In A History of Luzerne County, published in 1893, Wilkes-Barre was described thusly: “The important city and the first settlement in Luzerne county is the one descriptive phrase applicable to this city. A beautiful city, queen of the Susquehanna north of Harrisburg to its source: a crown-jewel on the east bank of the river and in the center of the far-famed Wyoming valley; the county seat of Luzerne county, the center and hub from where flows out in every direction by electric and steam railroads, her rich trade, and the daily and hourly ever swelling stream of visitors for business and pleasure; a city truly, a rich and beautiful city, now invested with all that you may find in the way of luxuries in the great metropolis, as well as the forest trees, the flowing peaceful river and the pure air that comes of a rural life; where is elegance, refinement and culture; where there are more families of great wealth, comparatively to numbers, than can be found in any other city in the United States. A city that never had a “boom” but that now is forging ahead at a marvelous step, and on every hand are suburban boroughs that are progressing rapidly. Here is the capital of a county that is of itself a rich and distinct empire.”
A town like that is worth fighting over, and that is what happened in its early days. The first Europeans to settle the area arrived in 1769, from Connecticut, a colony which had a land grant from the British crown that extended all the Great Lakes. The settlement was named Wilkes-Barre after John Wilkes and Isaac Barré, two British members of Parliament who supported colonial America. Armed men loyal to Pennsylvania, wielding a claim to the land by virtue of William Penn’s grant, twice attempted to evict the residents of Wilkes-Barre in what came to be known as the Pennamite Wars. The conflict was not put to rest until after the American Revolution when the settlers were allowed to retain title to their lands but had to transfer their allegiance to Pennsylvania.
Wilkes-Barre’s population exploded due to the discovery of anthracite coal in the 1800s, which gave the city the nickname of “The Diamond City.” The wealth that flowed into the city from the world’s largest coal field began showing up on the Wilkes-Barre streetscape in the form of fancy hotels, massive mansions and imposing churches.
Wilkes-Barre took a major blow from Tropical Storm Agnes in 1972 when rainwaters swelled the Susquehanna River to a height of nearly 41 feet, four feet above the city’s levees, flooding downtown with nine feet of water. While no lives were lost, 25,000 homes and businesses were either damaged or destroyed, and damages were estimated to be $1 billion.
Much remains, however, and our walking tour will begin the investigation in the Public Square, a diamond set in the center of the “Diamond City”...
intersection of Main Street and Market Street
Over the centuries Public Square has held a fort, a church, a school, and the Luzerne County courthouse and jail. In 1909, the old courthouse was demolished and the Square became a park. Today, the park has a potpourri of public displays including a church bell, fountains and remembrances to Christopher Columbus and the two British members of Parliament who championed the American Colonies’ desire for independence: John Wilkes and Colonel Isaac Barre, the city’s namesakes. An amphitheater hosts ceremonies and celebrations; in May you’ll find the Fine Arts Fiesta, Pennsylvania’s oldest arts fair, is staged here. Thursdays in summer and autumn you can partake in the long tradition of the Farmers Market.
TAKE YOUR TOUR AROUND PUBLIC SQUARE IN A COUNTER-CLOCKWISE DIRECTION STARTING WITH THE BUILDING ACROSS THE STREET FROM THE MONUMENT TO WILKES AND BARRE.
2 Public Square
Public Square was set diagonally into the city grid, and the prominent lots that resulted at the points of the diamonds have challenged the creativity of generations of architects. Here New York architect P. J. Lauritzen, designed this five-story landmark for the Jonas Long’s Sons Department Store. He dealt with the oddly shaped site by creating a dramatic three-story entrance arch to mark the corner and draw in shoppers. The store was home to Pomeroy’s for generations of Wilkes Barre shoppers. In 1994, 99 years after its creation, the Greater Wilkes-Barre Chamber renovated the building for office and retail use.
First National Bank
59-63 Public Square
Wilkes-Barre architect Albert H. Kipp created this Neoclassical vault in 1906 with formidable pediment and Corinthian columns. The bank was organized in Hazleton in 1888; today it is owned by the city.
