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La Festa Italiana

Labor Day is upon us and for most of us it marks the unofficial end of summer, but it also means an annual tradition is about to begin. On Sept 5th, 6th and 7th, La Festa Italiana will setup on Courthouse Square in downtown Scranton.

Over 60 vendors will line the streets for this three day block party, offering up some of the best Italian fare this side of the Atlantic.

There will also be continuous entertainment provided by over 25 local music and dance groups on various stages around the square.

Also available this year is a shuttle from La Festa to the Steamtown National Historic Site where they will be holding Lackawanna Railfest on Sept 5th and 6th. Using the theme of “The 1940s” the event will take visitors on some behind-the-scenes tours and special excursions out on the rails.  A full schedule of events can be found at their official site.

Hours for La Festa Italiana are noon to 11pm on Saturday and Sunday, and noon to 9pm on Monday. If you are planning to attend I recommend checking local weather reports as this is an outdoor event.

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RiverFest 2009 at Wilkes-Barre’s River Common

RiverFest, an annual event celebrating the Susquehanna River and “Rivers Month”, turns 10 this year and will do so in style at the newly revitalized River Common in Wilkes-Barre. Nearly $30 million was spent on the project which will officially open on June 19 after Luzerne County officials hold a ribbon cutting ceremony to mark the event. The River Common now features a 750-seat amphitheater, two fishing piers and a paved walkway which stretches from the Courthouse to the Dorothy Dickson Darte Center a few blocks away. The ribbon cutting will kick off RiverFest, which hosts a whole weekend of festivities around the River Common and in nearby Nesbitt Park.

RiverFest will commence at 4 p.m. on Friday June 19th and will run though Sunday evening. The event will feature food and performances by the Wyoming Valley Concert Band at 6 p.m., Bobby Bath at 7 p.m. and finally Don Shapelle at 8 p.m on Friday. Other activities around the RiverCommon include a free fishing clinic by the Fish and Boat Commission, kayak demonstrations, mural painting by DCNR and the Keystone Active Zone Passport Station presented by the Wyoming Valley Wellness Trails.

The music and fun will continue to liven up the river with shows on stages at Nesbitt Park and the River Common on Saturday. Performances on the River Common stage will start with the NonRefundables at 12:30 p.m., Nowhere Slow at 2:15 p.m., the SW!MS at 4 p.m., Woody Browns Project at 5:45 p.m. and finally George Wesley at 7:30 p.m. Appearing on the Nesbitt Park stage will be Charles Havira at 1 p.m., K8 at 2:30 p.m., George Wesley at 4:15 p.m. and Don Shapelle at 6 p.m.

Music is just a start of all the activities there are to be had at RiverFest on Saturday! Nesbitt Park will be full of things to do throughout the day, including Story Telling by the Osterhout Free Library, rock climbing, tie-dye t-shirt making and lots more. See www.rivercommon.org for more details and a full list of all the activities available.

In addition to all the great exhibits and activities you can also sign up to paddle down the Susquehanna River. Enjoy the beauty of the Susquehanna River from a whole new perspective! You can expect to see lots of wildlife including river otters, bald eagles and other large and small birds. The paddling trips are 4 hours long on both Saturday and Sunday. On Saturday the trip will run from Harding to Wilkes-Barre and on Sunday the trip will depart Wilkes-Barre to arrive in Hunlock Creek.

Kayaking rentals are available from Endless Mountain Outfitters, Susquehanna River Adventures (570-328-4001), and Susquehanna Kayak and Canoe Rentals (570-388-6107). Costs range from $40 to $60 depending on size plus $17 to participate. A mandatory safety training will be provided to all participants by the PA Fish and Boat Commission, shuttle service is also included.

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.



Featured Location: Eckley Miners Village

The village of Eckley was actually built by a coal company to provide housing for its workers and their families. In the late 1850s, Sharpe, Leisenring and Company built the homes and other buildings, like the company store and church. By owning the homes and other structures used by the miners, the company had great control over their workers.

As the anthracite mining industry declined, the need for a company owned town like Eckley became unnecessary. The land and buildings were sold to a group of Hazleton business men in the late 1960s, and in turn was deeded to the state for historical preservation in 1971.

The breaker that stands on the grounds today is actually a replica, built for the filming of ‘Molly Maguires’, a film about the famous (or infamous) group of miners who may or may not have conspired to commit crimes in order to focus attention on the plight of the American coal worker. Evidence of who the Molly Maguires actually were and what there purpose was still remains a contested subject.

