Wilkes-Barre (or /-bɛri/) is the central city of the Wyoming Valley and county seat of Luzerne County in northeastern Pennsylvania. Founded in 1769 and formally incorporated in 1806, the city has an estimated population of 43,123, according to the 2000 census.
The city and valley are framed by the Pocono Mountains to the east, the Endless Mountains to the west and the Lehigh Valley to the south. The Susquehanna River flows through the center of the valley and defines the northwestern border of the city.
The Wyoming Valley was first inhabited by the Shawanese
and Delaware Indian
tribes in the early 1700s
. By 1769, a group, led by John Durkee, became the first Europeans to reach the area. The settlement was named Wilkes-Barre, after John Wilkes
and Isaac Barré
, two British members of Parliament who supported colonial America
The initial settlers were aligned with Connecticut, which had a claim on the land that rivaled Pennsylvania's. Armed men loyal to Pennsylvania twice attempted to evict the residents of Wilkes-Barre in what came to be known as the Pennamite Wars. After the American Revolution, the conflict was resolved so that the settlers retained title to their lands but transferred their allegiance to Pennsylvania.
Industrial foundations: manufacturing, coal and railroads
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." Hundreds of thousands of immigrants flocked to the city, seeking jobs in the numerous mines and collieries that sprung up.
The coal industry survived several disasters, including an explosion at the Baltimore Colliery in 1919 that killed 92 miners, but it could not survive the gradual switch to other energy sources. Most coal operations left Wilkes-Barre by the end of World War II
, and the 1959 Knox Mine Disaster
marked the end of King Coal's heyday. The city entered into a decades-long decline, hastened by Hurricane Agnes
Manufacturing and retail remained Wilkes-Barre's strongest industries, but the city's economy took a major blow from Tropical Storm Agnes
in 1972. The storm pushed the Susquehanna River
to a height of nearly 41 feet, four feet above the city's levees, flooding downtown with nine feet of water. Six people were killed, 25,000 homes and businesses were either damaged or destroyed, and damages were estimated to be $1 billion, with President Richard Nixon
sending aid to the area.
Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Wilkes-Barre attempted to repair the damage from Agnes by building a levee system that rises 41 feet; it has successfully battled less threatening floods of 1996, 2004, and 2006, and the Army Corps of Engineers has praised the quality of the levees.
On June 9, 2005, Mayor Thomas M. Leighton unveiled his I believe... campaign for Wilkes-Barre, which was intended to boost the city's spirits. Construction began on a planned downtown theatre complex which had a grand opening on June 30, 2006, and renovation of the landmark Hotel Sterling was being pursued by CityVest, a nonprofit developer. The expansion of Wilkes University and King's College has taken place. Also, the canopy and matching street lights in Public Square and across downtown were removed; the replacements are new green lampposts.
In 2006, the City of Wilkes-Barre celebrated its 200th anniversary. There were several events which were scheduled to commemorate this occasion over the July 4 weekend, including a free concert with the Beach Boys in the City's Kirby Park. However, due to extremely heavy rains, the Susquehanna River crested high enough that most of the City had to be evacuated on June 28, 2006, forcing the cancellation of the events. Afterwards, the City rescheduled their Bicentennial Blastoff, their Bicentennial Parade and the Bicentennial Gala to different dates throughout August. The Beach Boys graciously rescheduled their concert and played a Kirby Park concert on Labor Day Weekend, Sunday September 3, 2006, attended by Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell.
The city is headed by a mayor
, elected to a four-year term. The current mayor is Tom Leighton, a Democrat
who was elected in 2003.
The legislative branch of Wilkes-Barre is the City Council
, comprising five members who are elected by district to four-year terms. Current members of Council are: Chairperson Kathryn Kane; Vice Chairperson Tony Thomas Jr.; Bill Barrett (former Wilkes-Barre police chief); Rick Cronauer; and Michael Merritt.
