Saving Eckley Miners' Village One Building At A Time
Miners' houses were lifted and moved from their foundations to begin the restoration project.
PHMC Eckley Miners' Village

This article originally appeared in Pennsylvania Heritage Magazine
Volume XXXVIII, Number 1 - Winter 2012

Settled in 1854, Eckley Miners' Village, ten miles east of Hazleton in southern Luzerne County, is a rare survivor of the hundreds of company mining towns or "patches" that punctuated northeastern Pennsylvania's anthracite region in the nineteenth century. Mining companies created the settlements so that employees would live near the collieries - complexes consisting of a mine, breaker, and associated buildings and equipment - where they worked. In addition to housing, employers provided workers and their families with medical care and basic amenities such as a school, church, and store. They assumed this unusual role not out of kindness, but to attract workers to undertake the difficult and dangerous work of mining in a remote area. By owning villages, coal companies also exerted greater control over their employees.

The mining firm of Sharpe, Leisenring and Company, later renamed Sharpe, Weiss and Company, leased coal lands from the Tench Coxe Estate, of Philadelphia, to build and operate the Council Ridge Colliery. In addition to building the colliery, it also laid out Eckley. After the expiration of the Sharpe, Weiss and Company's lease in 1875, the Coxe family operated the mining concern and leased land to other companies. To Eckley came a succession of immigrants seeking economic opportunities or religious or political freedom. English, Welsh, and German miners were supplanted by Irish immigrants and then by southern and eastern Europeans, all of whom contributed to the rich ethnic mosaic that hallmarks the anthracite region. Administered since 1971 by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC), Eckley Miners' Village preserves a way of life which dominated the hard coal region for more than a century and a half.

After workers moved each building, the area was excavated.
PHMC Eckley Miners' Village

A comprehensive $2.1 million project recently refreshed the village by structurally stabilizing selected buildings, reconstructing those identified as being beyond repair, and restoring exteriors. Ten buildings - eight miners' dwellings and two residences of superintendents - were lifted from their foundations and temporarily relocated to enable workers to completely rebuild each foundation. Chimneys were repaired or replaced and roofs were fixed. At the same time, remediation efforts removed asbestos insulation and lead paint from the buildings. Work took place on one building at a time.

"This project is a crucial step in preserving Eckley's historic buildings so that future generations will be able to enjoy the legacy of our coal mining heritage," says David G. Dubick, village site administrator. "Eckley is among the most intact company towns in the country and we are working extremely hard to make sure it retains its historic appearance and character. It's exciting to be able to save such a significant part of the past."

Dubick's enthusiasm is echoed by Robert J. Vybrenner, Tamaqua, president of Eckley Miners' Village Associates, which supports and coordinates public programs at the historic site. "I think it looks fantastic - it's an absolutely perfect restoration," Vybrenner adds. "The properties were restored to their late nineteenth-century colors and the dark gray siding selected for the houses is accurate. We've heard many positive comments from visitors. This is very rewarding because Eckley belongs to the citizens of Pennsylvania and it's very important to the region's, the state's, and the nation's history and heritage."

New foundations were constructed.
PHMC Eckley Miners' Village

The extensive work, which began in September 2011, was completed by the project's general contractor, Panzitta Enterprises Inc., of Wilkes-Barre, Luzerne County, and eleven subcontractors. "We were honored to be selected by the Pennsylvania Department of General Services [DGS] and PHMC to serve as the general contractor on such an important project," says John Panzitta, company president. DGS oversees procurement of goods and services, manages nonhighway capital projects, and is responsible for core operations of state government, including management of state-owned properties. Panzitta Enterprises specializes in commercial and government construction.

Dubick emphasizes preservation is ongoing at Eckley; five years ago, a similar project stabilized twelve buildings in the village.

Eckley is located on Highland Road, near Freeland, three miles off state route 940; use "Eckley, PA," for online mapping and GPS coordinates.

The restored dwellings were painted in colors appropriate to the late nineteenth century to impart an authentic look, drawing much praise from visitors to the site. PHMC Eckley Miners' Village

To plan a visit, write Eckley Miners' Village, 2 Main St., Weatherly, PA 18255; telephone (570) 636-2070; or visit www.eckleyminersvillagemuseum.com or www.patrailsofhistory.com. Group tours are welcome from April to November.

The editor thanks David G. Dubick and Donna Buchanan, Eckley Miners' Village, for providing background information and photographs for this installment of News.