Luzerne Bank Building
69 Public Square
New York architect Bertram Cunynham designed this fourteen-story building in 1928, rising from aRomanesque base to an airy penthouse that calls to mind an Italian villa. The foyer ceiling has fine decorative reliefs in the Art Deco.
F. M. Kirby Center for the Performing Arts
71 Public Square
The Comerford Theater opened in 1938 as Wilkes-Barre’s largest, best-equipped, and most modern movie palace. Designed in a Deco-Moderne stylized ziggurat composition the theater is faced with terra cotta tile and green marble. Interior features include a foyer paneled in walnut, an auditorium and loge finished in walnut and translucent marble panels, and ornamental plasters and bronze throughout. The Comerford Theater is the only survivor of the city’s three movie palaces. Opened on August 18, 1938, to considerable press coverage, the theater was founded by M. E. Comerford, a native of Larksville, a township less then two miles from Wilkes-Barre. Since he grew up locally, Comerford was regarded as one of the city’s “own.” It was fitting and proper, at least in the public’s eye, that the Wilkes-Barre Theater should be the most luxurious of the area, outdoing those in Scranton, Hazleton or other northeastern Pennsylvania towns. In 1949, the Comerford Corporation was subject to an anti-trust suit and had to divest itself of a number of its theaters, and on September 2, 1949, the Comerford became the Paramount, which was the first in the region to use air-conditioners. Some local residents created S.T.O.P. (Save The Old Paramount) when it was faced with destruction, and their efforts were successful in having the old Comerford Theater added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1978. The theater was rehabilitated after being damaged in Hurricane Agnes and is now a performing arts center.
LEAVE THE PUBLIC SQUARE ON WEST MARKET STREET, WALKING TOWARDS THE SUSQUEHANNA RIVER (THE CHAMBER BUILDING WILL BE ON YOUR RIGHT).
PNC Bank Building
11 West Market Street
Historically, the intersection of Market and Franklin Streets has been the financial center of Wilkes-Barre. The three large banks at this corner date from the era of the City Beautiful Movement, when American architects inspired by Imperial Rome transformed Victorian industrial centers into “White Cities” reflecting the nation’s new-found status as a world power in the early 1900s. Local architects McCormick and French designed the PNC Bank Building, like other turn-of-the-century “skyscrapers,” is an abstracted classical column, with a base (the banking hall), shaft (the office floors), and capital (the top floor).
8 West Market Street
Daniel H. Burnham of Chicago designed the Citizens Bank Center, a landmark on Wilkes-Barre’s skyline since 1911. Burnham had been chief architect of Chicago’s 1893 Columbian Exposition– the event from which the City Beautiful Movement originated. The coffered polychrome ceiling of its banking hall is especially handsome.
Wyoming National Bank
26-28 West Market Street
Wyoming National Bank was organized November 16, 1829 and moved to this corner in 1861. Another creation of McCormick and French, this marble Neoclassical vault was constructed in 1914.
47-65 West Market Street at northeast corner of River Street
Architect J.H.W. Hawkins had planned a brick Victorian castle, but developer Walter Sterling convinced him to change the design midway and Wilkes-Barre got its first Neoclassical Revival building in 1897. The result – modeled after a flat-roofed Renaissance palazzo, and clad in rough-faced limestone –marked the end of the Victorian era in Wilkes-Barre’s architecture. At one time, the Sterling was Wilkes-Barre’s largest and most luxurious hotel, and its guests included movie stars and nationally-known politicians. By the 1970s it was being used as apartments, then condemned by the city in 1998. The Sterling is now undergoing a complete rehabilitation.
Market Street Bridge
Market Street at Susquehanna River
This stunning gateway into the central city was also inspired by the City Beautiful Movement; Carrere and Hastings, architects of the New York Public Library and many of the classical buildings in Washington, D.C., designed it. The beauty of the Market Street Bridge and the proud eagles that guard its entrance towers have made it a well-loved landmark; it is on the National Register of Historic Places. Since 1819, this has been the site of several spans across the Susquehanna, and as early as 1912, Frederick C. Olds had plans for a riverside park on the west side and a monumental bridge to link Wilkes-Barre with still rural Kingston. In 1922, F. M. Kirby, a partner in the F. W. Woolworth Company, hired the renowned Olmsted Brothers to design a park, which he then donated to the city of Wilkes-Barre. A quick walk across the Market Street Bridge will bring you to Kirby Park and its neighbor, Nesbitt Park.
