Eckley Miners' Village
|Location||Foster Township, Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, USA
Eckley Historic District
|Location||Both sides of Main St. through town of Eckley, Eckley, Pennsylvania|
|Area||73.2 acres (29.6 ha)|
|NRHP Reference #||71000710|
|Added to NRHP||October 26, 1971|
Eckley Miners' Village in eastern Pennsylvania is an anthracite coal mining patch town located near Hazleton, Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, in the United States. Since 1970, Eckley has been owned and operated as a museum by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.
Before the 1850s, Eckley was not a mining town, but a rural, forested community called Shingletown. It was located on land owned by the Tench Coxe Estate. The inhabitants took advantage of the surrounding woodlands and made shingles to be sold in White Haven and Hazleton. These goods were traded for the necessities of life, such as “whiskey, port, and tobacco”.
Coal is discovered
In 1853, four prospectors came to Shingletown and found that the land contained several veins of coal. Within the year these four men, Richard Sharpe, Asa Lansford Foster, Francis Weiss and John Leisenring, formed Sharpe, Leisenring and Company, later known as Sharpe, Weiss, and Company. Judge Charles Coxe of Philadelphia, executor of the Tench Coxe Estate, granted the company a 20-year lease for the establishment and operation of a colliery on these 1,500 acres (6 km²) of land. In 1854 the company began work on this, the Council Ridge Colliery.
By autumn of 1854, the company had constructed a saw mill to provide lumber necessary for the colliery buildings, such as the breaker, stable, and store house. They also began building a village to house the colliery workers. The scattered forest dwellings of the residents of Shingletown were quickly replaced by two rows of red wooden frame houses with black trim. This new village was called Fillmore, presumably in honor of President Millard Fillmore who left office in 1853. Several years later, the company applied for a post office for their town and learned that a town in Centre County had already appropriated the name. As a result, the town was renamed Eckley in 1857 in honor of Judge Coxe’s eldest son, Eckley B. Coxe who was then 17 years old. In later years, Eckley Coxe, an engineer, became involved in the operations in the town of his name.
The first residents of Eckley were mostly English and Welsh immigrants who came from the mines in Great Britain. There also were Germans living in the village who were brought to the colliery as engineers.
By the late 1850s and early 1860s, these colliers were joined by groups of Irish farmers who had immigrated to America after the devastating potato famine in their homeland. The Irish were generally unskilled in the field of mining and so received the lowest-skilled, lowest-paying jobs. Over time, the Irish learned the skills of mining and moved into better-paying, higher-skilled jobs. By the time of the 1880s and 1890s, the low-skill jobs were being taken by the new wave of immigrants from Eastern and Southern Europe. These groups included peoples from Slovakia, Poland, Ukraine, Lithuania, and Italy. Once again, the new immigrants took many years to develop the knowledge and skills to move into the higher-skilled positions in the colliery.
Many of these immigrants came to America expecting to work in the mines just long enough to save money, buy land, and return to the farming lifestyle they had known in Europe. Once they became part of the company-owned system, however, very few were able to escape the years of poverty and hardship that faced them.
The site is now run as a museum with an indoor and outdoor component by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. Buildings that are part of the museum include: the Immaculate Conception Church (1861), three "slate pickers houses" (1854), larger laborers' dwellings (1854), St. James Episcopal Church (1859), mine boss's houses (1860), the doctor's office (1874), and the Sharpe House (1861).
The Molly Maguires a 1970 film was filmed in Eckley in 1969. The wooden "coal breaker" featured heavily in the film was built as a prop. It received little or no maintenance over the years and, even though it has been called a tinderbox, it still stands today — over 40 years later. The company store was also built as a prop for the movie and still stands today.
The filming of the movie resulted in the town's being saved from demolition, and it was afterward turned into a mining museum under the control of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.
The following history is drawn from James Ford Rhodes, the president of the American Historical Association, in an article in the then-leading scholarly journal, the American Historical Review. (April 1910), copyright expired. [N.B. This hostile view of the Mollies was written a century ago. "Revisionist" views, giving an entirely different perspective, have become commonplace in the past hundred years. See, e.g., the DVD (1998 release) entitled "The True Story of the Molly Maguires," available at History.com, and the separate Wikipedia article called "The Molly Maguires."]
