Wilkes-Barre (/ˈwɪlksˌbɛər/ or /-bɛəri/) is a city in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the county seat of Luzerne County. It is one of the principal cities in the Scranton–Wilkes-Barre–Hazleton, PA Metropolitan Statistical Area. Located at the center of the Wyoming Valley, it is second in size to the nearby city of Scranton. The Scranton–Wilkes-Barre–Hazleton, PA Metropolitan Statistical Area had a population of 563,631 as of the 2010 Census, making it the fourth-largest metro/statistical area in the state of Pennsylvania. Wilkes-Barre and the surrounding Wyoming 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.
Wilkes-Barre was founded in 1769 and formally incorporated in 1806. The city grew rapidly in the 19th century after the discovery of nearby coal reserves and the arrival of hundreds of thousands of immigrants who provided a labor force for the local mines. The coal mining fueled industrialization in the city, which reached the height of its prosperity in the first half of the 20th century. Its population peaked at more than 86,000. Following World War II, the city's economy declined due to the collapse of industry. The Knox Mine disaster accelerated this trend after large portions of the area's coal mines were flooded and could not be reopened. Today the city has a population of 40,569, making it the largest city in Luzerne County and the 13th-largest city in Pennsylvania.
|City and County seat|
|Nickname(s): The Diamond City, Coal City, Dub City, The W-B|
|Motto(s): Pattern After Us|
Location of Wilkes-Barre in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania.
Wilkes-Barre (the US)
|Named for||John Wilkes, Isaac Barré|
|• Body||Wilkes-Barre City Council|
|• Mayor||Anthony George (D)|
|• City Council||
|• City and County seat||7.31 sq mi (18.93 km2)|
|• Land||6.98 sq mi (18.08 km2)|
|• Water||0.33 sq mi (0.85 km2)|
|Elevation||525 ft (160 m)|
|• City and County seat||41,498|
|• Estimate (2016)||40,569|
|• Density||5,812.18/sq mi (2,244.01/km2)|
|• Metro||562,037 (US: 95th)|
|Time zone||EST (UTC-5)|
|• Summer (DST)||EDT (UTC-4)|
|ZIP Codes||18701–18703, 18705, 18706, 18710, 18711, 18762, 18764–18767, 18769, 18773|
|Area code||570 and 272|
In the early 18th century, the Wyoming Valley was inhabited by the Shawanese and Delaware Indian (Lenape) tribes. By 1769, John Durkee led the first recorded Europeans to the area. They established a frontier settlement named Wilkes-Barre after John Wilkes and Isaac Barré, two British members of Parliament who supported colonial America.
The initial settlers were aligned with colonial 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–Yankee Wars. After the American Revolution, in the 1780s, the conflict was eventually settled. The disputed land was granted to Pennsylvania. The location of modern-day Wilkes-Barre became part of Northumberland County. However, Connecticut settlers, who were still living in the area, wanted to create a new state in northeastern Pennsylvania. Timothy Pickering was sent to the region to politically examine the situation. This led to the Pennsylvania Assembly passing a resolution which created Luzerne County. This ended the idea of creating a new state. Luzerne County was created from part of Northumberland County on September 25, 1786. Wilkes-Barre became the seat of government for the new territory. Under Pickering’s leadership and direction, county elections were held, the courts were established, and a government was formed.
Wilkes-Barre's population exploded due to the discovery of anthracite coal in the 19th century; the economic boom resulted in the city being nicknamed "The Diamond City." Hundreds of thousands of immigrants flocked to the city; they were seeking jobs in the numerous mines and collieries that sprang up. Wilkes-Barre was incorporated as a borough in 1806, and as a city in 1871, as a direct result of the population boom. At its peak, Wilkes-Barre had a population of over 86,000 in the 1930s and 40s.
New industries were established and the Vulcan Iron Works was a well-known manufacturer of railway locomotives from 1849 to 1954. Railroads were being constructed across the state and country. During Wilkes-Barre's reign as an industrial and economic force in America, a number of major companies and franchises became based in the city, such as Woolworth's, Sterling Hotels, Planter's Peanuts, Miner's Bank, Bell Telephone, HBO, Luzerne National Bank, and Stegmaier. In addition, the demolished Old Fell House on Northampton Street is believed to be the first place in the Wyoming Valley where anthracite was burned for heat.
Wilkes-Barre is located within Pennsylvania’s Coal Region. The anthracite coal mining industry, and its extensive use of child labor in the early 20th century, was one of the industries targeted by the National Child Labor Committee and its hired photographer, Lewis Hine. Many of Hine's subjects were photographed in the mines and coal fields near Wilkes-Barre. The impact of the Hine photographs led to the enactment of child labor laws across the country.
