Before the 1850s, Eckley wasn't a mining town, but a rural, forested community called Shingletown. It was located on land owned by the Tench Coxe Estate. The inhabitants took advantage of the surrounding woodlands and made shingles to be sold in White Haven and Hazleton. The goods were traded for the necessities, such as "whiskey, port, and tobacco."

Four prospectors came to Shingletown in 1853 and found that the land contained several veins of coal. Within the year these four men, Richard Sharpe, Asa Foster, Francis Weiss and John Leisenring, formed Sharpe, Leisenring and Company, later known as Sharpe, Weiss, and Company. Judge Charles Coxe of Philadelphia, executor of the Tench Coxe Estate, granted the company a 20-year lease for the establishment and operation of a colliery on 1,500 acres. In 1854, the company began work on the Council Ridge Colliery.

By autumn of 1854, the company had constructed a saw mill to provide lumber necessary for the colliery buildings, such as the breaker, stable, and store house. They also began building a village to house the colliery workers. The scattered forest dwellings of residents of Shingletown were quickly replaced by two rows of red wooden frame houses with black trim. This new village was called Fillmore, presumably in honor of President Millard Fillmore who left office in 1853. Several years later, the company applied for a post office for their town and learned that a town in Centre County had already appropriated the name. As a result, the town was renamed Eckley in 1857 in honor of Judge Coxe's eldest son, Eckley B. Coxe, then 17 years old.

The town gained fame for the setting of a 1969 Paramount film called The Molly Maguires. The town was so unchanged from its 1870s appearance that the only major alteration needed for filming was to remove television antennas and install underground electric wiring.

The wooden "coal breaker" featured heavily in the film was built as a prop. It received little or no maintenance over the years yet still stands today - over 40 years later.

The filming of the movie resulted in the town's being saved from demolition, and it was afterward turned into a mining museum under the control of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.

Traveling east to west down Main Street the houses become larger toward the end of town. Like most industrial companies of the 19th century, Sharpe, Weiss and Company planned the village with the occupation and rent paying abilities of their workers in mind. Mine owners lived at the western end of town. The original company store, mule barn, hotel, and doctor's office were located there as well.

Mine foremen and their families rented the single dwellings located just east of the downtown. First class miners, those men with experience in mining, were assigned the 2 1/2-story double houses in the middle of the village. These were larger than the 1 1/2-story double dwellings rented to their assistants or laborers.