Wyoming County Historical Society    836-5303
At the corner of Bridge and West Harrison Street in the Borough
Address: PO Box 309, Tunkhannock, PA 18657

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Tunkhannock Borough was organized in l841

 

THE EARLIEST DAYS OF TUNKHANNOCK

 

Along the Susquehanna and its tributaries, within the present territory of Wyoming County, evidences are found of the former existence of Indian towns at different points.   These evidences consist of the relics which are discovered in abundance at these places, not alone of weapons and hunting implements, but of such simple domestic utensils and ornaments of shell and terra cotta as were used among pre-Colombian Indians.  In some of these localities, such relics are so abundant as to attract the attention of casual observers, and considerable collections of them have been made.  Had these places been examined by a practiced archaeologist before they were many times disturbed by the plow, the size, form, and even the age of these villages might have been determined with a reasonable degree of accuracy.  Gradually, however, all traces of the people who formerly inhabited these regions are becoming fainter and, as time goes on, they will be wholly obliterated.

Three principle tribes that inhabited the area during l682, (when Pennsylvania was becoming Pennsylvania) were the Lenni Lanapes, the Mingoes and the Shawnees.  These Indians had friendly relations with William Penn and his fellow Quaker colonists.

On April 4, l842, a new county was born. On that date, an act of the Pennsylvania Legislature formed Wyoming County out of sprawling Luzerne County.  Due to the distances involved for our ancestors to conduct county business in faraway Wilkes Barre, Luzerne County was no longer able to serve the needs of residents to the north.

The history of Wyoming County begins 70 years before, in l722, when Zebulon Marcy founded the settlement of Marcy, located at the mouth of the Susquehanna River and Tunkhannock Creek.  In l788, the Wyoming Massacre forced many Wyoming Valley residents to move northward in search of refuge.  More settlers came seeking fertile farmland along the Susquehanna River, and the population of Wyoming County began to grow.

At that time, the area encompassing Wyoming County was a part of Northumberland County, one of the original counties in Pennsylvania.  In l786, Luzerne County was formed from Northumberland and included all of Northeastern Pennsylvania.  Finally, Wyoming County was formed from Luzerne in l842, and the present boundaries have stood for the last l56 years.

Tunkhannock, the largest town in the county, was named as the county seat. The square now bounded by Marion, Washington, Warren and Putnam Streets were appointed for the public buildings.  The ground, which was then a part of a farm and cultivated as such, was donated to the county by Thomas T. Slocum.

The first courthouse and jail were erected in l843, (with funds about $5,000) raised by subscription among the citizens of Tunkhannock and vicinity.  They were erected under the supervision of a committee appointed by the subscribers, and afterward turned over to the county commissioners, by whom they were furnished at the expense of the county.   The contractor who built them was Thomas H. Parker.  They were brick structures - the first brick buildings erected in the borough.  The courthouse was forty feet square, two stories in height.  The second story was wholly occupied as a courtroom, and the public offices and jury rooms were on the first floor.  The first session of the court held in this house was in l844.  Previous sessions had been held in the Methodist and Presbyterian Churches.  The public offices were kept in a building on what was then known as Turnpike Street.  This building was subsequently taken down to make way for the canal.

The jail, which stood about l50 feet in the rear of the courthouse had a stone basement, in which there were four cells for prisoners, and a superstructure of brick for the sheriff or jailer's residence.  It was first occupied as a prison in l844.

A new jail was erected in l866, on the west side of Slocum Street.  It was of stone, one story in height, with a brick front of two stories for a sheriff's residence.   The jail proper was a 33 by 35 feet.  It had six cells and had a capacity for 10 prisoners.  The brick front was 32 by 46 feet.  The cost of the whole was $l5,520, including extras.  G.W. Lung was the architect, and Charles Place the contractor.

In l869, a contract was given to John W. Crawford for the repair of the old courthouse and the erection of a new front, constituting, in fact, almost a new structure, for the sum of $l8,980.  The actual cost of the building, which was completed by Charles Place, the surety of the contractor, was $24,880, the additional $5,900 being for extra work directed by the commissioners.  The building was completed and accepted in l870.   The front is 76 by 40 feet, three stories in height, with a rear projection of two stories, 70 feet square.  The whole is of brick, covered with cement.  The architect was D.R. Nott.

While the courthouse was in process of repair, the court was held in the basement of the Methodist Church.  The public offices were kept in the second story of   Little's building, on the east side of Warren Street.

