Pennsylvania’s 175-year heritage of immigrant toil and anthracite wealth is lost as Huber Breaker Historic Site is Demolished for Scraptags: immigrants, Coal Mining
A scroll has been forever erased where written was the story of Pennsylvania’s anthracite heritage, political and financial power struggles, and unique blending of America’s ethnic workforce of 19th through 20th Century. The pages of this story are forever lost with today’s demolition of the Huber Breaker in Ashley Pennsylvania. Views of this black metal-clad, steel breaker, its red-brick, coal-powered electric power station, and towering smoke stack stood as a cathedral to the once, all powerful coal industry and cultural ethnic heritage where 6000 people once worked.
America’s industrial history and labor rights were born in this region of Pennsylvania. Most notably the Coal Strike of 1902 requiring intervention by President Theodor Roosevelt, J.P. Morgan, and John Mitchell mediating the embroiled saga to form and serve as president the (UMWA) United Mine Workers of America. Up until March, 2014, the Huber’s presence on the landscape spoke of the rugged character that prevails today in the people of Northeast Pennsylvania whose immigrant decedents crossed the Atlantic to live, work, and die in the anthracite coal fields and support its many industries with engineering talents, brute force, and artisan hand-skills
Pennsylvania’s discovery and 150-year boom of coal resulted in 35,000 deaths and degraded nature with mine spoils under the relentless industrialization. The uninterrupted mining activities from 1830 to 1959 when the conflict between nature and capitalistic greed met their limits in a violent whooshing halt that claimed 12-more lives on January 22, 1959. The riverbed of the Susquehanna opened up from careless underground mining trespass by the Knox Coal Company causing collapse and flooding of millions of gallons of water into the mines. This was the cataclysmic blow to deep mining seizing operations for most of the Northern Coal Field region.
The Huber Breaker became iconic symbol for all aspects of this culturally rich and often heart-wrenching story of America’s coal history. To the 90,000 daily motorists traveling just 600-yards from the site on Interstate-81 at the Ashley/Wilkes-Barre line, all 31- buildings and structures have remained intact since 2000 when the preservation master plan was completed. The plan leveraged the Huber Breaker’s attributes socially, culturally, and structurally conveying a unique ecological framework for historic preservation.
The historic complex on its designated 6.8-acre site represented the last intact physical embodiment of Northeastern Pennsylvania’s rich anthracite coal mining heritage. The $10M plan intended to safeguard America’s rich anthracite history and strategically focused on taping the vein of Pennsylvania’s $1.34 billion (1997-dollars) in heritage tourism revenues. The future foretold in the plan anticipated growth forecast and spin-off economic benefits. Facts now confirmed by the $1.56 billion jump in tourism revenues today rising to $2.9 billion annually. Heritage tourism is the life-blood that has helped renew many struggling cities, towns, and hamlets in Pennsylvania. It is supported by 37,000 jobs and generates $90 million in tax revenues according to the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission in Harrisburg 2012 report. Ashley was a prime candidate to capitalize on history as one key to its economic resurgence.
Preservation of the Huber Breaker Historic Site would have also illustrated smart historic planning on a regional scale with tourism revenue benefits spreading from the Town of Ashley to adjacent cities in the region. The Huber Breaker Historic Complex defined America’s Northeast Anthracite Heritage Corridor at the South, stretching from Ashley, Wilkes-Barre and Scranton to Carbondale and Forest City at the North to encompass a 60-mile long, unmistakable stretch of America’s industrial history.
Commissioned in 2000 by the Delaware and Lehigh National Heritage Corridor and Earth Conservancy, the Huber Breaker’s preservation plan outlined 4-phases of stabilization intending to water-tight and moth-ball portions of the 1-million square feet of buildings, perform selective removal of dangerously neglected elements, and begin immediate restoration of building portions allowing public education and visitation to the landmark tourist attraction, museum, and interpretive center. Pennsylvania architect John Gianacopoulos of Scranton, together with historic preservation specialist, John M. Rossi, Boston, (formerly of Scranton) created the plan with extensive citizen involvement, community outreach, and close collaborations among Al Roman, #1 Contracting Corporation, property owner at the time, The Huber Breaker Preservation Society, Pennsylvania Historic and Museum Commission, Luzern County Community College, representatives of Pennsylvania Senator Ray Musto and many citizen stakeholder voices.
After 14-years of grass-roots advocacy, all hopes for property rights and financing the Huber’s historic preservation fell short of the US Bankruptcy Court proceedings and new owner’s plans to scrap the Huber Breaker’s 900 tons of steel for a value of $85,000 was a much higher worth than preserving the keystone historic site. All dreams for a Huber Breaker Anthracite Cultural Heritage Park and Museum being a signature element to define America’s Northeast Anthracite Heritage Corridor have ended with the Huber property sold for $1.2M and demolition now underway.
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