Features appear in each issue of Pennsylvania Heritage showcasing a variety of subjects from various periods and geographic locations in Pennsylvania.

The history of the Key­stone State’s sixty­-seven counties is often quite similar to family histories. Its portrait is a rich composite of Native American legend and lore, early trans­portation, marine and mari­time heritage, industry and industrialists, pioneers, capitalists and the working classes, religious communes, inventors and the Industrial Revolution ….

And the county, whose name is derived from the Dela­ware Indian Lechau-haneek, meaning “at the forks of a stream,” typifies both the richness and diversity of this collective portrait of the Commonwealth.

Although settled by pio­neers as early as the eight­eenth century, Lackawanna County was not formally es­tablished until August 21, 1878, by Gov. John Frederick Hartranft under provisions of the “New County Law,” a general law approved with the passage of Pennsylvania’s Constitution of 1874. The last of the Commonwealth’s coun­ties, the new forty-one square mile county was created from part of Luzerne County, but not without debate and dis­sent by rival – and hostile – factions.

The City of Scranton, incor­porated in 1866, was selected county seat amidst great dis­cussion and keen opposition. To calm the fury of potential dissidents, the officers of the­Lackawanna Iron and Coal Company and the trustees of the Susquehanna and Wyoming Valley Coal Company in 1879 donated a plot of city land – then valued at one hundred thousand dollars – for a new courthouse and county offices. A competition for architectural plans for the Lackawanna County Courthouse, which was to occupy the site of an old “Wy pond” (and which had been filled in with slag and ashes from nearby blast furnaces and mills), was con­ducted. I. G. Perry, a Binghamton, New York, archi­tect received the com.mission for his design, and the com­missioners issued a bond for one hundred and fifty thou­sand dollars to further finance the building of the landmark structure after contractors hesitated to erect the edifice because of the instability of the land upon which it was to be built. Ground-breaking ceremonies were held on April 23, 1881, and the cornerstone was laid in spring the following year.

Scranton itself stands on the site of a Muncee Indian village, Capoose, which the area’s earliest settlers first encountered in lm. However, long before settlers arrived, the Iroquois dominated both the valleys of Lackawanna and Wyoming. The first explorers in the vast wilderness, a band of stalwart Rhode Island colo­nists, crossed the Lackawanna Valley and settled near Factory­ville and Abington on territory purchased from representa­tives of the Six Nations, who remained along the upper reaches of the Susquehanna River and through New York until the mid-eighteenth century. Even as late as 1820, hunting parties of Oneida Indians sojourned for several months each year near the confluence of the Susque­hanna and Chenango rivers.

Prominent local physician Benjamin H. Throop, whose 1895 A Half Century in Scranton has become a classic reference work, chronicled at length the Native Americans’ stay in northeastern Pennsylvania.

We have no means of knowing how long the Indians had occu­pied the Valley of the Lackawanna. It is moderately certain, however, that with the absorption of the Mohegans, or Delawares into the Six Nations, the surpreme au­thority of the Iroquois was excer­cised for the benefit of the Proprietary Government of Penn­sylvania whenever it became necessary to invoke it to control the surrounding Algonquin tribes. A large tract of land on the “forks of the Delaware” had been sold to the Proprietary Govern­ment as early as 1792; and fifty years later, at a council held in Philadelphia, this was one of the subjects discussed, whereupon, in a most taunting speech, in which he reminded the conquered Lenapes, that they had been de­prived of their manhood, and subjugated in open battle, Canas­satigo, the Onondaga chieftain, who represented the supreme council of the Six Nations, com­manded them to remove either to “Wouming or Shamokin.” This the Minis (corrupted into Monseys) did, and built at the mouth of the Lackawanna the town of Asserrughney, which was probably near Campbell’s Ledge. It is known that a part of the tribe, under the direct rule of Chief Capouse, inhabited this particular locality and the wide meadows of the Tripp farms, and up and down the stream for miles was the field for their hunt­ing and fishing, and even at this late day there still exist evident marks of their ancient homes ….

