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SHAMOKIN HISTORY

 

 
 
 
 
 
Shamokin and Coal Township
A Brief History
provided by Garth Hall - Shamokin Historian

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Shamokin stands on tracts of land originally known as the Samuel Clark and the Samuel Wetherill survey. These patents were issued on April 11, 1776 by John Penn and John Penn Jr., successors of William Penn, the founder of Pennsylvania.  

The name SHAMOKIN is a word in the language of the Delaware Indians which signifies “Eel Creek”.  Five nations of Indians occupied the Shamokin Indian Village at the confluence of the two branches of the Susquehanna River in what would later become Sunbury.    

The town of Shamokin was laid out on March 1, 1835.  Later, the tract of land known as Groveville just to the west of the town was added.  The town was formed in the true tradition of a Melting Pot. Immigrants who were English, Welsh, Irish, Italian, Polish, Lithuanian, and German came there. Places of worship sprouted to serve the masses: Roman Catholic, Methodist, Presbyterian, Baptist, Lutheran, and Jewish. The city grew beyond mining to include bakeries, ice cream and dairy factories, F&S Brewery, Eagle Silk Mill, dress and hosiery factories, as well was three movie theaters. The Borough of Shamokin was incorporated in 1864. Several other names were suggested for the name of the borough – Boyd’s Quarry, Boydtown, Newtown, and Marion.  John Boyd named the borough “Shamokin”.

At its peak in the 1920’s, the combined population of Shamokin and Coal Township was 50,000 with the main industries being Coal Mining and silk from the J.H. & C.K. Eagle Silk Mills.   

The first "Chief of Burgess" was Richard B. Douty.  In January 1950, the Borough became a Third Class City.

In 1837, Coal Township was established from the original Township of Coal which included all coal lands in Northumberland County.  There were only 17 voters in Coal Township when it was formed.    

Shamokin was once the most populous area and the largest trading center within a 60-mile radius. The Shamokin area is served by a downtown business area of 35 blocks.

Coal, or “Black Diamonds”, was first discovered in what would later become Kulpmont around 1790 when Isaac Tomlinson picked some pieces out of Quaker Run and took them into Berks County for a Blacksmith to try. Around 1875, Mr. Tomlinson erected a blacksmith shop and used Shamokin Stone Coal. From this small beginning emerged an industrial giant, "coal", which was to play a big part of the Industrial Revolution, and played an even more revolutionary role in the development of the city.

The most famous name associated with Shamokin is Thomas Alva Edison. Shamokin capitalists were among the first to recognize the significance of Edison's carbon filament lamp. They supplied all the money necessary to erect a power station in Shamokin and placed it under Edison's immediate supervision.  Edison was only 35 years old when he arrived in Shamokin in the early fall of 1882. In November of that year, the Edison Electrical Illuminating Company of Shamokin was incorporated. Shamokin was the site of the second three-wire electric light station in the world in 1883 (Sunbury, Pennsylvania, was the first). Edison's plant, for those of you visiting Shamokin, is now the site of Jones Hardware on Independence Street. St. Edward's Church (built in 1873) became the first church in the America to be lit by electricity.

The loss of much of the coal industry as the nation turned oil as its primary source of energy, loss of the silk industry in favor of synthetic textiles that could be manufactured cheaper overseas, the great depression which began in 1929 and the loss of Shamokin’s two railroads has resulted in a decrease in the current total population of Shamokin and Coal Township to a little over 18,000.  Still, after an 80 year period of decline, the community seeks to find a turning a corner to recovery. 

Many people spent their lives in the community while traveling great distances to maintain personal employments to support their families.  The community continues to be one that can be proud of its friendly citizens and willingness for neighbors to help each other through difficult times.

 

