I bet you’ve heard of Centralia, the town with the veins of coal burning right under it and which suffered a near-total compulsory evacuation. You haven’t? Well, they were burning rubbish in the landfill and the fire spread to a nearby vein of coal. That coal has been burning slowly, like a cigarette, so to speak, since about 1960. Pennsylvania eventually stepped in and bought out the citizens with eminent domain powers and demolished the structures of the town, with a handful of prominent exceptions. Although we did not see it, in cold weather it is possible to see the fumes from the hellmouth rising from vents.

Figure 1 Locust St., Centralia, PA. Photo: author.

Where there was a town, there are now decaying paved streets and a few sidewalks left. The main road still runs through town (figure 1).

Compare that view, looking north from the crossing of Park and Locust with the map, from Google Maps, in figure 2. The white building with blue domes in the background is Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Ukranian Catholic Church.

Figure 2. Centralia, PA. Google Maps.

Remember, all of the large trees in the following photographs were people’s trees on their house lots or in public spaces like parks. It’s astonishing, and quite the reverse of a ghost town: here there are tons of people: sightseers like us, and no structures, whereas a real ghost town has structures but is empty of people.

What follow are keyed to the map in figure 2, by street location and a direction the camera was pointed.

Figure 3. Troutwine St. looking south midway between Railroad and Centre. Photo: author.

Figure 3. These were the trees along the street front of houses. The fifth one along is pretty old and big: very photogenic! (figure 4).

Figure 4. Large old tree on Troutwine street between Railroad and Centre looking SSE. Photo: author.

Across Troutwine St. from the big old tree in figure 4 is the tree with the prohibition on hunting nailed to it (figure 5). There are, after all, still humans in this area; the town of Aristes is just over a low hill from Centralia.

Figure 5. Hunting prohibition on tree on Troutwine St. Looking W. Photo: author.

Nature is swiftly reclaiming Centralia. There is a rather attractive species of butterfly we saw many examples of (figure 6).

Figure 6. Butterfly on Troutwine St. Photo: author.

From Troutwine St. we moved our car to Paxton St., right at the intersection with Railroad Ave. Railroad Ave. was one of those gracious double streets with a grass meridian. Figure 7 shows our car parked facing S on Paxton looking toward Centre St. You can get a sense of what 30 years without paving does to a road, even an untrafficked one.

Figure 7. Looking S on Paxton street near the intersection with Railroad Ave. Photo: author.

Walking around back to Railroad Ave. between Paxton and Troutwine, there is a stretch of relict sidewalk and an alley that ran down the middle of the block from Railroad to Centre: probably gave access to the rear of the houses fronting Troutwine and Paxton.

One can get a slight feel for Railroad Ave. from figure 8, looking E past Paxton and our car in the shade toward Locust St.

Figure 8. Railroad Ave. looking E toward Locust St. Photo: author.

Standing under the magnificent Maple in figure 8 and looking WSW we see the remnants of old sidewalk, a curb and a gracious step up (figure 9).

Figure 9. Railroad Ave. looking W toward Troutwine St. from under the largest tree in figure 8. Photo: author.

To the left of the woman walking away from us in figure 9 (though not visible in that figure) is the alley running between Railroad and Centre. Figure 10 looks S along that alley from its mouth on Railroad. Many little thistles grow along that old alley.

Figure 10. Alley between Railroad Ave. and Centre St. seen from Railroad. Photo: author.
Figure 11. Thistles along alley in figure 10. Photo: author.
Figure 12. Bee on thistle in alley in figure 10. Photo: author.

There was also a magnificent Queen Anne’s Lace bush below and to the right of the large tree in figure 8. A flower and a bud appear in figures 13 and 14.

Figure 13. Queen Anne’s Lace from below and to the right of the tree central to figure 8. Photo: author.
Figure 14. Queen Anne’s Lace bud from bush below and to the right of the central tree in figure 8. Photo: author.

From that same alley, still between Railroad and Centre and now looking E through the block toward Paxton are the two trees in figure 15 which once stood in people’s back yards.

Figure 15. Trees formerly in back yards in the block surrounded by Railroad, Paxton, Centre, and Troutwine. Photo: author.

We then drove down Paxton S past Centre St. and stopped halfway down the stretch between Centre and Main. Figure 16 looks W along the former property division between Paxton and the next (unnamed) NS street to the west.

Figure 16. Pipe marking old property division on Paxton St. between Centre and main. Photo author.

At the T intersection of Paxton and Main, on the S side of the Main, is a tree-shaded set of steps rising through a retaining wall (figure 17).

Figure 17. Steps in retaining wall at intersection of Main and Paxton. Photo: author.

Driving back out to Locust we turned right and stopped just past Park street. Running along Locust from the corner to the north is a stretch of that type of masonry wall one sees in front of more substantial houses (figure 18).

Figure 18. Looking NW from the SE corner of Park and Locust towards former house front yard wall. Photo author.

A closer look shows the masonry better, and a suggestive glimpse of a cairn at the far left (figure 19).

Figure 19. Former property front wall facing Locust St., looking N. Photo: author.

Aaaand the cairn turns out to be a shrine (figure 20) erected by I know not who to I know not what. The dead town, perhaps?

Figure 20. Cairn of concrete blocks behind masonry wall fronting Locust street in figures 18, 19. Photo: author.

Heading S on Locust and turning right (i.e., west) at 2nd St., we arrived at St. Ignatius Cemetery, which is fodder for another post. Outside the cemetery gate was some remaining coal from a demolished house (figure 21).

Figure 21. Heap of coal from demolished house on 2nd St. immediately outside the gate to St. Ignatius Cemetery. Photo: author.

From just north of St. Ignatius Cemetery there was the following view (figure 22). We found a film crew there making some sort of feature about the town. I’m not kidding when I say the town is full of people checking it out.

Figure 22. The valley that once contained central Centralia, now abandoned. Photo: author.

Just past 2nd St. on Locust, going S., is a berm that blocks off an old road (route 61) no longer used. This road had been plastered start to finish with decades of graffiti celebrating the dead town in one way or another. You can see it in the satellite view of Google Maps. However, the sumbitches have covered this ad hoc monument up with heaps of earth: no more graffiti visible (figure 23).

Figure 23. Heaps of earth obscuring graffiti road (old route 61) south of Centralia. Photo: author.

Last, but not least, we backtracked up to see the Ukranian Catholic church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin (of 1911), which in accordance with the many posted signs we did not trespass upon (figures 24, 25).

Figure 24. Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Church (1911) with the author’s daughter (l) and wife (r). Photo: author.
Figure 25. Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Church, blue domical structures with eastern crosses. Photo: author.

Oh, wait! As we passed along the road to Aristes immediately to the north of Centralia, we came across a shrine to one person’s strong feelings about President Trump (figure 26).

Figure 26. One man’s (woman’s?) shrine to strong feelings about President Trump. Photo: author.

Centralia, Pennsylvania isn’t quite spooky or eerie, but it is fascinating and clearly draws large crowds of people interested in relics of a lost past. The drive there from Scranton was quite scenic, and the drive back along U.S. Highway 11 along the Susquehanna was interesting, if less attractive.

Published by gsb03632

A college professor living in Arlington, VA

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