Archive for the ‘ Abandoned Train Station ’ Category

No Fun In The Sun Moon Lake Park

Moon Lake 1Photo courtesy of Stephanie Howard

In 2011 and 2012, local papers were running stories about coming up with a multi-million dollar plan to save Luzerne County owned Moon Lake Park, because today, all plans have to be “multi-million”. For those who are not familiar with the area, Moon Lake Park, located in Pennsylvania, was a low key, inexpensive  (mostly free) kind of place, where people could go to enjoy the great outdoors, with access to a few amenities.  You could camp and fish.  You could bike and hike. It had a pool and some tennis courts.  Picnic tables, were sprinkled throughout the property.  It was a great place to kick back, enjoy nature, catch some rays, grill burgers, and hang out with friends and family.

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The View Thru A Missing Office Window

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By the time the public discussion began about how to fix the park, many amenities had been closed by Luzerne County for several years due to budgetary concerns. The facilities did show obvious signs of neglect when I started photographing the decline in 2012.  But it could have been greatly improved upon with some simple repairs, like repaving those tennis courts and repairing the picnic tables.

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But instead of coming up with a real world workable plan, government red tape dictated that the financially struggling county had to waste time and precious resources, like money, creating a completely unattainable $37 Million Dollar Master Plan, which was required to apply for grant money to move forward on an improvement project that could never possibly be implemented within the near future.  Input coming from the public suggested the plan include a water park, snow tubing, rock climbing, zip lining, and nature-survival activities so it could be designed to compete with places like The Great Wolf Lodge in the Poconos.

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Despite having a yearly budget of only $119,626 to run the park in 2011, the county commissioners approved a $120,000 contract with Sasaki Associates Inc., located in Massachusetts, to be the consultant in charge of creating the master plan that same year. The state agreed to pay for half of the cost while the county planned to spend bond proceeds borrowed in 2008 to fund its $60,000 share according to news reports. How did all of our little community improvement projects turn into these multi-million dollar endeavors, that are never going to be attainable in a county as financially strapped as this one? We couldn’t even afford to write the plan, let alone find the funds to execute it.

Maybe that’s the real issue. Government red tape, and community input with Dom Perignon taste, while trying to scrape together enough change to buy a dollar draft, wastes so much time creating these dream scenarios that our leaders don’t have the opportunity to think about realistic plans which would actually make sense.

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Recently, ownership of Moon Lake Park was transferred to the state of Pennsylvania’s Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Bureau of Forestry.  According to reports, they plan to allow most of the park area to return to its natural state, with paved roads being replaced with crushed stone as they deteriorate. The pool and other structures will disappear.  The new public bathrooms will be non-flushable sealed concrete vaults, and the designated camping areas will be rustic with no utility hook-up. Future plans include a new well-manicured area for picnics and a boat launch near the lake.

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It was Jennifer O’Malia who introduced me to the concept of Urban Exploration

Style Photography in 2010.  Jenn, who has the unique vision of a

social documentarian, is now offering her services as a freelance photographer.

Photo by Jennifer O’Malia

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A Resurrection Reversed: The Playboy Bunnies & The Death(s) of the Wilkes-Barre Train Station (Part 2)

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Photo courtesy of George Foster

(If resurrection is the concept of coming back to life after death, how do you measure the success, or failure, of one?)

Wilkes-Barre Train Station 2014

Wilkes-Barre Train Station 2014

Some townspeople, in a “has-seen-better-days” place named Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, are looking for someone to save their tragic little train station……again. This is unquestionably a noble goal. But any potential philanthropists, preservationists and “do-gooders-in-general” should be forewarned that this is a community with a history of its own—a history that includes squandering the gift of historic resurrection.

Allow me to photographically illustrate a story that will break your heart. It is a tale about a man with a dream, who invested millions of dollars, in a labor of love, to give the gift of history and heritage back to his hometown.

I’m talking about an old-school, self-made, “no-government-grant-money-needed”, community philanthropist with a vision for the future, who spent his own cash to restore a vacant and quickly deteriorating historical landmark.

What did that community do with the living piece of history that he so lovingly and generously invested in for them to enjoy for years to come?

