Centralia, PA

I’ve wanted to visit Centralia for awhile now. Driving through the center of Ashland, PA – what seems like a fairly large town for the area, you take a right to head north on rt 61 and immediately head into the mountains of rural PA along a highway that winds up into the surrounding hills. There are coal piles in the treeline, long overgrown, and patches of trees are darker in color than others.

As you roll into Centralia proper, there are a total of three cemeteries on either end of second street, just before you spot the buckling and breaking of the land where sinkholes appeared years ago. The pulloff along the street leads you up to a vantage point where you can look down on the remains of the town, as well as surveying the damage that the fires beneath the surface has caused. Past that, you start to see the grid of a neighborhood that looks as though houses should be situated on the surrounding lots, but the structures themselves are long gone.

The coal fire that made the surrounding area too dangerous to continue living in/around is still burning to this day, over 50 years later. Apparently it’s the worst mine fire in US history, and it’s said that there’s enough coal to keep the fire going for many years. In various places, you’ll see cylindrical metal vents sticking up out of the ground. They’re used to monitor the the veins of coal that are currently burning. Steam escapes from around the large pipes, throwing moist patches across the surface of the metal that quickly dry off, making it almost seem as if just below the surface lays a sleeping dragon.

It’s understandable why this area was source material for the Silent Hill movie. It’s remarkably creepy in the daylight. I can only imagine what it’s like at twilight, or full darkness.

Most of the lots are overgrown and on some of the roads leading to nowhere people are apparently prone to indescriminate dumping. Trash litters the road at the end of driveways; guardrails and the few structures that remain standing are covered in grafitti.

People are pigs.

An Orthodox church sits nestled in the trees in the mountain up north, one of the few buildings that you can actually see through all the surrounding green. It doesn’t have a full parking lot, and I don’t think they hold services there anymore. However, the cemeteries seem to be well tended, which is reassuring. Dead, but not forgotten.

From what used to be a community of about 1,400 people, a few stragglers remain; several houses are located on lots far away from each other in the network of streets. The residents are fighting desperately to stay in their homes, stating that the condemnation of the town should no longer be in effect because the underground coal fire has moved far enough away to cease being a threat. Apparently, some of the locals are convinced that the government is trying to get them to move out so that they can claim the rights to one of the largest coal deposits in the US, free and clear.

It’s apparently quite the popular tourist destination for teenagers as well. Ran across quite a few people while walking around the area, as well as a group of guys that looked as though they were doing a photo shoot for their metal band.

For those interested in the purely geological aspect of the location, there’s a ‘field trip’ guide of sorts in the book “Excursions in Geology And History: Field Trips in the Middle Atlantic States”, starting on page 33. The copy to which I’m referring is from the 2006 version.

It’s a really interesting place to visit, but please – if you do choose to go, be resepectful of the remaining residents, as well as the losses that those who had to leave the area had to incur.