A Long-Term Plan

Charting a sustainable future for Eckley Miners’ Village.

Eckley is steeped in history, but it’s never been stuck in the past. The village has been continuously inhabited since its 1854 founding, and generations of mining families and their descendants have adapted the village to changing circumstances. Each apple tree, backyard shed, strip of wallpaper, and chicken coop tells the story of how working families molded what they found into what they needed. In this way, Eckley embodies Northeastern Pennsylvania’s traditions of resilience, resourcefulness, and determined self-reliance.

We’re proud to be adding another chapter to that story. The Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission (PHMC) is implementing a long-range plan that envisions a vibrant, sustainable future for Eckley Miners’ Village. In more than 50 years of stewarding the site, we’ve helped visitors ask and answer questions about our shared heritage: Who lived here? How did they use these buildings? What changes and challenges did they encounter?

Today, we’re also asking questions about the future. How will we attract new visitors? What will they do in these buildings? What new perspectives on the anthracite region will they introduce and explore? Over the next several months, we’ll be diving into specific projects and plans. Let’s first see how we got to this jumping-off point.

Surveying the Land

Eckley’s buildings are of timeless significance, but they were built to last only for the duration of the underlying coal seam – not for 170 years. Preserving these remarkable structures for another century and beyond will require some creative solutions.

Aerial image of Eckley @ DiscoverNEPA (2023)

With a grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission, PHMC retained Philadelphia firm Urban Partners to develop a strategic plan for Eckley Miners’ Village in 2019. The planning process was guided by a simple principle: that the best way to preserve a building is to use it. Finding contemporary uses for historic buildings will allow us to develop new programs and audiences while also ensuring that maintenance issues are addressed as quickly as they arise.

Stakeholders meet for a visioning session at Eckley Miners’ Village (2019)

Dozens of community stakeholders weighed in on ideas for the village’s 37 underutilized structures. Urban Partners also researched historic sites that have undertaken similar initiatives to anticipate the opportunities and risks associated with different proposals. Each suggested reuse was tested against the site’s mission, community sentiment, and economic feasibility to guarantee that the final plan delivered a realistic roadmap for preserving and enhancing the village.

So, what did we learn? The consultants were impressed by the outpouring of community support that they encountered. The personal investment that visitors feel in Eckley is part of what make the village special. The strategic plan tapped into Eckley’s strong sense of place to outline a number of strategies that fuse historicity and hospitality with the goal of increasing visitation, generating sustaining revenues, and transforming the village from a daytrip into an unrivalled heritage destination.

Drilling Down

Two reuse concepts in particular – overnight lodging in several miners’ homes and an interdisciplinary research center to facilitate academic partnerships – stood out to us for their consistency with the site’s mission and programming. In the past few years, we’ve refined those ideas through conversations with tourism professionals, funders, and potential academic partners whose research interests dovetail with our work at Eckley.

With additional Appalachian Regional Commission support, we partnered with Jacobs Wyper Architects in Summer 2023 to transform the research center and overnight lodging concepts into a set of preliminary designs. Jacobs Wyper reengaged community members, introduced new voices to the conversation, and drilled deep into the question of where Eckley fits in the dynamic, ever-changing economy and society of Northeastern Pennsylvania’s Coal Region. The project exceeded our expectations, and we now have a robust set of schematic designs to guide the next phase of development.

A typical miner’s double home, circa 1876.

Just as we were wrapping up the ARC project, we received word that the National Endowment for the Humanities had selected Eckley to participate in its Infrastructure & Capacity Building Challenge Program. NEH will match non-federal donations that Eckley receives over the next 2 years to support the final phase of design funding. We need your help to unlock this transformative federal investment, so head over to our “Support” page to find out how you can get involved!

Future Measures

As Jacobs Wyper’s report observes, “the history of Eckley Miners’ Village … is an environmental story.” The seams of anthracite coal deep underfoot attracted settlers to this region and compelled them to dramatically reshape the landscape. Eckley’s rise and decline as a community mirrored the arc of the anthracite industry, and as an open-air museum, the village has become a critical site of remembering and coming to terms with our region’s industrial heritage.

Talking about “future measures” underlines that even as new developments reimagine Eckley, we will continue to tell this story of anthracite coal and the “coalcrackers” who mined it. As Marywood professor of English and Eckley advisor Bill Conlogue has written, in local dialect “measures” are seams of anthracite. But measures are also assessments of the quality and value of a thing – attempts to gauge what a place like Eckley means or could come to mean. From another perspective, measures are steps taken to achieve a particular purpose or goal, like the preservation and reinvigoration of a cherished historical site.

Not least, ‘measure’ means moderation and care. Our enthusiasm for realizing Eckley’s potential is paired with a responsibility to protect what people hold dear about it. Eckley’s 1970 National Register of Historic Places nomination marveled that the village “is one of the few coal company towns not destroyed by progress.” As this project advances, we intend to keep that promise.

We hope you’ll follow along with our work by subscribing to this blog or contacting Project Manager Chris Stokum at c-cstokum@pa.gov for more information.

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