In an act of betrayal, the town just complacently watched, as the property reverted back into a state of abandonment and ruin once again, very shortly after their benefactor entrusted the train station’s care to other community members. This is a frightening tale about what can happen to history when commercial non-profitability and loss of accountability in local government collide.

Let’s begin our story right here:

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Once upon a time, many years ago…..in 1974, to be exact…..there was a historic little train station who had seen much better days. After playing a major role in the prosperous years of the fair city that it calls home (See Part 1), this particular train station was viewed as an abandoned building merely existing in a state of ruin, and standing in the way of “progress”. It was nothing but a hopeless abandonment, plagued by vandals, and slated for demolition. The Luzerne County Redevelopment Authority planned to remove the structure, since it was in the direct path of an extension planned to make way for a downtown automobile traffic distributor—whatever that is! But the community stepped up and got involved in trying to rally support for this endangered landmark.

First, there was a Senator named Hugh Scott who urged local communities in Pennsylvania to try to save old rail depots throughout the state so they could serve as museums or something useful.

Then people began writing letters and articles urging the community to save Wilkes-Barre’s little monument to the halcyon days of passenger train service, which usually began with statements such as:

“No longer the trim, ornate passenger station it once was back in the hey-day of rail travel in Wyoming Valley, the Central Railroad depot now is a run-down, dilapidated structure; its boarded-up lower floors, broken windows and mouldering (sic) cupola stand as mute evidence of Wilkes-Barre’s historic past.”

While that newspaper blurb sounds eerily like it could be pulled from 2014, it actually ran in the September 28, 1974 issue of the Wilkes-Barre newspaper! Forty years ago, this community was looking at the SAME train station, in the SAME condition that it sits today, wondering what to do with this magnificent piece of history that sat in ruins. What has transpired in Wilkes-Barre over those four decades is a tale of hope, transformation, and then a decline that should make the business leaders and elected officials in that community hang their heads in shame.

Wilkes-Barre Train Station 2014

Wilkes-Barre Train Station 2014

In 1974, their local newspaper was saying things like:

“Time is running out for the old Central Railroad of New Jersey passenger station, whose 106 years of history cover the major span of the once great railroad industry, second only to anthracite mining as the greatest employer in Wyoming Valley. Now, vacant and deteriorating rapidly since the shutdown of all CNJ service in Wilkes-Barre on March 31, 1972, the historic building awaits its fate. “

What happened next was nothing short of miraculous in the world of historical preservation! It was almost inconceivable that anyone would really be interested in salvaging such a deteriorating structure, especially since its small size mitigated against any otherwise major redevelopment that could grace the seven acre tract of land that it sits upon.

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Photo courtesy of George Foster

But against all odds, amazing things happened! The Greater Wilkes-Barre Jaycees took on the responsibility to get the ball rolling. They organized a “Save Our Station” committee and embarked on a quest to secure “historical landmark” status for the structure. They didn’t have the resources or knowledge required to do the restoration job themselves, but they were successful in having that little train station placed on the National Register of Historic Properties and the Pennsylvania Register of Historic Sites and Landmarks. Now all that the story needed was a hero to save the day! And that’s when a man named Marvin Roth came to the rescue.

Marvin Roth & His Restored Train Station

Marvin Roth & His Restored Train Station

Mr. Roth was a novelty and toy wholesaler who grew up a block from the train station, watching the trains come and go. He decided to re-create the hustle and bustle of the busy rail terminal, without involving actual train travel and the end result was a unique motel, restaurant and bar experience.

“I didn’t want the railroad to disappear entirely from Wilkes-Barre, and this is my way of keeping it alive,” he said in a 1987 Los Angeles Times interview about his project to convert the abandoned station into a useful parcel of real estate once again, as a gift to his economically struggling hometown.

Before Mr. Roth stepped up, the elegant brick station had been last used by the Central Railroad of New Jersey, successor to the old Lehigh, Lackawanna, Delaware & Hudson, and Pennsylvania railroads that served the area into the early 1960s after Wilkes-Barre’s coal mines, flooded by the Susquehanna River, stopped operating.

