242 – Life in Eckley

In 1854, a new mine and coal patch town of Eckley was created in southern Luzerne County wilderness.

Only five years later, the enterprise had proven so profitable that the town included 130 houses, a sawmill, a hotel, a company store, several shops and three churches.

Coal Patch, Take Two: The Preservation of Eckley Miners’ Village

By 1857, Patrick Gallagher and Patrick Kelly had signed on to work for Sharpe, Weiss, and Leisenring at the new coal mine in Luzerne County. They moved their families to Eckley.

Eckley is special

Eckley is unique. The town exists today, as though the residents and workers had just walked away.

The coal mining town of Eckley is preserved as a living history museum. It is the only surviving Pennsylvania anthracite patch town, and one of only a few company coal towns in the United States. The town is administered by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.

Looks like the Gallaghers walking home from church

How lucky we are that the mining town of our grandparents survives. Maybe we can visit the very house they lived in. For sure, we can get a first-hand account of how they lived and where they worked and worshipped.


Rows of single and double houses were built.  They were painted red and black, the two cheapest pigments. The dwellings weren’t insulated and often had dirt floors.  But they were considered nice for company housing. 

Workers’ residences in Eckley were constructed using one of three standardized plans based on the occupation of the resident: Superintendents lived in single, two-story houses; first-class, or contract, miners were provided with two-and-a-half-story double houses; and second-class miners and unskilled laborers occupied one-and-a-half-story double houses.

Coal Patch, Take Two: The Preservation of Eckley Miners’ Village
Patrick and Ellen Gallagher lived in one of the laborers’ houses.

Patrick and Ellen’s children

John Gallagher

Patrick and Ellen’s son John Gallagher had been born in 1855 in Tuscarora. John died young, before the 1860 census.

Thomas Gallagher

A second son Thomas was born November 8, 1857.  He was named after Ellen’s father, Thomas Large.  Sadly, Thomas also died before 1860.

Birth – Thomas Gallagher – November 8, 1857 – Gallagher Family Bible

Hannah Gallagher

On Monday, April 30, 1860, Hannah Gallagher was born to Patrick and Ellen. She was named after Patrick’s mother Hannah Roarty.  As with her other childbirths, Ellen had help from her sister Margaret and her mother Bridget. And like those other births, I’ll bet Patrick couldn’t miss work.

Birth – Hannah Gallagher – April 30, 1860 – Gallagher Family Bible

1860 Census – Patrick and Ellen Gallagher

The 1860 census shows Patrick and Ellen Gallagher’s family in Eckley. Patrick, 32, was a mine laborer.  Ellen was age 28.  Neither could read or write. Their daughter Hannah was two months old, having been born April 30.

Women and children in Eckley – c 1900

The family of John and Rose Gallagher were living next door, probably in the other half of the double house.  Were they kin?  Were they from Donegal? I wish we knew. 

Laborers’ houses

Patrick and Ellen lived in one of the laborers’ double houses near the east end of Main Street.

Laborers lived in 1-1/2 story double houses. They were wood framed, but not insulated or finished inside. The floors were wood or dirt. There were two rooms on the main floor and a loft upstairs.

Each house was furnished with a stove, table, and a few beds. The occupants provided any further furnishings.

Each side of the double house had a garden area alongside, and room for a lean-to or shed behind.

Ellen’s mother and sister lived nearby

Margaret and Patrick Kelly were living and working in Eckley too.  Margaret was Ellen’s older sister, age 30.  Her husband was Patrick Kelly, age 32. The Kellys had four children, ages 8 months to 7 years, all born in Pennsylvania.

Ellen’s mother Bridget Large lived with the Kellys.  She was age 68.

Patrick Kelly was a miner.  He had a crew of several laborers to haul coal and equipment. Maybe Patrick Gallagher worked on his crew.

The family of John and Mary Gallagher were living next door, probably in the other half of the double house.  Were they kin?  Were they from Donegal? Wish we knew. 

Lots of Gallaghers.

Miners’ houses

Patrick and Margaret Kelly lived in one of the miners’ double houses farther west along Main Street.

Miners lived in 2-1/2 story double houses. They were an upgrade to the laborers’ houses; a bigger stove, a wood floor, and finished interior walls.

There were two rooms on each of the main and second floors and a loft above. Sometimes the lofts were sub-rented by single workers.

Catholic Church

The Church of The Immaculate Conception was built in 1861.  It was at the eastern end of Main Street, near the laborers’ and slate pickers’ houses, as they were Irish Catholic and most of the parishioners.

Patrick and Ellen Gallagher, Patrick and Margaret Kelly, and Bridget Large patronized the church. 

Church of the Immaculate Conception – 1861

Michael Gallagher

Michael L. Gallagher was born Tuesday, February 17, 1863, in Eckley. Michael was named after Patrick’s brother. I’ve never seen his middle name, just the initial L. I’ll bet his middle name was Large.

If Michael was baptized, it was surely in the Church of the Immaculate Conception.

Birth – Michael Gallagher – February 17, 1863

Mike was the fourth child of Patrick and Ellen Gallagher. With the death of the first two children John and Thomas, the two remaining children were Hannah and Michael.

Room and board and supplies

The employees had to pay rent and buy provisions from the company store. The village also boasted a butcher shop, doctor’s office, shoe shop, tailor shop, and icehouse.

The workers’ liabilities were deducted from their pay, often leaving the workers with little left over.

Miners had to pay their labor crews and expenses. Here’s an example for Charles Murray for April 1886. His net income for the month was $6.25.

The Miners Pay-Day

Once they were paid and their monthly accounts were settled, the miners and laborers weren’t any better off.

Living History

This is a rare experience learning our family history. It’s better than reading a census or birth certificate.

Our grandparents lived here, in one of these houses. They worked here, a dirty and dangerous job. They complained about the unjust treatment of the bosses. They shopped at the company store. They cooked and cleaned. They celebrated the birth of their children and mourned the loss of loved ones. They went to church.

Close your eyes, and you can almost feel their presence.



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