These names of old Shamokin flash before me in rapid-fire order–those about my age–John L. Evert, Galen R. Hanleny, John S. Sausser, Ford S. Fowler, Gilbert H. Cobb, Monroe H. Kulp, William Brill, the Heims and the Goodwills. Then those [of] more advanced years-John Mullen, W.W. Evert, Matthias Emes, William H. Douty, George O. Martz, ‘Al’ Weaver, Thomas Alderson, Captain Harry Reese.
–William M. Brock, August 21, 1914
At one point in time, the city of Shamokin in the heart of central Pennsylvania’s anthracite region was an active and bustling community, both economically and culturally vibrant. Businesses thrived and imposing public edifices were built along four main thoroughfares, while Victorian and Queen Anne mansions identified the neighborhoods of the well-to-do.
Today, we recognize Shamokin by the closed storefronts and abandoned properties. The city has become almost infamous in the coal region for its association with architectural blight and economic depression. Certainly, it is becoming increasingly difficult to know Shamokin by the architecture which once made it immediately recognizable, because most of it has been lost, whether to fire, demolition, or disrepair. The list of local landmarks is dwindling, and with it, the city’s heritage, identity, and character. Local history in general has become the province of a few older residents, a niche subject, a quaint hobby with no real relevance to the community at large. In recent years, we’ve seen commendable efforts to promote historical awareness and restore landmark structures in the region, but this is a monumental task currently undertaken only by an enterprising few. The typical response to the loss of history and heritage in this town is a resigned shrug, or the favorite expression in these parts of peaceful acceptance, “it is what it is.” Many of us seem to have accepted defeat.
If we are serious about turning this community back from the precipice, we must begin by reconnecting with our past. The most successful communities and the best places to live are those that have a sense of character and purpose. To move forward in Shamokin, we will need to reach far back into our history, because therein lies the city’s soul–visible in its fine architecture, legible in its stories of great entrepreneurs and community leaders who shaped their town’s future. We can think of our city as a random spot on the map, a collection of lots and parcels we may or may not choose to pass our days upon until something better comes along–or we can recognize it as a meaningful and relevant place with intrinsic historic value, a place which was once worth traveling great distances to experience, and could be again.
As a local historian since 2007, I have two current missions. One of these is a research project on the history of the Kulp family, one of the most influential families in Shamokin at the turn of the 20th Century. A book on their history is planned. I am also actively investigating ways to preserve the Holy Trinity Episcopal Church on Lincoln Street, yet another landmark which reports indicate may soon be demolished. More information on Trinity Church can be found here.
I can be reached via comment anywhere on the blog. Please do not hesitate to contact me with any questions or information to share.