TURN LEFT ON RIVER STREET (THE RIVER WILL BE ON YOUR RIGHT).
16 South River Street
The Guard Center building was constructed in just ninety days during the winter of 1908 to house the Lehigh and Wilkes-Barre Coal Company, one of eight major coal operators dominating the industry at the turn of the century. Its imposing granite columns signify the important role that the coal companies once played in the life of the city. Wilkes-Barre architects Welsh, Sturdevant and Poggi designed this Neoclassical Revival structure.
24 South River Street
Lehigh and Wilkes-Barre Coal Company president Frederick Huber commissioned Welsh, Sturdevant and Poggi to design his home next door to his office building in 1911. The Craftsman Style detailing of the three-story mansion hints at the influence of contemporary Prairie School architects like Frank Lloyd Wright; however, the house’s massing is resolutely traditional.
In the early 1800s, River Street was Wilkes-Barre’s commercial hub: its gateway, via the Susquehanna, to the world. The street was dotted with taverns and shops as well as houses; there were boat landings and warehouses on the River Common. After the construction of the canal to the rear of the town, commerce shifted away from the river, and the neighborhood became the preserve of the great family houses of the nineteenth century – residences made possible by the tons of coal moving on the canals to market. Wilkes University, founded in 1933, owns most of the remaining mansions on South River Street, and uses them for residence halls, offices, and classrooms.
McClintock Law Office34 South River Street
Attorney Andrew McClintock’s small Italianate law office from the middle of the 19th century, now the Baltimore Company, is a quaint survivor from Wilkes-Barre’s days as a sleepy county seat.
44 South River Street
Andrew McClintock’s house has borne witness to both phases of River Street’s existence. Originally, the house was designed in the Greek Revival style. In 1863, McClintock, made wealthy by the growth of the mining industry, engaged New York architects Calvert Vaux and F. C. Withers to remodel his house. The spare structure was soon transformed into the first High Victorian Gothic house in Wilkes-Barre, boasting a polychrome brick arcade which made the house as fashionable as any of its neighbors.
72 South River Street
The elaborate cast-iron ornament of this house,reminiscent of New Orleans, was made possible by the mass production of the Industrial Revolution ;forged in an anthracite-fueled foundry, it is an excellent example of the way in which Wilkes-Barre’s coal was helping to transform America. Philadelphia architect Samuel Sloan designed this cubical Italian villa for banker Walter Sterling.
80-84 South River Street
This High Victorian Gothic mansion was designed by architect Bruce Price for the Murray Reynolds family. Price married into a prominent local family, and his commissions comprised a veritable “who’s who” of Wilkes-Barre society. He would eventually leave Wilkes-Barre for New York City, becoming one of the most prominent turn-of-the-century architects in America. This was once also the home of Colonel Robert B. Ricketts, a Battle of Gettysburg hero, lumber baron, and early conservationist, who donated fabulous Ricketts’ Glen State Park to the people of Pennsylvania.
92 South River Street
This restrained Greek Revival residence was constructed in 1843 and is most significant when viewed in relation to its next door neighbor...
98 South River Street
At one time this was an almost identical Greek Revival neighbor to Caitlin Hall. In 1886, new owner E. L. Brown had architect Albert Kipp remodel his house, now known as Weiss Hall, into a turreted, richly textured Queen Anne showpiece. The transformation led to new commissions for Kipp throughout the neighborhood, including the rowhouses on the other side of Northampton Street.