Shamokin & Coal Township Claims to Fame
 

  • The first coal discovered in Shamokin was in the Shamokin Creek between what would later become Spurzheim and Clay Streets. John Boyd built a Quarry and mined 50 tons of the stone coal.  The coal was taken by horse driven carts to his farm near Danville and later loaded on to barges and sold 100 miles south in Columbia.
  • Shamokin is home of the world's largest man made culm bank – the Cameron/Glen Burn Colliery Culm Bank.
  • Shamokin High School Alumni is the first and longest active Alumni Association in the United States – established in 1883.
  • St. Edward’s Church – First church in America to be electrified - Thomas Alva Edison’s System.
  • Stanley Coveleski was elected to the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame.
  • Admiral Herbert G. Hopwood is the only 4-star Admiral from the coal region. Commander-in-chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet 1958-1960.
  • William Howard Lee designed and supervised construction of the Odd Fellows Orphanage in Sunbury, the Dime Trust & Safe Deposit Company Building, Masonic Temple, and the Elks Home in Shamokin. Lee also designed Shamokin’s Victoria Theatre (1917) and Shamokin High School (1914) on Arch Street as well as 200 other buildings and theatres in America including Pottsville’s Majestic Theatre, Easton’s State Theatre and Reading’ Astor Theatre.
  • The J.H. & C.K. Eagle Silk Mill was the largest textile building under one roof in America – 379,000 sq. ft.
  • The National Ticket Company was once the largest ticket company in the world.
  • U.S.S. Shamokin – United States Navy Ship named after Shamokin.
  • “The Shamokin” – Steam Engine Train currently in the Franklin Institute.
  • John Kleimbach was the original waffle man in America
  • Shamokin was the site of the first Lithuanian printing press in the Western Hemisphere.
  • Kimber Cleaver is credited with the idea of laying the Atlantic Cable.
  • Evelyn Witt was Miss Pennsylvania in 1930 – there was no Miss America Contest that year due to the depression.
  • In 1999, Dr. Kenneth Faust was selected as an Outstanding American for developing one of the major components of modern cataract surgery used by most eye surgeons throughout the world. Dr. Faust was also a two-time state champion with a 58-2 career record at Shamokin High School in 1950 & 1951.
  • In 1955, the Associated Press named the Coal Township “Purple Demons” as the best football team in Pennsylvania.
  • In the 1943 RKO Pictures production of the movie “Around the World”, a song about Shamokin called “A Moke from Shamokin” was sung by Marcy McGuire.  The music was written by Jimmy McHugh and played by Kay Kyser’s Band.  Harold Adamson wrote the lyrics for the song.
  • The first house erected in Shamokin was at the corner of Shamokin and Commerce Streets by Ziba Bird.  The building sat on props and later became part of the National Hotel.  Ziba Bird then built a second house across the street and moved into it.  He then finished the first building by adding a foundation walls and a cellar.  He then returned to live in the first house.  The second house became Shamokin’s first tavern and was opened by Joseph Snyder on July 9, 1835 and the first male child of Shamokin was born there the following year.  In 1837, the third house appeared in Shamokin.  John Boyd had this house moved from the country to a location on Dewart St.  This became the first school house in Shamokin. 
  • In 1913, Jacob Ellsworth Daubert was the National League’s Most Valuable Player.  The lefthander was a two-time NL batting champion with the Brooklyn Robins and steady .300 batter for ten years of the dead ball era.
  • In 2001, several small groups of 1940 – 1950 high school classes decided to form a Coal Cracker Club.  The club has no dues or fees and holds three events each year.  In 2005, it was reported that the club membership had surpassed 600 and members from all across the America gather for the events.
  • One of the articles in the book “My Shamokin” (a collection of the Edgar Marlok Stories reveals an interesting story about the men of the community gathering at vantage points near the east end of Independence Street to see the parade of female workers en route home after a day’s work at the Eagle Silk Mill Plant.  Girls employed at the Eagle Mill were accustomed to dressing like “Mrs. Astor’s Pet Horse” to go to and from work, and they kept a change of clothes in the mill to be worn during working hours.  The reputation of girls spread so widely that Walter Winchell, in the early days of his career as columnist and newscaster, commented on the Shamokin area as the home town of some of the world’s most beautiful women.
  • The Shamokin High School Band, directed by James Baker, performed a concert at the 1964-1965 World’s Fair in New York City.
  • Technical Sergeant Freeman V. Horner of Shamokin, Pa was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for extraordinary courage in combat with the 30th Infantry Division in Germany in 1944.
  • On July 30th, 1864, during the Civil War, Henry “Snapper” Reese became known as the “Hero of Petersburg, Va.”.  Union soldiers from the 48th Pennsylvania worked round-the-clock for nearly a month to complete a 500 foot tunnel with two underground chambers where they packed four tons of powder, which, upon detonation, would presumably blow the Rebels and their Fort all over the countryside.  After lighting the fuse, the Yankees waited but nothing happened.  Reese, having to hunch over in the confined tunnel went 150 feet back into the mine to find out why the powder hadn’t detonated.  He discovered that a section of fuse which had been spliced was wound so tightly that the fire was unable to burn through.  Calling for Douty, who arrived with the equipment, he relit the fuse, turned and, along with his partner, made a dash for the tunnel’s entrance. Only seconds after the two men exited the mine, the 8,000-pound charge exploded, lifting and tearing apart both earth and men in phantasmagoric scene of destruction.  After the remnants of earth, the fort, and what was left of the 278 soldiers languishing inside, came tumbling down from the sky, all that remained was a hole some 60-foot deep and a quarter-acre in extent.
  • Capt. Holden Richardson, a graduate of Shamokin High School in 1896 was the Navy’s first engineering test pilot who modified the catapult design to operate successfully aboard ship.  He was also a member of the crew who made the first Trans-Atlantic aircraft flight.
  • The first “Iron-T” railroad tracks in the world were manufactured by the Danville Iron Company and used on the Shamokin Valley Branch between Sunbury and Shamokin.

 

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