival-style house constructed especially for mine owner Richard
Props from the 1969 film, including the replica coal breaker
looming over the center of town, can be found interspersed among
original 19th century structures. Preservation guidelines require
full-time residents to keep all exterior traces of modern life concealed
behind wooden sheds authentic enough that one can easily imagine they
contain illicit stores of moonshine or a communal black-lung respirator,
rather than satellite dishes and fire hydrants. Woodland seclusion and a
palpable sense of history conjure grim tales of illness, injury, and
industry, making a fall or winter visit particularly haunting.
Clancy's comment: It's certainly a quaint-looking town.