Conyngham Student Center
130 South River Street
The Chateauesque-style structure was designed in 1897, by original owner William Hillard Conyngham’s friend, Charles Gifford. William and his first wife lived in the home for only a few years before her death. The house was then left vacant until 1918, when Mr. Conyngham and his new wife, Mrs. Jessie Guthrie Conyngham, and their three sons called it home. When Jessie passed away in 1974, Conyngham was left to Wilkes. The first floor was severely damaged after four and a half feet of Hurricane Agnes flood waters in 1972. Only a few months later, fire added damage to several walls. More than $350,000 was spent to reconstruct the building to make it livable in 1979.
184 South River Street
Chase Hall was built from 1917-1918, for Frederick Chase, who was president and manager of the Lehigh Valley Coal Company. The building is a two-and-one-half story Tudor Revival stuccoed brick house. It has a gable roof with cross gables, segmented arch windows, and double-hung windows. Chase Hall was donated by Admiral Harold Stark as a memorial to Mrs. Frederick Chase, Stark’s sister, and her husband. Included on the property was a garage, which was used by Wilkes as a theatre -- the Chase Theater. Until 1965, numerous one-act plays were presented in the 90-seat theater. The building was demolished in 1975.
202 South River Street at northeast corner of South Street
This regal corner mansion was built for Reuben Flick by architect F.C. Withers in 1872. In 1905 Fred M. Kirby, Woolworth & Company executive andphilanthropist on a grand scale, purchased the mansion for $55,000.
96 West South Street
The former residence of attorney George Bedford was given to Wilkes in November 1967, after his death. Bedford, who had attended Harry Hillman Academy, graduated from Princeton University, and received a law degree from the University of Pennsylvania, became a member of the Board of Trustees at Princeton University. The brick building was designed in High Victorian Gothic style and built in 1878 by Bruce Price, considered one of his finest early works.
236 South River Street
This is the home of the Wyoming Valley’s Conservative Jewish congregation, which was first established in 1922. The Byzantine Revival copper-domed exterior, typical of many synagogues of the period, is faced with buff tapestry brick and trimmed with granite and polychrome terra cotta; the interior is remarkable for its woodwork and domed stained glass ceiling. Ralph M. Herr was the architect.
TURN LEFT ON ROSS STREET.
304 South Franklin Street at southeast corner of Franklin Street
The Stegmaier mansion was built in 1870 by locally renowned Victorian architect Missouria B. Houpt as his private residence. Frederick Stegmaier, president of the Stegmaier Brewery, purchased the mansion in 1906 where it remained in the Stegmaier family until the late 1940s. In 2001 the mansion and meticulously restored it to its former opulence and operates today as a bed and breakfast.
TURN LEFT ON FRANKLIN STREET.
Congregation Ohav Zedek
242 South Franklin Street
During the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, American architects struggled to find an architectural language appropriate to the synagogue: the Moorish Revival style, with its “Middle Eastern” overtones, was one common design response. Local architect Austin Reilly designed this colorful synagogue for Wilkes-Barre’s largest Orthodox Jewish congregation, founded by a group of Hungarian Jews. Moorish Revival horseshoe arches, rendered in terra cotta tile, highlight the façade, which is crowned by a large curved gable.
Max Roth Center
215 South Franklin Street
In designing this elegant townhouse for a dentist, local architect J. H. W. Hawkins was influenced by two of America’sgreatest architects. The intricate naturalistic ornament inthe window frieze is an echo of Chicago architect Louis Sullivan’s designs, while Boston architect H. H. Richardson inspired the rusticated walls and stubby Syrian arches. ,
170 South Franklin Street
The Weckesser home was built between 1914 and 1916 as a residence for Frederick J. Weckesser, who moved to the Wilkes-Barre area at the turn of the nineteenth century. He became associated with F.M. Kirby and orchestrated the merger of the local five-and-dime Kirby empire with the famous Woolworth Company. Weckesser would later become director of the F.W. Woolworth Company. This grand Chateauesque home, built by Charles H.P. Gilbert of New York -- the architect of Frank W. Woolworth’s Fifth Avenue home, is actually the second Wilkes building to carry the Weckesser name. The first was located at 78 West Northampton Street
Mary Stegmaier House
156 South Franklin Street
Wilkes-Barre architects Knapp and Bosworth delivered this Colonial Revival mansion in 1911 for Mrs. George Stegmaier, descendent of the Wilkes-Barre brewing family. The house is dominated by a grand Ionic portico.