Chief Capouse was not a man of war, so far as tradition goes. He defended his own, fought all other tribes of his nation who attempted to tresspass on his rights, and successfully resisted all efforts to dispossess him of any of the terri­tory to which he had been as­signed by the Six Nations, but never encroached upon others, and lived and died with his tribe, and was buried in a mound near Park Place, where bones, copper kettles, arrowheads and beads were found in 1795. The pacific character of the old Chief Capouse was not transmitted to the youn­ger portion of his tribe. After his death, they were impatient to avenge the wrongs, as they con­sidered them, that he had so patiently endured. Among these were the encroachments of the Moravians, who, under the lead­ership of Count Zinzindorf, were located at Nazareth, Bethlehem and Easton, and who had perme­ated the Indian settlements along the Susquehanna above, in the interests of their religious creed, and, perhaps, with a selfish desire to possess the broad fields of Wyoming ….

Even after the treaty of peace, held in Easton in 1756, between the English and confederated Indian nations, the Monseys on the Lackawanna, under the lead­ership of their new chief, Back­sinosa, were troublesome and hostile to the English. In the first Indian massacre of the settlers at Mill Creek, in the summer of 1763, the warriors of this tribe were charged with participating in the bloody and cruel fight.

According to Throop, this tribe disappeared from the area known as Capouse about 1771, but returned seven years later to wreak havoc – in what has become known as the legendary Wyoming Massacre – and “swarmed up the Lack­awanna for the last time, brandishing their blood­ stained weapons of cruelty, leaving their victims dead and dying, homes desolated by flame and faggot, and coveted lands reduced to a barren and desolate waste.”

Tranquility appeared to be rare during the early settle­ment of the Lackawanna Val­ley. It was not until 1782, following the American Revo­lution, that the Decree of Tren­ton settled the disputes of the Pennsylvania Colony’s Pen­namites and the Yankees of the Connecticut Colony. Connecti­cut’s claim to a large portion of Pennsylvania – as well as the bitter confrontations and hos­tile conflicts it engendered – affected northeastern Pennsyl­vania’s settlement and subse­quent development for many years. The year 1782 was also important because it marked the first time the territory now known as Lackawanna County was recognized as part of Northumberland County. Four years later, Luzerne County was created in an effort to stalemate the Connecticut settlers’ agitation for a new state. What neither settlers nor state officials realized was that this area included the rich anthracite deposits that would dramatically transform the northeastern quadrant of the Commonwealth during the following century.

Most of the earliest settlers believed the area held suffic­ient quantities of iron ore and limestone that would make the production of iron and steel profitable. In 1789, William Hooker Smith, with two sons­-in-law, James Sutton and N. Hurlbut, built the first charcoal-fired iron forge at, appropriately named, Old Forge. The iron ore for Hook­er’s venture, however, was not mined but found on the sur­face. By 1800, brothers Ben­jamin and Ebenezer Slocum installed a furnace to manufac­ture iron in their bustling complex, which included a sawmill, a blacksmith shop, a gristmill and a distillery. The Slocums marketed their vari­ous commodities in Wilkes­Barre, Montrose, Easton, Paupack and Bethany. Their busy enterprise was located at Unionville, or Slocum Hollow, the present-day site of the Commonwealth’s third largest city: Scranton.

While the Slocums carried on their many businesses in the hollow, others arrived and delved into commerce. Jesse G. Fell recounted the excite­ment of these early boom years. ‘There were other in­dustries in the city at this time. On a small stream that runs into the Lackawanna, just below Babb’s, were the black­smith shops and trip hammer of John and Benjamin Drake, who were fine workmen in edge tools, mill irons, traps, and other kinds of smithing; and where Taylorville now stands quite an extensive busi­ness was done by Uncle John Atherton and his sons. They had a trip-hammer, and made mill cranks, anvils, edge tools, cow bells, bear and deer traps, and drew custom from a long distance because of their su­prior workmanship.” The borough of Providence – once called “Razorville” and “The Corners” – advanced, but not as rapidly as the hollow. At Hyde Park Philip Heermans opened a tavern in 1810 “in compliance with a demand for a public house, at which town meetings and elections could be held.” Post offices were formally established at Provi­dence and Abington in 1811 with the opening of a postal route from Wilkes-Barre north to the region. The enterprising Benjamin Slocum was ap­pointed postmaster of Provi­dence, the office of which was actually located in Slocum Hollow. By 1831, Hyde Park claimed its own post office and postmaster, William Merrifield.

