Search for photos of “Robindale, PA” online and the main sites that come up show the devastation caused by the 1977 flood that created havoc on the area and wiped out the town.
Speak to the former residents, though, and you’ll hear stories of a close-knit community of family and friends who called Robindale their home.
Robindale was located on a bend on the Conemaugh River between Seward and New Florence in Indiana County, and was developed in 1915 as a company town by the Conemaugh Smokeless Coal Co.
Lynn Harding grew up in Robindale, and in a paper written for a college class several years ago, he described the layout of Robindale, where most of the men were employed as coal miners, as “approximately sixty families closely housed together in bungalow-type row houses. Each row of bungalows provided living quarters for up to five families. The bungalows accommodated approximately forty of the town’s sixty families. In Robindale the average family size was five members. Most ethnic backgrounds were of the ‘old country’ origin, either being Polish, Slovenia, or Hungarian.”
“We were almost all related, one way or another,” Harding said. “There was always a group of kids who played together, whether it was swimming, or sports, or whatever. Regardless of who you were related to, you belonged to everyone in town. They wiped your nose, tied your shoes, and they made sure your shirt was tucked in.”
Harding recalled how the row houses were connected with bannisters, and “milk and sugar got passed over the bannisters, and never was there a thought that you had to return the favor. If you weren’t home at supper time, wherever you were at, they fed you.”
A power plant now occupies the site, and many people have never heard of the town. Harding said, “A friend of mine works as the maintenance manager at the plant, and he told me, ‘There are people who work here who don’t even know there used to be a town.’”
In an effort to have a visible marker to commemorate his hometown, Harding sought recognition from the Pennsylvania Historical Marker Association. “The association, however, determined that Robindale had no historical value,” Harding said.
Not content with ending his quest, he joined with other residents and decided they’d create their own memorial marker. They contacted Lake Shore Industries, located in Erie, and sought donations and a location.
“Robindale Energy was kind enough to give us the use of a 300-foot piece of their property on Power Plant Road, and we’ve received donations from the former residents and the North American Coal Company,” Harding said.
The marker will be dedicated on Saturday at 11:30 a.m. with a proclamation by Indiana County Commissioner Rodney Ruddock. “We’ve got more than 100 responses from residents who are coming for the dedication and a get-together at the Seward Fire Hall afterward,” he said.
Everything is aimed at remembering the town as it was, not to remember Robindale only for its destruction in 1977.
“Robindale was a special, safe place to grow up,” Harding said. “When you crossed the railroad tracks and headed down the hill into town, you knew you were home.”