Luzerne County Medical Society
126 South Franklin Street (rear of building)
Wilkes-Barre’s own Pantheon is tucked away behind a Second Empire house on Franklin Street. In 1914, architect Brice Hayden Long designed this Colonial Revival building, modeled loosely on Rome’s great round temple, for the county’s doctors. The first floor contains a medical library, while a wonderful circular auditorium, lit from above by a skylight, occupies the second floor. The Medical Society still calls this home, and visitors are welcome during business hours.
Moses and Gelso Law Offices
120 Franklin Street
Wilkes-Barre architects Olds and Puckey designed this urbane 1907 Beaux Arts mansion –reminiscent of a Parisian townhouse – for department store magnate Henry Lazarus. The prim brick façade, garlanded in limestone, rises to a balustrade below a steep mansard roof.
40 West Northampton Street at southeast corner of Washington Street
This fortress of a building is really the welcoming home of the Wilkes-Barre YMCA. Wilkes-Barre architect Thomas Foster modeled the exterior after the palaces of medieval Florence, and the result is a fine example of the historical eclecticism popular in the 1920s and 1930s. Handsome interior tile work and details echo its Mediterranean influences. Foster, a versatile architect, also designed the Collegiate Gothic First Baptist Church on South River Street.
First Presbyterian Church
97 South Franklin Street
This massive edifice for the Wyoming Valley’s oldest congregation (founded 1779) is clad in Laurel Run redstone, a popular local building material. Look around downtown, and you will see the distinctive purple stone everywhere. With this rugged Romanesque exterior, New York City architect James Cleveland Cady introduced large-scale steel frame construction to the region. Cady also designed the American Museum of Natural History in New York.
Osterhout Free Library
71 South Franklin Street
Wilkes-Barre’s unusual Gothic Revival public library was originally built as the First Presbyterian Church. In 1889, when Isaac S. Osterhout, a local merchant, left his estate “to establish and maintain in the city of Wilkes-Barre a free library,” famed librarian Melville Dewey, inventor of the Dewey Decimal System, recommended that the old church building be utilized as a “temporary” library until a permanent replacement could be built.” In 1981, the then 133-year old Library building added a children’s wing, designed by Eyerman Casala Hapeman.
Luzerne County Historical Society Museum
69 South Franklin Street
The Historical Society, founded in 1858, currently occupies two buildings on South Franklin Street, as well as the Swetland Homestead across the Susquehanna River in Wyoming. In its museum behind the Osterhout Free Library, three floors of exhibits highlight the fascinating history of the Wyoming Valley, from the prehistoric period to the present.
Bishop Memorial Library
49 South Franklin Street
This house, a late example of the Italian Villa style with Queen Anne revisions, is a reminder of quieter times on South Franklin Street. Designed by architect Willis Hale, it now houses the research library and administrative offices of the Historical Society. It is open to the public, as is the restored Victorian garden in the back.
WBRE-V and WYOU-TV
62 South Franklin Street
Samuel Moskowitz, a pioneer of contemporary architecture in the Wyoming Valley, designed the studios for Wilkes-Barre’s first television station. Inspired by the International Style, this is an elegant combination of aluminum, glass, limestone, and marble. Moskowitz also designed the Jewish Community Center on South River Street.
St. Stephen’s Episcopal Pro-Cathedral
35-41 South Franklin Street
This landmark church, built of locally-quarried yellow stone, was modeled after the colorful Gothic churches of Northern Italy. It was the second church that Philadelphia architect Charles M. Burns designed for the site: the first, built in 1885, burned in a spectacular Christmas Day fire in 1896, leaving only the tower standing.
Spring Brook Water Supply Company Building
30 North Franklin Street
Rows of intricately carved dolphins seem to spew water from the top of this Neoclassical Revival office building. They playfully declare the purpose of the structure over which they stand guard, for it was designed for the Spring Brook Water Supply Company by architects Welsh, Sturdevant, and Poggi.
