Built between 1828 and 1832, the North Branch Canal system connected Wilkes-Barre's coal resources to a transportation system that made large-scale mining profitable. Within the city, the canal was located to the east of the downtown and was replaced by the later rail lines, preserving the River Common (the land bordering the river) as a desirable residential area. This compressed further development of the city into narrow bands between the river and the canal. Between Jackson and Union streets, the canal cut back toward the river, creating a boundary between the socially elite neighborhood to the south and the middle-class neighborhood to the north. Today, many of the buildings along the southern section of River Street have been taken over by Wilkes University ( LU18). The contrast between the white terra-cotta and marble of the civic and financial district and the smaller-scaled red brick and brownstone coal magnates’ mansions provides an insight into the social history of Wilkes-Barre. While the city's mansions address the pastoral beauty of the riverfront, they stand in the shadows of the great local banking institutions made wealthy by intensive anthracite coal mining a short distance from the formerly scenic riverbank—itself now guarded by giant floodwalls with a landscape scheme by Boston's Sasaki Associates (2009) that placed a promenade atop the concrete barriers.
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