History of Wilkes-Barre

Wilkes-Barre was settled in 1769 and reached the height of its prosperity in the 19th century when coal reserves were discovered nearby. This discovery led to the city being nicknamed “The Diamond City”. With the arrival of hundreds of thousands of immigrants, the city’s economy flourished due to new resources and an expanding workforce. The Wyoming Valley held the largest anthracite coal field in the United States at the time. During Wilkes-Barre’s reign as an industrial and economic force, a number of franchises planted their roots in the city, such as Bell Telephone, HBO, and Stegmaier.

For more on Wilkes-Barre's history, please visit:
 Wilkes-Barré Preservation Society and Luzerne County Historical Society

Wilkes-Barre Historical Timeline

Local contributions to chapters in American History

Complied by Councilman Tony Brooks

For thousands of years various Native American tribes would live in Wilkes-Barre and the Wyoming Valley leaving behind evidence of their existence. On the dawn of contact with European settlers, tribal names such as Nanticoke, Shawanese, and Delaware would be invited to live here by the great Iroquois Confederacy to the north. The Iroquois would “sell” lands to both the Colony of Connecticut and the Province of Pennsylvania in and around present-day Wilkes-Barre. 

Wilkes-Barre was named by Captain John Durkee of the Susquehannah (Land) Company of Connecticut in honor of two British members of Parliament, John Wilkes and Issacs Barré, who support the American cause during the Revolution.

For nearly three centuries Wilkes-Barre would contribute to several chapters in American history including constitutional history, industrialization, labor history, ethnic history, deindustrialization and revitalization.

1662Charles II grants the Colony of Connecticut lands westward to the frontier between the 41st and 42nd parallels                                                                  
1681Charles II grants the Province of Pennsylvania to William Penn and his heirs                                                                                                                                                                    
1700sWyoming Valley is occupied by Nanticokes, Shawaneses, and Delaware Indians                                                                                        
1742Count Zinzendorf visits Wyoming Valley
1750Stories of a western paradise come to Connecticut                                                                                                                                    
1753Sesquehannah Company of Connecticut organized for purposes of settling the Wyoming lands
1754Governor of Pennsylvania complains to the Governor of Connecticut
1754Indian Council met at Albany - Sesquehannah Company purchases Wyoming from the Iroquois
1762After the French and Indian War – 200 men clear land and settle near Mill Creek in North Wilkes-Barre and return to Connecticut
1763Connecticut people return for the summer and harvest but are attacked by Indians October 15, 1763
1768Pennsylvania purchases Wyoming lands from the Iroquois
1768Manor of Stokes (east side) Manor of Sunbury (west side) surveyed for Governor Thomas Penn
1768Obadiah Gore, first to use anthracite in a forge   
1769Settlement of the Town Plots and Township of Wilkes-Barre, Kingston, Hanover, Pittston, and Plymouth by Captain John Durkee – 40 in February – 200 in the spring
1769Fort Durkee is built by Connecticut people
1771Fort Wyoming is built by Pennsylvania people
1772Establishment of Northumberland County by Pennsylvania (carved out of Northampton County)
1776Establishment of Westmoreland County by Connecticut
1778Battle and Massacre of Wyoming and the burning of Wilkes-Barre
1778Frances Slocum abducted by Indians – found in 1837 – 59 years later
1779General Sullivan expedition against the Iroquois staged from River Common - 3,500 men, 1,200 horses and 214 boats follow the Susquehanna up to New York
1782Decree of Trenton declares that Wilkes-Barre the Wyoming region is under the political jurisdiction of Pennsylvania and not Connecticut 
1786Establishment of Luzerne County by Pennsylvania – Timothy Pickering moves to Wilkes-Barre
1793Matthias Hollenback buys 1,200 acres for Robert Morris and Louis XVI – land in now Bradford County
1793Lord Butler builds a house including parts of his father Zebulon Butler’s 1773 log cabin – the house still exists 
1795Matthias Hollenback, Lord Butler, Arnold Colt entertain the Duke of Orleans, the future French King, Louis Philippe 
1796George Catlin, the great American painter, author, and traveler, who specialized in portraits of Native Americans is born in house just off Public Square
1806Wilkes-Barre incorporated; Jesse Fell elected Burgess (Mayor) – Lord Butler elected president of town council
1808Jesse Fell of Wilkes-Barre successfully burns anthracite in an open grate as a home heating fuel
1807Abijah Smith of Plymouth sends first shipment of anthracite down the Susquehanna River
1807First church in Northeastern Pennsylvania, the Forty Fort Meeting House is built
1812First church in Wilkes-Barre, the Wilkes-Barre Meeting House on Public Square opens
1815Construction of the Easton/Wilkes-Barre Turnpike – present day State Route 115
1816Construction of the first Market Street Bridge begins – opens in 1819
1834First canal boat links Pittston to Wilkes-Barre
1842First Roman Catholic Church, St. Mary’s, is built
1843First passenger railroad reaches Wilkes-Barre 
1844Wyoming Seminary, one of the nations first co-ed school opens
1845First Jewish synagogue in Wilkes-Barre, B’nai B’rith, opens
1845George Catlin of Wilkes-Barre becomes first American artist to exhibit at the Louvre in Paris by royal invitation of King Louis Philippe
1864First Welsh Church is built in the Heights section of Wilkes-Barre
1874Emily Post, the famous etiquette writer, spends a few years in Wilkes-Barre as her architect father, Bruce Price, designs several mansions and the Methodist Church downtown.  Her parents are buried in Hollenback Cemetery
1878Henry M. Hoyt of Kingston elected Governor of Pennsylvania
1881Last canal boat passed through Wilkes-Barre
1888First electric street car line opens, Wilkes-Barre to Plains
1892Greek Catholic Union is founded by Carpatho-Rusyins or Byzantines
1901Lyman Howe of Wilkes-Barre films newsreels and travelogues making his film an industry first
1902Great Anthracite Coal Strike
1905Father Joseph Murgas conducts successful wireless test
1906Mary Trescott of Wilkes-Barre becomes second female attorney admitted to practice before the U.S. Supreme Court
1908Planters Nut and Chocolate Co. founded in Wilkes-Barre
1916Penn State opens Wilkes-Barre campus
1924Misericordia University founded
1926Babe Ruth hits longest homerun at Wilkes-Barre’s Artillery Park
1928Ham Fisher launches comic strip “Joe Palooka”
1933Wilkes University founded as Bucknell Junior College
1934Penn State opens Hazleton campus
1938Arthur H. James of Plymouth elected Governor of Pennsylvania
1941Wilkes-Barre’s Herman Mankiewicz wins Oscar for Citizen Kane
1946King’s College founded
1950John S. Fine of Nanticoke elected Governor of Pennsylvania
1953WBRE become first television station
1964Artist C. Edgar Patience presents Lady Bird Johnson with sculpted coal clock and bookends, later displayed at the White House
1964Luzerne County School Districts Consolidation plan begins - dropping from 60 to 10 districts
1967Luzerne County Community College founded
1972Hurricane Agnes floods Wilkes-Barre and the Wyoming Valley and becomes the costliest natural disaster in the United States at that time
1991Hazleton’s Jack Palance wins Oscar for City Slickers
1999Grand opening of The Arena, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins of the American Hockey League made their debut  
2009Restored River Common opens