Settlement here began as early as 1841, but it wasn’t until 1854 that the town, then known as Centerville, would be formally laid out. In 1865, the Post Office would open, changing the name to Centralia as it would be officially incorporated the following year.
Coal mining was the principal employer in the region until the 1960’s when many of the companies would begin going out of business.
In May, 1962, five members of the volunteer fire department were hired by the town council to clean up the landfill site. They set the dump on fire and let it burn. Unfortunately, this fire would ignite a seam of coal, and carry the fire underground into the abandoned coal mines beneath the town. Attempts to extinguish the fire failed, and it continues to burn to this day.
The population in 1981 was cited as being over 1,000 people. In the census of 2007, only 9 people remain.
I don't really know what I was expecting as I neared this location, but I was certainly looking forward to it. The rain was pouring down so hard, the windshield wipers couldn't keep up, and I had to pull over to let it subside.
As I entered the town, I was reminded of the former town of Creighton Mine back home. Streets criss-crossing each other for no apparent reason. Concrete curbs, and random fire hydrants the only suggestion that a town really did flourish here.
I stumbled upon the dump site where it all started. A hole in the ground spewed noxious smoke that was only slightly deterred by the falling rain. The smell of this smoke was like nothing I'd ever encountered before. The smallest breath of it was enough to make you cough.
As I continued around the town site, I noted the last hold-outs trying to hang on to the place that was their home. I couldn't imagine what some of the older people who'd seen so much change here must feel.
As I left, I realized that while some may believe visiting here is boring, I had enjoyed this as much as any other site I had visited during this epic trip.