Despite several significant drawbacks – such as its remoteness from seaboard ports and markets, as well as its lack of a navigable waterway and poor roads through the steeply pitched terrain – the area blossomed during the early decades of the nineteenth century. Early settlers fervently believed that they would pros­per because of the rich mineral resources. To remedy the lack of affordable transportation for goods and commodities, which had plagued the Slo­cums for years, Henry W. Drinker obtained a charter for a road cutting through the deep wilderness from Slocum Hollow east to the Delaware Water Gap in 1826. Five years later, Drinker’s preliminary survey was undertaken and in 1832 his company was formally organized and officers elected.

Other early transportation ventures included the Mere­dith Railroad and the Liggett’s Gap Railroad, actually “gravity roads” which were abandoned almost as soon as they were laid. In the meantime, how­ever, anthracite, or “stone coal” as it was commonly called, was just beginning to be understood by business­men and entrepreneurs who realized its value to manufac­turing interests, as well as for domestic uses. As charcoal for forges and furnaces grew more expensive, industrialists looked toward anthracite as an alternative fuel. The greatest problem the enterprising en­trepreneurs encountered was finding an appropriate – and affordable – way to move their newfound commodity to distant markets. Hauling by wagons and teams proved too expensive. Arks laden with anthracite plied the perilous waters of the Susquehanna and Lehigh rivers to the south, but too much cargo was lost and a new route was needed if anthracite was to take hold as a fuel source. Shippers at­tempted slack water naviga­tion on the Lehigh and North Branch canals to solve their dilemma, while the Delaware and Hudson Canal Company connected Honesdale (in neighboring Wayne County) with Roudout on the Hudson. The Delaware and Hudson Canal Company spawned what later became one of the most powerful, prestigious and prosperous transportation networks in the United States: the Delaware and Hudson Railroad Company.

The Delaware and Hudson Railroad Company claims the distinction of being the first railroad line to exploit the rich coal deposits of Lackawanna County. After the War of 1812, John, William and Maurice Wurts of Philadelphia investi­gated ways of transporting anthracite to the port city as efficiently as possible. While William explored the area between Scranton and Carbon dale (where anthracite was first discovered in 1799), Maurice acquired great tracts of coal land for fifty cents to three dollars an acre. By 1822, the Wurts selected Carbondale as the center of their vast oper­ations. The brothers had hoped to find a ready market for their “stone coal” in Phila­delphia, but because transpor­tation was difficult – if not impossible – they turned their attention to the New York market. To solve the problem of hauling coal to New York from the rich anthracite de­posits, the Wurts built a canal and railroad from Carbondale and Honesdale to the Hudson Rivers. An act of the state legislature the following year authorized the Wurts to make the Lackawaxen River naviga­ble for boats and the New York legislature authorized them to connect the Hudson and Dela­ware rivers, in addition to purchasing more coal lands. By subsequent acts of both the New York and Pennsylvania state legislatures in 1825, the New York company and the Wurts brothers’ concern was formally organized and the task of actually building a canal system was finally be­gun. For their coal holdings, the Wurts received two hun­dred thousand dollars of Dela­ware and Hudson Canal Company stock and forty thousand dollars in cash.

Although mud1 of the early development occurred in New York and Wayne County, adjacent to Lackawanna County, a gravity railroad was opened in 1829. James Archbald super­vised the construction of the road, as well as later improve­ments, which would allow the company to increase the quan­tity of anthracite mined at Carbondale. Two decades later, the company’s railroad line, under the personal direc­tion of James Archbald, was extended from Carbondale to Archbald, to service the White Oak mining operation estab­lished by the company. As the company acquired more coal lands, the railroad lines were eventually extended to Oly­phant in 1858 and to Provi­dence two years later.

