17927 (discontinued 2002) 17921 (Ashland 2002-present)
Latitude / Longitude:
1,467 ft (447 m)
Eastern (EST) (UTC-5)
Centralia is a borough and near-ghost town in Columbia County, Pennsylvania, United States. Its population has dwindled from more than 1,000 residents in 1980 to 63 by 1990, to only seven in 2013—a result of the coal mine fire which has been burning beneath the borough since 1962. Centralia, which is part of the Bloomsburg–Berwick metropolitan area, is the least-populated municipality in Pennsylvania. It is completely surrounded by Conyngham Township.
Many of the Native American tribes in what is now Columbia County sold the land that makes up Centralia to colonial agents in 1749 for the sum of five hundred pounds. In 1770, during the construction of the Reading Road, which stretched from Reading to Fort Augusta (present-day Sunbury), settlers surveyed and explored the land. A large portion of the Reading Road was developed later as Route 61, the main highway east into and south out of Centralia.
In 1992, Pennsylvania governor Bob Casey invoked eminent domain on all property in the borough, condemning all the buildings within. A subsequent legal effort by residents to overturn the action failed. In 2002, the U.S. Postal Service discontinued Centralia’s ZIP code, 17927. In 2009, Governor Ed Rendell began the formal eviction of the remaining Centralia residents. All real estate in the borough was claimed under eminent domain in 1992 and therein condemned by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Centralia’s ZIP code was discontinued by the Postal Service in 2002. State and local officials reached an agreement with the seven remaining residents on October 29, 2013, allowing them to live out their lives there, after which the rights to their houses will be taken through eminent domain.
Centralia has been used as a model for many different ghost towns and physical manifestations of Hell. Prominent examples include Dean Koontz’s Strange Highways and David Wellington’s Vampire Zero. Centralia was the inspiration for the Silent Hill film adaptation. The 1982 PBS documentary Centralia Mine Fire contains interviews with residents and relates the story of the mine fire. The 1987 film Made in U.S.A. opens in Centralia and the surrounding coal region of Pennsylvania. The 2007 documentary The Town That Was is about the history of the town and its current and former residents. Centralia had a segment entitled “City on Fire” on the Travel Channel television series America Declassified which aired in 2013. The Centralia story was explored in the documentary segment “Dying Embers” from public radio station WNYC’s RadioLab.