Shamokin as Place

Brianna and I took a field trip to the coal town of Shamokin a week ago to shoot video of a place that has true “placeness”.  We met up with Tom Grbenick who for many years worked as a community planner at our local planning agency, SEDA-COG.  Tom knows every inch of every town around here and also he seems to know all of the people.  The idea was that Tom could help us find locations to film in Shamokin that would allow us to capture and express the sense of place that exists in the town.

By the way, I put an article by Environmental Studies professor Ben Marsh on Moodle that describes his sense of the intense “place” feeling that prevails in the coal towns (of which Shamokin is the biggest around here).  While Ben talks about the main geographic feature that ties the towns together, their coal fields, for Ben main thing that gives these towns a sense of place is the intense feeling of identity connection residents have to the towns themselves, to the local physical settings, to the other residents and to local institutions.  His article is worth reading.

Returning to our trip, the first place we stopped was the Split Vein Coal Company which sits on the side of the highway on Route 61 on the way from Sunbury to Shamokin.  My idea for visiting Split Vein is that the place has several tall structures that look like the are falling down, former (but not former it turns out) cracking towers for coal.  An impression one has going up to the coal towns is that suddenly the lush green surroundings turn to grey.  Split Vein is the precise place where this happens, so it seemed worthwhile to shoot it.

The other thing about Split Vein is that it’s incredibly visually stimulating and rich (and therefore we almost could not get Brianna to leave!)  Traveling with Tom was fun because he immediately thought we ought to ask permission to be there.  I had not noticed that there was a guy in the shed next to us, but Tom went in to chat him up.  Shortly the guy came out and he stayed talking to us for 30 minutes.  It turned out he was the owner of the company and that the company continues to be an active coal producing outfit (even though it looks like it is about to fall down).

After we left the coal town we went around the bend to the town of Shamokin proper and we cruised some of the main streets.  When we got to the end of a big street (don’t remember the name) on the southeast side of town, we headed directly east up a big hill so we could get a vantage point from the top.  We looked at a large housing project up there and then headed into the cemetery.  The view was fabulous and allowed us to get an overall look at the town.  Although we were on top of a large residential hill, we could see that the hills opposite us were all empty—because historically they were owned by coal companies.  The town winds around through valleys down at the bottom of the hills and the topography—valleys chopped up by hills—is one of the things that gives Shamokin a very strong sense of neighborhoods.  Historically each of the neighborhoods was “owned” by a different ethnic group and that probably contributed to the intense and enduring sense of ethnicity that prevails in Shamokin.

Got to go….

Carl, Jan 28

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.