The City of Wilkes-Barre is served by two City Attorneys, Timothy Henry, Esquire and William E. Vinsko, Jr., Esquire, who advise both the Mayor and City Council.
The Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas is the trial court of general jurisdiction for Wilkes-Barre. Its probation system is divided into two divisions; one for adults, and one for juveniles.
The U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania sits at the Max Rosenn United States Courthouse in downtown Wilkes-Barre on South Main Street. The Chief Judge of the Bankruptcy Court, John J. Thomas, is son of Thomas C. Thomas, a prominent produce dealer whose terminal remains a prominent part of the Wilkes-Barre skyline.
As of the census
of 2000, there were 43,123 people, 17,961 households, and 9,878 families residing in the city. The population density
was 6,296.3 people per square mile (2,430.6/km²). There were 20,294 housing units at an average density of 2,963.1/sq mi (1,143.9/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 92.30% White
, 5.09% African American
, 0.11% Native American
, 0.79% Asian
, 0.03% Pacific Islander
, 0.53% from other races
, and 1.15% from two or more races. Hispanic
of any race were 1.58% of the population.
The average household size was 2.20 and the average family size was 2.96.
In the city the population was spread out with 19.9% under the age of 18, 12.6% from 18 to 24, 26.1% from 25 to 44, 20.8% from 45 to 64, and 20.6% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 39 years. For every 100 females there were 93.2 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 90.7 males.
The local accent of American English is Northeast Pennsylvania English.
Wilkes-Barre is located at (41.244581, -75.877918).
According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 7.2 square miles (18.6 km²).6.8 square miles (17.7 km²) of it is land and 0.3 square miles (0.9 km²) of it is water. The total area is 4.60% water.
Roads, railways and transportation
passes north-south near Wilkes-Barre, and the city is also located near the Northeast Extension of the Pennsylvania Turnpike
and is north of Interstate 80
Public transportation is provided by the Luzerne County Transportation Authority. In addition to servicing the main arteries of the city, it provides transportation for the northern half of the county, as well as a connecting bus to Scranton via an interchange at Pittston with COLTS, the public transit authority of Lackawanna County.
Five international airlines fly from the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport in nearby Avoca. Smaller, private planes may also use the Wilkes-Barre Wyoming Valley Airport in Forty Fort.
The city was at one time served by the Lehigh Valley Railroad, Central Railroad of New Jersey, the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad (later Erie Lackawanna Railway), Delaware and Hudson Railway, the Pennsylvania Railroad, the Wilkes-Barre and Eastern Railroad, and the Lackawanna and Wyoming Valley Railroad (known as the Laurel Line). The Wilkes-Barre Traction Company formed a streetcar line from Georgetown to Nanticoke and over the river into Plymouth ceasing operations in the mid 1940s. At present, the Canadian Pacific Railway (successor to the Delaware and Hudson) and the Luzerne & Susquehanna Railroad (designated-operator of a county-owned shortline) provide freight service within the city.
Colleges and universities
Local media outlets
- HBO recognizes Wilkes-Barre as the birthplace of modern cable programming. In November 1972, coincidentally the autumn that followed Hurricane Agnes, 365 subscribers of Service Electric Cable were the first to receive HBO's service.
- Wilkes-Barre was a stop on the Underground Railroad before the Civil War.
- Louis Philippe, the King of France from 1830 to 1840, stayed in Wilkes-Barre while traveling en route to the French Asylum settlement in 1797.
- Wilkes-Barre has been a popular stop for many presidential candidates: U.S. presidents Rutherford B. Hayes, Grover Cleveland, Theodore Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, John F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.
- Described by many today as one of America's more "historical cities", Wilkes-Barre has gained considerable bad press (although it is not a major nationally recognized location) since the Knox Mine Disaster. In the 1960 presidential campaign, it garnered attention for its high levels of poverty. In 1972, the damage done by the Agnes flood made international headlines. In the 1990s, the city became known for the poor leadership of Mayor McGroarty. In 2001, a Washington Post columnist described Wilkes-Barre as "awful" and "next-door" Scranton as "awfuler", describing the area as one of the worst metropolitan areas in the United States In 2006, the city made the front page of national newspapers when 200,000 residents were told to evacuate in the wake of flooding that was forecast to reach levels near that of '72 but fell short of predictions.
