Showing posts with label Scranton. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Scranton. Show all posts

Thursday, September 17, 2020

A Weekend Trip to Electric City

The Lackawanna County Courthouse in Scranton was built in 1884.

Scrantonians have a saying: "All roads lead to Scranton." I'm not sure how true that is, but I can attest that several of my relatives called Scranton their hometown. I visited the area about three years ago seeking to set eyes on the grave of my great-grandparents on my father's side. At the time, I made the mistake of looking in the wrong town for the cemetery. Later, my dear husband did a little more investigating so we returned and this time ready to look in the right place. I'm happy to say that we found them in a little Ukrainian Orthodox resting place located near the Scranton/Taylor line.

A photo of me and great grandpop back in the day.

You can read about my great-grandfather and my first trip to the Scranton area here. 

What we also missed on that last visit was the beautiful, repurposed Lackawanna Train Station, several wineries, a meadery, an "Office" tour, some great Mofongo and the many interesting little creatures that can be seen at the Scranton Aquarium.

A Train Station Turned Hotel

Scranton started out with an agriculturally based economy, but transitioned to a mining economy in the late 1840's with the construction of the city's iron mills.This led to the manufacture of iron rails, which formerly had been imported from England. The 1850's and 1860's saw the emergence of railroad lines, including those that would form the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad, all of which contributed to Scranton's economic strength. The railroad service paved the way for coal mining and Scranton, having one of the largest stores of anthracite coal in the world, benefited from the ability to distribute the region's coal and iron products throughout the United States. As the railroad prospered, so did Scranton and the city's wood-frame train station was replaced with a Victorian-style brick station in 1864.

In 1899, the new President of the D.L.W. launched plans to remodel the entire rail line and soon plans were in the works for a new passenger station and railroad headquarters in Scranton. The new building would replace the existing brick station and a competition was held to select an architect. Kenneth Murchison's reputation preceded him and he was chosen for the job. The New York City architect was already known for train station design, having drawn up plans for terminals at Buffalo, Baltimore and Hoboken. Ground was broken in 1906 and the end result made headlines as one of the most beautiful stations in the nation. Built in the French Renaissance style, with six columns facing the front, it was an imposing structure.

The train station during the day.

The train station, which now serves the public as a Radisson Hotel, is lit up at night.

The interior was no less impressive. The two-and-a-half-stories high waiting room was capped by a barrel-vaulted ceiling of leaded glass, its walls crafted of Sienna marble and its floors of terrazzo tiles.

The station was officially dedicated on November 11, 1908, when a trainload of  D.L.&W. officials, headed by D.L.W. President William Truesdale, arrived in Scranton from New York. Following the ceremony, an open house was held to allow local citizens a glimpse of the new facility.

The ticket counter located to the right of the entrance.

The leaded glass ceiling.

Beautiful woodwork in an area which leads to the elevators.

The hotel bar.

In the early 1980's, plans were afoot by city leaders to redevelop the train station and in 1982, the building was purchased by MetroAction, a Scranton Chamber of Commerce Corporation focused on downtown development. With a combination of private, public and business funding,  a $13 million renovation was underway and in 1983 the business opened on New Years Eve as a Hilton, with musical entertainment provided by the Guy Lombardo Orchestra. A decade later, the building was purchased by DanMar Hotel Inc and now operates as a Radisson.

Learn more about the History of Railroading at Steamtown

Within walking distance from the Radisson, is a destination for those who are interested in learning more about the history and technology of steam railroading, Steamtown, located in downtown Scranton, is run by the National Park Service (NPS). The 65-acre site operates at the former Scranton yards of the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad (DL&W). NPS developed Steamtown by using existing portions of the Roundhouse (dating from 1902, 1917 and 1937), as part of the museum complex, adding to it a visitor center, a theater and a technology and history museum. 

A highlight of any trip to Steamtown is a ride on the vintage train.

(Photos courtesy of the National Park Service.)

The 250-seat Surround Sound theater at Steamtown offers visitors a glimpse into the life of a railroader with its 18-minute film called “Steel and Steam.” The History Museum provides guests with a railroading timeline from the early days of rail through the 1980s. 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 and learning railroad jargon.

A highlight of the visit for many is the 30-minute ride on a vintage train.

To learn more about hours, prices and upcoming events, visit Steamtown’s website at

Lift a Glass to the Wineries

The tasting room at Lucchi Family Wine Cellars.

Scranton is home to several wineries and a meadery. Locate on Main Street is the Lucchi Family Wine Cellars located at 134 W. Main Avenue. Robert Lucchi is the son of the late Mario Lucchi and Catherine Ravioli Lucchi. His parents immigrated from Bologna, Italy to settle in Scranton in the early 1900’s where Robert learned by helping his father at a very young age. Today, Robert and his son Mark work together to bring their award-winning wine to the public.

