The turn of the 20th century heralded events destined to change the face, culture and history of what was once know as “Richards Valley”. On May 9, 1900, James W. Ellsworth, a businessman from Chicago, purchased 238 acres of land in West Bethlehem Township from Mr. and Mrs. H.H. Huffman-land that was to be the site of a coal mining development called Shaft Four, Cokeburg’s original name.
The James W. Ellsworth Coal Company proceeded to build an entire town. They built houses near the mine and rented them to the miners, because the immigrant miners could not afford to buy houses or travel to work. By 1906, Cokeburg had 127 miner’s houses, a supply store, a saloon and three boarding houses. Work had begun in June of 1900 on sinking two mine shafts: Shafts 3 and 4, later known officially as Cokeburg Mine 53 and Mine 54.
The first coal produced in No. 3 in 1902 was processed into coke and then shipped out by rail. The coking operation required large quantity of water and two reservoirs were constructed. The No. 3 reservoir no longer exists, but the No. 4 reservoir supplies the town’s water system today and is a recreational fishing area leased to Ellsworth Sportsman’s Club.
Cokeburg revolved almost exclusively around coal mining and the mines for over half a century. There were three companies affecting almost every aspect of day-to-day life: J.W. Ellsworth Coal Company (1900-1907), Lackawanna Steel Company (1907-1922), and Bethlehem Steel Corporation (1922-1953 when Mine 53 portal in Cokeburg was closed).
Over one hundred years have brought many changes to Cokeburg. The coke ovens, which gave Cokeburg its name, all but disappeared. The houses are the same, perhaps remodeled, but still originals. The layout of the town is basically the same. The lifestyle, however, has changed drastically over time but many of the old names and their families still remain. Cokeburg officially came into its own as a self-governing community in 1946. They took over the town with good roads and established services. In 1952, they leveled the huge slate dump from the middle of town in order to create a recreational area. Development of the park concluded in 1976 which has a ball field, picnic pavilions, playground and basketball court. More park updates were concluded in 1990 and again in 2011. Along with Cokeburg’s older homes, a developing residential area called “The Pines” was developed and continues to add new housing today.