Passenger rail service, which started there in 1843, ended July 1, 1963. Next the station was subjected to the ravages of time and weather, in addition to the day-to-day destruction inflicted by vandals who shattered glass, destroyed moldings, and pilfered valuable and difficult–to-replace originals. The structure was so devastated in the 1972 flood caused by tropical storm Agnes that the local Redevelopment Authority planned to raze it.

Marvin Roth purchased the train station in late 1977 and embarked upon the kind of successful redevelopment project that everyone hopes to achieve as an end result. He filled the tracks with dining, parlor and sleeping cars, cabooses and freights, using them as a means to add extra commercial space to the tiny train station. Finding the old railroad cars was easy, but getting them into Wilkes-Barre, where track had been torn up, proved to be quite difficult.

Roth Restored Railroad Car

Marvin Roth Restored Railroad Car

Railroad Car Post-Roth- Restoration

Railroad Car Post-Roth- Restoration

“We had to lay track from the site to some freight lines still operating,” Mr. Roth told the LA Times. “That’s how we were able to move a private coach once used by Henry Flagler, the owner of the old Florida East Coast Railway and a partner of John D. Rockefeller.”

In local newspaper interviews, Marvin Roth was hailed for his “restless search for historically significant artifacts” to place throughout the complex, which included the acquisition of an enormous hand carved sideboard from the Vanderbilt home to be used as the focal point of the lobby. And there was detailed work underway on the train station’s second floor where a cabinet maker from Israel—Nissim Rabbe—labored for months in a room named the “Library Room” , creating walls made out of fine, hand carved walnut.

Marvin Roth Library Room

Marvin Roth Library Room

Library Room Post-Roth- Restoration

Library Room Post-Roth- Restoration

Photo courtesy of Katherine Rogers

The adjacent room, named the “Billiard Room” because of its large billiard table, was another dining area decorated with stately oak. Newspaper articles went to great lengths to describe how “little expense was spared in selecting appointments, furnishings and decorations to be consistent with the Victorian era in this non-rolling railroad complex.”

The Once Grand Room.

“Billiard Room” Post-Roth-Restoration

Photo courtesy of George Foster

In an interview about his restoration project for the Revel R.R. Resister, Roth “dwelled on his commitment to authenticity in the restoration—even to the tin and copper roof being replaced with all copper.”

In 1979, the local paper declared:

“Perhaps the grandest part of the station is the cupola; Roth said before restoration, the cupola had no access. “When we got up here for the first time we found that the only others ever up here were the pigeons”, mused Roth. From the cupola, one is afforded a grand view of the city.”

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The View–Photo courtesy of George Foster

Mr. Roth continued, “Also, when standing at the top of the grand structure, the new clean slate and copper roofing on the station is eye-catching. “–Citizens’ Voice, April 27, 1979

Sign For Potential Copper Thieves, Post-Roth- Restoration

Sign For Potential Copper Thieves, Post-Roth- Restoration

(Note to readers: Early in 2013, thieves successfully removed the copper roofing material.)

Roth described the cupola as “pure gingerbread” because it served no purpose, but anyone entering it would be unlikely to forget it because it was completely lined with cedar wood.

Cedar Lined Cupola

Cedar Lined Cupola

Marvin Roth did considerable research to find out what he needed to restore the former New Jersey Central Railroad Station. He enjoyed spending the time, money and effort that he put into the project. In a 1979 interview, Mr. Roth said that when he completed his restoration project, that the station would be the showplace of Northeast Pennsylvania. “The bottom line of this project is that it’s not profit oriented. And I look upon this project as being owned by the people of Wilkes-Barre.” OWNED by THE PEOPLE of Wilkes-Barre….

Scan0003Marvin Roth checking details

Post-Roth-Restoration

The Station: Post-Roth-Restoration

Roth’s efforts paid off tremendously and the site quickly became a hot-spot enjoyed by community members of all ages. In January of 1981, The Citizens’ Voice, in a recurring section called “Up with Teens” declared, “The Station is Alive”!

The article went on to describe The Gandy Dancer Room, which featured both live bands and DJs. The venue was fully equipped with lights, sirens and a moving iron horse where, “teenagers danced disco to the latest tunes.” And as Generation X-ers may recall today, “There was a cover charge for the disco when a band played, and you had to be 18 to enter.”

