The day the earth opened 50 years ago today, Coaldale homes lost to an old coal pit

Tuesday, April 16, 2013


It was 3 o'clock in the chilly morning on Wednesday, April 17, 1963 that Michael Kelly of Coaldale was awakened by a rumbling sound a noise he knew all too well.

Kelly lived at 123 E. Lehigh St. He was a miner and knew that the noise he heard was the ominous sound that comes from problems underground.

He woke his wife and they sought refuge in the family car.

Four hours later, more such noises created a stir. Kelly's neighbor, John Pavlick, removed some of the floor boards in his basement and gazed into an eerie, black, bottomless opening an old coal pit.

Next to Pavlick lived Bernard Derzak at 127 E. Lehigh St. He also was forced to flee.

Within hours, as the situation worsened, seven homes were declared unsafe for occupancy.

The subsidence happened near Coaldale's border with Summit Hill. It occurred over what was an abandoned working of the No. 9 operation, feeding coal to the Coaldale breaker.

The frightening noise of the unsettled earth was heard for days. Eventually 23 homes were affected in the cave-in area, where a hole measured 150 feet in depth.

Jackie Adamitis of Nesquehoning was only 10 years old and lived in Coaldale when the Lehigh Street subsidence occurred. Her home was by the high school where the fire company now stands.

It was Adamitis who alerted the TIMES NEWS to the 50th anniversary of the mine cave-in.

She said the reason she can't forget it is because her mother had lived, from 1945 to 1948, in one of the houses which was on top of the pit. Her parents were John and Maggie (Flecknoe) Davies.

Adamitis recalls that on April 17, during the day, she could feel the ground vibrating from the unsettled pit even though she lived blocks away.

"My father was saying it's nothing but a little earthquake," she said.

She also remembers her mom crying because it was her former home.

Besides the homes of Kelly, Pavlick, and Derzak, initially the other homes affected were occupied by Peter Petras, Emilia Tenisci, Mary Scope and her brother Joseph Scope.

The extent of the subsidence was so dramatic that it netted the attention of H. Beecher Charmbury, the State Secretary of Mines, who personally visited the site and inspected the damages.

Other mine inspectors investigating the subsidence were Tony Latz of Coaldale and Pete Hino of Ashland.

In less than a week, a conveyor line and chute were put in place by Coaldale borough employees in preparation for filling the hole.

Coaldale Mayor Joseph Sharpe oversaw the filling operations.

The Fauzio Brothers, who lease the Panther Valley mining lands from Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company, provided a payloader and trucks for handling the fill.

Six weeks later, the borough of Coaldale was awarded a grant totaling $29,134 for the creation of a public park in the area when the subsidence occurred.

"Imagine that," said Adamitis, "It's not safe to live there but it's safe for the kids to play there."

The cave-in happened at what is the highest point in Coaldale proper. It was only a few years before that when subsidence badly damaged a row of homes nearby at the south end of Third Street. Two homes were torn down from that first incident, and extensive repairs were made to other dwellings in that area.

Adamitis said it was conversations on the social media site Facebook which reminded her of the Lehigh Street subsidence anniversary.

She said people were recalling old areas of the borough, including Skintown, which is a few blocks from where the April 17, 1963 experience occurred.

Today, the area of the mine subsidence is filled-in and covered by brush and trees