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Scranton

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Scranton is a quintessential byproduct of the nation's Industrial Revolution: of Pennsylvania's largest cities it alone was created from whole cloth during the age of coal. In its astonishing rise, its equally rapid decline, and its varied attempts at recovery, it has embodied the narrative of the American industrial city. What is now Scranton was settled in the 1760s by settlers from Connecticut and New York. The forces that shaped the development of Scranton as an urban place began in the middle of the nineteenth century with the growth of the anthracite iron and coal industries.

The beginnings of that process were fraught with difficulty: George, Joseph, and Selden Scranton, three brothers from New Jersey, arrived in Slocum Hollow in 1840 to revive the failing iron-making venture of William Henry, Selden's father-in-law. Henry had purchased land in the Lackawanna Valley in the belief that its access to raw materials—coal, limestone, and iron ore—could support the manufacture of pig iron and nails. Both initial ventures were unsuccessful in large part because the area lacked affordable transportation routes to markets. To salvage the family's gamble, the Scranton brothers in 1846 took an even riskier move, convincing the directors of the New York and Erie Railroad to give them the contract for a new rail line. The gambit paid off and the family's investments in the Lackawanna Valley achieved success while establishing a Pennsylvania dynasty that would include a governor and a lieutenant governor. In 1853, the Scrantons had incorporated the Lackawanna Iron and Coal Company, and in the same year, the family began construction on two railroads, running north and east from Scranton, that would later merge to become the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad.

As they built a business enterprise, the Scrantons also built a city. In 1841, the company had hired surveyor and builder-architect Joel Amsden to plat a gridded town plan. The Scranton's iron, coal, and rail operations came to employ thousands and a community literally grew overnight. By 1852, more than 3,000 people lived in the immediate vicinity around the iron furnaces ( LK12), reflecting the power of capitalized iron making to transform a heretofore rural craft. As the size of individual plants expanded, the need for workers grew dramatically. In 1851, the village originally named Slocum Hollow was incorporated as a borough under its new name, Scranton. By 1866, it had become a city. Simultaneously, the neighboring boroughs of Hyde Park and Providence were incorporated into Scranton, creating a municipal boundary that would permit future growth. In 1878 with the formation of Lackawanna County, Scranton became the county seat.

Though Scranton emerged as an urban center later than Wilkes-Barre, by the early twentieth century it was both physically and demographically larger. Scranton's Lackawanna Iron and Coal Company became one of the largest producers of T-rail for America's rapidly expanding railroads, and the combined forces of anthracite and iron caused the city of Scranton to swell, as immigrants flocked to the region's booming mills and foundries. In the 1870s, Scranton boasted an ethnically diverse population of 20,000. In the next decade, the city had increased to over 45,000 people and was the largest city in northeastern Pennsylvania. By 1900, the city's population more than doubled to 102,026.

While Scranton billed itself as the “Anthracite Coal Mining Capital of the World,” it also became a major manufacturing center. From the late nineteenth century on, Scranton had a higher percentage of workers employed in manufacturing than Wilkes-Barre. Industries that had operated in the city since the 1850s, such as the Dickson Manufacturing Company and the Scranton Stove Company, were joined by newcomers like the International Textbook Company, the Sauquoit Silk Manufacturing Company, and Scranton Lace, which together employed over 12,000 workers, many of them women, in the typical gendered employment pattern of the era.

In 1919, Scranton's boom moved the editors of National Geographicmagazine to comment: “Probably no other city of its class in the world is richer than Scranton.” That wealth generated a series of fashionable neighborhoods. Elite streets close to downtown, such as Jefferson Avenue and Ridge Row, gave way by 1900 to new residential development in the nearby Hill section and the in-town streetcar suburb of Green Ridge. As Scranton looked to New York City for industrial capital, it turned there also for architects who played a major role in shaping the city's elite neighborhoods through the beginning of the twentieth century. They were gradually supplanted by local designers, many themselves with New York origins or training. Today, the Hill and Green Ridge neighborhoods reveal the impact of local architects such as Edward H. Davis, John A. Duckworth, and Edward Langley.

On the opposite end of the socioeconomic spectrum were the immigrants who comprised so much of the city's population. By the start of the twentieth century, 28 percent of Scranton's population was foreign born and immigration helped to swell the population in surrounding mining towns as well. By 1900, the numerous mining towns offered their residents a measure of selfsufficiency, but they relied on Scranton as a commercial, recreational, and cultural center. The result was the development of an elaborate street railway system—the first (1886) electric trolley system in the country, earning Scranton the appellation “The Electric City,” which connected Scranton with outlying towns. There is a small trolley museum in the Steamtown complex ( LK10). By the 1920s, automobiles began to supersede the trolleys.

The collapse of the anthracite industry led, as elsewhere in the coal regions, to a population exodus following World War II. Although heroic efforts to rebuild and diversify the economy have been underway for decades, the city has paid dearly; in 2000 only 74,415 persons resided in the city of Scranton. More recently, extensive downtown revitalization efforts have begun to revive the central business district, offering hope for the future.

Writing Credits

Author: 
George E. Thomas

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