The Station: Post-Roth- Restoration

The Station: Post-Roth- Restoration

There were pinball machines and Space Invaders if you didn’t like to dance. Or you could have a nice quite meal in one of the box cars, which were neatly designed like they were during the Golden Era of Railroad travel. Each car had a dining table, mirror sink and some even had a pull-out bed.

Station Railroad Car: Post-Roth-Restoration

Station Railroad Car: Post-Roth-Restoration

Or patrons could choose one of the dining areas upstairs. The most popular room was the “Bullet Hole Room” which was rumored to have the actual mirror Jesse James was standing in front of when he was gunned down by the Ford brothers because of the $10,000 reward that was on his head. The crack in the mirror is said to be from the bullet that killed him.

The Marvin Roth Bullet Hole Room

The Marvin Roth “Bullet Hole Room”

The Marvin Roth Station

The Marvin Roth Station

The Station Post-Roth- Restoration

The Station: Post-Roth- Restoration

The Station: Post-Roth- Restoration

The Station: Post-Roth- Restoration

By the time renovations were complete, there were more than 60 railroad cars on the site that Mr. Roth named the “Choo-Choo Inn”. It provided 90 private rooms for overnight accommodations. Inside were brass beds, Victorian-style furniture and overhead fans. In 1987, the tab for a night in a restored rail car was less than $50. In an interview from the same year, Mr. Roth said “people love the overnight stay in the ambiance of our sleeping cars. It’s an experience they like to recount to their friends and relatives back home.”

To further explain the ambience, The Los Angeles Times ended the article with:

“The depot, called The Station, is used for dining and dancing. Its freight platform was converted into a tavern called “Gandy Dancer” after track workers, making it one of Wilkes-Barre’s most unusual night spots. Outside The Station entrance is an old red-and-white crossing watchman’s shanty and nearby, a signalman’s tower. A side-tracked locomotive now and then sounds its whistle to reacquaint visitors with what used to be.”

The Station: Post-Roth- Restoration

The Station: Post-Roth- Restoration

Then in December of 1987, The Playboy Steakhouse, with a licensing arrangement with Playboy for an undisclosed fee, opened at the Station Complex, employing 30 women as Playboy Bunnies.

(Admit it, if you are from Wilkes-Barre and part of Generation X or later, you are thinking “We had freakin’ Beer, Peanuts, the Golden Era of Train Travel AND an internationally known concept like Playboy Bunnies, which still enjoys tremendous popularity today?!….how did we NOT become a tourism hot-spot?” Mr. Peanut Guevara  is still waiting for The Revolution to begin…..)

During the 1960s and 1970s, Playboy Clubs were considered the height of citified elegance – or at least opulence. In a 1988 interview, Station manager Jack Cantor said, “We were looking for a new concept to liven up the place. Wilkes-Barre had only read and heard about Playboy clubs. Now we have the concept here.”

“We just want to be brand-new in every way,” said Robert Habeeb, the Steak House’s director of food and beverages, in that same interview. “It’s a revival of the Playboy idea, in a popularly priced restaurant, for the general public. Look, like Philadelphia, Wilkes-Barre has the image of being a little prudish,” said Habeeb. “When Playboy clubs were at their height, it never would have flown here. We’re ready for this kind of thing now. The Playboy standard of service is something this town has never seen.”

Apparently, not everyone in the small town was ready to embrace the Playboy Bunny-themed affordable restaurant. “We had a local minister writing lots of letters to the newspapers when we started hiring bunnies in November and we got a little flak when we opened because it was in the middle of the Jessica Hahn deal,” admitted Habeeb in that interview. Ironically, newspaper accounts mentioned the local desire to attract other “themed” restaurants, such as Bennigan’s, to act as “tourist magnets” instead of the Playboy franchise.

The Playboy Steakhouse days in Wilkes-Barre were short lived. Just six months later, in June of 1988, Thom Greco, Rick Kornfeld and Mitch Kornfeld entered into a lease-purchase agreement with Marvin Roth’s Revel Railroad Company, which operated the Station Complex. (Two years later, Marvin Roth suffered a heart attack and died) Shortly afterward it became very apparent that they did not support Roth’s vision for the facility at all. First they banished the Bunnies.

