Shenandoah, my poor, aging hometown snuggled in the Coal region boonies, isn’t just for mocking anymore.
Photographer Andrew Wertz, a graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design, has been aiming his lenses at the anthracite towns of Schuylkill County as part of his thesis project. Shenandoah, just a couple miles from the Turkey Run patch where Wertz’s grandmother spent her childhood possesses a spiritual and artistic esthetic unmatched in his eye:
Just the specifics of it. Its isolation: It’s a town that’s surrounded on three sides by coal fields and one side by a mountain so there was no place to expand. Not like Hazleton, which spread outward; Shenandoah is hemmed in. There was 1.2 square miles, which supported a population of 30,000 in 1920, when its population peaked. What amazes me is how with the exception of very few blocks here or there that were lost to fire, it’s mostly intact and preserved. Because no industry really ever came in to replace the jobs that were lost. Sure, you had the garment industry – they called them the wildcat shops – my grandmother worked in one for 20 some years before they went south. And a few other industries, too, but there’s been nothing here to take the place of decades upon decades of growth. So for me, what you have is a visual history of American culture that is mostly preserved. It’s just a tremendous, tremendous thing to experience and witness.
You can read the first part of his two-part interview here.