Shamokin and Coal Township
A Brief History
written and provided by Garth Hall - Shamokin
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
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
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
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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- “The Shamokin” – Steam Engine Train currently in
the Franklin Institute.
- John Kleimbach was the original waffle man in
- 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
- 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
- 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.