Grimy Kitchen The Station Kitchen: Post-Roth-Restoration

Photo courtesy of George Foster

The new owners said the image change would not only recognize the emergence of feminism but would also broaden the establishment’s clientele. “A lot of times, husbands would stay in the rooms,” Mitch Kornfeld said, “and wives would call up and say, ‘You’re staying in the Playboy club?”

The Station: Post-Roth- Restoration

The Station: Post-Roth- Restoration

Photo courtesy of Katherine Rogers

In June of 1988 Mitch Kornfeld told the Inquirer, “It didn’t work in New York or Chicago, why would it work in Wilkes- Barre? It’s a little passé. If we were in the late ’70s it would work, but we’re in the ’80s. Women are just different. People are different.”

The Station: Post-Roth- Restoration

The Station: Post-Roth- Restoration

Photo courtesy of Katherine Rogers

The new owners decided to get rid of the Playboy franchise in order to open a new restaurant and nightclub called Norma Jeane’s. They renamed the entire facility Market Street Square. The complex remained open through the 1990s, touting a succession of different nightclub and restaurants names, with none of them ever really becoming successful ventures. At least not successful enough to keep the place open for very long.

The Station: Post-Roth- Restoration

The Station: Post-Roth- Restoration

Photo courtesy of the League of Gentlemen Explorers

In 1991, The Morning Call reported that the new owners were experiencing some drawbacks attributed to having 90 guest rooms in train cars. “The cars are narrow, require a great deal of maintenance because they are exposed to weather, and are expensive to heat and cool. Also, guests have to go outdoors to get from their rooms to the restaurants, nightclubs or lobby. Some older people don’t like having to use steps to get to their rooms.”

Recently Removed Railroad Dining Car: Post-Roth-Restoration

Recently Removed Railroad Dining Car: Post-Roth-Restoration

The Kornfelds walked away from the business arrangement in 1992, while “entertainment magnate” Thom Greco remained involved. By 1994, the “Choo-Choo Inn” was closed for good. The entire complex shut down completely in 2001, just 24 years after Marvin Roth rescued the train station from demolition by purchasing the property it sits on for $80,000, and investing more than $3 million dollars of his own money into restoration.

The Station: Post-Roth- Restoration

The Station: Post-Roth- Restoration

Photo courtesy of the League of Gentlemen Explorers

In 1999 it was reported by the Times Leader that within that past year, city firefighters were often called to put out fires at the abandoned “Choo-Choo Inn” because homeless squatters were igniting items to keep warm, or vandals were setting fires inside the cars. In an interview at that time, Fire Chief Bruce Reilly said that he’s afraid one of his firefighters will get hurt responding to those train car fires. “Some have Plexiglas windows,” he said. “You can’t bust them. Every time they get boarded up, somebody breaks into them.”

Recently Removed Railroad Car: Post-Roth- Restoration

Recently Removed Railroad Car: Post-Roth- Restoration

The mayor at that time, Tom McGroarty, who seemed ambivalent about the history of the property in newspaper interviews, just wanted the cars removed. A youngster when the motel first opened, the mayor stated in 1999 that he only “kind of” remembers the inn and described the area as nothing but a mess. He gave Greco until October of 2002 to remove the train cars from the property.

On March 30, 2002, according to the Citizens’ Voice, Greco was still looking for new owners for the splendid rail-cars that Mr. Roth so carefully restored as a gift to the citizens of Wilkes-Barre. He had to clear the property and pay off back-taxes. The cars were now “eyesores, attractions for the homeless and fire hazards”, according to the newspaper.

Greco noted that a great deal of money had gone into renovating the railcars to bring them back to their historical nature. “When we closed the hotel”, he said in that interview, “they were in perfect shape. We didn’t put the graffiti on them, set fires or steal from the rooms. We once had a historic area”, he added, “Unfortunately, the railcars ended up in this condition because the people here destroyed them. They were redone and the community destroyed them.” It should also be noted that Greco obviously did very little himself, as the owner, to protect these treasures in his possession from vandals, thieves and homeless people, who don’t exactly view themselves as part of “the community”.

