Anthracite Heritage Tourism
“Sights and Sites You’ve Likely Not Seen but Should Have!”
by Mike Korb
Over 60 percent of the world’s anthracite coal is deposited in Northeastern Pennsylvania (NEPA). During the 19th century, anthracite coal was the fuel that ignited the Industrial Revolution. When you take an anthracite heritage tour, there is lots to see and lots to learn about in the anthracite coal region of Pennsylvania – 484 square miles in nine counties, between Harrisburg and Forest City. When you travel the 150-mile trip up Interstate 81 and across US Route 6 and make one of the many eye-opening side trips through the coalfields, you will ride along a ridge, looking into deep valleys, over steep hills, along streams and rivers, and find yourself surrounded by spectacular scenery. You’ll see cities, mountains, unique small towns, and hear and learn distinctive stories and traditions. And those are just a few of the characteristics of anthracite heritage tourism that are something unlike anything else – Sights and Sites You’ve Likely Not Seen but Should Have!
The story of the anthracite coalfields is a legacy of labor history, ethnic diversity, and pride, creating a working-class culture that made America great. One-hundred years ago in this scenic area, 180,000 hard-working miners were producing the coal that created modern America. It’s a real believe-it-or-not experience when you read and hear the work these guys did when you see it yourself on a journey into an underground mine. I’m inviting you to come and explore NEPA to enjoy the one of a kind anthracite heritage tourism, recreation, sights, stories and adventures waiting for you here in the coal regions.
I’m Mike Korb, a mining engineering graduate of the Missouri School of Mines in Rolla Missouri. I’ve been working in the mining industry for more than 50 years in management, executive, professional, supervisory, consulting, and technical jobs; worked in bituminous coal, iron ore, limestone, industrial sand, copper and slag mining operations and more than 20 years in the anthracite coal fields here in NEPA. The past eight years I worked for Pennsylvania in Abandoned Mine Reclamation until May 13, when I became a “mining, reclamation, management, heritage development consultant,” retired. Always before now when I called myself a “consultant ” it was because I was looking for a job. Now I don’t want to work full time anymore but I don’t want to stop working either. I want to continue being an advocate for mining and coal, responsible environmental management, economic development on previously mined lands and heritage development and preservation.
Right now I’m working to start a group to promote and facilitate tourism of the heritage, history, culture and natural beauty of the entire anthracite region and to educate and apprise about the features and events that demonstrate them. Joan has graciously offered to allow me to blog on her Visit Northeastern Pennsylvania page and I plan to talk with you about what that organization is doing and about the great attractions and events that are related to anthracite mining heritage, at least until she gives me “the hook.” I’m working on the name of it, which likely will be the Anthracite Heritage Alliance (AHA).
I was an immigrant to the anthracite region more than 40 years ago. I moved to Hazleton on Valentine’s Day 1974. My good wife Pat (some call her St. Pat for being married to me for nearly 50 years) and I had looked at houses in Jim Thorpe, Lansford, Palmerton, Pottsville, Nesquehoning, Coaldale, and Lehighton, to name a few, and I think probably every town in a 25-mile radius of Tamaqua, where I was working at the anthracite mining operation Bethlehem Steel bought from the Fauzio Brothers.
When we first looked at the region, it looked like a pretty dreary place, with lots of gray landscapes, but we discovered the people were amazing friends and neighbors and it was a great place to learn about the industrial revolution, labor history, and immigrant communities. We found it a remarkable place to live. We moved away for nearly ten years for a job on the west coast but came back because it’s such a good place to be. It’s also somewhere you’ll want to visit. The area has some fantastic mining heritage tourist attractions, including two state anthracite heritage museums and three underground mine tours, and the Molly Maguires; and hundreds of potentially great ones. I’ve taken dozens of groups on heritage and mining tours here and haven’t touched the coal dust on more than a fraction of them. One tour I led a couple years ago was called “Sights and Sites You’ve Likely Not Seen but Should Have!” You don’t want to miss what you can see and experience on these tours. We have big open pit mining operations, magnificent architecture, churches, museums, ethnic food, iron furnaces; and historical sites – places that literally changed American history, economics, labor.
We were the “old country” for people who moved to Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago, California, and their grandchildren. How many people in the United States had a “grandfather who worked in the mines?” And wouldn’t it be neat to show the kids where grandpa worked or a place where grandma made her home? You can do both of those and lots more in NEPA.
AHA will develop a strong partnership network focusing on shared anthracite heritage issues, in Lackawanna, Luzerne, Schuylkill, Carbon, Columbia and Northumberland Counties – across the entire anthracite coal region, and help address legacy mining issues. The partnership network will attempt to include all of the mining, historical, environmental, cultural, heritage, stories and tourism aspects of the anthracite region, and I hope to tell about its growth, the “Sights and Sites You’ve Likely Not Seen but Should Have!” and the anthracite heritage tourism places and events you should visit in NEPA. I can also help answer questions about places you want to know.