Scrantonian Thomas Dick­son served as the fifth presi­dent of the Delaware and Hudson; elected in 1869, he succeeded George Talbot Oly­phant and served for fifteen years. During Dickson’s presi­dency, the company aggres­sively acquired even more valuable anthracite deposits and leases, and inevitably controlled numerous railroad lines of mining companies. Upon his death he was suc­ceeded as company president by a second Olyphant: R. M., most noted for his abandon­ment of the canal and the gravity railroad. Eventually the organization that evolved as the Delaware and Hudson Railroad Company became one of the Keystone State’s most influential and successful transportation giants.

Competing with the Dela­ware and Hudson Railroad Company was the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad, which actually had its origins as part of the Sus­quehanna and Delaware Canal and Railroad Company led by land baron Henry W. Drinker. Potential investors, wary of Drinker’s proposed transporta­tion network – even though it would give access to some of Pennsylvania’s richest coal deposits – refused to capital­ize his ambitious project. Drinker, however, obtained the charter for the Liggett’s Gap Railroad, but was unable to secure financing for that as well. He did maintain the company’s charter and sold it in 1850 to the firm of Scranton and Platt, whose members were closely allied with the Lackawanna Iron Works, and who needed transportation for both their mill products and anthracite holdings.

George W. Scranton, patri­arch of the family for whom the city was named, sought investors for this expansion, but was forced to create the Lackawanna Iron and Coal Company when investors demanded a share in Scranton and Platt. With investors satis­fied, the firm of Scranton and Platt constructed the Liggett’s Gap Railroad in 1850. In 1851, crews supervised by Scranton completed the road and the company’s name was changed to the Delaware and Western Railroad Company. The rail­road spawned a number of related businesses, including the Wyoming House, the city’s first hotel. Advocated by George W. Scranton, who believed that a hotel would enhance the fledgling commu­nity’s commerce, the hotel was built on land donated by the iron company. The Wyoming House, modeled after New York’s famous Astor House, opened in 1852 – two years after Scranton prophesized that, “you keep in mind that this is going to be the great center of northern Pennsylva­nia and that no one thing will give us a lift and standing abroad for the money it will cost than a good hotel.” The three story brick structure cost its builders forty thousand dollars, no small sum for the mid-nineteenth century.

After several more permuta­tions and partnerships, the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad was consoli­dated in 1853, with the City of Scranton chosen for the center of its operations. In 1854, the first car shop was erected, followed in 1855 by an adjoin­ing iron foundry, and in 1856 by a large round house. Wil­liam H, Dotterer, mechanic for the Liggett’s Gap Railroad, served as the first superintend­ent of the Delaware, Lack­awanna and Western Railroad.

The Delaware, Lackwanna and Western Railroad’s great success was due primarily to the boom years of the nine­teenth century anthracite trade. As early as the organiza­tion of the Liggett’s Gap Rail­road, George Scranton foresaw the significance of the rich coal resources to the re­gion’s transportation network, and urged that the company must “have a depot full of freight all the time waiting to be taken away.” Under Scran­ton’s ever-watchful eye, the company opened its first mine, christened the “Dia­mond,” about 1852. To the company president, John J. Phelps, on February 3, 1852, he wrote: “We have closed a contract with Mr. J. S. Cox, of Reading, for a coal breaker and engine 30 horsepower with screens, apparatus, etc., all to be delivered and put into suc­cessful and satisfactory opera­tion by May 1, for $3,800. The whole cost of the concern will not be far from $7,000 and warranted to break and screen 400 tons per day. This plan is the same as the most approved now in use in Schuylkill County.”

The company’s enthusiasm sparked speculators to obtain leases, sink shafts and begin aggressively mining coal dur­ing the mid-nineteenth cen­tury. Selden T. Scranton opened the Oxford Mine in 1862, followed by the Hyde Park Coal Company’s shaft seven years later. Other opera­tions – the Cayuga in Provi­dence, the Oxford, the Central and the Continental – sprang up during the 1860s, all of which were controlled by the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad. By the 1870s, the Pyne, Taylor, Sloan and Archbald operations were in full force, and the following decade saw the incorporation of the Fair Coal Company of Scranton, one of the few enter­prises which remained inde­pendent and controlled by a prominent area family well into this century.

