'The Dale' split among counties, townships and voting districts
LOCUSTDALE - A "patch" that grew up more than a century ago near two anthracite collieries that are now long gone, Locustdale is in a unique location, divided among three townships, three counties, two state legislative districts, two state senatorial districts and three U.S. congressional districts.
Locustdale, fondly called "The Dale" by residents, has experienced the decline of the coal mining industry and its own population over the decades, but has its small businesses, two churches and its own post office (17945), where residents pick up their mail.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Locustdale is a "Census-Designated Place" (CDP) in Columbia, Schuylkill and Northumberland counties. While the portion in Mount Carmel Township (Northumberland County) is vacant land, the homes and businesses are located in Conyngham Township (Columbia County) and Butler Township (Schuylkill County). According to the 2010 census, there are 180 residents and 81 households in the 17945 ZIP code. A CDP is a populated area without its own municipal government, such as a village within a municipality.
The Schuylkill-Columbia border slices through the populated area of Locustdale, which has some properties divided, putting a house in one township and the backyard in another.
Being in three counties and three townships also puts Locustdale in the state senatorial districts of Sen. John R. Gordner, R-27, and Sen. David G. Argall, R-29, the state legislative districts of Rep. Kurt A. Masser, R-107, and Neal P. Goodman, D-123, and the U.S. congressional districts of Rep. Thomas Marino, R-10, Rep. Lou Barletta, R-11, and Rep. Tim Holden, D-17.
Butler Township Police Chief Edward Tarantelli said the division does not cause problems most of the time, since police officers know what properties are in what township, there are rare times that police are dispatched to a Locustdale address and there may be a question as to whose jurisdiction it is.
"When that situation comes up and we're not sure, we just ask the property owner which township they pay their taxes to," said Tarantelli.
The Columbia-Schuylkill line puts one of Locustdale's houses of worship in two counties, with the line going through Grace Evangelical Independent Church, which is one of the oldest buildings in the village, the cornerstone being laid in 1882. At that time, there were 1,000 residents, and the Potts Colliery and Keystone Colliery were in operation.
A lifelong resident of Locustdale, Glenn Kessler, 83, who resides in the Butler Township section of the village, has been an active church member for his entire life. He was born across the street from the church. A former church council member, Kessler still helps out wherever he can. He pointed to a window on the east side of the church and explained where the county lines divide the church.
"The line comes through starting with the second window and goes across the church to the third window (west side of building)," said Kessler. "When the pastor is preaching, she's in Columbia County while the congregation is sitting in Schuylkill County."
Kessler said the three counties meet hear the railroad crossing on Route 54 in an uninhabited area.
"The old schoolhouse nearby is in Conyngham Township, but I went to Butler Township school," said Kessler.
When originally constructed, the church building was at ground level. Kessler said a group of men, including his father, worked to raise the church four feet about ground, and then dug underneath another four feet to add a social area.
"They dug it out with picks and shovels and hauled everything out with wheelbarrows," said Kessler. "They got the jacks to raise the building from the Potts Colliery. The only cost was for materials. When coal was king and the Potts Colliery was going, many times we had 100 people in attendance in the 20s, 30s and 40s."
Listening to Kessler speak was the Rev. Rose M. Marquardt, who is pastor at Grace Evangelical, Zion United Methodist Church in Aristes and Wilburton United Methodist Church in Wilburton.
"Our oldest member here is 100 years old, Sarah Umlauf," said Pastor Marquardt. The church currently has 78 members.
"We have active members above 90 who come to church every Sunday," said Kessler.
"At Christmas time I went around the town and visited with the people," said Pastor Marquardt. "Many of the homes are still the company homes. There is just so much history here. The older people can tell you stories. Some of them live in the homes they were born in."
"There were 100 company houses and a company store," said Kessler, who worked in the Potts Colliery mine. "The miners would buy what they needed at the store."
"They would buy on the 'bushy-bushy' - on the book," said Pastor Marquardt.
"I took a census for the postmaster about five or six years ago and we had less than 250 people," said Kessler. "We have less than that now. There were over 700 people employed at the colliery."
Conyngham Township Supervisor Chairman James Tarlecki has most recently had contact with both Butler Township and Mount Carmel Township due to the sewage distribution system project. The main distribution lines along Conyngham Township villages of Aristes, Wilburton No. 1 and Wilburton No. 2 to the Mount Carmel Sewer Authority treatment plant connect through Mount Carmel Township sewer lines. In Locustdale, agreements were reached between Conyngham and Butler township officials for sewer service to residents in both townships, along with connecting the distribution lines to the Butler Township Sewer Authority's treatment plant. Since there are no homes or businesses in the Mount Carmel Township section, no agreement was needed in providing sewer service.
"People just don't realize what we pulled off in getting the project off the ground and completed," said Tarlecki. "People should be amazed in getting all of those agreements together."
Butler Township Supervisor Chairman David Kessler has a good working relationship with Tarlecki when things need to get done for the residents.
"Jim and I have a pretty good relationship, and there has never been a shortage of phone calls between the two of us," said Kessler. "If something needs to get done in Butler, Jim will be on the phone. If something needs to be done in Conyngham, I'll be on the phone. Mount Carmel Township is pretty much removed since it's on the outskirts, so there's never been a situation where we really need to get involved with Mount Carmel Township."
Kessler attended the informational meeting on the then-proposed sewer project held by Tarlecki at the Locustdale Fire Company, which is in Conyngham Township. The township supervisors hold three monthly meetings per year at the firehouse.
"There were issues that the two of us worked on," said Kessler. "When you have a great working relationship with anybody, it makes life a whole lot easier, and Jim has been very accommodating."
There still is a sense of family for those living in or grew up in Locustdale. There is an annual reunion in August, held at Washington Park in Ashland.