52 North Franklin Street
With four crescent-topped minarets piercing the skyline, this exotic fantasy on North Franklin Street probably provokes more comments than any building in the downtown since its erection in 1907. Wilkes-Barre’s Shriners constructed the Moorish Revival style auditorium for their activities. For many years, Irem Temple was the city’s premiere cultural venue. Architect F. Willard Puckey patterned its design after the Mosque of Omar on the outside and after the Court of Lions of the Alhambra Palace on the inside.
First United Methodist Church
45-53 North Franklin Street
The front of this imposing building rises like a mountain range from the sidewalk, reflecting architect Bruce Price’s interest in evolving from his earlier, more spindly Victorian designs to something more simplified and modern in 1883. Price combined stylistic elements of French Gothic and Romanesque to compose the rugged façade of this building.
Kirby Health Center Annex
63 North Franklin Street
This house, which was publicized nationally in American Architect and Building News, began a phase of architect Bruce Price’s career which greatly influenced the early work of Frank Lloyd Wright. Price designed it for his aunt in 1883 at the same time that he was working on the very different Methodist Church next door. The architect started with a simple gabled form, which he pushed and pulled, using different materials and textures to express the varied spaces of the interior. With this residence, Wilkes-Barre was introduced to the Queen Anne style, which had a wide influence on domestic architecture in the area.
Pennsylvania Millers Mutual Insurance Company
72 North Franklin Street
Though Wilkes-Barre’s days as a farming town are long gone, this building, the headquarters of an insurance company founded for the purpose of insuring gristmills against fire, serves as a reminder of that time. The company recently demonstrated how the past and present can work together when it rehabilitated its original building, with its elegant combination of Art Moderne and Colonial Revival motifs, joining it to a new office wing in the back.
Kirby Memorial Health Center
71 North Franklin Street
Designed by Thomas Atherton, the Kirby Health Center is a magnificent example of simplified Classical style. Its interiors exhibit a fabulous use of the tiles and colors that were favored in the 1920s and 1930s. The Center, another gift to the community from the generous Kirby family, is dedicated to Angeline Elizabeth Kirby; its purpose is “to promote the health of the people and the control and elimination of diseases.” Many health services and organizations are housed in the Center and its annexes; visitors are welcome. The intricate tile work on the underside of the front portico is only a hint of what awaits you inside.
108-118 North Franklin Street at northwest corner of Union Street
With its striking front bays and Gothic Palladian windows, the Stickney Block is an urbane example of the rowhouses built throughout the city’s fashionable neighborhoods during the last quarter of the nineteenth century. This handsome reminder of things Victorian was designed by William W. Neuer, a local contractor turned architect.
TURN LEFT ON UNION STREET.
Beaumont Block/Dickson Row
54-64 West Union Street
The prolific architect Albert Kipp designed two adjacent sets of rowhouses here. The Beaumont Block, which now houses Luzerne County offices, is a solid work rendered in brick and Laurel Run redstone. A decade later, the architect drew upon more playful influences for the Dickson Row, constructed toward the end of his career. Steep “Dutch” step-end gables crown three of the houses, while the fourth wears a mansard roof and features French doors opening onto a front terrace.
TURN RIGHT ON NORTH RIVER STREET.
King’s College Administration Building133 North River Street
King’s College is a liberal arts school founded in 1946 by the Congregation of the Holy Cross, who also established the University of Notre Dame. The administration building was built in 1913 as the headquarters of the Lehigh Valley Coal Company. It was designed by Daniel H. Burnham of Chicago, also architect of the Citizens Bank Center. Nearby, at the corner of Franklin and Jackson Streets, the college’s Chapel of Christ the King houses a moving tribute to the tempestuous relationship between coal and the Wyoming Valley – a 4,200-pound anthracite altar, created for King’s in 1954 by the great African-American coal sculptor C. Edgar Patience, a Wilkes-Barre resident.
