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[graphic] River Street Historic District

Luzerne County Courthouse, one of the buildings in the River Street Historic District
Photograph by Sue Pridemore

Irem Temple, another building in the River Street Historic District
Photograph by Sue Pridemore

The River Street Historic District is made up of civic, commercial, ecclesiastical, and residential buildings dating from 1860 to 1920. Primarily a district of wealthy industrialists' mansions and upwardly mobile merchants' homes, it is organized around a central core of Wilkes-Barre's principal civic and financial institutions. Historically, the district displays the wealth and importance of Wilkes-Barre during the years of the anthracite coal industry. Most of the buildings in the River Street Historic District are architect-designed and represent the range of popular styles for their periods. The district possesses many noteworthy buildings, such as the Luzerne County Courthouse, a grand Beaux Arts style building, a Renaissance Palazzo YMCA, and the unusual Moorish Revival style Irem Temple, built for a local Masonic lodge. The River Street Historic District contains 258 buildings, and includes four church buildings erected between 1848 and 1900, all situated on Franklin Street. Their steeples (and the extraordinary campanile of St. Stephen's Church) provide the principal features of the District's skyline. These are high-quality designs, reflecting a cosmopolitan civic image based on the metropolitan architecture of New York and Philadelphia. In large part, it was architects from these cities who were brought to Wilkes-Barre to design churches as well as homes and commercial buildings. Among those whose work in the District survives are James Renwick (Osterhout Library, formerly the Presbyterian Church of 1843-1852); F. C. Withers, and J. C. Cady (the "new" Presbyterian Church of 1889), all from New York and architects of national renown. From Philadelphia came architects such as John Fraser, best known as Frank Furness' mentor; Wilson Eyre (the Phelps home, later the American Legion Post) and Charles Burns, a prominent designer of Episcopal churches and the architect of St. Stephen's Episcopal Church. While the residential streets of the district are of a domestic scale and character, the institutional core at the corner of West Market and Franklin Streets is different stylistically, in its Beaux Arts buildings, and its scale, determined by tall office buildings. Chief among these are the United Penn Bank Building, built by the nationally acclaimed Chicago architect Daniel H. Burnham in 1911, and the First Eastern Bank, built in 1907 by influential local architects McCormick and French.

The River Street Historic District is located in Wilkes-Barre and includes Franklin, River West River, West Jackson, West Union, West Market, West Northampton, West South, and West Ross Sts., Barnum Place, and the Susquehanna River. Many of the businesses within the district open to the public during normal business hours.

 [graphic] Link to Canal History Essay
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 [graphic] Link to Establishing the Heritage Corridor Essay


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