The American Geode team visited abandoned ghost town Centralia, PA to explore this old coal town that had been abandoned, demolished and condemned in the 1990s due to an underground coal mine fire raging since the early 1960s.
Centralia can still be discovered on a map, which is what Joe and Charles followed for a different kind of rockhound adventure. First, how to get to Centralia, PA? We drove on I-80 from Pittsburgh and took the exit for Route 15 South. Route 15 South connects to Route 61, and then you are on your way to Centralia. Passing through coal country, one notices distinctive elements in the towns whose livelihood once depended, or still relies on coal. Many hill sides are open. You drive past a hill with an exposed side, stripped to the anthracite inside. At the base of these hills in many towns are coal mining operations with industrial equipment with the kind of large scale wheels taller in their diameter than a 6 foot tall man. The houses in the towns along Route 61 are row style. Small houses were built side by side in a row for the coal miners and their families so they could remain close to the mine.
While driving Route 61, a sign that you are near Centralia is when the highway turns red. At a point, the entirety of Route 61 is red as it has been covered with flame-retardant substances. At that point you can see that upkeep of the medians, and the shoulders of the road was abandoned years ago. Overgrowth, old light-posts, no light posts and vintage street signs remain.
Part of the Centralia mine fire destroyed a section of Route 61, and it was abandoned and built up at two different points in the area to completely cut off admission to Old Route 61. We were able to find where Old Route 61 was when we came up on this cemetery, and the large yellow arrow sign that directs you away from the area where Old Route 61 was blocked off.
Wear comfortable shoes, or boots before this hike mind you. American Geode had been in business meetings that day, this rockhound adventure was not planned with our usual high measure of advance preparation, and we were both in expensive dress shoes.
Once you enter Old Route 61 you see a large crack in the street. This crack was caused by the underground mine fire. The area is covered in coal mines and shafts, and many of those shafts were wildcat mines. Illegal mining was common in the area because the anthracite in Centralia is very high quality.
Back to the underground mine fire that has been raging since the early 1960s, the Old Route 61 buckles and cracks in areas where the heat from the underground fire destroyed the stability and integrity of the road. The fire has moved however, and we did not notice or feel any warmth or heat emanating from Old Route 61. In fact, while the American Geode team was exploring Centralia we encountered a group of 5 teenagers with spray paint cans, two separate couples holding hands for a romantic (?) walk, and we even met a TV production team from Ukraine were were reporting on Centralia and the mine fire disaster!
As you walk along Old Route 61, as the photos will attest, you see that nearly every square foot of Old Route 61 is covered in street art and graffiti. We took photos of the street art we liked the most, or found most unusual.
Had we been wearing the right shoes, had a walking stick and our usual rockhound kit with us, American Geode would have ventured off Old Route 61 to explore Centralia for fissures of rising steam. One thing you notice when in Centralia is the lack of wildlife. You hear no birds, and you see no birds in the area. While the area around Centralia is enjoying spring time, tulips blossoming, trees greening, and weeds sprouting, in Centralia the trees and foliage are grey, and struggling to bud, and nothing is flowering.
We walked the length of Old Route 61, observing and occasionally admiring the street art and graffiti, and then returned to our cars. When you leave Centralia, on the new Route 61, your road is still red, and you know you have left Centralia when Route 61 turns the normal, expected shade of black asphalt, and you notice that the shoulders of the road are manicured and green with grass.
Reference for further reading about Centralia courtesy of the New York Times: