Centralia Timeline

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Centralia Borough History

  • 1749 - Centralia Valley bought from native tribes for 500 pounds
  • 1770 - area surveyed while building "Reading Road" (linked Reading with Fort Augusta), much of which later became Route 61
  • 1841 - First building in town built by Johnathan Faust. Called Bull's Head Tavern.
  • 1854 - Arrival of the Mine Hill Railroad at the village of Big Mine Run (about 2mi SW of present Centralia) made coal transport possible; Alexander Rea builds a house and founds Centerville.
  • 1856 - two mines open, Locust Run and Coal Ridge.
  • 1858 - Public School built on E. Main Street.
  • 1860 - Big Mine Run Plane erected. Brought Mine Hill Railroad (later Philadelphia & Reading Reading) to Centralia.
  • 1860 - Hazel Dell Colliery opened by Robert Gorrell. Colliery
  • 1862 - Centralia Colliery opened by Joseph M. Freck, Blackiston & Co. Mollie Maguirism
  • 1863 - Continental Colliery opened by Carter, Schoener & Company.
  • 1863 - Union Colliery, later called North Ashland, opened by John Anderson & Co.
  • 1863 - Methodist Church established.
  • 1865 - Centralia Post Office established with Johnathan Hoagland as first postmaster. Name of town changed from Centerville to CENTRALIA.
  • 1865 - Lehigh and Mahanoy RR, branch of Lehigh Valley RR, easy access to eastern markets.
  • 1866 - April 13. Centralia Borough formally chartered.
  • 1866 - Episcopal Church established.
  • 1867 - Presbyterian Church established.
  • 1868 - Oct. 17th - Alexander Rea is ambushed and murdered just west of town.
  • 1869 - St. Ignatius Roman Catholic Church established. Legend speaks of Father Daniel Ignatius McDermott placing curse on community
  • 1878 - End of Mollie Maguires, when many alleged leaders hanged (though descenedents said to still live in Centralia in the 1980s).
  • 1879 - July 15th. Fire erupts in Centralia Colliery mine destroying mine and all surface structures. Colliery closed for two years.
  • 1884 - Baptist Church established.
  • 1894 - Centralia Hose Co. No. 1 established.
  • 1896 - St. Ignatius School erected.
  • 1898 - North Ashland Colliery closes.
  • 1899 - Philadelphia & Reading Railroad removed.
  • 1900 - United Mine Workers leader strikes with 150,000 miners, earning moderate wage increase.
  • 1902 - Another strike in May for more pay, better hours, formal recognition; cut off most of nation's anthracite coal; 122 striking Centralia miners successfully thwart strikebreakers; strike ended October.
  • 1903 - President Roosevelt appointed commission to overhear strike, involved 4 Centralia miners, ruled in favor of Union 23 March. 10% wage hike and 9 hour day at 10 hours pay.
  • 1908 - December 4th. Large section of downtown Centralia destroyed by fire. Thirty-eight homes and business places destroyed and over 150 people made homeless.
  • 1911 - St. Mary's Ukrainian Catholic Church established.
  • 1916 - Sts. Peter & Paul Russian Orthodox Church established.
  • 1917 - Peak of anthracite coal industry; decline beginning after World War I.
  • 1923 - June, July. Three large fires in eleven days level large sections of Centralia.
  • 1925 - last great strike caused public to tire of the union, and switch to fuel oil heating
  • 1929 - Stock Market crash forced Lehigh Valley Coal Company to close all five Centralia mines throwing thousands out of work. Led to Bootleg Mining in idle mines.
  • 1935 - Some miners return to work, some strip mining.
  • 1939 - Germantown Colliery opened by Raven Run Coal Company.
  • 1941 - St. Mary's School opened.
  • 1949 - Fuel oil destroys remainder of Anthracite market, state law passed to allow a village to purchase mineral rights.
  • 1950 - Centralia acquires rights to all coal beneath borough by new law; allows borough to no longer be under control by Lehigh mine company, now a completely separated entity.
  • 1954 - Continental Colliery closes.
  • 1956 - St. Mary's School closed.
  • 1960 - Germantown Colliery closes.
  • 1962 - Mine fire begins in borough landfill.
  • 1963 - November. Centralia Colliery closes.
  • 1966 - July 2,3,4. Centralia celebrates Centennial of it's incorporation with huge celebration.
  • 1967 - Lehigh Valley Railroad removed.
  • 1969 - First mine-fire relocation project. Three families on Wood Street.
  • 1980 - Second relocation project.
  • 1981 - June. St. Ignatius School closes.
  • 1981 - Third mine-fire relocation project.
  • 1984 - Congress allocates 42 million dollars to relocate residents from Centralia.
  • 1991 - A diminished, but still spirited, Centralia celebrates 125th Anniversary with picnic and parade. [Publishes Centralia 125 Special Anniversary Edition].
  • 1992 - Commonwealth of Pennsylvania enacts eminent domain against remaining residents.
  • 1995 - Centralia Post Office temporarily closed.
  • 2002 - Centralia Post Office permanently closed. Mail for remaining residents delivered from nearby Ashland.

