Scranton celebrates now, remembers the past
The city of Scranton is kicking off the celebration for its 150th birthday this year.
Scranton Tomorrow, an organization committed to economic, cultural and collective improvement of the Greater Scranton area, began the yearlong celebration on Saturday.
Saturday’s events began with a ceremony at city hall at 9:30 a.m., which featured speakers such as Senator John Blake, Mayor William Courtright, Scranton City Council President Robert McGoff and Andrea Mulrine.
After the speakers there was a parade which featured music from the Scranton High School Marching Band. The parade also featured The Pennsylvania State Equestrian Unit, Greater Scranton Black Diamonds Pipe Band as well as past mayors of Scranton.
The parade led to the Mall at Steamtown where performers continued throughout the day. Some of these events included ballet performances, Irish and Scottish traditional dances, choir groups and singing acts. The day of celebration concluded with a fireworks show.
This event is only the beginning for the sesquicentennial celebrations. Andrea Mulrine, President of Scranton Tomorrow, said there are many more events to come this year.
“This is only the beginning. We have a lot of things in the works,” Mulrine said.
Mulrine described a variety of diverse events taking place all over Scranton.
“Lots of events are being planned that we can’t even announce yet. There is more to come,” Mulrine said.
Some of the announced events include the Historic House Tour in the Hill in June, Bonfire at the Furnaces in October and winter in the City in January and February 2016.
These events aim to celebrate the city of Scranton’s unique history. Sarah Piccini, the associate president of the Lackawanna Historical Society, said that the origins of the city go back to the 1700’s.
“Scranton was initially established as a small community of settlers on land given to them after the Revolutionary War. It was called Slocum Hollow at that time,” Piccini said.
It was in 1866 that the city became known as Scranton. The area was renamed because of the presence of the powerful Scranton family, which had boosted the economy through the iron smelting and steel industries.
“The Scranton’s secured a contract to produce T-rails for the Erie Railroad. They got quite good at it as well,” Piccini said.
The Scrantons then founded the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad to transport their iron and coal products.
“The railroad was a big part of the economy in the region,” Piccini said.
Piccini said another huge factor in shaping the city was anthracite coal mining.
“The mines provided jobs to many people. The mines would employ anywhere between young boys to grown men,” Piccini said.
The youngest members of the coal mines labor forces were put to work just like the grown men.
“The boys often worked as nipper and spraggers in the mines. The nippers were expected to walk alongside the mule driven mine carts and open the doors in front of them. The spraggers were those carts brakes. They had wooden poles that they would put between the spokes of the carts to stop them,” Piccini said.
The grown men in the mines were in much more hazardous positions. They were exposed to massive amounts of coal dust and toxic fumes.
“If a man died in the mines, the company would drop a body bag on their widows’ doorstep. If the widow lived in company-owned housing, she would be expected to vacate the premise within 30 days. It was a pretty cruel system,” Piccini said.
Piccini also said the miners worked long hours in their dangerous positions.
“Workers in the mines often never saw the sun, went in before sunrise and came out after sundown,” Piccini said.
Piccini said that the city of Scranton was the first in the nation to have a commercially successful electric trolley operation.
“The electric trolleys were the first in the nation. They were the first to feature fully electric lights as well,” Piccini said.
This is where Scranton’s famous nickname, “The Electric City” comes from.
Piccini said that residents of the city were in awe of this new technological marvel.
“One news reporter wrote an article with the headline, ‘To a Degree Dazzling to the Eye,’ about the trolley. It was the fully electric lights that really dazzled them,” Piccini said.
The events planned by Scranton Tomorrow are all taking place in areas that were created during the city’s industrial days, such as a Wreath Laying in honor of coal miners/Laborers Strike of 1877 in May or the 53rd Annual Mayors’ Prayer Breakfast at the Radisson Lackawanna Station Hotel.
With all of the events going on this year in celebration of Scranton’s 150th anniversary, it is easy to lose track of them all.
Mulrine said that Scranton Tommorow will be keeping people updated on events and planned activities on social media.
“People can find us on Facebook. We will have an updated calendar of all the activities for anyone who is interested,” Mulrine said.