Expanding former trails used by Native Americans, travelers moving between the growing communities of Sunbury and Reading in the state of Pennsylvania moved most efficiently along the Sunbury Trail in the mid to late 1700’s. As the first road through what would later become Schuylkill County this Sunbury Trail received authorization from the Crown of England, King George III, in 1770 to become part of the King’s Highway. It was approximately half way along this trail, between Sunbury and Reading, that Thomas Reed decided to build himself a log cabin and then a sawmill in the year 1783. He then established a tavern on the south side of the trail for weary, rest-seeking travelers.
Although timbering became a logical occupation for those who decided to join Reed near his settlement, it proved to be a difficult experience getting the lumber to market. When Necho Allen accidentally discovered coal nearby in 1799 it didn’t take long for the mining industry to take over. In 1818, Thomas Reed’s son, Jacob, opened a mining operation near his father’s original dwelling. The need to fuel the industrial revolution placed a high premium on the rich anthracite coal that seemed to be in abundance. Soon thereafter, when Henry Clay helped passed legislation that allowed the railroad to provide a means to transport the coal from the region, settlers from near and far flocked to the area.
English and Welsh immigrants, followed by those from Germany and Ireland, who brought mining experience from their home lands, became some of the first settlers to this area in east central Pennsylvania. The predominance of the occupation gave rise to a name for Thomas Reed’s growing community as well as a need for some type of municipal planning. On April 1, 1831 there was no fooling when Pennsylvania Governor George Wolf approved legislation that incorporated the borough of Minersville in the county of Schuylkill.
From its official inception as a borough in 1831 until present day the population of Minersville seems to have correlated with the output of the mining industry. As the anthracite industry reigned as king, the population steadily grew. When Minersville celebrated their centennial in 1931 it boasted a population of over 9,000 individuals. At that time the community seemed to be economically self-sufficient. Minersville was once home to a large garment factory which employed several hundred individuals, mostly women. The old Sunbury Trail evolved into Sunbury Street. This main thoroughfare has boasted movie theaters, barber shops, clothing stores, grocery stores, several shoe shops, two town jewelers, a liquor store, restaurants, and hotels along with several local banks.
However, since the population spiked in the early 1900’s, peaking in the 1930’s, there has been a steady decline for the past 75 years. Each decade since 1930 Minersville has experienced an average population decrease near 10%. Ironically, as anthracite fed the industrial revolution, the industrial revolution produced machinery that replaced laborers. As Minersville progressed towards present day, newer technology equated to even less laborers needed in the dangerous mines. The introduction of heavy machinery, along with technology, decreased the size of the labor force that was once needed in the anthracite industry. Newer fuels and energy, such as oil and nuclear power, have helped dethrone coal as king.
Today, Minersville perseveres. The 2000 census indicates that 4552 residents now inhabit Minersville, half of what the borough claimed during its prime. The men’s clothing store, liquor store, and hotels are gone. There are few, if any, remnants of the saw mill, lumber yard, or garment factory which each served as the hub of local industry during their respective time. Yet, new industries have replaced the old. Manufacturing and retail business have taken the place of mining as the leading industry. According to the 2000 census, manufacturing now employs 24% of workers in Minersville with retail trade employing just over 15% of workers. Nearly 20% of workers are employed in education with just 2.5% of workers currently employed in the mining industry.