Further down the road a bit, in Dunmore, is Space Time Mead and Cider Works. President and winemaker Dan Schreffler has won several awards, including some won at the Mazer Cup International, which Schreffler calls the "Olympics of Mead."

The tasting room at Space Time Mead and Cider Works.

Mead, one of the oldest alcoholic beverages known to man, is experiencing a resurgence in popularity and Schreffler is always happy to help customers choose one that they will enjoy.

Snakes, Sharks and Psychedelic Frogs, Oh My!

Scranton is also home to a small mall called "The MarketPlace at Steamtown," where you'll find a Boscovs, Shoe Dept., Starbucks, Auntie Anne's and other chain stores, but it's not often one finds an aquarium in a mall. 
This groovy looking little guy is poisonous. As they say, "Beware of the pretty ones.

This Vietnamese Mossy Frog is bound to scare the unsuspecting.

The Electric City Aquarium & Reptile Den spans 20,000 square feet and is home to a litany of sea creatures and reptiles that captivate both young and old. During our visit, we saw frogs, more fish than I can enumerate, lizards, snakes, stingrays, and much more. Everywhere we turned there seem to be an exhibit that elicited oohs and aahs from the crowd. Below is a little taste of what to expect.

Regular hours are Monday through Sunday 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., excluding major holidays. Visit the website for feeding times and ticket purchases.

A Self-Guided Office Tour

Fans of the sitcom "The Office" may enjoy the self-guided walking tour that is available here at the website.  Fair warning, however. "The Office" was mostly filmed in Los Angeles. I don't want folks to visit there thinking that they'll see quite a few sites relative to the sitcom. That happened to me in Punxutawny, Pennsylvania when I visited thinking I'd see the stomping grounds of Bill Murray in Groundhog Day. I learned afterwards that Groundhog Day was mostly filmed in a town in Indiana.  However, Bill Murray is the only cast member of the film to ever visit "Punxy" after production. Back to Scranton! There are a few places in Scranton that Office fans will recognize, like watering holes and restaurants favored by the Dunder Mifflin staff like Poor Richards Pub and Alfredo's pizza cafe.

If you saw Dwight and Michael rap about Scranton being the "Electric City" and wondered what that was all about, you might be interested to learn that electric lights were introduced to the public in 1880 at Dickson Locomotive Works, which paved the way for electric streetcars. If you visit Scranton, you''ll see the gorgeous Electric City neon sign downtown and if you venture out at night, you can't miss it.

Good Eats!

Anyone who knows me well is aware of my affinity for mofongo. The Dominican Republic dish made with fried plantains and cracklings is a delicious carb bomb that I happen to love. In my area, it's hard to come across, so I didn't expect to be able to indulge in Scranton. Boy, was I surprised. Located at 1001 S. Main Avenue is Wanda's Mofongo House. I'm glad I was paying attention earlier in the day or I would have missed it. If you've never tasted mofongo, this would be a great place to order it. I thoroughly enjoyed my meal there.

Mofongo with chicharron de pollo 

If mofongo isn't your thing, you can also order items like quesadillas, pork chops, roasted chicken, steaks and seafood. Wanda's is open seven days a week for both lunch and dinner.

Another place we visited while in the area was a little off the beaten path, but we loved the outside atmosphere and the food, even though we had to park about half a mile away. 

That place, located in Simpson, Pennsylvania, is about a half-hour drive from Scranton and when we drove up to it, we were shocked, thinking perhaps a carnival was in town. Cars lined each side of the narrow street for blocks. We soon discovered that they were all there as customers of Frank's Place.  I guess they were on to something. It turns out that the old-school Italian eatery has been around and in the same family since 1968 and serves delicious, simple food for a reasonable price.
Our delicious entrees at Frank's Place in Simpson, Pa. 

Cheese-stuffed pasta.

Outside seating at Frank's Place. 

We enjoyed our trip to Scranton and found plenty to do during our all-too-short stay there and I might also mention that most places were open and operating as usual, despite Covid. My husband and I were especially glad to support the mom-and-pop operations that have taken the brunt of this pandemic. We just hope that more people will continue to do so as we transition to the winter months.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Learning about the Life of My Coal-Mining Great-Grandfather on a Visit to Scranton, Pa

I remember little about my great-grandfather Ignatz Kalina. I have but one picture of him--a fading black-and-white photo of the two of us, sitting together on a couch, in what, I assume, is his living room in Taylor, Pennsylvania. A word to the young: Question your relatives and embrace curiosity because one day you may cherish that information and it may not be at your fingertips.

A few years ago I took the time to do some research on the internet about  "Pop" Kalina and found a miner's certificate from Moffat Coal. To this day I can't seem to locate it, so any recommendations on how to find it would be greatly appreciated.