The amount of coal mined and shipped to market by these early companies were staggering to say the least. For example, the Delaware, Lack­awanna and Western Railroad had hauled nearly two million tons of coal – much of it mined by its subsidiaries – by 1868. Throughout the closing decades of the nineteenth century, the various operations owned or controlled by the railroad burgeoned into a complex mining network which was eventually consoli­dated in 1921 as the Glen Al­den Coal Company at the direction of the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC). For its anthracite holdings, the railroad received sixty million dollars. Railroad stockholders were given the opportunity to purchase shares in the Glen Alden Coal Company at five dollars each – which just four years later traded at one hun­dred and seventy dollars!

In addition to the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western and the Delaware and Hudson companies, several other rail­roads serviced the region, including the Lackawanna and Bloomsburg, the Erie, the Lehigh Valley, the Central, and the Wilkes-Barre and Eastern. An electrical line which ran between Scranton and Wilkes­Barre in adjacent Luzerne County, the Lackawanna and Wyoming Valley Railway – popularly called the Laurel Line – augmented the tradi­tional steam-powered rail­roads, as did the Scranton and Binghamton line, an inter­urban trolley whose line connected Scranton and Mon­trose.

The City of Scranton claimed Lackawanna County’s first street railway, as well as the nation’s premier electric street railway. Prominent Scranton financier E. B. Sturges promoted the city’s inaugural venture, the Scran­ton Suburban Electric Railway, in 1886. Curious spectators – and sophisticated speculators – traveled from near and far to see the widely touted “horseless street cars,” which prompted the electrification of every street car line within the city limits. Eventually, with electrification of the city lines, service was extended to the suburbs and outlying communities.

The manufacture of silk was an early and important indus­try throughout the entire Lack­awanna Valley. To Alfred Harvey of Connecticut goes credit for being the first manu­facturer of silk; he came to Scranton in 1872 as superin­tendent of the Scranton Silk Mill and established the Sa­quoit Mill. After encountering financial difficulties which forced the liquidation of his original endeavor, Harvey later built mills in Hyde Park and again in Scranton, where he employed three hundred workers. For many years, silk mills provided stable employ­ment for thousands of individ­uals, including those idled by mine closings and cave-ins, as well as labor strikes.

Mine cave-ins throughout the anthracite region were as common as they were tragic. The first catastrophic mine disaster occurred in the Dela­ware and Hudson Company’s mines at Carbondale in the winter of 1846, as forty acres of land collapsed, killing fourteen miners. According to state records, miners died from several causes, the most fre­quent of which mining officials listed as “explosion of gas,” “fall of roof,” “mine fire,” “suf­focation by gas,” and “cave in.”

Labor strikes, particularly the Strike of 1902 which crip­pled the entire coal region, were not infrequent. This strike lasted six months, de­creasing the amount of coal mined in 1901 from nearly sixty million tons to thirty­-seven million tons – a loss to owners and operators of twenty-three million tons. Many historians believe that the strike actually strength­ened the large coal companies owned by the railroad corpora­tions, even though the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) forced wage in­creases, shorter work hours and better working conditions. During the following twenty years, mine owners reaped larger profits and the tonnage of coal mined and shipped grew dramatically.

Responding to an over­whelming demand for instruc­tion in mining technology – created by an act of the state legislature in 1885 – was born an institution still known throughout the country. Thomas J. Foster published The Colliery Engineer in which curious readers submitted questions about their particu­lar interest in mining. Seizing upon his readers’ seemingly insatiable appetite, Foster created Scranton’s famous International Correspondence Schools in October 1891 – and in just six months enrolled one thousand individuals in his mining correspondence course! Foster only offered mining courses at first, but eventually expanded the cur­riculum to include subjects in business, economics and tech­nical instruction. Since its founding, the International Correspondence Schools – which will observe its centen­nial this autumn – has trained millions of students during the last century.

A variety of colleges and universities, several of which were founded in the nine­teenth century, served genera­tions of countians. Keystone Junior College, La Plume, the county’s oldest educational institution, was founded as the Keystone Academy in 1869. The University of Scranton, established as St. Thomas College in 1888, had been the dream of Bishop William O’Hara. For many years the institution was administered by the Christian Brothers, but with its name change a half­-century ago, Jesuits assumed the responsibility of operating the school. Serving young Catholic women, Marywood College, built by the Sisters Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, opened in 1915 and was officially chartered by the Commonwealth two years later.

