Few places in North America allow you to walk simultaneously in the footprints of 1860s miners and 1970s Sean Connery.
Nestled in the hills and dips of eastern Pennsylvania coal country, the village of Eckley was planned and built in the 1850s to house laborers working in Council Ridge Colliery. By the turn of the century, Eckley comprised families from Wales, Germany, Italy, Slovakia, Poland, Lithuania, and Ireland. It was one of dozens of similar “patch” towns speckled across the region, owned by powerful mining companies to ensure at least some of their workers’ wages returned to the corporation in the form of rent and supplies purchased from the company-operated general store. Active into the early 1900s, Eckley and many of its surrounding mines were sold off in the face of declining profits after World War II.
Eckley would have met the same fate as most mining communities from the era—either development or demolition—had it not been for Sean Connery. Well, Paramount Pictures. While scouting locations for a film about the notorious Molly Maguires, a gang of Irish mine workers known for intimidating company bosses throughout the 1850s, Paramount settled on the eerily well-preserved Eckley. After The Molly Maguires’ 1970 release, the town was donated to the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. Around 20 individuals still reside in the village year-round, many of them descendants of original Council Ridge miners.
Today, visitors can wander down Eckley’s main street, tracing the hierarchy of mine labor from shacks occupied by unskilled slate pickers, past two-story clapboard houses built for skilled miners, toward the cozy single-family homes reserved for superintendents and bosses. Finally, at the western-most end of the street stands an impressive Gothic Revival-style house constructed especially for mine owner Richard Sharpe. Props from the 1969 film, including the replica coal breaker looming over the center of town, can be found interspersed among original 19th century structures. Preservation guidelines require full-time residents to keep all exterior traces of modern life concealed behind wooden sheds authentic enough that one can easily imagine they contain illicit stores of moonshine or a communal black-lung respirator, rather than satellite dishes and fire hydrants. Woodland seclusion and a palpable sense of history conjure grim tales of illness, injury, and industry, making a fall or winter visit particularly haunting.