Mine Fire Development

See the full article: Centralia Mine Fire


  • Early 1962 - Centralia Council converts old 1935 strip mine to a landfill; holes in walls and floor of the pit required sealing with incombustible material;
  • March 5 - work finalized and approved 5 March.
  • May 7 - meeting of Council decided to tidy the landfill for Memorial Day (by an illegal method of burning refuse)
  • May 27 - Trash was moved and burned; firemen extinguish blaze
  • May 29 - Fire resurges, again is doused
  • June - Fire appears again; while sifting garbage to attempt to extinguish the fire, a hole 15ft long and several feet high is discovered, never having been filled, leading into old mines. Estimated cost of stopping fire is $175. Fire is officially declared and stated as "unknown origin" 25 June.
  • August 6 - State declares it will handle the project, requires bids to go out
  • August 10 - All mines in Centralia area are halted due to carbon monoxide
  • August 22 - Bridy, Incorporated bids about $20,000 to dig a trench to extinguish the fire
  • October 23 - A plan to flush the fire is approved and begins
  • October 29 - Bridy, Inc. runs out of money and has failed to trench the fire
  • November 1 - K&H Excavating bids $28,400 to flush the mine fire


  • March 15 - K&H Excavating project is terminated with cost of $42,420, not having enough to seal the mine fire
  • April 11 - Deputy Secratary of Mines Gordon Smith visits Centralia and orders a study
  • July 1 - Gordon Smith draws up a viable three-option proposal, cost ranging from $82,300 to $277,490, all of which is entirely rejected due to a budget cut and lack of prioritization on the Centralia Mine Fire
  • July 9 - Gordon Smith manages to secure a mere $40,000 and rehire Bridy, Inc. to dig another trench for $36,225.
  • August 13 - Initially monitoring the work, Gordon Smith abandons Centralia to assist in another emergency 15 miles away and does not return.
  • October - Trench work is halted due to the mine fire being detected on both sides of the trench


  • May - John Buch of the U.S. Bereau of Mines wrote a two phase plan of attack at estimated cost of $2,525,000
  • 8 June - Project is approved, but delayed due to stalls in obtaining property releases


  • March - All property releases were collected, but project again delayed due to internal politics over concerns of the first delay
  • June 8 - Project is reapproved, but must get bids
  • August 19 - Winning bid for Phase I of project is Empire Contracting Company of Old Forge at cost of $281,215; a $45,000 engineering fee pushed this over the $300,000 allocation, requiring an amended contract
  • September 12 - Amended contract signed. Project is delayed for 8 months building a pump to pull acidic water for flushing from a mile away.


  • May 8 - Drilling resumed but discovered the fire had spread farther north than previously antipicated, and other problems required greater flushing escalating cost. It was also determined that the proposed trench was insufficient due to discoverd depth of the fire, and would require $4.5 million to create only a half-circle. The trench was abandoned to create flush barriers only, mainly due to a later report which stated that the trench cost ten times the property value it was to protect.


  • April 3 - With the discovery of fly ash, a product of burned coal, as a superior fire control device, a plan is set to form a fly ash barrier near Centralia to protect homes.
  • May 5 - Stearns Service Corporation of Nanticoke begins the fly ash barrier project. Sealing several mine entrances near homes causes worsening effects of carbon monoxied poisoning.
  • May 22 - Some residents have made it apparent they do not believe in the fly ash barrier, and attest that a trench must be dug; this order is rejected
  • May 26 - Stearns is ordered to work on the fly ash barrier near three abandoned Centralia homes where the mine fire gas has become unbearable.
  • June 13 - Congressman Daniel Flood meets at Helen Womer's house to discuss the need for excavation instead of the fly ash barrier, leading to the order for a small trench to be dug.
  • October - Despite the mine fire having been exposed during the digging of the small trench, with engineer John Rosella convinced that this was the chance to get the fire, Washington orders the hole backfilled and digging to stop due to over extension of work, with additional funds denied.

1972 - 1976

  • 1972 - In the spring, the first breech of the fly ash barrier had been detected outside of town. An emergency fund was requested to repair the breech.
  • 1973 February - The emergency fund is cleared, providing an additional $250,000. $50,000 of which is to drill 53 monitoring holes.
  • 1974 February 15 - The fly ash barrier is completed with praises from congressman Flood.
  • 1975 - The Gaughan household is alerted to high carbon monoxide levels between bore holes and the fly ash barrier, indicating its ineffectiveness.
  • 1976 November 1 - Journalist David DeKok, future major Centralia Mine Fire reporter, has first exposure to the fire at a Centralia Council meeting
  • 1976 December 8 - A news article published about the Gaughan's concerns finally ignites the Centralia Council to act.


  • April 12 - Funding for reinforcing the Fly Ash barrier is approved.
  • June - Preliminary drilling reveals that the areas lacking fly ash prove the barrier was never intact and could have allowed the fire to spread further
  • September - the lowest bid for the project was at $429,550, above a $385,000 allocation, requiring a new trip through beauracracy.