The coal industry continued despite several disasters, including an explosion at Wilkes-Barre's Baltimore Colliery in 1919, which killed 92 miners. The industry declined when the United States switched to other energy sources, and most coal operations had left Wilkes-Barre by the end of World War II. The 1959 Knox Mine Disaster, resulting in the flooding of numerous mines, marked the end of large-scale coal mining in the area. Industrial restructuring also caused the city to lose jobs and begin a decades-long decline.
In 1926, Planters Peanuts Company was founded in Wilkes-Barre by two Italian immigrants. The company maintained its headquarters in the city until 1961. In 1929, baseball player Babe Ruth hit one of the longest home runs in history at Artillery Park in Wilkes-Barre.
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 (12 m), four feet above the city's levees, flooding downtown with nine feet of water. A total of 128 deaths were attributed to the storm, the majority of drowning deaths were caused by people trapped in their cars; almost 400,000 homes and businesses were destroyed; 220,000 Pennsylvanians were left homeless (as were hundreds of thousands in other states). Damage was estimated to be $2.1 billion in Pennsylvania alone. President Richard Nixon sent aid to the area, after flying over in his helicopter on his way to his Camp David retreat (on June 24, 1972).
Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Wilkes-Barre attempted to prevent the damage from storms as intense as Agnes by building a levee system that rises 41 feet (12 m); completed in January 2003, the network of levees cost roughly $250 million. It has successfully resisted less threatening floods in 1996, 2004, and 2006. The Army Corps of Engineers has praised the quality of the levees. 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 1972, though the flooding fell short of predictions.
In late August 2011, Hurricane Irene off the New Jersey coast caused the Susquehanna River to rise to flood level, but there was no cause for alarm. Then, from September 6 to 8, heavy rains from the inland remnants of Tropical Storm Lee and Hurricane Katia offshore funneled heavy rain over the Wyoming Valley and into the Susquehanna River watershed. The Susquehanna swelled to record levels across the state. In Wilkes-Barre, it crested on September 9 at an all-time record of 42.66 feet (13 m), nearly 2 feet (0.6 m) higher than water levels reached during 1972's Hurricane Agnes. The levees protected Wilkes-Barre, but nearby boroughs were not as lucky. West Pittston, Plymouth, and parts of Plains Township were affected by extreme flooding.
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. Renovation of the landmark Hotel Sterling was being pursued by CityVest, a nonprofit developer. The expansion of Wilkes University and King's College took place. Also, the canopy and matching street lights in Public Square and across downtown were removed; the replacements were new green lampposts.
The City of Wilkes-Barre celebrated its 200th anniversary in 2006. Several events, including a Beach Boys concert, were planned but canceled due to extremely heavy rains. Most of the city's population was ordered to evacuate on June 28, 2006. The Bicentennial celebration was postponed to Labor Day weekend, September 3, 2006, and was attended by Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell and the Beach Boys.
The Riverfront revitalization project (River Common), broke ground in 2007 and was completed in early 2010. It has made the riverfront accessible to the public. The area also has a new amphitheater for live performances and improved access through ramps and sidewalks. Fountains and color-changing lights have been added underneath two bridges which carry pedestrian traffic across the normally-open levee breachings. The project stretches approximately four blocks from the Luzerne County Courthouse to the intersection of S. River Street and W. South Street. The River Common has since hosted concerts and charity events. Users have complained of insufficient parking close to the river.
Since completion of the River Common, additional improvements to city infrastructure have been progressing. New crosswalks have been installed downtown, including signage emphasizing that pedestrians have the right-of-way. The completion of the James F. Conahan Intermodal Transportation Facility has added parking and relocated Luzerne County buses from their former Public Square staging sites. This has reduced traffic congestion around the square. Private carrier Martz offers coach bus service from the terminal as well.
The widening and realignment of Coal Street, a major road connecting Wilkes-Barre City with Wilkes-Barre Township, was completed in 2012. The new Coal Street provides four lanes over the original two lanes, making travel between the highly commercial Wilkes-Barre Township and the city much easier. The 2012 realignment also provides travelers with views of the city center when traveling west into Wilkes-Barre City.
