Reading history from a textbook can teach us a lot, but experiences give us a much better appreciation for a region’s heritage. Three family-friendly sites in the greater Wilkes-Barre and Scranton region of northeastern Pennsylvania offer great opportunities to learn about its past.
Explore railroad history at Steamtown
Rail enthusiasts travel from miles around to learn more about the history and technology of steam railroading at Steamtown, located in downtown Scranton.
Operated by the National Park Service, the 65-acre site operates at the former Scranton yards of the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad. NPS developed Steamtown by using existing portions of the roundhouse (the oldest dating from 1902) as part of the museum complex, adding to it a visitor center, theater, technology, and a history museum.
The 250-seat surround-sound theater at Steamtown offers visitors a glimpse into the life of a railroader with its 18-minute film, Steel and Steam. The history museum provides guests with a railroading timeline from the early days of rail through the 1980s, and the technology museum houses a steam locomotive, caboose, and boxcar, and explores some of the more technical aspects of railroading from using steam, to operating signals, to learning railroad jargon.
A highlight of a visit to the only NPS site dedicated to steam railroading is the 30-minute ride on a vintage train.
Experience the life of a coal miner
Located a little off the beaten path in Weatherly, Pa., are the remains of what was once a mining village. Founded in 1854, Eckley Miners’ Village was typical of a “coal patch” town.
The Pennsylvania Historic and Museum Commission maintains the site, which depicts the hardscrabble life of a miner during the days when coal was king.
Guests view a short film, then take a self-guided tour to learn about the daily duties of those who worked in the mines, from the youngest “breaker boys,” who ranged in age from 7 to 12, to the adult coal miners.
Afterward, visitors can drive or take a docent-led walk through the village. Brochures are provided and identify various structures, including the miners’ homes, the social hall, the churches, and the mine owner’s abode.
Around the year 1970, Eckley captured the imagination of Hollywood filmmakers who visited the area to film The Molly Maguires. Vestiges of that visit still remain in the decaying coal crusher that was built onsite.
For a more extensive immersion into the life of a miner, take a dark journey 300-foot underground via mine car into an anthracite coal mine on the Lackawanna Coal Mine tour, located in Scranton’s McDade Park. There, a guide shares the stories and struggles of those who toiled in the dank, dark recesses beneath the earth.
Tour a historic meetinghouse
Located at River Street and Wyoming Avenue in the Old Forty Fort Cemetery in Forty Fort, Pa., just north of Wilkes-Barre, is a historic meetinghouse dating back to 1806. Designed by Joseph Hitchcock, of New Haven, Conn., the Union Church was used by Congregationalists and Methodists.
By 1837, the groups had gone their separate ways, and the structure has rarely been used since.
In 1869, the Forty Fort Cemetery Association acquired the meetinghouse and the adjacent cemetery. Today, visitors can inspect the old structure and stroll the grounds to view graves dating back to the 1700s.
Among the artifacts on display is the original key to the house and a receipt for work done by master carpenter Gideon Underwood dated June 27, 1808.
In 1988, the Forty Fort Meeting House was placed on the National Register of Historic Places and is a prime example of a community treasure that has been lovingly preserved and virtually untouched by time.
These are but a few of the destinations in the greater Wilkes-Barre and Scranton area that are educational for all ages and enable visitors to gain better insight into the lives of everyday people who contributed to the rich culture and growth of our nation.
For more information:
Luzerne Co. Tourism: tournepa.com