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The Archbald Pothole

Patrick Mahon, a coal miner, discovered the Archbald Pothole in 1884 when he was extending a mine shaft. He placed an explosive charge and when it was detonated water and stone poured into the mine shaft. He and the miners he was with escaped the mine fearing a collapse. Later Edward Jones, the manager of the mining company, came to investigate what had happened. Jones directed the men clear the debris, almost 1,000 tons of small rounded stones. Once the debris was cleared it was realized there was a vertical tunnel which was responsible for the falling water and stone. The shaft was actually a large pothole, a natural rock formation that is formed where water forms a circular current. Water spins quickly and causes sand and small stones to circulate, eventually causing a circular hole in the bedrock below. The Archbald Pothole, as it was named, is 38 feet deep and 42 feet wide at its maximum length. The pothole cuts through layers of sandstone, shale, and coal.

The Archbald Pothole was formed during the Wisconsin Glacial Period, when water from the melting glacier probably poured through a crevasse to the bedrock. The falling water created enough force to form the pothole, which was discovered almost 13,000 years after it was created.

The pothole served as a ventilation shaft for mining operations and was fenced in by Colonel Hackley, the owner of the land, so he could allow visitors to look at it without the risk of falling in. Edward Jones also led public tours to the site.

A small trail follows the path the coal mine tram would have taken when the mine operated.

The Archbald Pothole was turned over to the public in 1914 when the widow of Colonel Hackley donated 1 acre of land that surrounded the pothole to the Lackawanna County Historical Society. Then in 1940, Lackawanna County gained ownership of the pothole as well as 150 acres of the surrounding land. It remained a county park until 1961 when the land was transferred to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

In the 1990s a $170,000 renovation project was initiated to repair the aging facilities of the park. It reopened in 1997 but despite the improvements trash and attendance remained an issue. In 2002 the State Legislature approved more renovations to the park to include soccer fields, a basketball court, tennis court, walking trail, playground, roads and parking lots.

Hunting in the area is permitted in certain designated places however the killing of groundhog is not permitted and hunters must follow State Game Commission Rules and Regulations.

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Luzerne County Courthouse

The Luzerne County Courthouse was originally built on Public Square in Wilkes-Barre in 1786. It was a simple structure made of logs. As the county outgrew the space available it was replaced in 1801 with a Georgian-style building, a common style in Philadelphia at the time. 55 years later another courthouse was needed, and an architect from New York named Joseph C. Wells designed it. The new building was constructed in a style called Rundbogenstil, a round arch style, an attempt was made to fireproof the new building but it was not successful.

In 1892 the Wilkes-Barre Record published an editorial on April 12th recommending a new courthouse be built and the structure be made fireproof. It said “the current structure is note large enough” and “is not much better than a tinder box, liable to be destroyed any moment”.

The proposal sounded very simple and acting on the grand jury’s recommendation, the County Commissioners set out to choose an architect. In August of 1894, Elijah E. Myers of Detroit, a well-known architect of government buildings in Michigan, Texas and Colorado, drew up plans for the new courthouse. Myers’ design featured a slender dome with four square glass towers. A site on South Main Street was selected for the building. Law suits we filed and hearings were held as to the location of the site. The site was overruled and controversy continued over the Public Square location. There is no definitive reason as to the reason Myers’ plan was not used but on July 12, 1895 Luzerne County was sued by Myers for $10,000. The suit was finally settled out of court 29 years later.

The Wilkes-Barre Record wanted the courthouse built right and it did not agree with the method the Commissioners had been using. It said the Commissioners had no right to employ a contractor until a suitable site was approved. It also said they had no right to promise the architect $10,000 and $10,000 more plus 5% of the cost of the building before they knew what the cost would be.

In 1899 a contest was held for architects with March 15 being the last day to submit plans. The specifications were given in the Wilkes-Barre Record as follows:

“The building shall be a four or five story, steel frame, fireproof structure, providing offices for all the County officials and providing one large and five smaller court rooms and also jury rooms, judges’ offices, law library, waiting rooms, lavatories, hygienic closets, ventilation, lighting and heating.

The building shall be fireproof throughout, walls, floors, partitions, girders, roof, etc. Doors and window frames may be made of wood. The exterior shall be made of the most durable character. Cornices, finials, etc. where of metal shall be of copper. Galvanized iron will not be allowed.

The cost of the building is limited to $450,000, including all steam and gas fitting and plumbing and electrical wiring, mail chute, but not including power plant, heating plant and elevators or gas and electric fixtures.

Any set of drawings for a building which shall exceed in the probable cost the limits named by more than 10 percent, may also be excluded from the competition.”