According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 7.2 square miles (19 km2), of which 6.8 square miles (18 km2) is land and 0.3 square miles (0.78 km2), or 4.60%, is water. The city is bordered by the Susquehanna River to the west. Most of Downtown is located on a wide floodplain. Floodwalls were constructed to protect a large percentage of the city. The elevation of the downtown area is about 550 feet (170 m) above sea level. As you travel inland, away from the river, the elevation rises. Wilkes-Barre Mountain is a physical barrier southeast of the city.
Wilkes-Barre houses over one dozen neighborhoods:
Wilkes-Barre has a humid continental climate (Köppen climate classification Dfa/Dfb) with four distinct seasons. Winters are cold with a January average of 25.8 °F (−3.4 °C). The surrounding mountains have an influence on the climate (including both precipitation and temperatures), leading to wide variations within a short distance. On average, temperatures below 0 °F (−17.8 °C) are infrequent, occurring 3 days per year, and there are 36 days where the maximum temperature remains below 32 °F (0.0 °C). The average annual snowfall is 46.2 inches (117 cm) during the winter (in which severe snowstorms are rare). However, when snowstorms do occur, they can disrupt normal routines for several days.
Summers are warm with a July average of 71.4 °F (21.9 °C). In an average summer, temperatures exceeding 90 °F (32.2 °C) occur on 9 days and can occasionally exceed 100 °F (37.8 °C). Spring and fall are unpredictable with temperatures ranging from cold to warm (although they are usually mild). On average, Wilkes-Barre receives 38.2 inches (970 mm) of precipitation each year, which is relatively evenly distributed throughout the year (though the summer months receive more precipitation). Extreme temperatures range from −21 °F (−29.4 °C) on January 21, 1994, to 103 °F (39.4 °C) on July 9, 1936. Wilkes-Barre averages 2,303 hours of sunshine per year, ranging from a low of 96 hours in December (or 33% of possible sunshine) to 286 hours in July (or 62% of possible sunshine).
|Climate data for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Int'l Airport, Pennsylvania (1981–2010 normals,[a] extremes 1901–present[b])|
|Record high °F (°C)||69
|Mean maximum °F (°C)||55.4
|Average high °F (°C)||33.2
|Average low °F (°C)||18.5
|Mean minimum °F (°C)||−0.8
|Record low °F (°C)||−21
|Average precipitation inches (mm)||2.37
|Average snowfall inches (cm)||14.2
|Average precipitation days (≥ 0.01 in)||12.0||11.0||11.8||12.3||13.2||12.8||11.2||11.3||10.2||10.7||11.2||11.5||139.2|
|Average snowy days (≥ 0.1 in)||9.3||7.7||5.0||1.7||0||0||0||0||0||0.1||2.1||7.1||33.0|
|Average relative humidity (%)||70.1||67.5||63.3||60.4||64.6||70.5||71.1||73.8||75.2||71.6||71.8||72.5||69.4|
|Mean monthly sunshine hours||130.3||143.7||185.7||210.5||246.9||269.7||285.7||257.2||200.2||173.3||104.3||95.9||2,303.4|
|Percent possible sunshine||44||48||50||53||55||60||62||60||54||50||35||33||52|
|Source: NOAA (relative humidity 1964–1990, sun 1961–1990)|
|U.S. Decennial Census|
The city's population has been in constant decline since the 1930s. As of the 2010 census, the city was 79.2% White, 10.9% Black or African American, 0.3% Native American, 1.4% Asian, and 2.9% were two or more races. Of the population, 11.3% were of Hispanic or Latino ancestry. The Hispanic population was just 1.58% of the population as of the 2000 census.
As of the 2000 census, 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 per square mile (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 or Latino 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.
As of recent estimates, the largest ethnic groups in Wilkes-Barre are:
Family Median Income in Wilkes-Barre is $44,430, compared to the national average of $64,585. Unemployment in June 2014 was 7%. 49% of jobs were in sales, office, administrative support, production, transportation, and material moving sectors. In 2009, 31.9% of residents lived below the poverty line, nearly double the Pennsylvania average of 16.4%. Large employers in the city include GUARD Insurance Group and Lord & Taylor.
Along with the libraries associated with the colleges, Wilkes-Barre has several libraries. These include three branches of the Osterhout Free Library, with the headquarters for the Luzerne County Library System in the main branch.
|Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders||IL, Baseball||PNC Field||1989||New York Yankees||2|
|Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins||AHL, Ice hockey||Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza||1999||Pittsburgh Penguins||0|
Wilkes-Barre has a Downtown Riverfront Park system that contains 91 acres of open space.
