By Kaylee Lindenmuth
ELLEN GOWEN - Tucked away in the woodlands between PA Route 54 and mine lands halfway from Shenandoah to Mahanoy City lies what remains of the patch town of Ellen Gowen (or Ellangowen, or Ellengown, depending on where you look.
One of many small patch towns throughout Mahanoy Township, Ellen Gowen is much like its counterparts, what was formerly a bustling patch town - or as Bituminous field residents refer to as a coal town - is now roughly a half-dozen or so homes, a far cry from its high water mark surpassing sixty.
Long ago, the village wasn't so out of the way, the state highway between Shenandoah and Mahanoy City, then numbered 45, zig-zagged through Patriotic Hill, Maple Hill, and Ellen Gowen until the 1960s when the roadway took on its current course.
The village's roots trace back to the 1860s, when coal operations first began in the area.
According to an account in the 100th Anniversary Edition of the Shenandoah Evening Herald, a man by the name of James Lanigan developed a colliery in the area, and subsequently a village of company houses, known as Lanigan's Patch.
The village was also known as Maple Dale for a time, which influenced the naming of Maple Hill in the late 1800s, as that patch was situated on a nearby hill.
Later, Lanigan sold the village and coal operation to a New York group who attempted to rename the patch Glenville. It didn't stick.
In the 1870s, according to the Evening Herald's account, Franklin Gowen took control of the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad, which, as the company expanded into the coal business, took control of the Maple Dale operation, the largest acquired by the company. As a result, the operation was named in Gowen's honor.
The Herald explains "[t]he widespread belief has been the name Ellangowen was chosen in honor of some female member of Mr. Gowen's family. However, from the earliest times the spelling was Ellan (not Ellen) Gowen, and the theory has been advanced that the word "Ellan" is from a Welsh term for dale or valley. Thus, instead of Maple Dale, the village and colliery became "Gowen Dale."
The Ellen Gowen colliery grew into a massive operation, with no nearby competition, unlike Shenandoah at the time. The colliery was free to grow and expand freely, the Herald noting that it included "as many as three outside slopes and a shaft for hoisting coal, plus a sprawling complex of colliery buildings."
The colliery operated until around the great depression. By the 1940s, the Herald recalls, the slope and mineshaft at the site were abandoned, and the boilerhouse as raised. Most other colliery buildings were used to supplement operations at Maple Hill and Knickerbocker until deep mining ended in the 1950s.
Just before World War II, the village began to shrink. Families moved, and the company elected not to seek new tenants. The homes sat empty and boarded up until their demolition. By 1947, the majority of the patch had been razed, and in 1975, only seven structures remained. Today, roughly five or six homes stand in the village.
The village was once home to its own church, St. Aldan's. Founded on February 1, 1920, the church was attended by families from the nearby patches - Yatesville, Maple Hill, Patriotic Hill, Jacksons, and of course Ellen Gowen.
The first church burned in August 1934 and was replaced by another church, which stood until the mid 1970s, after being abandoned in the 1950s, merging into Shenandoah's Annunciation parish.
The church was the hub of social activity for the village, hosting picnics in the 1940s. The Ellengowen Emeralds Athletic Association, formed to back the village's baseball team, staged going-away and welcome home parties for residents who served in the armed forces.
Today, the village survives, situated on a No Outlet backroad behind Route 54, bounded on two sides by a coal operation, one of many patch towns in our region which are rich in history.
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