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Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania
Wilkes Barre Downtown.jpg
Wilkes Barre Panorama.jpg
Wilkes-Barre with Susquehanna River.jpg
From top to bottom, left to right: Downtown Wilkes-Barre, looking west from Giants Despair, Wilkes-Barre Public Square, Luzerne County Courthouse, Panorama of Wilkes Barre, and the Susquehanna River
Official seal of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania
The Diamond City, Coal City, Dub City, The W-B
Pattern After Us
Country  United States
State  Pennsylvania
County Luzerne
Founded 1769
Incorporated 1806: Borough
  1871: City
Named for John Wilkes, Isaac Barré
 • Type Mayor-council
 • Body Wilkes-Barre City Council
 • City and County seat 7.2 sq mi (18.6 km2)
 • Land 6.9 sq mi (17.7 km2)
 • Water 0.3 sq mi (0.9 km2)
525 ft (160 m)
 • City and County seat 40,780 (US:920)
 • Metro
562,037 (US: 95th)
Time zone UTC-5 (EST)
 • Summer (DST) UTC-4 (EDT)
ZIP Codes
18701–18703, 18705, 18706, 18710, 18711, 18762, 18764–18767, 18769, 18773
Area code 570 and 272
FIPS codes 42-85152 (city)
42-079 (county)

Wilkes-Barre 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. However, 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. Today the city has a population of 41,498, making it the the largest city in Luzerne County and the 13th-largest city in Pennsylvania.


18th and 19th centuries

Birds eye view of Wilkes-Barre, Pa. (2675064226)
Wilkes-Barre as depicted on an 1872 panoramic map

In the early 18th century, the Wyoming Valley had been long inhabited by the Shawanese and Delaware Indian (Lenape) tribes. By 1769, a group led by John Durkee were the first recorded Europeans to reach 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 War. After the American Revolution, the conflict was resolved between the states, and Connecticut gave up its claim. The settlers retained title to their lands but transferred their allegiance to Pennsylvania.

In 1797, several decades after the city's founding, Louis Philippe, later the King of France from 1830 to 1840, stayed in Wilkes-Barre while traveling to the French Asylum settlement.

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, seeking jobs in the numerous mines and collieries that sprang up. 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 entire world where anthracite was burned for heat.

20th century

Child Labor in United States, coal mines Pennsylvania
Children working under the watch of a man in Wilkes-Barre's coal industry (1906)
South Main Street, from Public Square, Wilkes-Barre, PA
South Main Street in 1906
Baltimore Mine Tunnel Disaster marker
A historical marker of the 1919 Baltimore Colliery Disaster

It is said that Babe Ruth hit one of the longest home runs in history in Wilkes-Barre early in the 20th century. This statement is quoted from the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders News page:

"On October 12, 1926, Babe Ruth visited Wilkes-Barre's Artillery Park to play in an exhibition game between Hughestown and Larksville. Suiting up for Hughestown, the Yankee slugger challenged Larksville's hurler Ernie Corkran to throw him his "best stuff"—a fastball right down the heart of the plate. Corkran obliged and Ruth crushed the pitch into deep right field. When the ball cleared the fence, a good 400 feet away from home plate, it was still rising. It finally landed in Kirby Park on the far side of a high school running track. Ruth himself was so impressed by the feat that he asked for his homer to be measured. Originally estimated at 650 feet, the prodigious blast is considered to be the longest home run in baseball's storied history."

Wilkes-Barre is the birthplace of the Planters Peanuts Company, which was founded in 1906 by Italian immigrants Amedeo Obici and partner Mario Peruzzi. Founded in the city in 1906, the company maintained its headquarters in Wilkes-Barre until 1961.

The coal industry survived several disasters, including an explosion at the Baltimore Colliery in 1919 that killed 92 miners. It could not survive the gradual switch in the country to other energy sources. Most coal operations 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 King Coal's heyday. Industrial restructuring also caused the city to lose jobs and go into a decades-long decline. It suffered extensive damage from flooding during Hurricane Agnes in 1972.

In November 1972, 365 subscribers of Service Electric Cable were the first to receive HBO's premium cable television service, making Wilkes-Barre the birthplace of modern cable TV programming.


Flood Walls on Market Street in Wilkes-Barre
Flood Walls on Market Street in Wilkes-Barre
Wilkes Barre Flood
Wilkes-Barre during the September 2011 flood

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 by persons 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 areas). Damages were estimated to be $2.1 billion in PA 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); completedin January 2003, the network of levees was completed at a cost of $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 stage but was no cause for alarm for the city. However, from September 6 to September 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 (13.00 m), nearly two feet higher than water levels reached in 1972's Hurricane Agnes. The levees protected Wilkes-Barre, but nearby boroughs that did not have levees, such as West Pittston, Plymouth, and parts of Plains Township, were affected by extreme flooding and the subsequent water damage.

21st century

Revitalization and construction

Luzerne County Courthouse, the seat of power for the Luzerne County government
Wilkes Barre Downtown
Downtown Wilkes-Barre
Wilkes-Barre Public Square

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 are 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 a spectacular view of the city center when traveling west into Wilkes-Barre City.


