Drive through Pennsylvania to explore some of the United States’ oldest ghost towns including Centralia, Pithole City, and Frick’s Lock. While these towns aren’t what they used to be, their unique histories are compelling tales of miniature empires. You’ll also get to travel through this major tourist state’s natural landmarks like the Appalachian mountains!
Pennsylvania is home to the Hershey’s Chocolate Factory, tax-free clothing, and the Liberty Bell—but it’s also home to several abandoned townships with intricate histories. Whether they were abandoned due to natural disasters or economic crashes, paying a visit to these ghost towns is worth your while.
Notably, Pennsylvania’s most famous ghost town, Centralia, is known for its coal-mining fire from 1962 that’s still burning to this day.
Located, ironically, off-center on the state’s eastern side, Centralia was a small coal mining community until its underground coal layer caught fire. When the fire began, Centralia had a population of about 1,000—and it wasn’t until 1981 when a 150-foot sinkhole opened beneath a young boy, that residents realized the severity of the situation. Luckily, the boy escaped in time to tell the tale, but it wasn’t long after before the residents began to slowly evacuate the town.
The government exhausted its resources in an attempt to extinguish the flames with no success and for years after, the city burned from beneath as toxic gases like carbon monoxide seeped through the ground. No one knows exactly what started the fire, but it’s been burning ever since.
What makes Centralia special?
Centralia is a city on fire and one of the only ghost towns with a living history. Presently, only five of the city’s original residents still live there. While most of the old city has been torn down now, one of the only buildings left is a small white Ukrainian church built on a rock, which echoes the Biblical parable of faith, wisdom, and resilience.
Most of the city has been torn down, including the well-loved Graffiti Highway. Part of the intrigue of Centralia is that there isn’t that much to see except what’s no longer there. With its cracked roads with no destinations and the occasional smoke rising from the ground, being there is like something out of a movie.
Note: It is important to be respectful of the properties and adhere to any “no trespassing” signs, as there are residents still living in Centralia. Be sure to also stay upwind of any smoke or steam rising from the ground as there is a good chance it may be toxic.
Pithole City was a city from 19th century Pennsylvania that expanded as fast as it fell apart. The Frazier Well—named after Isaiah N. Frazier, the first person to discover oil in Pennsylvania—became all the rage in 1865. The American Civil War had just ended, and people were looking for opportunities to make a comfortable living.
Various businesses and hotels were built almost overnight as oil drillers, gamblers, and everyone in between flocked to the Pithole Creek Valley like moths to a flame. The population, like the money in the bank system, rapidly increased by the thousands. ith the city’s bustling workdays and lively nights at the entertainment clubs, people were living life.
The introduction of Samuel Van Syckel’s pipeline brought efficiency to the process and the price of oil dropped from $8.00 a barrel to $2.50 in 1866. This was only part of the devastation. Seventeen oil well fires burnt numerous homes and businesses to ashes and in less than two years, the Pithole City’s population fell from 20,000 to 237.The land, which once had a real-estate value of over $2 million, was sold for $4.
What makes Pithole City special?
If you want to visit Pithole City, here’s where to check out:
Pithole City Visitors Center contains multiple exhibits including photographs, film, and a large to-scale miniature depicting the entire city in its glory days. The Center is open on the weekends during the summer months (June to August)
The streets of the ghost town are open year-round during daylight hours
How to visit Pithole City
Pithole City is located in Pennsylvania's northwest corner 17 minutes from Oil City. To get there, take Plummer Street to merge into PA-227. Exit and stay on Pithole Road and the destination is about 2 miles in.
The oldest of the ghost towns, Frick’s Lock was a small village settled in the early 1800s near the Schuylkill Canal. A modest village, Frick’s Lock’s entire economic system was built upon the commercial water transportation system to sustain itself. However, the rapid introduction of railway technology rendered their waterway locks obsolete.
If that wasn’t already a hit to their humble economy,the Philadelphia Electric Company began constructing the Limerick Generating Station—a nuclear power plant, in the 1960s. Frick’s Lock villagers were forced out of their village home to find residence elsewhere.
The area, populated by a few abandoned homes and buildings, is a testament to the rise of industrialism and how technology changed since the first settlers in the 19th century.
What makes Frick’s Lock special?
While the village is on private property with signs for trespassers to keep out, the East Coventry Historical Commission does run tours of the village for tourists to explore and learn about its history. Tours are free and run every other Saturday from May to October.
How to visit Frick’s Lock
The village of Frick’s Lock is tucked away just 35 miles northeast of the state’s largest city, Philadelphia. To get to Frick’s Lock, take I-76 W to King of Prussia.Exit on the PA-23 W from US-422 W. From there, follow PA-23 and PA-724W to Frick Lock Road in East Coventry.
What’s the story of Concrete City?
Concrete City’s nearly indestructible remains look like the setting of a post-apocalyptic story. Constructed in 1911 for employees of the Truesdale Colliery, Concrete City is a residential complex of homes made entirely of concrete.
At the time of its construction, it was a novelty, praised by one of the country’s most famous inventors, Thomas Edison. Never before had anyone thought to construct a residential community out of concrete. Unfortunately, there was good reason for that: concrete proved to be a poor insulator through the winter and within its first 13 years, the city was completely abandoned.
The Glen Alden Coal Company, which owned the property, wanted to tear down the community. Their hopes of ever building something else were shattered after failing to leave much of a mark in one home after 100 sticks of dynamite.
While it probably looks nothing like it did 112 years ago, the buildings are still intact—albeit overgrown with greenery and overlapping graffiti. Concrete City has popular usage as a graffiti canvas and a training ground for law enforcement officials.
Due to the minimalist architecture of Concrete City, there is not much variety from home to home. And without any furnishings left in the houses, there are simply skeletons of modern living spaces: four bedrooms, a living room, an upstairs, and a basement.
A warning to the wise: the land is fairly unkempt, so wear pants and boots if you’re on foot, be extra careful if you drive, and don’t visit at night. It’s definitely eerie but it would probably make for some really great photos!
How to visit Concrete City
Concrete City is located in Nanticoke PA, a small town just outside of Wilkes-Barre. To get to Concrete City, take South Main Street about 6 miles. Turn left onto Clarks Cross Road, and then right onto Hanover Street for 1 mile. Turn right onto the side road Hugh’s Street and onto the private property.
If you’re going to bring snacks and food, be respectful and don’t leave your trash on the property.
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