In the nineteenth century, Irish immigrants transplanted a form of their Molly Maguire organization into America and continued its activities as a clandestine society. Irish miners in this organization employed the tactics of intimidation and violence previously used against Irish landlords in a violent confrontation against the anthracite, or hard coal mining companies in the 19th century. They were located in a section of the anthracite coal fields dubbed the Coal Region.
"The Mollys" were found in the counties of Lackawanna, Luzerne, Columbia, Schuylkill, Carbon, and Northumberland County, Pennsylvania.
This Irish coal-mining heritage contributed to their wave of violence, and continued well over ten years in the late 19th century in the United States. Although a legitimate self-help organization for Irish immigrants existed in the form of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, the Molly Maguires existed as a secret organization behind this front. Both groups fought discrimination against Irish and Catholics. In the case of the Mollies, the fight took the form of violence and destruction, mimicking the attacks against English landlords in Ireland, and the later sectarian intimidation of political and religious opponents in the first decades of the 20th century.
Many of the Mollies were miners and the mode of working the mines lent itself to their peculiar policy. Miners were paid by the cubic yard, by the mine car, or by the ton, and (in the driving of entries) by the lineal yard. In the assignment of places, which was made by the mining boss, there were "soft" jobs and hard. If a Molly applied for a soft job and was refused, his anger was aroused and not infrequently in due time the offending boss was murdered. If he got employment, there was a constant chance of disagreement in measuring-up the work and in estimating the quality of the coal mined, for it was the custom to dock the miners' wages for bad coal with too much slate and dirt, and a serious disagreement was apt to be followed by violence. Little wonder was it that, as the source of the outrages was well understood, mining bosses refused to employ Irishmen, but this did not ensure their safety, as they might then be murdered for their refusal. A good Superintendent of any colliery would, in his quality of superior officer, support an efficient mining boss and would thus fall under the ban himself. John T. Morse, Jr., who made a contemporaneous study of the Molly Maguires, wrote in his vivid account of their operations: "The superintendents and 'bosses' in the collieries could all rest assured that their days would not be long in the land. Everywhere and at all times they were attacked, beaten, and shot down, by day and by night; month after month and year after year, on the public highways and in their own homes, in solitary places and in the neighborhood of crowds, these doomed men continued to fall in frightful succession beneath the hands of assassins."
The murders were not committed in the heat of sudden passion for some fancied wrong: they were the result of a deliberate system. The wronged individual laid his case before a quasijudicial tribunal demanding the death, say, of a mining boss and urging his reasons. If they were satisfactory, as they usually were, the murder was decreed; but the task was not assigned to the aggrieved person or to any one in his and the victim's neighborhood: perhaps directly aggrieved parties might be tempted to use more force or more cruelty than necessary. Two or more relatively disinterested Mollies from a different part of the county or even from the adjoining county were selected to do the killing because, being unknown, they could the more easily escape detection. Refusal to carry out the dictate of the conclave was dangerous and seldom happened, although an arrangement of substitution, if properly supported, was permitted. The meeting generally took place in an upper room of a hotel or saloon and, after the serious business, came the social reunion with deep libations of whiskey.
In attempting to give precise figures, some writers have undoubtedly exaggerated the number of murders by this order from 1865 to 1875; but no one can go through the evidence without being convinced that a great many men were killed to satisfy the vengeful spirit of the Molly Maguires. Some of the victims were men so useful, so conspicuous, and so beloved in their communities that their assassinations caused a profound and enduring impression. In some cases, so Dewees (who has written a very useful story) asserts, robbery was added to murder: superintendents, who were carrying the money for the monthly pay of the miners and laborers, were waylaid as they drove along some lonely road in the desolate country. While the murders were numerous, still more numerous were the threats of murder and warnings to leave the country written on a sheet of paper with a rude picture of a coffin or a pistol and sometimes both. One notice read: "Mr. John Taylor-We will give you one week to go, but if you are alive on next Saturday you will die." Another, to three bosses, charged with "cheating thy men" had a picture of three pistols and a coffin and on the coffin was written, "This is your home." In other mining districts and in manufacturing localities, during strikes and times of turbulence similar warnings have been common and have been laughed at by mining bosses, superintendents, and proprietors; but, in the anthracite region between 1865 and 1876 the bravest of men could not forget how many of his fellows had been shot and suppress a feeling of uneasiness when he found such a missive on his doorstep or posted up on the door of his office at the mine. Many a superintendent and mining boss left his house in the morning with his hand on his revolver, wondering if he would ever see wife and children again.