  • Febrary - Project reapproved
  • May - Work finally begins on the fly ash barrier, producing some results in decreasing underground temperatures and gas levels, though citizens remain unconvinced.
  • June 13 - A town meeting is held to discuss the matter of extending the 1969 trench.
  • July 27 - Citizens further demand knowing the boundaries of the fire, which is not available; a DER employee begs consideration for three positive alternatives to the fly ash barrier
  • August 13 - Infrared images providing scope of the fire initiate approval for an extension of the 1969 trench
  • September 7 - A town meeting is held to discuss the trench extension, claiming 25 homes will have to be razed; Helen Womer begins to lead a group of five families who refuse to be relocated
  • September 9 - Another town meeting finds Joan Girolami becoming the leader of five families who feel relocation is their only option.
  • October 5 - Seven options are presented to Centralia Council, including the existing trench extension plan
  • November 2 - Centralia Council votes to go with the trench extension plan, as it appears the only immediately doable task and desperately needed.
  • December 19 - A different plan of a "super flush barrier" to fill current and future mine fire voids is proposed at cost of $6 million and would require no relocation
  • December 21 - This new plan is approved to replace the old plan, though the new Office of Surface Mining must contribute some funding; ten in-house carbon monoxide readers are now provided for families


  • January - The fly ash barrier settles again, only this time to begin affecting several homes with carbon monoxide gas.
  • November 21 - John Coddington notices plume of smoke between his gas station and the Lamb family household
  • December 5 - John Coddington sees a wisp of smoke rising from his basement floor, with the wall warm to the touch


  • January 4 - Town meeting is held declaring that something would definitively be done about the mine fire, though a study would not be completed until September.
  • April 18 - A $225,000 relocation plan is approved to finally buy 8 houses (7 families) affected by the fly ash barrier project; however it did not occur immediately
  • June 3 - A meeting is held in Centralia to reassure the public that work is being done on the mine fire problem
  • June 4 - A carbon monoxide alarm installed at St. Ignatius Elementary sounds for 10 minutes until it is unplugged
  • September - Only two families selected to be relocated had left Centralia
  • September 29 - The Office of Surface Mining releases 650 copies of a report about the mine fire, which also details plans and estimated costs of attack


  • February 14 - Local 12 year old Todd Domboski falls into a hole that opens up due to the mine fire, alerting the state government of the real size of the problem
  • March 17 - The activist group Concerned Citizens forms to push for Centralia citizens to be relocated
  • March 31 - Governor Thornburg arrives to discuss the plan to relocate the residents of Centralia
  • April 20 - The Interior Department announces it will not do anything more to try to stop the fire; it will be left to burn
  • May 19 - A referendum is overwhelmingly voted "yes" for Centralia and Byrnesville to be relocated
  • October 19 - Centralia citizens appear on ABC Nightline with Ted Koppel
  • December 11 - President Reagan signs a bill appropriating $850,000 for a Centralia exploratory drilling project


  • May - It is discovered that gas is beginning to be found in sink / bathroom drains, indicating the mine fire is beginning to affect the Centralia sewer system
  • October 4 - OSM engineer Robert Brennan reveals that the mine fire has breeched the fly ash barrier and is moving towards several new targets in Centralia, Byrnesville, and Route 61.
  • November 3 - David Lamb's Speed Spot motorcycle shop is set on fire; this leads to the resignation of several members of Concerned Citizens and the group's collapse


  • January 8 - A crack opens across southbound Route 61, and the temperature beneath the highway was 853 degrees.
  • January 10 - Heavy rains create a thick cloud of steam that automotive headlights cannot penetrate, closing the highway for five months.
  • March 6 - Unity Day is held, to bring together the community and create a media frenzy in favor of helping Centralia and Byrnesville
  • July 12 - A report prepared by GAI Incorporated indicates how expensive the fire has become, with estimates of $105 to $660 million required to contain or extinguish the fire.
  • August 11 - Centralians vote on whether to save the town or relocate; the vote was 345 votes to 200 in favor of relocation
  • November 18 - Congress approves a bill that includes $42 million in relocation funds for Centralia, stipulating that the property values cannot be "fined" for the presense of the mine fire


See Also: Centralia After Relocation, John Lokitis Jr.

  • 1992 - The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania changes the voluntary relocation program to a mandatory one, declaring eminent domain of all properties
  • 2002 - A Post Office official declares that Centralia's zip code and identity should be revoked, merged with nearby Ashland; John Lokitis Jr. fights this change and ultimately results in only a zip code change
  • 2006 - 16 properties remain standing
  • 2008 - 11 properties remain standing
  • 2009 July 20 A user of Rita's Centralia forum notes that John Comarnisky is having a "property auction ... which seems to indicate to me that he the is [sic] next out"
  • 2009 December 12 - A user of Rita's Centralia forum posts images confirming the destruction of John Lokitis Jr.'s house
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