- Wilkes-Barre is the birthplace of the Planters Peanuts Company, which was founded in 1906 by Italian immigrant Amedo Obici and partner Mario Peruzzi.
- It is said that one of the longest home runs in history was hit in Wilkes-Barre. This statement is quoted right from the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Yankees News page:"On October 12, 1926, Babe Ruth visited Wilkes-Barre's Artillery Park to play in an exhibition game between Hughestown and Larksville. Suiting up for Hughestown, the Yankee slugger challenged Larksville's hurler Ernie Corkran to throw him his "best stuff" -- a fastball right down the heart of the plate. Corkran obliged and Ruth crushed the pitch into deep right field. When the ball cleared the fence, a good 400 feet away from home plate, it was still rising. It finally landed in Kirby Park on the far side of a high school running track. Ruth himself was so impressed by the feat that he asked that his homer be measured. Originally estimated at 650 feet, the prodigious blast is considered to be the longest home run in baseball's storied history. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Yankees
- The Wilkes-Barre variation (or Traxler variation, as it is more commonly known) of the Two Knights' Defense is named for the Wilkes-Barre chess club, see this article by Alex Dunne
- Bingo was popularized after a Wilkes-Barre church preacher approached the game's developer complaining that the original game was not random enough in its potential picks to limit winners. The resulting improvements, in response to that complaint, led directly to the cultural success of the game. See history of Bingo
Notable natives and residents
- Albert Mudrian- author and magazine editor
- Alexis Toth — (St. Alexis of Wilkes-Barre) a Saint in the Russian Orthodox Church
- David Bohm — quantum physicist
- Colleen Corby — Sixties fashion model
- George Catlin — artist
- Benjamin Burnley — lead singer and guitarist for alternative metal band Breaking Benjamin
- Jesse Fell — early experimenter with anthracite coal
- Pat Finn — game show host whose shows include PAX's Shop 'Til You Drop
- Ham Fisher — cartoonist
- Florence Foster Jenkins — unconventional operatic soprano of the early 20th century with enduring popularity
- George Washington Helme — businessman and founder of Helmetta, New Jersey
- Qadry Ismail — former NFL player who played wide receiver on the 2001 Super Bowl champion team Baltimore Ravens
- Raghib Ismail — former NFL player and Heisman Trophy runner-up
- Candy Jones (1925-1990), fashion model, writer and radio talk show host.
- Mike Konnick — former MLB player
- Dorothy Andrews Elston Kabis — 33rd Treasurer of the United States, 1969-1971
- James Karen — actor
- Harley Jane Kozak — actress and author
- Matthew Lesko — infomercial personality
- Edward B. Lewis — Winner of the 1995 Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine.
- Mary McDonnell — actress twice nominated for Academy Award
- Jozef Murgas — radio pioneer
- Amadeo Obici — founder of Planters Peanuts
- Jerry Orbach — Tony award-winning actor best known for his portrayal of Detective Lennie Briscoe on NBC's hit series, Law & Order.
- William Daniel Phillips — winner of the 2001 Nobel Prize in Physics.
- Mendy Rudolph — former NBA referee from 1953 to 1975
- Michael Schoeffling — actor who played Jake Ryan in 80s classic film Sixteen Candles
- Jonathan Slavin, character actor best remembered as the neurotic Byron Togler on Andy Richter Controls The Universe
- Bob Sura — professional basketball player, Houston Rockets
- Louis Teicher, pianist, member of the duo Ferrante & Teicher
- Ed Walsh Hall of Fame pitcher; Major League Baseball's all time ERA champion
- Ira W. Wood (1856-1931), represented from 1904 to 1913.