Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Centralia

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All that empty space used to be a town.

Centralia, PA's sad story has driven authors, filmmakers, vandals and tourists to its vacant lots and streets. The 40-year-old mine fire started when an emptied coal mine became the town's landfill. Burning the trash ignited a vein of unmined anthracite, and after failed attempts at putting out the fire, Congress made $40 million available for relocating Centralia's residents. Most chose to leave.

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There is still smoke rising from the landfill next to St. Ignatius Cemetery, and the fissures in the highway put up small clouds of it even in a hot Pennsylvania July.

The fire completely destroyed lesser-known Byrnesville, PA, a small neighboring village. The PA-61 detour leads through former Byrnesville; only the wash house remains.

Centralia's notoriety depends on a number of things: For one, there's the strange novelty of a mine fire that's been burning for nearly fifty years. It's not the classic Wild West ghost town, with tumbleweeds and saloons, but one created by a man-made disaster in the heart of PA's coal region, its remaining residents too determined or enfeebled to leave. The emotional side of the situation is wrenching, as highlighted by The Town That Was, a 2007 documentary featuring Jonathan Lokitis, Centralia's youngest resident.

Above all, Centralia is a fascinating place to visit. There are echoes of a pleasantly busy little town in the gridwork of streets.


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Brian and I, along with my wife, my sister and one of her friends opted to walk the abandoned section of Route 61. The cracks and buckled sections were sending up smoke, even in the middle of July.

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The cemeteries are more populous than the town itself; only nine Centralians remain.

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Where the fire came through at one point. It's hard not to personify those plants, managing to survive in such a wasteland.

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Brick buttresses to support the row home, now missing its neighbor.

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One of the famous park benches, which John Lokitis has kept well-painted.

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A few random shots.

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The Centennial Vault, another symbol of the town's former hope and optimism.

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Centralia's municipal building, and the door leading to the police department.

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The whole post-apocalyptic feeling really kicked in when we got off the main road and wandered around the town's back streets. Stop signs still stood on every corner.

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Back down old 61, and we were done for the day.

Ultimately, I could see why those who remain would want to hold on to Centralia. It's a dead town, to be sure, but it's also open and peaceful, and full of life in summer. Brian and I will be heading back in a few weeks.

18 comments:

deramo said...

Compelling images, but definitely even moreso with the descriptions :) Nice collection!

rsrs1491 said...

This is truly a fascinating idea and a unique blog. I hope you will continue!

Suzanne of New Affiliate Discoveries said...

Thanks for the reminders. A friend of mine was visiting from California, and he actually asked if I would take him here! PA is a very cool state.

Found your site from Romlet

CHESSNOID said...

This is a cool site with interesting pictures. You are able to create a feeling with all the photos put together. Very nice. Keep it up

giL said...

Wow. What a fantastic piece of citizen journalism, Stephan and Brian. really thrilling. I tracked it back after reading your latest post. just dragged into it. Dugg. maybe you'd like to dig it further. Cheers.

Al Ebaster said...

Wow Gil, I don't think we've been praised so highly before!

becca said...

great shots. i visited here over the summer, it's about six hours from hy house in ct. after speaking to someone in the coal museum in ashland, next town over, i was told not only was the town abandoned but all the houses were torn down, the picture of the steps you have was leading up to a house. she also told me that is took the government twenty years to help relocate the people of centralia.

Anonymous said...

I found some more stuff about Centralia on http://www.forgottenus.com

Corker2 said...

You have done an excellent job on taking the Images of Centraila. I commend your work.

Even though Centraila is only about a 45 min. drive for us, we just don't get up there. My Wife and I have traveled RT61 a number of times, and it's so strange to see what it looks like now. We remember how busy that Highway was, but is now just an empty, over-grown road. The cracks in the road are getting worse as time goes by. I have heard that some people in the near-by town of Ashland are worried that the fire just may get to them. That area up there is so full of Mine Shafts it's a wonder that the whole place does not fall into them.

Laura said...

I actually grew up near centralia. I used to ask a lot of questions when I was younger and have some interesting tidbits I had taken from family.

The reason that everyone didn't just take the government payout and move was that a lot of them were convinced that the government was trying to buy them out of the rights they had to the coal underneath them. I'm sure the ones that are left now are just too stubborn to move, but in the early 90's there were quite a few more houses left.

Also my mom used to ride the bus through Centralia to get to her high school before they closed down the road and built the highway around. She said that they would keep adding asphalt to the road for nearly two years after the main road started sinking, and it was always a little scary taking the bus through.

I remember being 4 or 5 (I'm 21 now) and seeing most of the trees in the surrounding hills with no leaves in the middle of summer. I might have been making it up since I was so little, but the place always creeped me out.

I would highly recommend visiting if you're in the area, blue collar Pennsylvania is always beautiful in it's own way. =D

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your information.
How can we visit there? We could not find this town address from google map. any suggestion?

Thanks
JIM

Ethan Smith said...

Bing maps still shows the town. It's directly north of Ashland, PA only about 2 miles.

Jarppa said...

Spooky!!

heatherfreedom said...

If ur looking for it its right outside of mount carmel. I use to live about 3 miles from there

Abandoned Exploration_Urbex1979 said...

For someone's first visit to Centralia its definitely cool and interesting but that's about it.

Steve said...

@Urbex1979 - It's really true. I was just up there about a year ago with some friends, and there isn't much left. We didn't even see steam rising out of the usual spots. Still a sad, fascinating story, but other than the highway, there really isn't much to see.

Anonymous said...

So has anyone dared to open the time capsule?

Stephen Skipp said...

@Anonymous In fact, they did open it a couple years early in 2014. Unfortunately it was filled with water, which destroyed the paper items inside, but a few remained intact, including a miner's helmet and lamp. Read more here: http://www.centraliapa.org/centralia-pennsylvania-time-capsule-opened-early-2014/

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About ForgottenPA

Created by Al Ebaster in 2007 after a trip to Centralia, ForgottenPA has become one of Pennsylvania's most popular urban-exploration websites. Brian is our photographer, and we're happy to have Ethan Smith, aka Bluecapriethan in the comment sections, on board as an author and photographer as well.

We're always accepting photo submissions! Email your photos to spampoet0023@gmail.com, with a few words about where and when they were taken.

Want to join us? If you have a Blogger/Gmail account and a passion for Pennsylvania abandonments, send us some urban-exploration photos and a few words about yourself to spampoet0023@gmail.com. Our authors retain all rights to the material they post, and are free to publish anything relevant to PA urban exploration at their own pace.

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