An abandoned portion of Route 61 commonly known as Graffiti Highway will be a thing of the past in Centralia, according to a borough official and project manager.
Land owner Pagnotti Enterprises, of Wilkes-Barre, hired Fox Coal Co. Mining to truck 400 loads — between 8,000 to 10,000 tons of dirt — over the next three days to cover the unofficial popular tourist destination. The abandoned .74-mile stretch of roadway, despite being on private property and no trespassing allowed, has become a landmark for illegal visitors for its smoking cracked asphalt and hundreds of spray painted words and images.
“They got sick of the complaints and the liability,” said Tom Hynoski, the secretary, fire chief and emergency management agency director for Centralia. “People steal stuff, they spray paint in the cemetery, it’s about time something gets done.”
Since Gov. Wolf ordered non-essential businesses to shut down and issued a stay at home order for Pennsylvania residents due to the COVID-19 crisis, Hynoski said the area has seen an influx of people, more than usual.
“It’s ridiculous,” said Hynoski. “Oh my God, it’s crazy. They’re supposed to be staying home due to the COVID-19, but they’re coming from New York and New Jersey to be here.”
Centralia, located in Columbia County just a few miles outside Mount Carmel in Northumberland County, is perhaps Pennsylvania’s most famous ghost town after an underground mine fire started in 1962. Only a handful of houses and residents, the municipal building, a few cemeteries, and the Blessed Virgin Mary Ukrainian Catholic Church just over the borough line still remain.
Otherwise, there are crumbling stone foundations, empty lots and an old portion of Route 61 commonly known as Graffiti Highway.
In 2018, PennDOT vacated and turned over the .74-mile stretch of Graffiti Highway in Centralia and Conyngham Township to Pitreal Corp, a coal mining company and subsidiary of Pagnotti Enterprises in Wilkes-Barre. Twenty-five years ago, PennDOT closed a portion of the road and constructed a new road around the old portion.
David Witchey, the chief clerk of Columbia County, said the county gets more calls about the highway than the official attractions in Columbia County. People have called from as far away as Los Angeles, he said.