Kirby Park is a public park located along the western bank of the Susquehanna River. Kirby Park is one of the region's most valued recreational resources. Given to the City of Wilkes-Barre by the Kirby Family, the park welcomes hundreds of thousands each year. The park is the setting for the City of Wilkes-Barre's annual Cherry Blossom Festival (held during the last weekend of April) and the city's 4th of July Celebration. Its amenities include tennis courts, a fitness trail, pond, walking paths, running track, softball fields, parking area, volleyball courts, pavilions and more.
Nesbitt Park is also located on the west side of the Susquehanna River. It is located across from Kirby Park. Nesbitt is open to the public. It has walking paths and areas for picnicking.
The River Common is located along the eastern bank of the Susquehanna River. The Market Street Bridge bisects the park. The River Common joins with the Luzerne County Courthouse grounds. Its features include a 750-person amphitheater, paved walk-ways, gardens, ornamental trees, seating areas, a fishing pier, and two grand gateways connecting the city to the river.
The city is headed by an elected mayor, who serves four-year terms. The current mayor is Anthony George (Democrat). He has been in office since 2016. Before becoming mayor, George served as the Wilkes-Barre Chief of Police.
The legislative branch consists of a five-member City Council. They are elected by a single-member district to four-year terms. The following are current members of the council: Bill Barrett, Mike Belusko, Tony Brooks, Beth Gilbert, and Michael Merritt.
The office of Audit and Control is the third branch of Wilkes-Barre City government. It is headed by the City Controller, elected to a four-year term. Darren G. Snyder, the current City Controller, is a Democrat and has been in office since 2016. The City Controller has the following powers and duties:
The City of Wilkes-Barre is served by two City Attorneys (Timothy Henry and Maureen Collins). They advise both the Mayor and City Council.
The Luzerne County government operates out of Wilkes-Barre. The city is the administrative center of Luzerne County. The county government is responsible for imposing taxes, providing services to the public, and administering laws and regulations. They govern over a population of nearly 320,000 people. Many government offices are situated within the county courthouse (located at 200 North River Street in Downtown Wilkes-Barre). The Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas also operates out of the same building.
On November 2, 2010, the voters of Luzerne County held a referendum on the question of home rule. A total of 51,413 (55.25%) voted in favor of home rule, while another 41,639 (44.75%) voted against the move. This vote was the direct result of the corruption, wasteful spending, higher property taxes, and out-of-control debt facing the county. The home rule charter took effect on January 2, 2012; the Luzerne County Board of Commissioners was abolished and replaced with the new form of government (council–manager government). This government consists of a county council. The council chair, who is appointed by his or her fellow council members, is both the highest-ranking officer on the assembly and the head of county government for ceremonial purposes. The council also appoints and works alongside a full-time manager (who supervises the county’s day-to-day operations).
Wilkes-Barre City is part of the Wilkes-Barre Area School District. The city has four high schools:
The area in and around Wilkes-Barre consists of several colleges/universities:
Times Leader and The Citizens' Voice are the two largest daily newspapers in Wilkes-Barre. The Wyoming Valley's NBC affiliate, WBRE-TV 28, is the only television station licensed to Wilkes-Barre, but WNEP-TV 16 (ABC), WYOU 22 (CBS), WVIA-TV 44 (PBS), and WSWB 38 (CW), all in Scranton, WOLF-TV 56 (Fox) in Hazleton, and WQMY 53 (MyNetworkTV) in Williamsport also serve the city. Wilkes-Barre's radio market is ranked No. 69 by Arbitron's ranking system. There are news, adult alternative, and music radio stations which are receivable in the area.
Five international airlines fly from the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport in nearby Pittston Township. Smaller, private planes may also use the Wilkes-Barre Wyoming Valley Airport in Forty Fort.
Interstate 81 passes north–south near Wilkes-Barre, and the city is also located near the Northeast Extension of the Pennsylvania Turnpike. It is also about 10 miles (16 km) north of Interstate 80. Pennsylvania Route 309 also passes near Wilkes-Barre.
Public transportation is provided by the Luzerne County Transportation Authority. In addition to servicing the city, it provides transportation for the northern half of the county. It also has a connecting bus to Scranton via an interchange at Pittston with the Transit System of Lackawanna County (COLTS), the public transit authority of Lackawanna County. Martz Trailways provides intercity bus service from the Martz Trailways Bus Terminal in downtown Wilkes-Barre to Scranton, New York City, Philadelphia, Atlantic City, and Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem.
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 (it ceased operations in the mid-1940s). Today, the Canadian Pacific Railway (successor to the Delaware and Hudson) and the Luzerne and Susquehanna Railroad (designated-operator of a county-owned shortline) provide freight service within the city.