Title: History lesson
Author: Elizabeth Skrapits
Publisher: Citizens Voice
A new local history book goes from bloody battles to brand-new breakers and everything in between.
Harrison Wick's latest book, "Luzerne County," coming out in January, is a pictorial history of the county from its 18th century founding to the present.
"The cover is the Wyoming Monument. I wanted to find something that (symbolized) one of the most significant events in the Valley," Wick said, referring to the Battle of Wyoming.
Wick is the author of two other local history books, "Pennsylvania's Back Mountain" and "Greater Wyoming Valley Trolleys," also through Arcadia Publishing. With the latest, he gets to expand to highlights of the entire area.
"This book is just a glimpse into the heyday of Luzerne County, with the transportation and the building and the coal," Wick said.
Wick didn't just focus on the Valley: he said he tried to incorporate other parts, including the Hazleton area, Bear Creek and the Back Mountain.
The material in the book ranges from 1769 to 1990. Much of it is from the Luzerne County Historical Society - Wick is grateful to its Executive Director Anthony Brooks and researcher Amanda Fontenova for their help - and many of the photographs came from private collections, including that of the late Ed S. Miller, who was famous regionally for his train and trolley shots.
Wick promises "unusual stuff" in the new book, including historical pictures never before published.
For example, there's a photograph of the county's last veteran of the Battle of Wyoming and the Revolutionary War, Elijah Blackman, who died in 1845.
Subjects include natural disasters such as the tornado of 1890, floods and mine subsidence. There is a lot about coal mining, Wick said.
"It was a big part of our culture and our economics for a long time. There were so many breakers - they just dotted the landscape," he said.
One of the photographs shows the new, state-of-the-art Huber Breaker with the old breaker behind it being dismantled in the late 1930s, Wick said.
There are photos of long-gone buildings, such as the old GAR Fraternity on Main Street in Wilkes-Barre, and others that are still around, like Boscov's Department Store. That building, once home to Fowler Dick and Walker's Boston Store, has been around since the 1860s, Wick said.
There are photos of people, such as Boy Scout Troop 2 in Edwardsville from the 1920s, of civic and service organizations, and lots of churches of various denominations.
The last section of "Luzerne County" focuses on transportation on both land and water. Wick said there was an elaborate canal system that existed in Wilkes-Barre from the 1830s through 1881; steamboats sailed the Susquehanna River until the last one was scuttled in 1902. By then the railroads and trolleys had taken over.
Wick said he even found some "great photos" taken by people watching the Giants' Despair Hill Climb in 1907, the second year of the automobile race's existence.
On the subject of automobiles, Wick pointed out there was a brand headquartered in Wilkes-Barre with a factory in Forty Fort: the Matheson Automobile Co.
Wick was born in Seattle but grew up in northeast Maryland. He said he hails from "a little of everywhere."
He has been in Pennsylvania for six years. He spent time as Misericordia University's archivist and is now at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. But this region continues to hold his interest.
"I definitely fell in love with Luzerne County," he said. "People have been very friendly. The area just reminds me of home."
Wick said he didn't even mind traveling back and forth between Northeastern and Western Pennsylvania to compile material.
Now that "Luzerne County" is about to come out, is Wick thinking about another local history book?
"Oh, yeah. I'm always looking for more photographs," he said. "I'm always looking for new information."