Of Concrete City, Mermaids and the Ghost Town Stairs to Nowhere (Part 1)

…..with fellow blogger and snow mermaid, Adrienne Shellenberger

4 ccc

It may be hard to believe now, but in 1982, just 59 years after closing the now abandoned housing development, Luzerne County’s infamous, real-life ghost town was the subject of a Wilkes College Archaeological Field Methods study because people had mostly forgotten about it!  Makes you wonder how mankind has managed to preserve facts about Ancient Egypt and cavemen when we can’t seem to keep track of local places and events from less than a hundred years ago, such as Concrete City, the Kirby Park Zoo, or an abandoned amusement park right off of Route 11!

Apparently, back in 1982, common misconceptions about the development, created out of concrete to house the families of high-level mining industry employees, included the belief that the dwellings were top secret barracks built by the U.S. Army, and that people never actually lived in the city.  But, as we  all know now, the abandoned housing complex was constructed in 1913 by the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad, and was occupied by forty families until 1923.

Locating the property today can prove to be quite a challenge if you don’t know where you are going.  I learned the hard way several years ago that the Historical Marker for Concrete City isn’t actually located near the ghost town.  The buildings themselves are just shells; and weeds, trash and trees cover much of the long abandoned village.

Concrete City 2 14 a

But visiting Concrete City is so worth the trip!  I recently collaborated on a project involving product shots of mermaid inspired leggings with the creator of Skinny Jeans and Sippy Cups, Adrienne Shellenberger, at this location, and was motivated to dig into the history of the place a little more to see if I could learn anything new about these now prehistoric versions of modern tract housing.

Concrete City 2 14 b

People contact me all of the time with questions about the abandoned housing complex because of previous blog posts.  The most often asked question is if anyone ever died at Concrete City (the answer is “yes”, and “more than once”, but more about that in part 2), and where the bathrooms were located.  One topic that no one ever asks about are the “stairs to nowhere” located in each dwelling on the second floor.  “I thought it was because they used the same “mold” for both floors”, stated Adrienne.   So did I, until deciding to look into documents discussing the interior room plans for the Concrete City houses.

Concrete City was designed by architect Milton Dana Morrill, who is most famous for several government buildings in Washington, D.C.  He is also responsible for other poured concrete homes which were built in the Washington, D.C. suburb of Virginia Highlands.  Morrill invented a system of steel molds to create trough-like boxes which could be filled with concrete to create a house.

Building Concrete City

Building Concrete City

The houses at Concrete City are “double block” style and they are mirror images of each other.  Each unit has eight rooms with a concrete floor basement.  There was no plumbing, electricity or heating in these homes, yet they were considered very modern during the early part of the twentieth century!

1st floor

Concrete City Historical Living Room

Concrete City Historical Living Room

Concrete City 2 14 d

Concrete City Living Room/ Dining Room in December of 2013

The first floor has a living room, dining room and a kitchen with a pantry.  You can easily identify which room is the living room because that is where the front door was located.  Every kitchen, which contained a sink, wash basin and stationary wash tub, had a side entrance door.

Concrete City 2 14 c

Concrete City Side Kitchen Door in January of 2014

Concrete City Historical Kitchen

Concrete City Historical Kitchen

The second floor of every unit had three bedrooms, three clothes closets and a linen closet in the hall.  And one report mentions “an upstairs porch facing the rear of the house” on the second floor.

2nd Floor Design

Take note of G, 3-step unused closet

The homes were heated on the first floor by a coal cooking stove in the kitchen, and a pot belly stove located between the living and dining rooms.

Concrete City 2 14 e

Since concrete is slow to heat, the houses became very cold and damp in the winter.  According to that Wilkes Archaeological Field study, “To overcome the dampness, each unit had an elevated closet on the second floor, the closet being reached by three steps”.

Concrete City Fish Room

Concrete City 2nd Floor Stairs to Nowhere

In the film The Seven Year Itch, Marilyn Monroe may have said, “A stairway to nowhere! I think that’s just elegant”, but at Concrete City, elegance had nothing to do with it!  And I wonder if that is the second floor “porch” being referred to above, or is that another mystery yet to be solved?!

3 CCC

While waiting for Part 2, be sure to check out Adrienne Shellenberger’s Concrete City inspired post about mermaid leggings for a post-apocalyptic world!

*~*

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Guerrilla History

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Cheri Sundra © 2014
All Rights Reserved

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    • Bill
    • February 6th, 2014

    With concrete walls it must have been difficult to attach things to walls and then, if you wanted to move/remove something, hiding the previous point of attachment must have been a challenge.

    I’ve seen houses in Europe constructed of concrete and cement block. They are warm and dry. The secret is to cover the interior walls with tiles and then plaster over the tiles.

    • Charlie Dancheck
    • February 6th, 2014

    Spent a couple of good years teaching and going to fire fighting classes there.

  1. “To overcome the dampness, each unit had an elevated closet on the second floor, the closet being reached by three steps” – How does an elevated closet overcome dampness?

    • Bob, I’m in the process of researching the resources cited in the work mentioned above that I am using as a resource, as well as other concrete poured buildings designed by Milton Dana Morrill. Amazingly, one of those homes, which has been occupied, was for sale in the Washington, D.C. suburb of Virginia Highlands within the last decade! So you can look forward to another post, in the hopefully not-to-far-off future about this topic….

    • Carolyn Morrill Follmer
    • February 21st, 2014

    This was a nice surprise to see this article. Milton Morrill was my father’s dad, my grandfather. There are some neat houses in Arlington, VA near Crystal City. He did a lot of renovations in old farm houses in Connecticut in his later years.

    He and my grandmother renovated an old schoolhouse in E. Norwalk, CT and lived in it for many years before their deaths. My dad donated it to the city and they moved it to a park and turned it back into an old schoolhouse for visitors.

    If you need any other information, I would be glad to help you.

      • Sara Maria
      • May 5th, 2017

      Hi Carolyn, I’m so glad to see this post. I just found a hidden well in the backyard of my home, which was developed by your grandfather in Arlington, VA. I’m in the process of determining the origin and purpose (very neat!) of this well, however, it seems there’s no record of it over the last 120 years! I’m wondering if Mr. Morrill has shared notes of his developments/findings with historical societies, and if these are accessible by a curious owner like myself.

    • Imajustme
    • February 25th, 2014

    My grandmother lived in concrete city she said it was cold all the time in the buildings and hated living there.

    • Heather
    • February 25th, 2014

    So great to hear about Concrete City and actually see pictures. My grandmother lived there when she was young. She said there was a swimming pool in the center of the city. I lived nearby and would often visit the city. It was destroyed and scary at that time though but still fascinating. I always tried to picture what it was like living there. The pictures in the article really helped. Thank you.

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