25 architects submitted their plans though there was much secrecy to the process. F. J. Osterling of Pittsburgh, a little known architect, was awarded the contract by the Luzerne County Commissioners. However the plan he submitted was drawn for the Public Square location. Controversy still abounded over the location of the structure. Some residents wanted the Square to remain an open space, most did not want to spend money on a site and some wanted to use the River Common for the new courthouse. On October 19, 1901, the court gave Commissioners permission to build the courthouse on the River Common property. The original plans submitted by Osterling had to be revised to the River Common location.

The building contract was awarded to Joseph Handler on July 24, 1902 for an amount of $597,000. This cost did not cover the dome or interior finishing. Just two days later Handler turned down the contract because stone he bid on was no longer available to him at what he considered a reasonable price. Wilson Smith was then awarded the contract for an amount of $682,000 but a preliminary injunction was granted, blocking Smith from building the courthouse because “the amount of money needed cannot be legally raised”. The inunction was later dismissed and Wilson was given approval to continue the project on March 9, 1903.

As the project got under way, Osterling complained that Smiths charges were excessive and the County Controller became concerned to the point he held payments until an investigation could be completed. Work was halted on the building and Osterling attempted to fire Smith but after investigations into the matter a grand jury dismissed Osterling on June 10, 1905. McCormick and French, a firm from Wilkes-Barre, were appointed to take over as architect of the project on January 17, 1906 over Albert H. Kipp who was the runner up in the competition of 1899. Although there is no record Kipp was contacted, he died in 1906 due to a heart condition which is probably the reason the county decided against appointing him. Wilson Smith resigned from the project, giving it over to the Carlucci brothers of Scranton.

Once complete the building was magnificent. Its foundation is made of concrete, the exterior Ohio sandstone and the roof coverings are made of terra cotta. The rotunda is finished with marble with the piers supporting the dome and wall of the first story are of Botticino stone. The cornices, columns and balustrades are finished with white Italian marble, the bases being of Alps green. The floors throughout the building are of Tennessee marble, with those in the gallery and rotunda being laid in patterns.

There are five court rooms in the building, most of them being on the third floor. The Orphan’s Court Room, is on the second floor and is finished in white Italian marble panels with a mural over the Judges’ bench titled “The Symbols of Life”. The other four rooms are finished in fine wood, two in mahogany and two in walnut. Each of the four rooms has a large mural as well, the names being “Justice”, “Prosperity Under the Law”, “The Judicial Virtues”, and “The Awakening of a Commonwealth”.

A plan to furnish the building was made with specifications for all of the furniture, rugs and window treatments.

Today the county still uses the building for court cases and to run its day to day operations.

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Ghost Town

 

Traveling on PA Routes 54/61 or following PA Route 42 to its terminus in southern Columbia County brings you to the former town of Centralia.

 

Without knowing what it is, you might simply drive through it on your way to another destination. It simply looks like a crossroads of an old town with most of its structures torn down. If you’re not paying much attention, you might miss it altogether.

 

The story of modern day Centralia is one that is actually below ground. A fire rages on in the mines below the former town. One that’s been burning for over 40 years.

 

The history of Centralia stretches back to the mid 1800s, when the area began to be mined. Centralia was incorporated as a borough in 1866. The town continued to thrive into the mid 1900s, when rail and mining operations began to shut down.

 

The exact cause of the fire remains contested. It was a result of a fire in the town’s landfill in the early 1960s, either ignited by hot ash being dumped, or intentionally to burn down the amount of garbage.

 

An exposed coal seam below the landfill became ignited, and the fire began to spread below the area. Several attempts in the following years to extinguish the fire remained unsuccessful.

 

By the early 1980s, the full scale of the problem was realized. Congress appropriated funds to relocate the town’s residents. In the following years, most residents would take the money offered by the government, but some refused. Today, approximately 10 residents remain, which is preventing any further work being done to extinguish the fire.

 

Several structures remain, including a few houses, the municipal building, a church, and the town’s cemeteries. Otherwise, overgrown sidewalks, streets and yards remain as a reminder of the town that once was.

 

Just south of the town, a section of PA Route 61 was forced to be abandoned because of the mine fire. The pavement has been heaved up, and in some places is buckled, exposing cracks where steam and smoke rise.

 

Centralia has been the inspiration for many books, songs, documentaries, and even Hollywood productions, including the recent movie, Silent Hill.

 

Although an interesting place showing the negative effects of underground coal mining, keep in mind this is not a tourist attraction. There is no visitor’s center, no museum, no facilities of any kind. In fact, you may be trespassing to see certain features, and the danger remains from the ground below in the form of the fire burning and gasses escaping. Visit here at your own risk.

