Dive in and Experience NEPA History Up Close
From colonial settlements to booming industries, Northeastern Pennsylvania’s history runs deep. Stories of resilience passed through generations show the trials and tribulations of the hard-working folks that made NEPA the place we know and love.
Thankfully, local historians have dedicated their lives to keeping these stories alive. Between preserved sites and carefully curated museums, you can spend an afternoon traveling through the NEPA timeline.
1. Eckley Miners’ Village, Weatherly
NEPA’s coal industry brought waves of European immigrants to the region.
They settled mining towns from lower Schuylkill County to upper Lackawanna County. And in short time, they solidified NEPA’s hardy work ethic. They laid the foundations of our proud ethnic traditions. And created a mixture of food cultures still celebrated to this day.
By the mid-20th century, the anthracite coal industry had all but shuttered throughout the region. Only one of these mining towns still exists. And visitors of all ages are welcome to visit and experience NEPA’s rich mining heritage.
Eckley Miners’ Village in Weatherly is a small re-creation of a traditional NEPA mining town. It features multiple 19th century buildings, including company houses and Slate Picker’s Houses. There is also a real coal breaker and company store. Both were used in the 1970 film, The Molly Maguires.
The village also features a museum and hosts historical events throughout the year.
2. Anthracite Heritage Museum and Lackawanna Coal Mine Tour, Scranton
A life underground.
Northeastern Pennsylvania would not be what it is today if not for the resilient men and women who worked in the coal mines and textile factories dotting the local valleys from the late-19th to the mid-20th centuries. It was on the backs of these men and women, most of them immigrants from Eastern and Southern Europe, that this region was built.
See them. Hear their stories. Enter the mine yourself and learn firsthand what it was like to work in the damp darkness 300 feet underground. Stand at the controls of the lace machine or imagine yourself cooking on an old stove in your tiny company house kitchen.
3. Steamtown National Historic Site, Scranton
Keeping America moving.
The remarkable history of steam trains in NEPA comes alive every day at the Steamtown National Historic Site in Scranton. This working train depot and museum aim to preserve the history of the railroad industry in NEPA.
Visitors can view photos, old tools, and even step inside antique train cars. They can also learn about the importance of trains and railroads. And they can experience the lives of the people who built and maintained them.
Guests can also walk along the trainyard and visit the roundhouse for an up-close look at several different trains. And for the ultimate steam train experience, they can climb aboard and take a short ride along the rails.
While you’re there, check out the Electric City Trolley Station and Museum.
4. Fighter’s Heaven, Deer Lake
How to become a legend — NEPA-style.
Many people go to the mountains of Northeastern Pennsylvania for peace and solitude, an escape from hectic daily life. But one man went to the mountains in search of greatness, and he hit the gold mine. Heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali could’ve trained anywhere in the world, but a plot on Sculps Hill Road near Deer Lake was where the man transformed into the legend.
After personally choosing the location in 1972, Ali spent the next decade turning the mountaintop into his very own “Fighter’s Heaven.” During its 10 years of operation, Fighter’s Heaven brought celebrity guests and world-famous boxers to the Pennsylvania mountains. With its Amish-built log gym, cabins and bunkhouses, a mosque and a dining hall, it became a quiet retreat as much as a training facility.
Today, visitors can explore the restored 6-acre camp with tours of the preserved buildings and the ring where Ali worked to become “The Greatest.” Be sure to check out the photos and memorabilia that commemorate the facility’s incredible history and Ali’s legendary career.
In honor of Muhammad Ali’s sense of charity, admission to Fighter’s Heaven is free.
5. Old Jail Museum, Jim Thorpe
A spooky, true story with a twist.
The story of the Molly Maguires in Mauch Chunk was made famous by the film of the same name from the 1970s. Mauch Chunk’s tragic history may have been forever glamorized by Hollywood, but the story was true and, sadly, it was not unique. That story is on full display at the Old Jail Museum in Jim Thorpe (formerly Mauch Chunk).
The museum features 27 cells, gallows and, most prominently, the story of the Molly Maguires – seven miners accused of plotting terror and treachery against their coal mine bosses and mine owners. By the time the men were brought to stand trial, they had been accused of murder. They were tried, judged guilty and hanged.
It is widely believed that the men were in fact, innocent. And as local lore suggests, there is even a mysterious handprint – a curse – (supposedly left behind by one of the accused) that stands, even today, as proof.
See it and decide for yourself at The Old Jail Museum, where NEPA’s history, folklore and a little bit of the supernatural come together to tell an incredible story.
Connect with NEPA's Past
Article Updated from its Original Version Published on 1/18/2018.