An intra-agency effort is underway to plan for the future of PHMC’s Eckley Miners’ Village. In October 2018, the PHMC was awarded a federal grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission to support the completion of a strategic plan for Eckley. The desired outcome will result in a sustainable future for Eckley that will enable the historic property to serve as a regional asset. The PHMC’s State Historic Preservation Office and Bureau of Historic Sites and Museums are partnering to engage stakeholders, gather ideas from the regional community, and lead the planning process.
Eckley encompasses 100 acres and is a mile-long ‘island’ surrounded by active mining operations. The property is positioned at the center of the anthracite coal region and is the only anthracite patch town where the 1854 town plan remains largely intact with a total of 200 buildings, outbuildings and related structures.
“Eckley is one of the most significant state historic sites in Pennsylvania representing the experiences of the many families who immigrated to this country, found work in our burgeoning and often dangerous industries, and laid the foundation of our rich and dynamic American culture. It is also one of only a few company towns actively preserved and interpreted in a heritage context in the United States today,” said Brenda Reigle, director of PHMC’s Bureau of Historic Sites and Museums. “Unfortunately, maintaining and operating a mile-long, 200-structure town site with limited fiscal resources presents a long-term challenge to the PHMC mission to preserve the commonwealth’s heritage.”
Last year a celebration at Eckley Miners’ Village occurred to mark the making of the 1970 movie, The Molly Maguires. The film drew national attention to the former anthracite coal patch town. The infamous Molly Maguires are believed to be a secretive late 19th century organization descended from the Irish fraternal group, the Ancient Order of Hibernians. Paramount Pictures cast major film personalities including Sean Connery, Samantha Eggar and Richard Harris to portray the rebellious characters. In the Spring 2016 issue of Heritage Magazine, PHMC’s Executive Director, Andrea Lowery, detailed “how this small mining village in northeastern Pennsylvania rose from abandoned company town to modern museum is a tale of the deliberate actions of preservation-minded local and state officials and the unintentional consequences of a more unlikely partner–Hollywood.”
On April 8, 1970, two months after The Molly Maguires premiered, the Paramount movie corporation presented Eckley to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in exchange for a token payment of $1. Under Senate Bill 260 of 1969 the state legislature authorized PHMC to take over the village. The purpose was to “relate the story of the role of ethnic groups in the coal region and of labor in the anthracite coal industry.”
Since then, Eckley has not only been the site of a famous Hollywood movie but it’s also been an amazing source of information about the people who lived there, how they lived, and the work they did. Historical archaeology has been a part of many summers at Eckley since 1982, with the most recent studies focusing on individual houses and families. We’ll have another blog post later this year sharing more of that story!
Fast-forward to 2019, the Eckley Miners’ Village Museum continues to tell the story of the rise and decline of anthracite. Its mission is to educate the public about the dynamic social, industrial and economic story of anthracite coal mining, and the people who made that industry possible. Eckley attracts visitors from throughout Pennsylvania and other states as far away as Virginia, Florida and California. Eckley also sees international visitors from Canada and the UK.
A little over a year ago, the PHMC led a stakeholder meeting at Eckley to begin gathering ideas from the regional community. Following the meeting, PHMC distributed an online survey which received over 150 responses. Survey respondents noted they loved Eckley’s buildings and surrounding landscape, the living history experience, and special events held at Eckley throughout the year. Respondents also shared their feelings about potential new business models for the historic site. Some of the ideas included:
- A live/work community for artists with public visitation for viewing and purchasing artwork and as a living history museum.
- Historical and archaeological research facility that provides housing to students from different colleges conducting research related to Eckley, mining history and culture, immigrant and labor history, or related topic.
- A destination wedding venue that includes an on-site church, reception tent, and lodging.
Based on the results of the stakeholder meeting and online survey, we know that Eckley holds a very special place in the minds and hearts of regional residents. Partners see that Eckley has the potential to be an economic driver, drawing more tourists and tourist dollars to the region. Overwhelmingly, we heard the region wants to see Eckley preserved so it can continue to tell its significant Pennsylvania – and national story – well into the future.
It’s anticipated the Eckley Miners’ Village strategic planning process will be completed by the end of 2019. The primary products from the grant-funded project will include a market analysis and a plan that will provide a practical and cost-effective path to respond to the circumstances of the region, address the public’s needs for the property, and ensure long-term sustainability.
The PHMC awarded the project to Urban Partners and Hurley-Franks & Associates to execute the Eckley Miners’ Village Strategic Plan. The PHMC’s internal project team will work closely with Urban Partners to ensure the strategic plan will include realistic recommendations, address the vision of local stakeholders, as well as preserve the historic character of the village.