Only young men of the order were chosen to commit murder; above them were older heads holding high office and, in a variety of ways, displaying executive ability. They were quick to see what a weapon to their hand was universal suffrage, and, with the aptitude for politics which the Irish have shown in our country, they developed their order into a political power to be reckoned with. Numbering in Schuylkill county only 500 or 600 out of 5,000 Irishmen in a total population of 116,000, the Molly Maguires controlled the common schools and the local government of the townships in the mining sections of the county. They elected at different times three county commissioners and came near electing one of their number, who had acquired twenty thousand dollars worth of property, Associate Judge of the Court of Oyer and Terminer. In one borough a Molly was Chief of Police; another in Mahanoy township, Jack Kehoe, was High Constable.
The elections were marred by fraudulent voting, ballot-box stuffing, and false returns, the administration of the offices by fraud and robbery. In Mahanoy township, $60,000 was appropriated for the schools and eleven-twelfths of it stolen. Exorbitant road taxes were a fruitful means by which township officials robbed the taxpayers and put the money in their own pockets. In August 1875 an ex-county commissioner, a Molly; and two commissioners then in office, not actually belonging to the order but in sympathy with it, had been convicted of stealing the county funds and each had been sentenced by a full bench September 6 to two years' imprisonment. At the fall election for governor in this year (1875) the Molly Maguires, who were naturally Democrats, foresaw Republican success and sold their vote in Schuylkill and Luzerne counties to the Republicans for a certain amount of money in hand and an implied agreement that these convicted commissioners and other criminals who were called by a leading Molly "our men" should be pardoned. It is hardly to be supposed that the Republican politicians who made this bargain were aware of the thoroughly criminal nature of the Molly Maguires, for they had astutely covered themselves with a virtuous cloak, securing from the Legislature in 1871 a charter for the Ancient Order of Hibernians whose motto was "Friendship, Unity and Christian Charity." On October 10, 1875, in a letter to the Shenandoah Herald Jack Kehoe denied with indignation that the Molly Maguires were synonymous with the Ancient Order of Hibernians, which latter was "composed of men who are law abiding and seek the elevation of their members." (2) Kehoe was crafty enough to see the advantage of throwing dust in the eyes of the public and, when the outside world was bargained with, the A.O.H. was put forward; but, as matter of fact, it was the old story of ravening wolves in sheep's clothing.
They were forced to disband in 1877 after being in existence for about thirty years because, in an effort commissioned by Reading Railroad president Franklin B. Gowen (who was also at the time the most influential mine owner in the area), Pinkerton National Detective Agency agents infiltrated the organization and informed on the activities of the members.
Traveling east to west down Main Street the houses become larger toward the end of town. Like most industrial companies of the 19th century, Sharpe, Weiss and Company planned the village with the occupation and rent paying abilities of their workers in mind. In Eckley, the mine owners lived at the western end of town. The original company store, mule barn, hotel, and doctor’s office were located there as well.
Mine foremen and their families rented the single dwellings located just east of the downtown. First class miners, those men with experience in mining, were assigned the 2 1⁄2-story double houses in the middle of the village. These were larger than the 1 1⁄2-story double dwellings rented to their assistants or laborers.
- Dewees, Francis P. The Molly Maguires: The Origin, Growth, and Character of the Organization (1877; 1964)
- "Eckley, USGS Weatherly (PA) Topo Map". TopoQuest. Retrieved 2008-06-29.