Luzerne County Court House
North River Street and West North Street
Throughout its planning and construction in the first decade of the 20th century, controversy and scandal swirled around the Beaux Arts courthouse. Pittsburgh architect F. J. Osterling originally designed it to be placed on Public Square. It was finally completed by architects McCormick and French, who designed the lavish interior with its stunning rotunda. Step inside to see the history of the county illustrated in mosaics and murals. Built during the period of Wilkes-Barre’s greatest prosperity, the Court House is now a treasured local landmark. The site of the Court House was once the Public Basin of the Wyoming Division of the North Branch Canal. From 1834 to 1881, when the last canal boat left Wilkes-Barre, the canal was a major means of transporting coal and other commodities in and out of the Wyoming Valley. On the courthouse lawn are memorials to the county’s war dead and the anchor of the USS Wilkes-Barre, a World War II cruiser. The nearby cast-iron deer is a relic of the 1850s, when the courthouse sat on Public Square. Local wags would commonly cite the deer as a source of courthouse gossip in newspaper columns.
TURN RIGHT ON NORTH STREET.
Memorial Presbyterian Church
29 West North Street
This beautiful church, built in 1872 by a grieving father as a memorial to the three children he lost to a scarlet fever epidemic, was designed by Edward Kendall of New York. Three gorgeous Tiffany windows in the baptistry depict the children so that they, “being dead, might yet speak.” Another large window, above the front entrance, symbolically illustrates the twelve Apostles. Built of Campbell’s Ledge sandstone laid up in elaborate rubblework, with a rare stone spire and exceptionally well-detailed porches, dormers, and cast iron cresting, Memorial Presbyterian is a Gothic Revival gem.
TURN RIGHT ON MAIN STREET.
Polish Union Building
53 North Main Street
The surface of the streamlined classical Polish Union Building is embellished with Art Deco bas-relief carvings; note particularly the eagle – a symbol of Poland – over its central entrance. Joseph E. Fronczak of Buffalo was the architect for this, the headquarters of a national Polish fraternal organization. The Polish Union is only one of the many ethnic institutions founded by the immigrants who came to call Wyoming Valley home; two blocks away, at the corner of North Main and North Streets, inscriptions on another building proclaim its former role as the home of the Pennsylvania Slovak Roman & Greek Catholic Union.
Blue Cross Operations Center
30 North Main Street
The streamlined Operations Center, built as the Wyoming Valley Veterans Building, was the first major structure to be built here in a truly modern idiom, in 1946. The horizontal bands of windows and rounded corners of this nine-story building are marks of the International Style. The architects were L. Vern Lacy and Thomas Atherton, founders of a local firm.
Wilkes Barre Times-Leader
15 North Main Street
In what can safely be described as a lively town for newspapers, the Times-Leader has been operating since 1879.
TURN LEFT ON BUTLER LANE. TURN LEFT ON WASHINGTON STREET.
James M. Coughlin High School
80 North Washington Street
When it was opened in 1912, Coughlin High School was the city’s only public high school. Within a decade, however, Wilkes-Barre’s population growth necessitated the construction of two more high schools in other parts of the city. Wilkes- Barre architect Owen McGlynn won an architectural competition organized to select a design for the high school; years later, McGlynn’s florid Beaux Arts building continues to serve its original purpose.
TURN AND WALK SOUTH ON WASHINGTON STREET.
Fraternal Order of Eagles Lodge
39 North Washington Street
The eagle perched atop the offices of Quad Three Group testifies to the building’s past life as the Fraternal Order of Eagles Lodge. Wilkes-Barre architects Schmitt and Schroeder designed it in 1925. The intriguing little Classical Revival building next door, built as the offices of Wilkes-Barre’s first electric utility, later served as the home of the Wilkes-Barre Press Club, a one-time haunt of local newspapermen. President William Howard Taft and Admiral Robert Peary, among others, enjoyed the hospitality within these walls during their visits to Wilkes-Barre. Quad Three Group, a local architectural and engineering firm, rehabilitated both buildings for its use in the 1980’s.
TURN LEFT ON EAST MARKET STREET.