Through the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC), I did find his name on a list of mining accidents. While working as a trackman's helper in his '40s, he was struck in the jaw when a bar slipped. Evidently, he advanced in his profession to become a full-fledged miner, certified to work with explosives only later in life.  "Pop" Kalina, who arrived in this country with his bride Paulina, (yes, I got a laugh out of the fact that her first and last name rhyme, in the "Americanized" pronunciation), lived to be 86 years old. The man who toiled in the damp, dark, recesses of the earth for many years, was, by accounts, hale and hearty (as they would say in the old days), and managed to escape the perils of black lung--a condition that struck down so many of those who worked in his profession.
coal miner
Me and "Pop" Back in the Day

When an editor asked me to visit the Scranton region for an upcoming article, I decided to take advantage of the opportunity to learn more about Ignatz and what it was like to live the life of a coal miner. 

The first stop on my path to discovery was Eckley Miners' Village. This fine example of a typical coal "patch town" tells a story of how the miners lived when coal was king. Located a bit off the beaten path in Weatherly, Pennsylvania, the "ghost town" is now maintained by the PHMC as a historical site dedicated to educating the public about coal-mining life. 

There my husband and I viewed a short film as told through the eyes of a coal miner. Afterward, we strolled around the small museum, which gave us insight into each job performed by those who worked in the mines, from the nippers to the breaker boys and the miners themselves.
breaker boy

Young boys were forced to grow up early in the mining community. There were no "pajama boys," whining about their plight way back when. These pictures of haunted faces are telling and should shame those who have it so much better.

Those who thought mining paid well for the era might be interested to know that many were forced to shop at the "company store" for goods sold at elevated prices. Suddenly the old Tennessee Ernie Ford song seemed to make sense. 

The exhibits portrayed the day-to-day existence of the miner and his family, describing seasonal duties and painting a portrait of a hardscrabble life. Being married to a miner couldn't have been easy, with common stories like the one associated with the picture below. At least the wives were encouraged to think "good thoughts" when they cobbled together a family dinner. (Note the stove brand.)
corpse carrier
"Good thoughts" stove
Outside, visitors can stroll the Eckley area with a docent, or drive through the village. The planned community was arranged by social status from east to west. Miners and their families lived on the east side in double homes and engineers lived farther west in single-family homes. The mine owner resided farthest west at the opposite end of town. 
coal mining village
Molly McGuires prop
Pic. 1: Main Street in Eckley
Pic. 2: Presbyterian Church circa 1854
Pic. 3: Double Home in which coal miners raised their families
Pic. 4: A 1968 re-creation of a Breaker which stood near the site of one of the three original breakers. 

In 1970, Hollywood came calling and a cast and crew arrived in Weatherly to film "The Molly Maguires," a gritty movie based on a true story about Irish coal miners and corporate exploitation.The visit to Eckley was insightful and I was ready to learn more at the Lackawanna County Coal mine where my great-grandfather used to work as an employee of Moffat Coal. I can't help but admit it was a bit of a thrill to walk the same path he walked oh so many years ago. Tours are offered between April 1 and November 1 and are conducted frequently throughout the day.

After we parked in the ample lot, we walked a few minutes to the main center where staff provided us with tickets, a hair net and a hard hat. We were then invited to watch a short film about coal mining and browse the small gift shop while waiting the call for the tour to start.

When it was our turn, we joined about 25 others and piled into a bright yellow car to make our descent into the mine. I have to say I had a few butterflies plunging slowly down that deep hill into darkness, but hey, I'm supposedly built of good stock, so I stuffed that down and sucked it up. When we arrived at the bottom and were permitted to exit the car, I breathed a sigh of relief.

Our descent into the mine
Our guide led us through the mine, describing various duties performed by the workers. We learned that in 1902, the certified rates paid for laborers were 18 cents an hour and breaker boys earned 13 cents--the same as mule drivers. Engineers made $78 a month and nippers were paid the least at 11 cents an hour, likely due to their young age.

We also learned that mine workers had to always be on guard, especially for electrocution hazards. Our guide relayed a story about a mule whose ear touched a wire and he was struck dead on the spot, landing on the damp ground with a sickening thud. Perhaps this is why earwear like this was eventually employed. This picture of a mule hate was taken at the Anthracite Heritage Museum. 

A mule hat to protect the mules from being accidentally electrocuted
As we made our way through the mine, we peered into the bosses office carved from earth  and looking rather, shall we say, rustic? I still imagine "Pop" Kalina peering in and waving a friendly hello here and there.
A miner and his mule
At the end of the tour, we were all given a "mining certificate," earned by doing little but observing how those who were ready, willing and able to contribute to the fabric and success of America by assimilation, grit, hard work and determination. I left feeling thankful and a deep debt of gratitude to those who came before--for their intestinal fortitude, pride and their work ethic and am very proud to count my great-grandfather among that group of fine men.