The people of the Anthracite Coal Region have important stories to tell. The goal of this site is to preserve these stories and make them accessible to people wanting to learn more about how the population lived and observed their faith in the region. This project is a partnership between Bucknell University and the Franciscan Friars of Mother Cabrini Friary, Father Martin Kobos, and the Mother Cabrini Catholic Church parishioners. The Mother Cabrini Catholic Church of Shamokin was formed in 1995 when Assumption BVM, St. Anthony of Padua, St. Edward the Confessor, St. Michael the Archangel, and St. Stanislaus Kostka churches merged to form one parish. The former St. Edward's church became the home of the new parish. The church community is full of stories of what it was like growing up in the coal region. This site strives to capture a few of the different voices.
The Anthracite Coal Region
This area of Pennsylvania grew rapidly when the coal mining industry needed workers and immigrants from Europe came to earn a living. The Pennsylvania Anthracite Coal Region consists of Carbon, Columbia, Lackawanna, Luzerne, Northumberland, and Schuylkill Counties. During the 19th and 20th centuries, the area experienced an influx of immigrants from Ireland, Germany, Italy, and Slavic countries, including Poland and Lithuania. These people came to work in the mining industry, bringing their rich cultural heritage with them and influencing the communities of Northeastern Pennsylvania.
When the mining industry was booming, the communities prospered. As you will hear in the stories, the towns were full of businesses, restaurants, and entertainment options. At the center of these communities was the church, serving as a connection for the many nationalities found in the coal region.
Life in the Mines
The coal mining company employeed young boys to break and sort the coal in large structures called breakers. Work usually went from seven in the morning until six in the evening. The boys would pick out the "refuse" from the coal. This refuse was called culm. The culm was put into mountinous banks around the colliery and homes of the workers (Bartoletti, 1996, p. 13 - 15). The coal land was owned by businessmen who built patch towns around the mine for the workers' homes. The village was usually separated by ethnic groups with each section keeping their culture alive through food and language (Bartoletti, 1996, p. 66 - 69). Most patch towns had pubs where coal miners would stop by for a shot of whiskey and a beer to clear their throats of soot (Bartoletti, 1996, p. 85 - 86). A map of the collieries and patch towns mentioned in the oral histories can be found on the Coal Region page of this site.
The Decline of the Coal Mining Industry in the Area
When the coal industry began to decline in the 1950's, the communities struggled with how to survive this loss of industry. People began leaving the towns in order to find employment. Many of the businesses disappeared, and the towns struggled with their identities.
Currently, the communities are experiencing a renewal as many of the towns are finding new ways to define themselves. From the many recreational opportunities to the new breweries and businesses appearing throughout the area, the coal region is recovering and celebrating the history that made the coal region significant.
The interviews on this site all explore what it was like growing up and living in the Anthracite Coal Region of Pennsylvania. The impact of this area on the people is very clear. From story to story, the interviewees will share how the mining industry, different nationalities, and churches contributed to their lives.
Penn State University Libraries. (2019, July 10). Library guides: Anthracite coal mining region of Northeastern Pennsylvania: Home. Retrieved from https://guides.libraries.psu.edu/anthracite
Bartoletti, S. C. (1996). Growing up in coal country. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.