Wilkes Barre City Hall
40 East Market Street at northeast corner of Washington Street
When it appeared on the Wilkes Barre streetscape in 1893, City Hall presented a dramatic blend of architectural styles: a redstone Romanesque base; Victorian banded brick and terra cotta upper floors with gargoyles and balconies; and Queen Anne towers and gables at the roofline. William W. Neuer and Benjamin Davey, Jr designed Wilkes-Barre’s first municipal building. The towers and gables are gone and the only High Victorian souvenir remaining from that time is a stained glass window of the city seal over the front door. The honeybees illustrated in the seal are emblematic of the city’s nineteenth-century boast that it was “busy as a beehive.”
Stegmaier Brewing Company
northeast corner of East Market Street and Wilkes-Barre Boulevard
In 1948, 27-year old Charles Stegmaier, already with a resume featuring stints as brewmaster at several large local breweries, sailed from Germany to America. He quickly found employment at the small Corporation Brewery in Philadelphia. By 1851 he wasin Wilkes Barre brewing the first lager beer in the region. Success was elusive over the following decades and Stegmaier even left the brewing business for a time to run a hotel. He eventually formed a partnership with his son, Christian and successfully increased business to the extent that C. Stegmaier & Son could build a new brewhouse and storage facility in 1894 with an annual capacity to 300,000 barrels. Between 1910 and 1913 Stegmaier won eight gold medals at expositions in Paris, Brussels and Rome. After prohibition it became one of the largest independent breweries in North America, reaching an output of a half million barrels in 1940. Using a 60-truck fleet and rail services, the distribution areas eventually covered the East Coast from Maine to Florida - a considerable evolution from the days of 1857 when Charles Stegmaier personally delivered each barrel of beer with an express wagon drawn by a husky goat. The Company remained a family-run business for four generations until the Stegmaier label was sold to Lion, Inc. of Wilkes-Barre in 1974. At the time it merged with the Lion Breweryin 1974, Stegmaier was the third largest brewery in Pennsylvania, producing 800,000 barrels of beer annually. Stegmaier beer is still produced by Lion and remains one of the firms best selling products. A.C. Wagner, a brewery design specialist, built the Stegmaier Brewery. This cupola-topped brewhouse became the city’s last great Victorian red brick pile and an impressive reminder of one of the region’s major industries. Today it serves as a Federal office building – the result of an epic 20-year preservation battle.
Lehigh and Susquehanna Passenger Station
33 South Wilkes-Barre Boulevard at East Market Street
The Lehigh and Susquehanna Division was established by Philadelphia investors who conquered the mountains and tapped the Wyoming coal fields as the Lehigh Coal and Navigation Co. It was leased in 1871 to the Central Railroad of New Jersey. This Italianate railroad station served Wilkes-Barre for a century before it closed in 1972.
RETRACE YOUR STEPS ON EAST MARKET STREET TWO BLOCKS TO WASHINGTON STREET AND TURN LEFT.
Pennsylvania Labor & Industry Building
37 South Washington Street
The heroic terra-cotta garment workers flanking the entrance were salvaged from the International Ladies’ Garment Workers Union Health Center that once stood here. Enormous mills built for silk and lace manufacture still dominate many Wyoming Valley neighborhoods, testimony to an industry drawn here by the massive supply of female labor. During the collapse of the anthracite industry after World War II, jobs in the dress factories kept many mining families from financial ruin.
St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church
134 South Washington Street
This is the oldest Roman Catholic parish in Luzerne County, founded in 1842 by Irish emigrants. Designed by E.F. Durang, a Philadelphia architect who specialized in Catholic churches, it has a stately Baroque façade and a grand interior boasting a frescoed ceiling and gilded columns. Its tower, however, is no more, having been toppled by a tornado in 1890.
St. Nicholas German Catholic Church
240 South Washington Street
This church is one of the greatest High Victorian Gothic structures in northeastern Pennsylvania. German-born architect William Schickel gave the church it German flair in the form of the single central tower and triple-entried frontispiece. For decades, people set their watches, went to lunch, and closed shop by the clock on its steeple. The interior woodcarvings and stained glass windows particularly breathtaking.
WALK BACK TO SOUTH STREET AND TURN LEFT. TURN RIGHT ON SOUTH MAIN STREET TO RETURN TO PUBLIC SQUARE AND THE TOUR STARTING POINT.