Today, for the second time in history, the fate of the little train station (which again sits abandoned, in ruins, unsecured, plagued by vandals and quickly deteriorating) is back in the hands of the Luzerne County Redevelopment Authority— just like it was, pre-Marvin Roth Rescue.

The Station: Post-Roth- Restoration

The Station: Post-Roth- Restoration

Photo courtesy of Katherine Rogers

In 2006, the Luzerne County Redevelopment Authority purchased the property from Thom Greco, becoming its owner for the second time using $5.8 million in taxpayer funded federal community development money. Since this is Northeastern Pennsylvania, where nothing seems to occur in local government without a scandal, the deal also included $10,000 in the form of television sets that were allegedly a “reward” from Greco to a county commissioner for his influence in making the sale happen. The TVs were to be used in a family owned sports bar and led to all kinds of legal implications for the people involved.

The Station:  Post-Roth- Restoration

The Station: Post-Roth- Restoration

Photo courtesy of the League of Gentlemen Explorers

A recent appraisal of the property estimated that it is now only worth about $1.88 million, which is significantly less than what the county paid to acquire it.

The Station:  Post-Roth- Restoration

The Station: Post-Roth- Restoration

Photo courtesy of the League of Gentlemen Explorers

Current plans for the train station include seeking a commercial real estate firm to market the historic property. In 2012, county manager Robert Lawton said he did not support a prior county decision to spend $2 million renovating the station. He asked the redevelopment authority to consider selling the train station and adjoining properties to a private owner (again). The Authority opened a competitive bidding period on the property. They received absolutely no offers from anyone.

Last July, Wilkes-Barre demolished another landmark structure, the Hotel Sterling, after a failed, government-funded attempt to preserve and market the structure.

Time is quickly running out (again) for the little train station in Wilkes-Barre. The current owner obviously cannot afford to even secure the property from further vandalism since the extent of their security measures begins and ends with a maintenance worker checking the property, along with other rail properties on “most days”, according to reports in the Times Leader.  It is speculated that homeless people currently use the building for shelter during inclement weather. There are also an awful lot of feral cats living there.

Cat Pan at The Station:  Post-Marvin-Roth-Restoration

Cat Pan at The Station: Post-Marvin-Roth-Restoration

Photo courtesy of the League of Gentlemen Explorers

Post-Marvin Roth Restoration, we live in a different age now, when historic preservation projects are often viewed as “money grabs” by developers nationwide just seeking to exhaust government grants before the buildings are ultimately demolished, just like the Hotel Sterling, simply because there rarely seems to be enough funding available to complete these kinds of projects in their entirety, without additional funding from private sources.

Zombie Ballroom at the Hotel Sterling

Zombie Ballroom at the Hotel Sterling

Cheri Sundra–Guerrilla Historian

When Marvin Roth purchased the train station while it was endangered the first time, he said, “I bought it because I was infatuated with the building, and I made it my hobby. I never went into it as a money maker. It’s not a business.” Unfortunately, for the train station, it ultimately ended up in the care of community members who were ONLY interested in the bottom line and nothing else.

Marvin Roth Wilkes-Barre Historical Train Station Restoration Project

Marvin Roth Wilkes-Barre Historical Train Station Restoration Project

Sadly, there just aren’t many people in the world like Marvin Roth. I wish my hometown had better managed his efforts to save our history when we had the chance.

Historical structures are lucky to get saved once, what are the chances that it can happen twice?

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The sign reads:

MARVIN ROTH, A LOCAL ENTREPRENEUR, REHABILITATED THIS EDIFICE

SO POSTERITY MAY FOREVER ENJOY ITS PRESENCE.  AUGUST 15, 1980

The Station:  Post-Roth-Restoration

The Station: Post-Roth-Restoration

Photo courtesy of Katherine Rogers

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The Station:  Post-Roth-Restoration

The Station: Post-Roth-Restoration

Photo courtesy of the League of Gentlemen Explorers

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The Library

The Station “Library Room” :  Post-Roth-Restoration

Photo courtesy of George Foster

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The Station:  Post-Roth-Restoration