Today, Eckley serves as a window to the past, showing what it was like for the workers of an anthracite coal mine in Pennsylvania. Along with the village, a museum is also on the site, which shows artifacts and other items relating to the lives of Eckley residents and workers.

Special events, such as Patch Town Days and the Civil War Weekend are also held during the summer months. Patch Town Days will be held June 20th and 21st, 2009. PAontheGo.com will be there, along with a number of other exhibitors and food vendors. So mark your calendar, and come out for some fun, food and heritage!

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 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.



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.

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.



Stegmaier Brewing Co.

Charles Stegmaier was born on October 7, 1821 in Wurtenberg, Germany where he would later learn the art of brewing beer. He worked in several local breweries in Wurtenberg until the age of 27 when he set sail for America. He quickly found a job working in the small Corporation Brewery in Philadelphia. Soon after he worked with the Louis Berdoll brewery where he met John Reichard of the Reichard & Weaver brewery in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania in 1851. Charles and John formed a partnership and produced the first lager beer in that section of the state. This partnership did not last however. That same year, Charles married Catharine Baer who was the daughter of George C. Baer. A few years later Charles would accept a position at the George Laurer brewery in Pottsville.

In 1857, Charles Stegmaier moved back to Wilkes-Barre. Once there he formed a partnership with his father-in-law George Baer and built a small brewery on South Canal Street where he brewed beer in a wooden kettle and stored it in an abandoned coal mine under the building. In order to expand their operation they built a new brewery, complete with underground vaults, on East Market Street. The new brewery opened in 1863 but would close just 10 years later.

Charles needed to find work to support his family so he operated a hotel for two years until he was able to purchase the Joel Bowkley brewery on North River Street. He formed a new partnership with his son Christian and they were finally able to raise the funds necessary to buy back the Baer and Stegmaier brewery in 1880. The business continued to grow and they expanded further by building a new brew house and storage facility in 1894. This increased their yearly output to 300,000 barrels.

The business was doing very well by this point and in 1897 Charles and Christian would incorporate as the Stegmaier Brewing Co. Charles stepped down from being the company’s manager in 1902 letting Christian take the helm along with his other sons Fred and George. Within the community the Stegmaier family was well known for their charity, as they contributed a lot to the development of Wilkes-Barre.

In 1910 and 1913, Stegmaier Brewing Co. won eight gold medals in Paris, Brussels and Rome. After the end of prohibition it was one of the largest independent breweries in all of North America. At it’s peak, Stegmaier was producing half a million barrels a year and used the rail lines of Wilkes-Barre along with a fleet of 60 trucks to distribute its beer. Stegmaier beer could be purchased all along the East Coast of the U.S.

The Stegmaier Brewing Co. saw many years of success before they closed their doors in October of 1974 when a sudden announcement of the sale of the company to another local brewery, Lion, Inc., was made by Edward R. Maier. Edward was the great grandson of Charles Stegmaier. The announcement was a surprise to the workers at Stegmaier Brewing Co. The company had always been a family owned business and was well respected by it’s employees. Many of the employee’s parents and grandparents had worked in the brewery. After the sale to Lion, Inc., which was Stegmaier’s closest competitor, about 50 employees were hired, including Edward Maier who stayed on as Executive Vice President. The remaining 150 lost their jobs.

Since 1974 the old Stegmaier Brewing Co. building sat vacant. During the 1990s, Wilkes-Barre city council voted to have the building torn down but it was later saved by a federal project to take over the building. On February 17, 1998 the Stegmaier Federal Building opened as an office building for the U.S. Post Office and other federal programs. The building was restored and preserved as one of Wilkes-Barre’s most significant historic landmarks.

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 Fine Arts Fiesta

As the weather warms up festivals start to pop up all over the place and Wilkes-Barre is no exception. Each year in May, on Public Square in Wilkes-Barre, the Fine Arts Fiesta brings together the art community for a fun filled weekend. This year the annual event will be held on May 15th through the 18th.

The festival is a great way to spend an afternoon, viewing the judged artwork, eating your way around Public Square, and browsing artist’s shops. Kids will have a great time too, making multi-colored sand bottles, having their faces painted and listening to the live performances on stage.

If you have a few hours we highly recommend a trip to the Fine Arts Fiesta, parking is available all over the downtown and whether you are an art lover or not, you will not be disappointed.