1895 - 1919
"Memories of Wilkes-Barre"
by Father J.J. Curran
First Pastor of Holy Saviour Church
"Memories of Wilkes-Barre" by Father J.J. Curran First Pastor of Holy Saviour Church
The city marks an historic spot on the left side of the Susquehanna. It lies southwest from Scranton by rail eighteen miles; northwest from Philadelphia 145 miles and nearly direct west from New York 177 miles.
Above the sea level it is situated only 530-550 feet, while the mountains encircling round about only 1,400 feet. Occupying a position in the heart of anthracite coal fields of the state, it has attracted world-wide attention in recent years by reason of the many industrial conflicts that have been fought and won here by the manly sons of toil.
Like loving parents whose child is the "sweetest" in the world, are the citizens of Wilkes-Barre, whose city is the most beautiful on the map of the universe. While pride in everything our own is pardonable, because it is natural, yet our boastful claim for Wilkes-Barre's place among the prettiest cities of our country, may be sustained by facts which speaks for themselves .
For, indeed, there is a charm about our town and its environment which truly captivates the stranger, whencesoever he may come. A unique picturesqueness, of enchanting scenery unfolds itself to the eye, and enwraps the visitor in ecstasies of joy and bewilderment, while gazing on the panorama that would do credit to the famous resorts of Europe.
Filled with historic lore and the scene of many a hard fought battle, the Wyoming Valley and its Queen City have proven a prolific subject for the poet and painter, historian and prose writer. Our River Common, especially, is worthy of the fanciest brush and the most delicate pen; for here stretches out her verdure and virginal soil, studded with tall and stately oaks (the remnants of forests primeval), still sheltering the weary wayfarer with their overhanging boughs and luxuriant foliage. Nowhere in all this land of varied scenery does nature touch with more lavish hand, or enchanting wand, than this same spot where beauty dwells and on comeliness disappears.
Were you to take a look for Wilkes-Barre's double you should take a sail from Cologne up the German Rhine, and disembark at Maintz. The verdant mountains encircling the valley complete the picture of fair Wyoming and her Queen City.
Were beauty and charm the only characteristics of Wilkes-Barre she should still bear an attraction to all the world. For the richness of her coal deposits surpass the mineral wealth of any stretch of the country of proportionate size upon the globe. The gold fields of America and Australia, and the diamond mines of South Africa, can not compare in richness with the dusty diamonds underlying the surface of the Wyoming Valley. Our industrial life, however, it is not confined exclusively to the digging of coal; but a gradual and uniform development of other industries is being carried on.
Lace and cotton mills give employment to many hundreds of men and women. Silk and Ribbon mills are not less active and lucrative in our community. The shirt waist and ladies' underwear industries give steady work to hundreds of our female wage earners. The wire rope and tin industries do a thriving business and circulate tens of thousands of dollars among employees every month. Besides these, we have a very remarkable foundry which turns out axels and springs for wagons, and gives employment to an army of over a thousand men. There are scores of minor industries which taken together add very materially to the prosperity of progressive city.
Being a notable railroad center, Wilkes-Barre can count many locomotive and repair shops within her limits, where good wages are paid and conditions of labor very satisfactory.
Within the last few months the Board of Trade has been reorganized and today has a membership of nearly three hundred of her most progressive citizens. We have an honest Council, a model Executive and a school board beyond reproach. No political upheavals are anticipated for Wilkes-Barre, nor will there be need of such while her citizens put the best men into office instead of partisan politicians and characterless demagogues. Our banks, nine in number, have on deposit the enormous sum of 19,000,000, showing the thrift and economic habits of our people. Two hospitals, the City and Mercy, take excellent care of the sick and injured. These homes of the afflicted are supported by private subscriptions and State appropriations. We have also an Old Ladies Home, to look after the comforts of the elderly women who otherwise would be obliged to take shelter in the poor house. Then there is a most worthy institution know as the United Charities, whose sphere of action is to pick up wayward and incorrigible children, or children whose parents may be negligent in their bring up.
Other praiseworthy institutions for the alleviation of hunger and want, such as St. Vincent de Paul Society and the Home of the Friendless, are doing the work of God for the poor and needy of our city.
Wilkes-Barre can consistently boast of her magnificent church edifices, whose exterior architectural designs are rivaled only by their interior beauty. A visit to those houses of God would pay the stranger not only from a view point of spiritual elevation, but also as a sense of artistic enjoyment.
Our school buildings can compare favorably with any city in the state, and the standard of education prevailing here is not excelled anywhere.
The fire department deserves special mention inasmuch as it holds the world's record for the fastest hitch. No. 8 Hose Company, located in the Second ward of our city, known as East End made the hitch in three and one-fifth (3 1/5) seconds, and got the wagon out of the hose house in nine and one-fifth (9 1/5)seconds. This work beats any record in the world known to the department. The city and its people are to be congratulated not only for this universal distinction, but also for the general efficiency of the various companies under the tactful chieftaincy of Mr. Joseph Schuler.
Nine railroads center in Wilkes-Barre and afford our people facilities for travel rarely enjoyed by cities twice its size. The interminable Pennsylvania Railroad ramifies our valley. Wilkes-Barre is the principal city on the main line of the Lehigh Valley railroad between New York and Buffalo. Then we have the Central Railroad of New Jersey (the Reading System) from New York and Philadelphia to Scranton. The Central flyer covers the distance of 145 miles between this city and Philadelphia in exactly four hours, while the famous Black Diamond Express makes it in three hours and Fifty minutes. The Delaware and Hudson, the only road in New York and Pennsylvania running into Montreal, has its southern Terminus here. The Delaware, Lackawanna and Western touch a suburban line through its Bloomsburg Division at Kingston. The Wilkes-Barre and Eastern crosses the Eastern Mountains and extends to New York. The Erie railroad also reaches our city, although it has suspended its passenger traffic in recent years. The third rail system, popularly known as Cannon Ball, connecting Wilkes-Barre and Scranton, is a marvel of modern railroad development. The Lackawanna and Wyoming Valley Railroad, as it is technically called, affords one the most pleasant rides between the two sister cities that can be imagined. And so, too, the Wilkes-Barre and Hazelton third rail system, which connects our city with Hazelton, traverse woodland and farming county most charming and refreshing to the eye of the passenger. A most perfect trolley system is that of the Wyoming Valley Traction Railway, whose ramifications extend for over 100 miles north, south, east and west from Public Square. A ride on this road to Harvey's Lake fifteen miles across the mountains west of the city, will repay the stranger for time and money expended on the journey.
A trip up the Wyoming Valley proper to where the Monument marks the graves of those early patriotic citizens who fell fighting for their homes and country, should be taken. Such shrines make our people more American and our citizens more patriotic.
A drive over the Wilkes-Barre mountains to Bear Creek is one of those refreshing and invigorating trips that clings to the memory for many a long day. The boulevard built and kept in repair by the whole-soled and hospitable Albert Lewis is considered one of the most perfect mountain roadways in America. This boulevard has its branch roads extending to Bear Lake along which also roams a ferocious bruin, equal terror to huckleberry gatherers and automobile riders. Glen Summit Springs and Hotel, controlled by the Lehigh Valley Railroad Company is a resort of national renown and perhaps one of the most salubrious spots in America. These springs are only twelve miles distant fro the famous White Haven Sanitarium, where consumptives in all stages of the disease are permanently cured.
Many side trips of this kind might be taken with advantage to the traveler, and it is the only way that strangers have to learn the beauties and historical value of our city and her environments.
Rev. J.J. Curran