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Historic coal mining village receives grant for upgrades

The Asa Foster House at Eckley Miners' Village.
Tara Kavanaugh
/
​The Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission
The Asa Foster House at Eckley Miners' Village.

An anthracite mining village turned historical museum in Luzerne County received national funding to begin transforming the property for the first time in 50 years.

Eckley Miners’ Village in Weatherly is in the early stages of updating some of around 200 structures for researchers and the public. The National Endowment for the Humanities awarded the Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission (PHMC) a $48,400 grant to design an interdisciplinary research and learning center that will be housed at the former home of Eckley co-founder Asa Foster. The structure dates back to the 1860s.

"It's an opportunity to preserve the structure, preserve its exterior, so you still get the ... sort of visual impact of this home on the property," said Chris Stokum, Ph.D., who is overseeing the project. "But then the inside, we can really tailor to the needs of the researchers.”

Classroom, laboratory, conference and office space for place-based scholarship and educational programs in several fields will be created in the Foster House. It will bridge the gap between anthracite and labor academic scholars and the community.

“Long term, we're looking to take some of that research and hopefully allow that to inspire new walking tours, maybe rotating exhibits, workshops, public programs of some sort here at the property," said Stokum, whose graduate degree is in 19th-century labor and education history.

Eckley Miners' Village was built in 1854 to house coal miners and their families. It was in operation until the mid 1960s. The village was relatively unchanged, however Paramount Pictures restored much of its 19th century character to shoot the 1970 movie “The Molly Maguires.” The film addresses labor radicalism and labor violence in the anthracite region in the 19th century, said Stokum.

A community group purchased the 90-acre property after the movie wrapped and gave it to the PHMC. Around 200 structures at the village include homes, outhouses, buildings constructed for the movie and barns.

“This is a place that you can immerse yourself in," said Stokum, adding "spend an afternoon walking through and really stepping into the lives of anthracite miners.”

Converting the Foster house into a research center is part of an early phase of the village’s master plan. They plan to repurpose many of the structures, said Bode Moran, Ph.D., historic site administrator for Eckley, the Anthracite Museum and the Scranton Iron Furnaces. Seven of the existing miners’ houses will also be converted into overnight lodging.

The PHMC also received funding for the project from the Appalachian Regional Commission.

If the buildings are heated and occupied, issues are discovered earlier to help with preservation, Moran said. Providing more opportunities for the public to use the village helps it to be more relevant to today's audiences while supporting Eckley’s mission.

"We feel that would be better for the long term preservation of the site," he said. "And then if it can generate revenue, then ... we can expand our programming and our educational activities.”

Moran is an industrial historian who has worked across the country. He says people from Pennsylvania's Anthracite Region have an interest in their heritage that doesn't exist elsewhere. Eckley represents that.

“The fact that people feel so connected to this story is astounding," he said.

For more details, visit eckleyminersvillage.com/

Kat Bolus is the community reporter for the newly-formed WVIA News Team. She is a former reporter and columnist at The Times-Tribune, a Scrantonian and cat mom.

You can email Kat at katbolus@wvia.org