Observations by a Stranger

Wilkes-Barre 1810

The comments below were taken from an article entitled "Memorandum of a Stranger in Luzerne County," which appeared in the "Federalist" newspaper, 30 March, 1810. These observations were diary entries of a traveler who stayed in Wilkes-Barre on March 20, 21 and 22, 1810..

Eugene J. Shiber


20 March, 1810 (Tuesday)

"Regularly laid out -- handsome place, though too many small houses for beauty."

"Streets terribly muddy -- almost impossible to get along. Would not a good pavement raise the property"?

"What! Two men running horses! Mud, knee-deep. Well, they sputter it agoing bravely. They spout it around like Mount Etna. Huzzah! There goes a man and his horse heads-over-heels -- spatter, dash, souse all over mud -- ha! ha! -- a new way of dismounting."

"Walked up to the center of a place -- saw a Meeting House -- good sign, a Court House, an Academy, and

a Jail judging by the high yard fence."

"Found 6 men playing cards without concealment. Inquired if they had laws in this state."

"Saw a man drunk -- found out he was a candidate for sheriff."

"Went a little farther -- saw a tavern with the sign of a vessel. Must look in the morning and see if this be a

seaport town."

"Heard the bell ring -- made inquiry and found there was a Methodist meeting."

21 March, 1810 (Wednesday)

"Returned to the tavern -- found a good many men come in to get their morning charge."

"Went on -- saw things which I will never forget -- returned to my lodging sick."

"Everything pleasant -- many people came in , and as they poured down the whiskey they drummed out the

politics. Query: If they should drink less, talk less, and read more, won't they understand the subject better"?

"Went up the street -- going by the Court House heard stamping, like that of a livery stable in fly time --

made inquiry and found there was a dancing school there."

22 March, 1810 (Thursday)

"In the morning -- Over! Over! Halloo, ferryman"!


"P.S. I shall return this way"!


Submitterís Comments:

Wilkes-Barre was named in 1768, and in 1772 the population was so small that there was within itís boarders only five (5) white women. The number of buildings in 1784 was 26, of which 23 were burned by the Pennamites that year. The population of the village in 1800 is not definitely known, but the entire number of taxables the previous year was 121. At the incorporation of the Borough in 1806, the number of persons living within its limits was about 500, and there were only 48 houses between North and South Streets. In 1810 the population of Wilkes-Barre Township and Borough was 1,225.

The "Traveler" mentioned a Meeting House, a Court House, an Academy and a Jail. Also he referred to a bell ringing. Below is an attempt to explain what he had seen and heard:

Meeting House: Presumably, this was "The Old Ship Zion." in the Public Square. Itís construction began in 179,1 but was not enclosed until 1801when its lofty steeple was finished. Soon after, for want of funds, it was deserted by the workmen until 1808 when funds were obtained through a lottery ($25,000 vis 3,125 tickets at $8.00 each). In 1812 the most elegant church in northern Pennsylvania was finally finished.

Court House: The Observer must have seen the second Court House which was used for judicial purposes since 1805 and continued for more than a half-century. In 1856 the cornerstone was laid for the third Court House at a cost of $85,000.

Academy: After the completion of the new (second court house), the old court house was converted into the Academy about 1804. The conversion cost $9,356.06 and 32 Ĺ gallons of whiskey. In the cellar, the lovers of good beefsteak found a good market; dancing was taught; and holy men of God proclaimed the Doctrine of Divine Truth.

Jail: The Wilkes-Barre jail was built for Luzerne County. Its construction began in 1802 and completed for a cost of $5, 846.43. In 1829 the first sentence of execution was conducted on a man who shot and killed his father. He was, however, pardoned by Governor Shultz. This excited the people with great indignation. Both Keck, the murderer, and the Governor, who pardoned him, were hanged and burnt in effigy in the Wilkes-Barre Public Square. Keck afterwards became insane, and wandered about the county from place to place. The first execution, James Cadden, took place in the jail yard on 2 March, 1849.

Bell: The ringing of the bell that the Observe heard was probably the one in the hung in the second Court House. It was cast in 1805 in Philadelphia, and during the years that followed, it summoned the townspeople to meetings of every kind. It called the criminal to receive his sentence, and the man the man who had not been proven guilty to receive his acquittal; it summoned the people to hear the gospel, and the eloquence of the political advocates. If the people were to be assembled for any purpose, the Court House bell was tolled.

This Article was donated by Gene Shiber
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