Wilkes Barre Panorama
Downtown panorama from Laurel Run
Wilkes-Barre with Susquehanna River
The Susquehanna River and Wilkes-Barre City
Citizen Bank WB
Downtown Wilkes-Barre
The skyline at night
A 1907 postcard of Hotel Sterling
Steigmier Brewery PA
Stegmaier Federal Building

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. While the Susquehanna River has a wide floodplain that has necessitated the construction of floodwalls to protect a large percentage of the city, the areas away from the river increase in elevation approaching Wilkes-Barre Mountain. The elevation of the downtown is about 550 feet (170 m) above sea level.


Wilkes-Barre houses over one dozen neighborhoods, which are:

Central City: The area now referred to as "Downtown." It is between South and North Streets, and bordered by River Street and Wilkes-Barre Boulevard to the West and East respectively. It is the original foundation of Wilkes-Barre, the 16 blocks claimed by the Connecticut settlers who founded the city. Throughout the city's history, the area has remained a hub for all of Luzerne County. During the city's boom, this small area was home to the headquarters of more than 100 national corporations. Today, it still houses the NEPA Headquarters for Verizon, Citizen's Bank, Blue Cross, PNC Bank, Luzerne National Bank, Guard Insurance, and a number of other companies. An estimated 40,000 people live and/or work in Downtown Wilkes-Barre every day.

North End: This is the area northeast of Downtown. It comprises a number of urban and suburban communities, and is renowned for its interesting and beautiful architecture.

Parsons: This is a quiet part of town with a suburban atmosphere. It includes two city parks, a golf course, and a number of factories.

Miners' Mills: Named after an early prominent local family, it is the last neighborhood on the northeastern border of the city.

South Wilkes-Barre: This is the area directly southwest of Downtown. It was home to the national headquarters of Planter's Peanuts and the Bell Telephone Company in the 20th Century. The tallest church in Luzerne County, St. Nicholas Roman Catholic Church, dominates the south end skyline at nearly 200 feet.

East End: This is the area directly east of Downtown. East End, along with Heights and Mayflower, are fairly new areas compared to the rest of the city, having only been developed in the 20th Century. Old pictures of the Stegmaier Building (which is the oldest high-rise in Wilkes-Barre and the last one on Downtown's eastern border) show that everything east of Downtown was forests and coal mines.

Heights: This is the area southeast of Downtown centered between East End and Mayflower.

Mayflower: This area is located south of Downtown. Once, a wealthy home to numerous beautiful mansions owned by various "big wigs," the area is now a more affordable neighborhood. It houses the OKT, Lincoln Plaza, and Park Avenue residential housing communities. It can be argued that from the high streets of Mayflower, the best view of the downtown skyline can be seen.

Rolling Mill Hill: This is the area located in the southwestern area of the city.

Goose Island: This is the area located in the southwestern area of the city between Rolling Mill Hill and South Wilkes-Barre.

Iron Triangle: This is the area just southwest of Downtown.

Other neighborhoods and sub-neighborhoods: There are other smaller neighborhoods and sub-neighborhoods, such as Brookside, Upper Miners' Mills, Lower Miners' Mills, and Barney Farms to name a few.

Adjacent municipalities

  • Wilkes-Barre Township (southeast)
  • Plains Township (east and northeast)
  • Kingston (north)
  • Edwardsville (northwest)
  • Larksville (west)
  • Hanover Township (southwest)
  • Bear Creek Township (southwest)


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 on 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 2303 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).


Historical population
Census Pop.
1800 835
1810 1,225 46.7%
1820 755 −38.4%
1840 1,718
1850 2,723 58.5%
1860 4,253 56.2%
1870 10,174 139.2%
1880 23,339 129.4%
1890 37,718 61.6%
1900 51,721 37.1%
1910 67,105 29.7%
1920 73,833 10.0%
1930 86,626 17.3%
1940 86,236 −0.5%
1950 76,826 −10.9%
1960 63,068 −17.9%
1970 58,856 −6.7%
1980 51,551 −12.4%
1990 47,523 −7.8%
2000 43,123 −9.3%
2010 41,498 −3.8%
2015 (est.) 40,780 −1.7%
U.S. Decennial Census
2013 Estimate

The city's population has been in constant decline since the 1930s and is today less than half the size it was in 1940 and around two-thirds the size it was in 1970.

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.

Ethnic groups

The largest ethnic groups in Wilkes Barre as of recent estimates are:

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.

The local accent of American English is Northeast Pennsylvania English.

Sports and recreation

A Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins hockey game at the Mohegan Sun Arena
Wilkes-Barre Commons
The River Common along the Susquehanna River

Professional sports

Club League Venue Established Parent Club League
Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders IL, Baseball PNC Field 1989 New York Yankees 1
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 in Wilkes-Barre, Kingston, and Edwardsville.

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 Old Fashioned 4 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 a small public park located across Market Street from Kirby Park on the west side of the Susquehanna River. 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. Its features include a 750-person amphitheater, paved walk-ways, gardens, ornamental trees, grand common and seating area, fishing pier, and two grand gateways connecting the city to the river.

Local attractions

In popular culture

  • Wilkes-Barre's economic plight is featured in the movie Capitalism: A Love Story, directed by Michael Moore.
  • The Wilkes-Barre variation (or Traxler variation, as it is more commonly known) of the Two Knights' Defense is named for the Wilkes-Barre chess club.
  • In the TV series Supernatural episode 8.13 "Everyone Hates Hitler," the lead protagonists investigate a case in Wilkes-Barre.

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