In l938, another addition was made at the rear of the building.  The contractor was Lewis Caputo, and the engineer was Cecil P. Allen. During l978 and l979, extensive renovations to the interior were made and a clock put in the steeple. A new addition was completed in l992.  Aston Development Corporation, of Clarks Summit, were the general contractors.

The Last Hanging in Wyoming County
(from an article printed in the Wyalusing Rocket, May 25, l893)

Harris Blank and Isaac Rosenweig robbed and  murdered Jacob Marks, a Jewish peddler, on Dutch Mountain in March of l892.  They were found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging in l893.  The sheriff at this time was Charles S. Knapp.   Invitations were issued to witness the execution.  A large number of people gathered in Tunkhannock to witness the hanging.  All the trains entering the town in the early part of the day were crowded, and the streets were filled with men who wished to see the double execution.  The bars were filled, and stores held special sales.

The crowd commenced to gather at the Wyoming County Jail at 9:30 a.m., many arriving hours early to obtain a good view of the proceedings.  Three friends of the condemned men were permitted to have a short interview with them, and told them to obey the officers and die like men. At ll:30 o'clock, Rosenweig appeared in the jail doorway with Sheriff Knapp.  They were followed closely by Blank, supported by Coroner Bidleman.   They stepped quickly along the passageway between the crowds of spectators who remained silent.

At the foot of the steps leading to the gallows, the condemned were met by members of the Jewish Committee from Wilkes Barre.  Blank stepped forward and kissed the leader from the committee, saying, "Between God and you and me, I am innocent.  I never had a hand in that.  I would not be here but for him" and pointed to Rosenweig.   The faces of both men were ghastly livid as they stepped to the gallows.

Blank stood in a position, rigid as a statue and said: "I am satisfied.   Good-bye, good people.  There are no bad people." and in Hebrew he said, "God be merciful."  Rosenweig said not a word.  In an instant, the trap was sprung, the bodies dropped simultaneously.

Rosenweig's body hung twenty minutes and Blank's a minute or two longer before it was cut down and taken in the jail.  They were buried in a Hebrew Cemetery in Wilkes Barre.

Agricultural Societies
The Wyoming County Agricultural Society was organized in Wyoming County in about l855.  It was not incorporated, and was under a code of laws voluntarily adopted.  Its first president was Elisha Sharp.   The society leased, and temporarily fitted up, a lot of five acres, a portion of which became the Tunkhannock Cemetery, and on this ground, three annual fairs were held.   At these fairs, creditable exhibitions were made.  The society ceased to exist after the third fair.

On August 30, l876, another society was organized with a perpetual charter, under the name of the Wyoming County Agricultural Society.  The society leased of  S.J. Harding, for a fairground, twenty-one acres in Eaton Township, about three-fourths of a mile from the borough of Tunkhannock.  This ground was at once enclosed and fitted up, and in the latter part of October of the same year, a fair was held.  The ground was improved upon and had a sustaining interest year after year.

Wyoming County Bible Society
This society, which had existed previously, was reorganized in l864, with Ira Avery as president, Samuel Stark as secretary,  Peter M. Osterhout as treasurer, and S.S. Kennedy as agent. Statistical records report:  sermons and addresses delivered, 54; families visited, l,400; families found destitute of the Bible, 64; destitute families supplied by sale, 42; by gift, l6; prices of Bibles given to destitute, 9.60; Bibles sold, 227; Testaments sold, 300; total volumes distributed, 543; received for sale of books, $568.60; collections, $211.48.  A Bible depository was kept for the society by O.B. Mills, in Tunkhannock.

Tunkhannock Township  Merchants 
The first merchants were George Miller and John McCord, who owned a shad fishery and barter trade.  Mr. McCord died in Tunkhannock in about l8l3.

The Osterhout family seemed to have settled here in l775.  After Miller and McCord,, Isaac Osterhout and Elijah Barnum kept a store in Tunkhannock until the death of Barnum.  Osterhout married a daughter of  Dr.William Hooker Smith.

The next merchants were the Jewetts, John Buckingham and Stephen, David, Thomas and Andrew King.  From the close of the war in l8l2, the Kings carried on an extensive shipment of lumber, shingles and staves by arks and rafts to Baltimore for about seven years, the firm dissolving in l820.

Dr. Nathan Jackson, from Connecticut settled in l797 on the mountain between Tunkhannock and Osterhout's and practiced medicine many years.  In  l820, he moved to Wilkes Barre.  His youngest son, Hon.. John Jackson, lived on the old homestead where he was born and, for many years, was one of  Tunkhannock's leading citizens, and honored with the highest offices in the gift of the people of Wyoming County.