The Station: Post-Roth-Restoration

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The Station:  Post-Roth-Restoration

The Station: Post-Roth-Restoration

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The Station:  Post-Roth-Restoration

The Station: Post-Roth-Restoration

 Photo courtesy of Katherine Rogers

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The Station: Post-Roth-Restoration

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The Station: Post-Roth-Restoration

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The Station: Post-Roth-Restoration

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The Station: Post-Roth-Restoration

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The Station: Post-Roth-Restoration

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The Station:  Post-Roth-Restoration

The Station: Post-Roth-Restoration

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The Station:  Post-Roth-Restoration

The Station: Post-Roth-Restoration

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The Station:  Post-Roth-Restoration

The Station: Post-Roth-Restoration

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Scuba

The Station:  Post-Roth-Restoration

Photo courtesy of George Foster

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The Station:  Post-Roth-Restoration

The Station: Post-Roth-Restoration

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The Station:  Post-Roth-Restoration

The Station: Post-Roth-Restoration

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The Station:  Post-Roth-Restoration

Photo courtesy of George Foster

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The Station: Post-Roth-Restoration

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The Station: Post-Roth-Restoration

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The Station:  Post-Roth-Restoration

The Station: Post-Roth-Restoration

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The Station:  Post-Roth-Restoration

The Station: Post-Roth-Restoration

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The Station: Post-Roth-Restoration

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The Station:  Post-Roth-Restoration

The Station: Post-Roth-Restoration

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The Station: Post-Roth-Restoration

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The Station:  Post-Roth-Restoration

The Station: Post-Roth-Restoration

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The Station:  Post-Roth-Restoration

The Station: Post-Roth-Restoration

Photo courtesy of George Foster

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Cheri Sundra © 2014
All Rights Reserved

The Death(s) of the Wilkes-Barre Train Station & The Funeral Train (Part 1)

Market Street Square

Once upon a time, getting from one place to another was much different than it is today. Life in the village of Wilkes-Barre was rustic, with mud streets running along ash sidewalks, and a water canal system serving as a viable way to transport goods from one location to another.

Consider this account by Wilkes-Barre resident Edith Brower from her book “Little Old Wilkes-Barre As I Knew It”, which was published in 1920:

“I plainly see myself, a child of three, sitting in outdoor winter clothing, waiting for the stage coach to stop at our house. It was the middle of the night, but the driver’s hours were as uncertain as is to-day the outgoing train from Bear Creek to the Junction. Somehow we had to make it to Easton, over the old turnpike, in time for a rather early morning train, if we wished to be in New York City that day. The (stage-coach) driver was not unlikely to be drunk—one had to keep warm you know; but he always managed, so it was said, to land his passengers in Easton safe, sound & prompt.”

Then, as luck, and the Coal Baron gods, would have it, the railroad came steaming into town along the bed of the old canal, doing away with the need of the services of the drunk stage coach driver, in order to have access to train travel. The city of Wilkes-Barre’s prosperity, during those days, is largely due to the Lehigh and Susquehanna Railroad, later known as the Central Railroad of New Jersey, which brought the local economy in touch with the development of commercial and manufacturing interests of the outside world.

Abandoned Train Station Money Shot

Abandoned Train Station Money Shot

Photo courtesy of the League of Gentlemen Explorers

Northeastern Pennsylvania is called the “Coal Region” because it holds the largest known deposits of anthracite coal in the Americas. Mining coal was like printing money and pouring it directly into the local economy. As a result, Wilkes-Barre acquired a train station of its own, built in 1868, the boom year of the railroad industry.

The Station Historical

At the same time, the city’s population was in the process of doubling in size within a twenty year span, and urban growth was creating a need for larger venues to accommodate travelers within close proximity to that bustling rail station and busy downtown area. Now the city of Wilkes-Barre had to accommodate the needs of travelers and business moguls using passenger train service, and the city grew as a result, even constructing a grand luxury hotel, the Hotel Sterling, to cater to travelers with money to blow and an appetite for the pampered life. As the years passed, daily express trains, as well as commuter trains by the thousands each year, made Wilkes-Barre a central transportation hub in the era when train travel was at its peak.

