(WHTM) — Pennsylvania is the fifth most populated state in the United States, according to the 2020 United States Census. But what is the lowest-populated municipality in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania?
Centralia in Columbia County is Pennsylvania’s least-populated municipality according to the 2020 census, with a population of five people. Located in northeastern Pennsylvania, Centralia had 1,017 residents in 1980 according to the census, and declined to five total residents in 2020 due to a coal mine fire that has been burning underneath the municipality since 1962.
In 1890, Centralia had 14 mines and a population of around 2,500. The first mines in Centralia opened in 1856.
Centralia is completely surrounded by Conyngham Township and is part of the Bloomsburg-Berwick metropolitan area. In 2002, the United States Postal Service discontinued Centralia’s zip code.
According to the Smithsonian, efforts to extinguish the coal mine fire stopped in the 1980s by both federal and state governments and residents reported passing out in their homes due to carbon monoxide leaking up through basements.
A section of State Route 61 that passes through the Borough of Centralia was eventually destroyed due to the coal fire, and was known as the “Graffiti Highway.” Since then, Graffiti Highway has been covered up with dirt.
In October 2013, Centralia’s seven residents created an agreement with local and state officials allowing them to live in Centralia until they die, but all of their property rights would be given up through eminent domain after. All other real estates in Centralia was seized through eminent domain and condemned by the state in 1992.
Nearly all other homes and buildings in the municipality have been demolished.
The municipality has been used as a model for several fictional ghost towns, including Dean Koontz’s Strange Highways, David Wellington’s Vampire Zero, and the 1991 film Nothing But Trouble starring Chevy Chase.