Among the more prominent of the old "proprietors" of Putnam, was Increase Billings who drew lot 23 on Tunkhannock Creek and settled there. Ziba Billings, grandson of Samuel Billings, had been sheriff of  the county and was one of the proprietors of the Packer House in Tunkhannock.

Samuel Avery came from Connecticut to the Wyoming Valley at an early date.  His son, Cyrus, married Lydia, daughter of Zebulon March.  Solomon Avery was one of the first justices of the peace, and was also county auditor and treasurer of Luzerne County.   His son, Miles, settled in Falls Township, and his son Cyrus died in l833, owner of the farm on which his father located.

Schools
One of the first schoolhouses in the township was built at La Grange in about l8l4.  Hiram Lusk taught the school in l8l5.

By l9l0, there were eight one-room schools in the township.  In l933, schools at Brookside, German Hill, LaGrange, Marcy, Prospect Hill and Shupp Hill were closed, and the students were brought to the Gravel Hill school.  This school was located alongside the D.C. Harding home.  This building was demolished in l970 to make room for the road from Rt. 6 to the new high school.

During World War II , the students of  Tunkhannock Township were brought fully into the Tunkhannock jointure, thus also eliminating the schools at Bardwell and Dixon. The Seventh Day Adventists Church had an elementary school on the Stonier property (now Mountain View Terrace) and this school closed in l99l.

Tunkhannock Borough
(From an article written by Dorothy Colbenson)

Tunkhannock Borough was organized in l841.

HOTELS

The American House - l841

The Hufford House - destroyed in the Great Fire of l870

Warren Street Hotel - located on Warren Street where the parking lot of the Merchant's Bank is located today.

Keeler House - l872, located where the Hufford House burned.   Presently the site of the AM/PM Mini Market.

The Packer House - Opposite the railroad station, built by Billings and Reynolds.  Quick lunches were served to passengers on excursion trains that stopped for water for the engine.  Destroyed by fire in l900, rebuilt in l902, and burned again in l9l9 and never rebuilt.

The Stevens House and The Wyoming House - Were built on Bridge Street, each was a saloon.

EARLY BUSINESSES IN TUNKHANNOCK

Witch Hazel Plants
One was started in the canning factory by M. E. Hughes.  The one on Franklin Avenue started in l906 and burned in l936.  Shortly after the death of Hughes, Thomas F. McNulty and J. E. Johnson acquired the property.   Hundreds of tons of witch hazel brush were bought and manufactured into prime quality witch hazel extract.  Only two other witch hazel plants existed in the United States.

Foundry
Built on Warren St. (where Agway is now) by Cyrus Avery in l840.  The second foundry was built on the corner of West Tioga St. and Maple Ave. in l860.

Tannery
(l866-l931 ) built by Palen Brothers and supplied work for many men.

H.A. Mack Mills
The forerunner of the woolen mill, which is now the Gay's True Value

l09th Armory
Battery "B" of the l09th field artillery on West Street.  The building was leased, in the l940's, to the Endicott Johnson Shoe Co. The building is now owned by Ace-Robbins Oil Co.

Chinese Laundries
In l891-92,  Charles Sing, a Chinese man, operated a laundry on Bridge St.  In l895, a Chinese Laundry was opened across from the courthouse, and in l9ll, Hing Lee operated a laundry at the Piatt Opera Block.

Atherholt Dairy
Opened its new location in the rear of the Atherolt residence on West Tioga St. in l947.  Milk was pasteurized, bottled, and sold from this six-roomed building.  Presently the site of the Endless Mountains Water Company.

Dietrich Theater
Marvin Sands and family operated both the Dietrich and Star-Lite Drive-In Theater, first operated by Elmer Dietrich in l937.

Tunkhannock Locker Plant
Opened March  l946 next to the Dietrich Theater.  Owned by the Elmer Dietrich Estate.  The plant had the capacity for approximately l000 individual family lockers and frozen food storage space for commercial uses.

SCHOOLS
The Harrison Street school building dates back to its opening  in l855.  At one time, it was called the Sand Hill School.  By l871, it was evidently run down and in need of repairs and extensive renovations were done. In l883, a major addition was added.  The two-story primary school was completed in l833 and, finally, in l902, the buildings were joined by the addition of restrooms.  This building was abandoned by January l97l.

The Gravel Hill School closed Dec. 31, l953 but was later used to house the kindergarten.

