Eli Bowen, in his Pictorial Sketchbook of Pennsylvania (1852), described Pottsville as “the great theatre of the anthracite coal trade,” with a population of 8,000 in a booming industrial town dominated by the “loud puff of the collier steam-engines, and the shrill whistle of the locomotive resounding through the narrow valleys and passes of the mountains.” He continued, “Pottsville, like all the other towns in the coal region, is of recent origin. Previous to 1824 there was scarcely a dwelling on the spot where the town now stands.… The town took a run-and-jump into existence.” At its height Pottsville called itself a “little Philadelphia” for its mix of industry, government, and commerce. By the early twentieth century, it had reached a population of 25,000 and like Philadelphia, by the end of the century its population had fallen by more than a third. Today it is a distant relic of the booming coal town fictionalized as “Gibbsville” by native son John O’Hara in Appointment in Samarra (1935), but his assessment of its history still rings true: “Anyone in Gibbsville who had any important money made it in coal; anthracite.”
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