Too, a number of private schools and academies edu­cated early settlers, including the Madison Academy, founded in Waverly in 1836 by H. W. Nicholson; in 1846, the Carbondale Academy and Lackawanna Institute opened in Carbondale; and the presti­gious St. Cecilia’s Academy on Wyoming Avenue in Scranton was established in the 1870s. Gardner’s Business College, formed in 1865, was Lack­awanna County’s first business school, advertised in the early 1870s that, “A student may here obtain a thorough commercial and business educa­tion as well as a practical one.” During the 1890s, Wood’s Business College and the Scranton (later Lackawanna) Business College were founded. An exclusive school for affluent residents’ young children, the Scranton Coun­try Day School, was organized in 1919.

Whether educated locally or not, Lackawanna County counted – as it still does today – prominent Pennsylvanians whose contributions to busi­ness, industry, banking and politics remain well known to this day. Of course, there were members of the Scranton fam­ily, adventurous industrialists and fearless capitalists (a de­scendent of which served as governor during this century). There were the prosperous families of Scranton’s “Hill” section, whose large homes lined Clay Avenue, once a prestigious address: Patrick J. Casey, banker, brewer and far­sighted builder of the Hotel Casey; Moses Whitty O’Malley, silk manufacturer, coal operator and insurance execu­tive; and Robert C. Wills, distiller and philanthropist. And the list for Lackawanna County continues with names such as Michael Bosak, founder of the Bosak State Bank; Col. Louis Arthur Wa­tres, former lieutenant gover­nor and president of the Scranton Lackawanna Trust Company; Edmund B. Jer­myn, Jr., son of a Scranton mayor and president of the Suffolk Anthracite Collieries Company; William P. Boland, founder of the Lackawanna Telephone Company; and George W. Maxey, well-loved jurist and civic leader.

Undoubtedly, the two most well known residents of twen­tieth century Lackawanna County are individuals who have played important roles in the Commonwealth’s politics and who are recognized for their leadership roles in state government. Scion of one of Scranton’s founding families, William W. Scranton served as the Keystone State’s forty-first governor and achieved an indelible niche in national politics. Current governor Robert P. Casey served as state senator and auditor general before his gubernatorial elec­tion in 1986. Both individuals have contributed greatly not only to the Pennsylvania’s Republican and Democratic parties, respectively, but to the rich heritage that such leader­ship engenders.

Lackawanna County may have been the last county organized in Pennsylvania, but it is certainly not the least in terms of the contributions its residents have made during the last one hundred years. Given such fortunate beginnings, it is only natural that forthcoming generations of countians will continue to make significant contributions that all Pennsylvanians will enjoy, as they have in the past.

Truly, the last shall not be least.


For Further Reading

Casey, Robert J. and W. A. S. Douglas. The Lackawanna Story. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., 1951.

Craft, David. History of Scran­ton, Penn. Dayton: United Brethren Publishing House, 1891.

Hiddlestone, Jack. A Picture Postcard Look at Scranton, Pennsylvania, 1900-1930. Scranton: Scranton Area Founda­tion, 1986.

History of Luzerne, Lack­awanna and Wyoming Coun­ties. New York: W. W. Munsell and Company, 1880.

Hollister, H. History of the Lackawanna Valley. Philadel­phia: J. B. Lippincott Company, 1885.

Stoddard, Dwight J. Prominent Men of Scranton and Vicinity. Scranton: Tribune Publishing Company, 1906.

Throop, Benjamin H. A Half Century in Scranton. Scranton: Scranton Republican, 1895.


Michael J. O’Malley III is editor of this magazine. He received his bachelor of arts degree from the University of Scranton and his master of arts degree from Lehigh University, Bethlehem. A native Pennsylvanian, he joined the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission in 1978. He is a descendent of one of Scran­ton’s founding families which was active in the region’s coal, silk, real estate, banking, brewing and insurance businesses.