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.
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.
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. These were the trees along the street front of houses. The fifth one along is pretty old and big: very photogenic! (figure 4).
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.
Nature is swiftly reclaiming Centralia. There is a rather attractive species of butterfly we saw many examples of (figure 6).
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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).
A closer look shows the masonry better, and a suggestive glimpse of a cairn at the far left (figure 19).
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?
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).
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.
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).
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).
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).
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.