The Coal Region and a Living History of Its Polish Connection

“This place is like a time capsule. You guys still talk about Lemkos and Galicia. We don’t even talk about that stuff,” said exchange student Lyudmyla Sonchak during an ethnic festival near Minersville, Pennsylvania.

Anthracite Coal Region presents a unique historical demographic. Unlike larger American cities of the industrial heartland such as Chicago, New York, Cleveland and Detroit, the small coal patches of Northeastern Pennsylvania did not have the market diversity to transition beyond the industrial revolution. The first great wave of Eastern European immigration in the late 19th century was also the last wave of immigration for the Anthracite Coal Region.

It was the timing of this great wave of immigration that further complicated the region’s heritage. As officials at Castle Garden and then Ellis Island were overwhelmed by the sheer number of Eastern Europeans crossing the Atlantic, they resorted to some bureaucratic management. Foreigners had to be catalogued quickly – and these peasants often were not sure how to identity where they came from, since their lands had been ruled by different powers at different times. Religion was a definite identity and one that could be stereotyped: Lutherans were considered to be German, Orthodox were Russians – though they almost never were, and Eastern European Catholics were Polish.

While continued waves of immigrants to larger cities clarified ethnic identities, the Anthracite Coal Region became a snapshot of Poland’s partitioned history: even today, its residents naïvely recite their ancestors’ stories without revision through the lens of politics or subsequent history. READ MORE>>