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[graphic text] Scranton: Where the Great Roads Meet

[photo] Panorama of downtown Scranton, nestled in the Lackawanna Valley, c.1909
Photograph courtesy of Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division [pan 6a14372]
The essay title was once a slogan of Scranton's Chamber of Commerce and the great roads were the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western, the Delaware and Hudson, and the Erie railroads, as well as several others. But Scranton did not begin where commerce carrying roads met. It had an odd start in a deep valley without benefit of populace or industry.

In 1771 a pioneer named Isaac Tripp moved up from the Wyoming Valley to the Lackawanna Valley, becoming the first European settler in the region. Tripp, family members, and others established farms and businesses such as grist mills and forges that serviced farmers needs. The settlers spread out in the areas of Hyde Park, Providence, Slocum Hollow and other sections. In 1800 the census recorded 579 people spread around the area that would become Scranton. The 1840 census showed an increase to only 1,169 persons. Little was attracting new settlers. About this time, Judge Jesse Fell discovered that the local hard coal, anthracite, could be burned for domestic use. Anthracite produces high heat and burns relatively cleanly. Once ignited with a wood fire, a good draft through a grate, and fed from above, an anthracite fire burned continuously. Mines were opened and coal shipped over the mountains via the Delaware and Hudson gravity railroad and canal system.

William Henry convinced son-in-law Selden Scranton and Selden's brothers to relocate to Slocum Hollow from the iron foundry in Oxford, New Jersey, they were managing. They thought they could capitalize on the hard coal and the local iron ore. After two years and much effort they finally made pig iron, in January 1842. The pig iron then needed transporting out of the valley to be processed into nails, tools, horseshoes, and anything made of iron. Transportation costs priced the pig bars above market levels. The iron ore was also inferior and did not produce high quality products. At least the local coal was of acceptable quality. In a last effort, the Scrantons entered into a contract with the New York and Erie Railroad to manufacture rail. Both companies were desperate. The Erie needed to open lines across New York and the Scrantons needed economic survival. The Scrantons built a rolling mill, imported iron ore, experimented, and in the end they delivered the first mass-produced rail in North America. They fulfilled the Erie contract and set the valley on the path to progress.

Group of Lackawanna freight engines in Scranton sometime between 1890 and 1901
Photograph courtesy of Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Detroit Publishing Company Collection, det 4a07313 .

The companies that would eventually become the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad began in 1851. Rails laid out of the valley carried the products of the Lackawanna Iron and Coal Company to the outside world. The railroads that carried iron and coal out brought in laborers and entrepreneurs. Soon, the backwoods agrarian character changed to an early industrial base. The Lackawanna Coal and Iron Company produced pig iron until 1902 when the company moved closer to iron fields and water transportation in Buffalo, New York. Coal mining and transportation of the coal surpassed iron production in economic importance. In the 19th century and well into the 20th, northeast Pennsylvania was known as "The Anthracite Capital of the World." In the early 1850s, the several small villages merged to form the town of Scranton. Scranton itself was built upon the twin pillars of iron and coal. Railroads, the third industry, were developed to move the iron and coal to market.

Scranton and the surrounding area benefited from immigration patterns. Businessmen moving in from Connecticut and New England established banks and retail stores, and became managers in the coal companies and other industries. The first bank opened in 1855. First generation European immigrants arrived from Wales, Ireland, and Germany. Many of these immigrants, especially the Welsh, were skilled miners and quickly occupied places within the mining industry. Even today, this area has the greatest number of Welsh

The Lackawanna Avenue Commercial Historic District as it appears today
by Kristen Carsto

descendants of any area in the United States. After the Civil War, Scranton emerged as the dominant town in northeast Pennsylvania, Lackawanna Avenue was the commercial center with railroad stations, mills, banks, markets, and retail shops lining both sides and more businesses along the cross streets. Civic leaders formed the Board of Trade, a precursor to the Chamber of Commerce, to encourage new businesses and city oriented projects. Undoubtedly the Board of Trade supported the formation of Lackawanna County from the older Luzerne County in 1878.

