It May Not Be the Famous Route 66, but Route 61 has Quite a Story of Its Own

“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” – (Google).

Thanks to strategic telecommuting and a long holiday weekend, I was able to spend all of last week back in my home state of Pennsylvania. (Shout out to Frankie for keeping Saabros under control in my absence.) During the week I visited a local attraction that, even as a born-and-raised Pennsylvanian, I had never visited: The Graffiti Highway. The Graffitti Highway is located in the abandoned town of Centralia, which is near the Bloomsburg-Berwick area of Northeastern PA.


Centralia, like many other towns in the region, was an anthracite coal mining town in the mid 1800s. Mining began in 1856 and continued on and off through the 1960s, until most companies began to shut down. At its peak in 1890, Centralia was populated by almost 3,000 people, the majority of whom worked for the coal industry.

In May of 1962, the town decided to clean up the local landfill by sourcing the local fire department to burn the trash that was present. The fire was ignited May 27th and all visible flames were extinguished with water that night. However, another visible flame was back 2 days later, then another a week later. The firefighters began to question what was going on, and after some digging (literally), investigators found concentrations of carbon monoxide near a hole that was initially covered with trash. It was at that point they knew that there was coal burning underneath the landfill.


Fast forward after multiple excavation attempts throughout the 1960s and 1970s, the fire continued to burn. In 1984, after numerous health concerns relating to a report of carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, and low oxygen levels, most of the residents took advantage of a $42 million relocation effort and left the area. By 1992, eminent domain was invoked, and all of the properties within Centralia were condemned.

Abandoned Route 61 in 2007 before the graffiti. Credit: Flickr/fireballsedai
Credit: Flickr/fireballsedai

Now that you know your history, let’s get on to what probably caught your attention; The Graffiti Highway. The Graffiti Highway is the section of PA Route 61 that was deemed unsafe for traffic as the underground fires spread.

And what better way to get people to visit somewhere, but to tell them they can’t? Along with that rebellious attitude came every teenager, freelancer, and adventure seeker alike. That was when it’s transformation began.

Graffiti on old Route 61 in Centralia Pennsylvania. Credit: Flickr/thisisbossi
Credit: Flickr/thisisbossi

Saabros cannot recommend that you take a visit – since it’s illegal and all – but we all manage to get lost every now and again, don’t we?


Source: Centralia, PA
Source: Centralia Mine Fire

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