very hot July morning we rolled into Tamaqua not knowing what to
expect of this storied, old railroad town located in the heart of the
Eastern Pennsylvania’s Appalachian coal fields. Tamaqua is as
collar as any place you will find in America. There is a
certain toughness and hard edge to this community that creates a place
of substantial character. The history and lore of the town is literally
and figuratively written in stone, from the black anthracite found
below ground to the carved piece of granite that marks the grave of John “Black Jack” Kehoe.
Although this immigrant coal miner turned
tavern owner ultimately became a much respected business leader and
political force in Schuylkill County, his American experience came to
an abrupt conclusion at the end of a rope.
It seems that the fates of most Irishmen in eastern Pennsylvania during
the nineteenth century were determined by activities underground.
Though Kehoe had left the bowels of the anthracite veins many years
earlier, he was accused of giving aid, comfort and direction to those
that waged a violent struggle against the intolerable and inhumane
conditions visited upon the miners and their families by Frank Gowen,
the President of the Philadelphia and Reading Coal and Iron Company,
and his political and judicial cohorts. On December 18th, 1878
Kehoe was executed in Pottsville, Pennsylvania for his alleged
involvement with the secretive “Molly Maguires,” and the murder of a
mine foreman Frank W. S. Langdon.
for a bit more information on John "Black Jack" Kehoe and the
Molly Maguires from our
March, 2008 article about Jim Thorpe, PA entitled THE DEATH OF HONORABLE PUBLICANS.
|After the hanging,
Kehoe’s body was transported by train to the railroad
station at Tamaqua. His corpse was stored overnight in the baggage
room, awaiting burial at his wife’s family plot at St. Jerome’s
Cemetery. At least five other doomed Mollies made this elegant
built by the Philadelphia and Reading Line their last stop. This habit
of keeping those dispatched for capital crimes on ice overnight has
fueled interest and speculation about the frequent reports of
paranormal activity at this historic location.
During the twentieth century Tamaqua witnessed the rise and fall of the
once mighty Reading Railroad. By the end of the Second World War, the
Reading was the largest corporation on earth, but within thirty years
it would suffer bankruptcy and become absorbed into the Conrail system
as part of a government buyout. Tamaqua would fall on hard times as the
riding public chose rubber tires over steel wheels, and oil became the
hydrocarbon of choice. By 1961 passenger service was suspended and the
station at Tamaqua was closed. The future of this landmark building was
in question and in jeopardy.
thanks to the Herculean labors of the non-profit group; S.O.S
“Save Our Station,” the facility has been restored to its
This massive effort of detailed restoration and reconstruction required
13 years of planning and work, and was reopened in 2004. At its
doors remains an active rail line, the Reading Blue
Northern runs primarily coal trains through a couple of
times a day.
Undoubtedly, as our country looks to curb our dependence on imported
energy coal once again may be king, and visitors to Tamaqua will be
able to enjoy a more frequent run of rolling stock.
|THE MEN'S WAITING ROOM
train station is quite clearly the centerpiece and crown jewel of
the town. And at the heart of this Victorian Italianate building
the RESTAURANT AT THE STATION. The
service and sustenance harkens
back to the days of Fred Harvey, when whistle stop dining was an
epicurean experience. And after a good meal and a couple of
at the bar, one could spend hours soaking up the history, railroad
memorabilia and photography that adorn every wall of this classic
visit was capped off by sitting trackside drinking a pint of Railbender Ale, talking with the
very knowledgeable and pleasant staff,
and watching an SD40-2 locomotive of the Reading
and Northern come
rolling down the tracks pulling a line of fully loaded coal cars. The
roar of the engine and the sheer power you feel when you are fortunate
enough to be this close to one of these behemoths, gives one a true
sense of the vigor, capacity and strength of this nation.
matter what difficulties may confront us as a people, one trip to a
place like Tamaqua gives one an appreciation of our resilience when
faced with challenges, hardships and adversity. A visit to this
remarkable community is not only enjoyable, but it is inspirational and
a testimonial to the American spirit and soul.
|VINTAGE PAINTING OF THE STATION'S INTERIOR