There’s a rich history in NEPA coursing its way like a river between the rolling green hills, over the golden summer fields, and along the shiny, black shimmering walls of the coal mines. And on it runs through the veins of every child as they grow, and softly it flows from the tongues of elder generations – a river from past to present, from old country to new – winding, connecting, feeding, fulfilling us all.
Dive in and experience this history up close at these five incredible sites.
1. Eckley Miners’ Village, Weatherly
The booming coal industry in NEPA 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
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
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. Nathan Denison House, Kingston
Just about anywhere you go in NEPA, you’ll find beautiful, historic homes. Very few of them invite you to come inside to explore. And even fewer still welcome you to listen and learn as reenactors tell the story of the house. There is one house in Forty Fort that does just that.
Denison was one of the first forty settlers in five new towns in the Wyoming Valley. He was a Justice of the Peace and a Revolutionary Colonel. He bravely fought in the Battle of Wyoming – an important moment in local history.
The house appears just as it did in the 1790s. Visitors are welcomed for tours on Sunday afternoons in the summer.
5. Old Jail Museum, Jim Thorpe
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.