It is 100% confirmed that Graffiti Highway is officially covered up. It seems crazy, but this place was on my bucket list for some time and I’m happy to say I made it to Centralia, Pennsylvania before Graffiti Highway was gone for good. The highway itself could be considered a place where local people hung out and spray painted whatever they wanted on the road, but it turned into a destination for people all over the country. The town itself not only inspired the movie “Silent Hill” but carries a rich history that dates back to the 1800s and is much more than an abandoned highway. The more I researched about Centralia, the more excited I got about being able to explore around this little ghost town.
Centralia, Pennsylvania has always been a mining town. Back in 1856, the first two coal mines were opened in Centralia. Three more would soon be opened in 1860, 1862, and 1863 on the heavily coal deposited land. These privately owned mines were the main source of income for those who lived and worked there. More mining activity brought more people which lead to some crimes. Murders, robberies, and arson were common crimes between feuding groups. There is a legend that a priest cursed the land after being attacked by an activist group, Molly Maguires (the more I read about them the more they reminded me of the Peaky Blinders).
The town grew until the Stock Market crashed in 1929. All 5 mines in Centralia were closed but mining continued by “bootleg” miners in the town. This unregulated mining caused tunnels to collapse which would lead to some major issues down the road. Mining continued in the town until 1962.
It’s unclear how the fire exactly started, but it took place in May 1962. One of the more popular stories, is that the fire department was ordered to clean up the town dump and they set it on fire as they always did. Regardless of how the fire started, it was not fully extinguished and happened to be too close to the mines. The fire was able to sneak in through the elaborate mine tunnel system that had been created over the years that was directly under Centralia.
Not only is the fire still burning today, but it has caused this one thriving coal town to near extinction. Between 1970 and 1980 there was a mountain of evidence from sinkholes, high carbon monoxide levels, to raised temperatures that acted as proof the fire was still active. There was some disbelief among those who lived in Centralia. Some saw the fire as harmless while others left immediately.
In 1983, U.S. Congress offered a buyout option for those who lived there. Many took them up on the offer. However in 1992, the Pennsylvania Governor at the time invoked an eminent domain order to all property in Centralia. He condemned all the buildings. By 2002, the zip code for Centralia was discontinued by the U.S. Post Office and only 63 people remained according to the U.S. Census. The town became abandoned.
Pennsylvania Route 61
Due to the smoke rising from the ground, the portion of Route 61 that went to Centralia was damaged. The roadway was repaired multiple times before being closed. In 1993, Route 61 was diverted and the current route wraps around the almost 3/4 mile of abandoned highway was completed. There were mounds of dirt placed at the two entrances of the old highway but that has not stopped people from coming to explore this piece of abandoned history.
The fire is still burning today and probably will still burn for 100s of years to come, but it is still a destination for many. That stretch of old highway is what has become Graffiti Highway. On any given day, there would be pedestrians, itvs, quads, jeeps, trucks, cars, who would sneak on to the property to visit this forgotten town. It really was something incredible to see.
The land was purchased from the state by a private company. There is speculation around why the highway was kept as-in for some time, but as of last week truck loads of dirt were poured on top of Graffiti highway. The years of history and street art (some good some pretty awful) are now gone. Many in the Jeep world made the trip to Centralia while in the area for some off-roading at Rausch Creek. It was almost a right of passage to head out there after a wheeling trip.
The locals saw the spot as the spot where trouble happened. Frequent accidents alerted the police and the area was known as not the best place to be hanging out. As someone not local to the area, going to the highway was getting to visit a piece of history. So much had happened for this area to have such deep roots into American industrial history. Maybe that’s just me being my history major self, but there’s something interesting about a location with such a wild story behind it.
If you were able to get to Graffiti Highway before it was covered up, consider yourself lucky. If not, I’m sure there’s still a way to head down the the abandoned town and explore. There may be dirt covering it but the history of Centralia is not going anywhere.