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Under my hat: A word about ‘ghost towns’

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    Shenandoah was bustling with activity on Saturday despite a recent news story suggesting the community is a ghost town. DONALD R. SERFASS/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS

Published May 23. 2019 01:36PM

By Donald R. Serfass

Shenandoah is getting a bad rap.

According to a recent news story, the streets of the Schuylkill County town earned a dubious distinction of having one of the top ten vacancy rates in the country.

The national story suggested the community is a ghost town and one of the top ten nationwide.

According to ATTOM Data Solutions, a property data company, nearly 23 percent of homes in Shenandoah are empty.

Actually, that figure might be optimistic.

A 2010 U.S. Census report lists Shenandoah’s vacancy rate at 28.9 percent.

But there’s a reason for the dramatic shift in occupancy.

The decline of the coal, railroad and textile industries dealt a blow to the area and entire coal region.

Towns like Mahanoy City, Shenandoah and Shamokin were hit especially hard, resulting in population loss, abandoned buildings, neglect and blight.

The loss in Shenandoah, however, is especially notable because the town once had the largest population in the county.

In 1910, Shenandoah was home to 25,774 residents living within one square mile. Today, only 4,814 live there.

In other words, the town lost about 80 percent of its population over the last 100 years. No wonder there are empty buildings.

But there are empty buildings in most other towns, too.

Everything is perception.

It reminds me of something that happened in Lansford recently. An out-of-town newspaper printed a series of stories which focused on drugs, addiction and unemployment. It painted an unpleasant view of the community by focusing on the negative.

To balance the project, there should have been a second series, more positive. It would’ve been nice to see equal weight given to volunteer-driven achievements of Lansford Alive, or downtown streetscape improvements, or a well stocked Lansford Historical Society Museum, or any number of Lansford assets. But they chose not to. And that’s a shame because Lansford is a worthy destination.

Truth is, a negative angle can be written about most any community, including Sixth Street in Allentown. I saw it first hand. I once lived around the corner on Linden.

The moral to the story is that you will see whatever it is you choose to see.

And so it goes in Shenandoah that if you look for empty buildings, you’ll see them.

But if you look for progress and vitality, you’ll see that, too.

More to the point, if you take a drive to Shenandoah and expect to experience tumbleweeds rolling along Main Street, you’ll be disappointed.

There’s a move afoot to restore vitality.

In fact, there are plenty of aspects of town that’ll pleasantly surprise you. There’s great architecture and lots of color.

On top of that, you’re sure to find an endless selection of yummy pierogies and savory kielbasi.

I visited on Saturday for the annual Kielbasi Festival. A few blocks of Main Street were roped off and filled with vendor tents. The festivities were in full swing.

I saw friendly faces, lots of good food and busy storefronts. It was a day of good old coal region hospitality and plenty of warm vibes.

The one thing I didn’t see was a tumbleweed.

Yes, I suppose you can find stories about dying communities and perceived ghost towns.

Chicken Little warned us “They sky is falling! The sky is falling!”

But be careful what you choose to believe.

Perception is everything and fake news is all around.


This is a great article and it gets to the heart of perception. As a former resident of Carbon County I can confirm that the loss of the coal and textile business has really impacted the area. It's good to see that people are not giving up this beautiful and culturally rich area.

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