1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Wilkes-Barré

20744551911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 28 — Wilkes-Barré

WILKES-BARRÉ, a city and the county-seat of Luzerne county, Pennsylvania, U.S.A., on the north branch of the Susquehanna river, about 100 m. N.N.W. of Philadelphia. Pop. (1890), 37,718; (1900), 51,721, of whom 12,188 were foreign-born, including 2792 Germans, 2083 Welsh, 2034 Irish, 1578 English and 1000 Russian Poles; (1910 census), 67,105. Area, 48 sq. m. Wilkes-Barré is served by the Central Railroad of New Jersey, the Lehigh Valley, the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western, the Delaware & Hudson, the New York, Susquehanna & Western and the Pennsylvania railways, and by three interurban electric lines—the Wilkes-Barré & Hazleton, connecting with Hazleton, about 20 m. S., the Wilkes-Barré & Wyoming Valley, and the Lackawanna & Wyoming Valley, connecting with Scranton about 17 m. N.E. On the opposite bank of the river (which is here spanned by two iron bridges) lies Kingston. The city is attractively situated in the historic Wyoming Valley. The principal public buildings include the county court-house, the post office, the city hall, the county gaol and the 9th Regiment Armory. Among the city parks are Hollenback (102 acres) and Riverside (19 acres) parks, the River Common (35 acres) and the Frances Slocum Playground. In the city are the Harry Hillman Academy (non-sectarian), a secondary school for boys; the Malinckrodt Convent, the Wilkes-Barré Institute (Presbyterian), a school for girls; St Mary’s Academy (Roman Catholic), for girls; the Osterhout Free Library (44,000 vols.), the Library of the Law and Library Association (10,000 vols.) and that of the Wyoming Historical and Geological Society (18,000 vols.), which was founded in 1858. Wilkes-Barré is situated in the centre of the richest anthracite coal region in the United States, Luzerne county ranking first in 1908 in the production of anthracite in Pennsylvania; and the value of the factory products increased from $8,616,765 in 1900 to $11,240,893 in 1905, or 30·5%. Among important manufactures are foundry and machine-shop products, valued at $1,273,491 in 1905; silk and silk goods ($1,054,863); lace curtains, cotton goods, wirework, &c. The city is governed by a mayor elected for three years, and by a legislative body composed of a select council (one member from each of the 16 wards elected for four years) and of a common council (one member from each ward, elected for two years).

The township of Wilkes-Barré was one of five townships the free grant of which, in December 1768, by the Susquehanna Land Company of Connecticut was intended to encourage settlement and make good the company’s claim to the Wyoming Valley (q.v.). In May 1769 more than 100 settlers from New England, in command of Major John Durkee (1728–1782), arrived at this place. With others who came a few days later they erected the necessary log cabins on the river bank, near the present Ross Street, and in June began to enclose these within a stockade, known as Fort Durkee. During the same summer Major Durkee gave the town its present name in honour of John Wilkes (1727–1797) and Colonel Isaac Barré (1726–1802), both stout defenders in parliament of the American colonists’ cause before and during the War of Independence, and in the following year the town plat was made. In September 1769 the “First Pennamite-Yankee War,” as the conflict between Connecticut and Pennsylvania for the possession of the valley is called, broke out. The Yankees lost Fort Durkee in November, but recovered it in the following February. The Pennamites erected Fort Wyoming on the river bank near the present Northampton Street in January 1771, but the Yankees took it from them in the following August. In the War of Independence, immediately after the battle of Wyoming (July 3, 1778), Wilkes-Barré was burned by the Indians and British Rangers; and again in July 1784, during the “Second Pennamite-Yankee War,” twenty-three of the twenty-six buildings were burned. In 1786 the Pennsylvania legislature sent here Colonel Timothy Pickering (q.v.) to organize Luzerne county, and to effect a reconciliation between the Connecticut settlers and the government of Pennsylvania. Colonel John Franklin (1749–1831) led a counter movement, and was imprisoned on a charge of treason in October 1787, but Franklin’s followers retaliated by kidnapping Pickering in June 1788, and kept him in the woods for nearly three weeks in a vain effort to make him promise to intercede for Franklin’s pardon. Wilkes-Barré was gradually rebuilt after its destruction in 1784, and in 1806 the borough was erected, though it was not separated politically from the township until 1818 (or 1819). A new charter was granted to the borough in 1855, and Wilkes-Barré was chartered as a city in 1871.

See O. J. Harvey, A History of Wilkes-Barré (3 vols., Wilkes-Barré, 1909–1910).