 

 

 

For more details on the story of Centralia, you can visit these websites:

 

http://www.offroaders.com/album/centralia/centralia.htm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Centralia,_Pennsylvania

 

These sites were used as references for this article.

 

PAontheGo.com is a free resource for all things travel and tourism across Eastern Pennsylvania. Visit us at http://www.PAontheGo.com today for more information.

 



The Birth of Anthracite Coal in America

The first known use of anthracite coal dates back 1750 when a native american brought some to a gunsmith in Nazareth, PA whose supply of charcoal had run out.

Sometime between 1750 and 1755, anthracite coal was being used in the Wyoming Valley and during the Revolutionary War it was sent down the Susquehanna River to be used by the arsenal at Carlisle.

Obadiah Gore of Nazareth used anthracite coal in his blacksmith forge as early as 1769.

There is also record of soldiers stationed at Fort Augusta using it at a source of heat according to the fort’s garrison Ensign Holler. He said in a letter dated the winter of 1758 that a wagon load of stone coal, brought in some six leagues from Fort Augusta, was shipped down river from around Nanticoke.

Three discoverers of anthracite in Pennsylvania were made by Nicho Allen in Pottsville, Philip Ginter near Mauch Chunk and Isaac Tomlinson at Shamokin. What is more remarkable, all these discoveries were made about the same time. and yet it is a fact that coal was mined in the Wyoming Valley nearly a quarter century before these “discoveries.”

The use of anthracite for domestic purposes appears to have been discovered by Judge Jesse Fell, of Wilkes-Barre. Fell wrote on February 11, 1808 that he had “made the experiment of burning the common stone coal of the valley in a grate, in a common fireplace in my house, and found it will answer the purpose of fuel, making a clearer and better fire, at less expense, than burning wood in the common way.”

News of this successful experiment soon spread through the town and country, and people were going to witness the discovery. Grates like the one Judge Fell used were soon in use by his neighbors, and in a short time were in being used throughout the valley.

In the spring of that same year, John and Abijah Smith loaded two arks with anthracite coal at Ransoms Creek, in Plymouth, and took it down the Susquehanna River to Columbia; but on offering it for sale, noone could be persuaded to purchase any. They left the black stones behind them unsold, and returned to their homes.
 
The next year the Smiths, not least bit discouraged, took two arks of coal and a grate back to Columbia. The grate was put up, and the coals were burned in it, thus proving the practicability of using coal as a fuel. They sold their coal, and thus began the initiative of the immense anthracite coal trade of Pennsylvania.
Today, the original grate Judge Jesse Fell used is on display at the Luzerne county Historical Society museum in downtown Wilkes-Barre, PA.
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The Story of Frances Slocum

Frances Slocum was the daughter of Jonathan and Ruth Slocum of Wilkes-Barre, PA in the Wyoming Valley. She was taken from her families home in broad daylight in front of her mother on Nov 2, 1778 at the age of 5. She was never heard from again. Her two brothers always tried to search for her any time they heard of a white woman living with an Indian tribe, even offered rewards for her return.

More than sixty years had passed before she was found. She was found living on the banks of the Mississenawa River near Peru, Indiana. Then the widow of an Miami Indian Chief.

James Miller of Peru, Ind and Col. Ewing of Logansport, Ind who had interacted with the Miami Indians in the past went and talked with Frances. She being old and knowing she would die soon decided it time to talk about her history.

She remembered she lived on the Susquehanna River as a child, near a fort and told how she was taken by the Delaware Indians. She mentioned her father, a quaker, who wore a broad-brimmed hat with the last name of Slocum. She remembered how other children were taken as well but because they wouldn’t stop crying the Indians killed them. She told them about how she moved around from time to time from Niagara, down around Detroit, then onto Fort Wayne and finally ending up on the banks of the Mississenewa.

After hearing this tale Col. Ewing wanted to make an effort to relay the infomation to her family who he suspected may still be alive. Upon his return to Logansport he wrote down what he had been told and sent it to the Postmaster of Lancaster, PA to be published. The Postmaster thought it to be a prank and tossed it aside. After his death the postmasters wife had found the letter and sent it to the editor in Lancaster who published it in his newspaper. A copy of that paper was read by Joseph Slocum who was living in the Wyoming Valley, Joseph instantly knew this story to be of his sister.

Isaac Slocum, Frances’ other brother, who had moved near Sandusky, Oh traveled to Peru in May of 1838. Upon arriving he sent for Mr. Miller who ran a store there. Mr Miller, leaving two Indian girls to tend the store, went to meet this stranger who had summoned him. Upon arriving at the hotel Mr. Miller recognized the stranger as a brother to Frances due to a very strong family resemblance.

After 60 years Isaac was reunited with his sister. Joseph Slocum also traveled to visit his long lost sister.