Tunkhannock Junior and Senior High School, on Philadelphia Avenue, was constructed in l929.  This building now houses the Tunkhannock Area Middle School.

The William Skrynski Bldg. on Franklin Avenue opened in l954, and the third, fourth, fifth, and sixth grades were transferred here.

The Clifford Roslund Bldg. was opened in l971.

Tunkhannock H.S. was completed in l971.

PIATT OPERA HOUSE

The Piatt Opera House was built in l873, by William B. Piatt, on Bridge Street.   The building consisted of three rooms on the first floor, offices and town hall on the second floor, storage space on the third floor.  When this building burned in l929, it was replaced by one store building, which now houses B&R Distributors, Inc.  

The first moving picture ever exhibited in Wyoming County was shown here.  In l9l0, the price of admission to a motion picture show was l0 cents for adults and 5 cents for children under l2 years of age.  In the gallery, the price was 5 cents for everyone.

METCALF MUSEUM

H.P. Metcalf constructed a two-story museum on his property on Harrison St.  The building was constructed of yellow brick, matching the Metcalf's residence, with a colonial doorway, over which was reposed the family coat of arms.  Mr. Metcalf had the finest assemblage of antiques in Pennsylvania, and he used the museum for their display.

An Indian collection was on display which was of importance because all of the items were found in Wyoming County.

The museum closed in l950, and it became a private home.

WYOMING COUNTY HISTORICAL SOCIETY

Originally chartered in l946.  During the l950's, the organization became inactive.  In l977, reorganization began and since that date, the society has grown each year.  In l980, the Historical Society was granted a deed to the former Harrison Street School Building from the school district, with the stipulation that should the society ever cease to exist, the building would revert back to the school district.

In the fall of l980, renovations began, and in May l981, the first room was completed.   This room housed both the museum and library.  By l982, the office and another room were completed, so that the library and museum could be separated.

In l984, the society was able to purchase some of the items that had formerly been in the Metcalf Museum, including an extensive Wyoming County newspaper collection dated from l841-l907.  These papers were microfilmed to further preserve their historical value.

In l986, the local DAR Tunkhannock Chapter was able to move into the first floor room.   Renovations were started in l987 to renovate the outside of the building.   Renovations of the entire building were completed in l992.  The society building now contains six museum rooms, two genealogical library rooms and office, along with the DAR Room and the Tunkhannock Nursery School.  Society hours are all year, Wed. l0-4, and summer hours include Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday, l0-4.

THE WYOMING COUNTY FAIR

The first Wyoming County Fair was held prior to l863 on a small piece of property in Tunkhannock, between West Tioga Street and the bluff overlooking the Susquehanna River.   The parcel of land is thought to be included in the current graveyard.  After only a couple of years in operation, the fair was halted.  It started up again, only to be abandoned probably in l868.  The fair moved to new grounds across the river in Eaton Township, and was back in operation in l876.  The fair operated continuously through l942, except for a year when the river bridge was out, sometime between l876 and l913.

In the 44-year period before the renewal in l986, the fair property was sold to a private business.  A committee of the Tunkhannock Kiwanis Club formed to bring back the fair.  It was then located on Rt. 92, south of the borough, in Tunkhannock Township.  Most services were donated or volunteered.  The Fair Board soon realized that more land and the construction of permanent facilities would be necessary if the fair was to continue to expand.  The fair is now located on the site of a former 231-acre farm in Meshoppen Township on Rt. 6.

WYOMING COUNTY NEWSPAPERS THROUGH THE YEARS

  • Luzerne Democrat and Farmer's and Mechanic Journal - l841
  • Wyoming Patrol and Republican Standard - l843-l849
  • Wyoming County Democrat - l849-l854
  • Wyoming County Record - l844-l845
  • Wyoming County Whig - l849-l852
  • North Branch Democrat - l854-l867
  • Wyoming Democrat - l867-l907
  • Wyoming Intelligencer - l861
  • Wyoming Republican - l860-l867
  • Tunkhannock Republican - l869-l904
  • New Age - l882-l904
  • Tunkhannock Republican and New Age - l904-l979
  • The New Age Examiner - l979 and still being published
  • Nicholson Examiner - l871-l877
  • Laceyville Messenger
  • Meshoppen Enterprise
  • Nicholson Record
  • Noxen Vandette

ARTICLES AND REFERENCE MATERIALS PROVIDED BY THE WYOMING COUNTY HISTORICAL SOCIETY

 

 

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