Owners of New England textiles mills developed in similar mills here. The prevailing industries hired men and boys while the silk and garment mills would hire women and girls. The Sauquoit Silk Mill hired 2,000 workers, mainly female. As the Welsh moved into supervisory positions, they were replaced by other immigrants recently arrived from southern and eastern Europe. Those in this second wave of immigration were escaping grinding poverty, usually did not speak English, were marginally educated, and had few employable skills. In 1900 more than one-third of the 100,000 people living in Scranton were foreign born. Technological progress within the mining industry required more general laborers and fewer skilled miners.

Coal has been called the blessing and the curse of the area. Mining was the main wage-producing industry and labor was the greatest cost incurred in operating a mine. Before World War II, anthracite coal was replaced by cheaper, more easily obtainable, and cleaner burning fuels. Before the collapse of the market, the employees of the two primary industries in Scranton, coal mines and railroads, participated in several nationwide strikes over a 25-year period and through a collective voice let the nation know of their plight regarding unsafe working conditions, long hours, and low pay. Terence V. Powderly, elected twice as mayor, was president of the Knights of Labor, an early union.

Courthouse Square with the Lackawanna County Courthouse on the right, c.1902
Photograph courtesy of Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division [pan 6a09448 ]

The miners' plight reached a national audience with the 1902 Anthracite Strike. Anyone with a bit of money could buy a mine and hire laborers, but most mines were owned by railroads in a vertical monopoly. At least half of the mine workers were immigrants whose loyalties were fragmented along ethnic and religious lines. John Mitchell, from Illinois, had the charisma and skill as president of the United Mine Workers of America to organize these diverse and quarreling groups as 80 percent of the 140,000 hard coal miners participated in the 1902 Anthracite Strike. Supporters reached President Theodore Roosevelt who then forced representatives of the mine operators to accept arbitration. Before his death in 1919 at the age of 49, Mitchell requested burial in Scranton because he had a good relationship with the people of the city. He is buried in Cathedral Cemetery and there is a statue in his honor on the county courthouse lawn.

Anthracite mining peaked in 1917. This was also about the time when the textile industry began its decline as natural fibers were replaced by synthetics. In 1920 about 30,000 men were employed in the regional coal industry and when this industry began to decline so did the economic base of the region. The year 1920 represents the city's economic apex. Even with the development of other businesses, the area remained dependent on the labor intensive industries demanding muscle and sweat. Likewise, the 1920 census recorded the height of Scranton's population with 137,900 people living within the city limits. Out-migration was documented in each subsequent census with the 2000 census showing about 70,000 residents.

The Lackawanna County Courthouse today
Photograph by Kristen Carsto

The "Electric City" is a nickname recognizing Scranton's claim for the operation of the first electric streetcar in the United States. The first run was on the evening of November 30, 1886 when passengers boarded after a lecture by African explorer Henry M. Stanley at the Academy of Music (on Wyoming Avenue opposite St. Luke's Episcopal Church) and rode to the Green Ridge section. Recently reelectrified, the "Electric City" sign atop the Board of Trade building dominates the north side of Courthouse Square. The eight-story building was once the tallest structure in Scranton.

At one time, Scranton was well known for the International Correspondence School (ICS). The state legislature required a mine foreman to pass a knowledge test. Thomas Foster realized that all the required information was in his "The Colliery Engineer." He quickly created a correspondence school. By 1901 ICS was incorporated and soon branched out into many areas including the Women's Institute. ICS has reached millions who wished to improve marketable skills. The original buildings are on Wyoming Avenue, one of which is now a parochial high school. ICS itself is still involved in distance learning.

Delaware, Lackawanna, and Western Railroad Station, now serving visitors to Scranton as a hotel
Photograph by Kristen Carsto

But not all was earnest business. Theaters brought in traveling entertainment companies ranging from opera to Buffalo Bill Cody. Historical societies and museums celebrate the area's history. Much of the architecture from 1880 to 1930 still exists. Some of the vernacular houses in West Side for the Welsh and later the Lithuanians are in use as homes. Well-built churches, former department stores, the Lackawanna Railroad passenger station, the Masonic Temple, and other grand buildings remain in place adaptively reused for a second life not planned when built.

Written by Ella S. Rayburn, Curator, Steamtown National Historic Site

 [graphic] Link to Canal History Essay
 [graphic] Link to Delaware and Lehigh Region Essay
 [graphic] Link to Scranton and the Railroad Essay
 [graphic] Link to Establishing the Heritage Corridor Essay


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