Train Schedule May 18, 1901

Train Schedule May 18, 1901

The Central Railroad of New Jersey became famous for its passenger trains in 1882, when the first parlor cars were run from Wilkes-Barre to Philadelphia. Central’s passenger service attracted the attention of the public and elicited universal commendation because of superior coach cars that ran on all of the passenger trains. Accounts from 1897 say that patrons received a quality of service that excelled the industry standards at the time. The coach cars used for passenger travel were illuminated by compressed gas, enabling the guests to read in comfort, while seated anywhere in the car. The finest Pullman cars were run between Scranton, Wilkes-Barre and New York where a buffet lunch was offered. The idea of running buffet-parlor cars on the trains of Central was an outgrowth of the company’s desire to cater to the public’s need for comfort in the best possible way.

Some of the early passenger trains stopping at the depot were ranked the finest in the nation at that time. One of the first was the “Central Flyer”, a fast train to New York inaugurated in 1893; a seashore train called “The Mermaid”; plus a New York Express called “The Bullet” which could make the run from Wilkes-Barre in four hours and ten minutes.

Train

The last passenger train left the city of Wilkes-Barre on July 1, 1963, after two passengers exited the coach car, ending the era of train travel in the city forever. And that was not the last railroad related economic blow to the region. As the demand for the mining industry declined, in 1972, the New Jersey Central Railroad line officially closed all rail operations.

Abandoned Train Station

Abandoned Train Station

Cheri Sundra–Guerrilla Historian

Up to the "Bird's Nest"

Up to the “Bird’s Nest”

Photo courtesy of the League of Gentlemen Explorers

Bench in the "Bird's Nest"

Bench in the “Bird’s Nest”

Cheri Sundra–Guerrilla Historian

Watch your step on the way down!

Watch your step on the way down!

Cheri Sundra–Guerrilla Historian

Abandoned Train Station

Abandoned Train Station

Photo courtesy of Katherine Rogers

In a newspaper interview, Donald Hawkins, who joined the New Jersey Central Railroad in 1942, described the last ride from the Ashley, Pennsylvania, rail yards, “It was a Saturday and I guided the miles of trains along their routes of our area. I had the feeling of loss. It was the end of an era; it was the end of a way of life; it was the beginning of hardships for many.”

The sting of economic adversity was already being felt in Luzerne County after the money that was fed into the local economy, because of World War II, came to a screeching halt. The War meant that American production lines and mineral mines were producing at full steam. Northeastern Pennsylvania was considered a hub, with thousands of trains carrying coal and war equipment. Puffing steam engines used to make their way out of the valley and over the mountains. But changes had already begun to occur. Diesels replaced the steam engine and oil tankers replaced coal cars. The demise of the anthracite coal industry could first be seen by watching the railroads. And at the same time, individualism, the open road and car travel began to replace traveling by train.

In 1972, the last freight train, under the symbol of the Central Rail Road of New Jersey, was assembled at the line’s Ashley Yards. Scheduled to leave on the eastbound track to Jersey City, New Jersey, it was being called “The Funeral Train” by CNJ employees. All of the engineers, fireman, brakemen and conductors called off “sick” that day, leaving the last bit of work to supervisory personnel.

Historic CNJ shot

This was a scene in the Ashley Yards of the Central Railroad of New Jersey in the mid-1970s as the CNJ prepared to close the yards.

 

The last CNJ freight was being put together by Donald Hawkins, Hanover Township, yardmaster, and Jack Tinner, Sugar Notch, general foreman. Asked what they would do at the end of their shifts, the men said they would do as they do on any other day. “We’ll put on our coats, walk out the door and go home,” one man said.

Lord of the Flies

Photo courtesy of George Foster

 

Train Station Exterior / Now Abandoned Night Club Interior

Train Station Exterior / Now Abandoned Night Club Interior

 Cheri Sundra--Guerrilla Historian

Record Player

Photo courtesy of George Foster

Staircase

Photo courtesy of Katherine Rogers

Don’t Miss Part 2:

A Resurrection Reversed:  The Playboy Bunnies & The Death(s) of the Wilkes-Barre Train Station

~*~*~*~*~

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