County text and building entries by Lawrence M. Newman and Robert Janosov
Despite having been settled in the eighteenth century, Lackawanna County was the commonwealth's last county to be formed. This took place in 1878 through secession from Luzerne County after a contentious election in which Wilkes-Barre's elite fought to contain the rise of Scranton, its rival city. The new county took its name from the Lackawanna River, whose name means “stream that forks” and is, not coincidentally, the name of the coal and iron company that forced the county's creation.
Two nearly parallel mountain ridges, the Moosic on the east and the locationally named West Mountain, traverse the county in a southwest to northeast direction, bounding the valley created by the Lackawanna River and dividing the county into three topographic sections. The Lackawanna Valley sits squarely within the Appalachian Mountain section of the Ridge and Valley zone and its folded landscape yielded the Northern Anthracite Field. Though the last of the state's four anthracite fields to be developed, it was the most prized, containing some of the world's richest anthracite deposits. The county's chief population centers describe the Northern Field in a contiguous string of communities extending from Fell Township, north of Carbondale; through the “Mid-valley” to Scranton, the county's seat and largest city; and on to the communities paralleling the Lackawanna River's passage into Luzerne County. Most of the county's suburban development sits beyond West Mountain, an area known as the Abingtons, which includes the boroughs of Clarks Green, Clarks Summit, and Dalton and the surrounding townships. While this area's oldest settlement, the village of Waverly, preserves some of its original New England character, the Abingtons are marked by the automobile-driven suburbanization occurring around the junction of U.S. 6, U.S. 11, I-81, and the terminus of the Pennsylvania Turnpike's northeastern extension.
Like much of northeastern Pennsylvania, Lackawanna County was settled from Connecticut, but remained thinly settled until the 1850s when it underwent rapid urbanization following the discovery of coal. Carbondale, founded by the Delaware and Hudson Canal Company, flourished as an industrial center before the Civil War, but was quickly eclipsed by the rise of Scranton. Urban growth was created by work and driven by immigration, first from Wales, Ireland, and Germany, and then from southeastern Europe. Most immigrants lived in well-defined neighborhoods in Scranton or in one of the many small surrounding towns. Typically in each settlement, one or two ethnic groups came to dominate: Jessup and Old Forge were Italian, Simpson was Russian and Slovak, Jermyn was Ruthenian and Russian, and Scranton's Minooka section was Irish.
The anthracite industry declined in the late 1920s, revived during World War II, and fell into a terminal decline through the 1960s as environmental regulations took their toll on coal. The resulting unemployment was temporarily remedied by textiles—silk, succeeded by rayon, followed by nylon. Local leaders responded by creating the Scranton Plan, a community effort to develop new industrial parks and construct the nation's first industrial shell buildings. Since its inception, over 2,700 acres of new industrial, office, and technology parks have been developed in the Scranton area. As development efforts matured, local leaders turned their attention to addressing quality of life issues, with the development of projects like the Montage Mountain Ski Resort project, which opened in 1984, anchoring a multiphase mixed-use development. Visible from I-81, it has come to epitomize the county's efforts at economic reinvention.
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