Patch Town Life
Eckley is one among hundreds of company-owned mining towns or “patch towns” that cropped up across Northeastern Pennsylvania’s coal fields throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Often built quickly and cheaply on remote mountain ridges, company houses initially offered little more than shelter from the rain. Yet Eckley is also a record of how working families made their homes here by constructing additions, planting gardens, and refashioning this sparse environment into a bustling, diverse community.
Visitors’ Center, 1975
Every tour at Eckley begins with a 17-minute orientation film that gives visitors a background on the village and its history. The exhibit hall brings to life the hardships of the miner and his family through the artifact and pictorial displays.
The Visitors’ Center not only contains pieces of history, but has a history of its own. The site was the location for a six-room schoolhouse that served students through grade eight, and was in operation until 1948. In the early days education was only provided to the children of mine bosses. As labor laws progressed, children of miners and laborers started to receive an education. The various village churches provided schooling and at one time St. James Episcopal Church built a four room school house.
Immaculate Conception Church, 1861
Eckley’s Catholic Church was built at the eastern end (the poorer side) of the town to serve the Irish parishioners who lived there in the 1850s and 1860s. When middle and eastern European immigrants arrived in the 1880s and 90s to take the laborer positions however, they chose to walk the three miles into Freeland instead of using the church.
The church was de-consecrated in the 1950s, and all items, except for the original altar, were removed. The Church’s interior has been restored to its 1920s appearance. All furnishings, artifacts, paintings and decorations are typical of the time period, although many are from several other Catholic Churches around the area, especially Immaculate Conception Church in Berwick.
Eckley Sports and Social Club, 1946
The mining company donated the building to the residents of Eckley in the 1940s for use as a social gather point. The club is still active with many residents and local citizens participating in their events. The sale of liquor was not permitted in many patch towns, however, there was a bar in the Eckley Hotel for some time.
This building was used during the filming of The Molly Maguires, as the Emerald House. It was used for the filming of bar scenes.
Slate Picker’s House, 1854
The slate pickers’ homes are the smallest built in the village, and were built along Back Street. The houses consist of three rooms (two downstairs, and a sleeping loft upstairs), and would have been occupied by the Irish laborers when they first arrived in the village. The name comes from the worker’s position, frequently filled by young boys and disabled men, in which they would have picked pieces of slate out of the coal in the breaker. The job was the lowest on the pay scale and subsequently many of them lived in these structures. Most of the buildings were lost to fire and mining, however three remain.
Laborer’s Dwelling, 1854
The laborers’ dwellings were built in 1854. The structures were double dwellings, with each half housing as many as 15 people. The buildings are one and a half levels with four rooms. The family bedroom and kitchen were located downstairs and boarders slept in the two bedrooms upstairs. During the time when the Coxe family operated the village, the buildings were painted red and black because these were inexpensive pigments.
Company Store, 1968
Eckley’s current company store was built as a movie prop by Paramount Studios. The original store was built in 1857 and was located next to the Doctor’s Office in the western end of the village. The building was demolished in the 1940s.
In many patch towns like Eckley, miners were required to purchase supplies from the company store, which charged about 15% more than their privately-owned counterparts. Companies usually paid their miners in scrip, meaning the wages of a miner were credited to an account in the company store. Eckley residents tried to avoid doing business there.
St. James Episcopal Church, 1859
The church was consecrated as part of the Upper Lehigh Mission. The building served the English, Welsh and German Episcopalian families. When the congregation began to decline in the 1880s, St. James fell into disrepair. The building was finally removed in 1938.
In 1860, another church following the same exact plans as Eckley’s church was built in White Haven by the same architect. When the PHMC acquired Eckley in 1974, the congregation of the White Haven church, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, donated the structure to the village. Because the buildings were built to the same design the White Haven church fit seamlessly onto the original foundation. While the items on the inside are all from the White Haven church, all items including the stained glass are appropriate for Eckley as they were part of the same parish faith.