HERITAGEPA TRAVEL FEATURE: Exploring the historic museums of the Lackawanna Heritage Valley

By Jim Cheney, UncoveringPA

In the late 18th century, the Industrial Revolution was starting to take hold. What was once done by hand was now being done by machines. However, these machines required fuel to keep them working. At the same time, coal was being discovered in northeastern Pennsylvania, and, by the mid-19th century, much of America’s industry was being run by power made from anthracite coal. In addition to coal, many other industries popped up in the Lackawanna River valley including iron and the railroad.

All of this industry, combined with the area’s close proximity to New York City and Philadelphia, turned northeastern Pennsylvania into the power plant of the industrial revolution. Today, visitors to the region can learn about the area’s history at the many museums that are a part of the Lackawanna Heritage Valley.

The Lackawanna Heritage Valley comprises an area along the Lackawanna River and was begun in 1991 with the goal of preserving the region’s rich history. Today, it is not only a Pennsylvania heritage region, but it has also been recognized as a National Heritage Area for its importance to the history of the United States. For those looking to learn about the the region’s history, the city of Scranton has a great selection of museums that tell the story of the heritage area’s industrial history and what life was like for those that lived in the area.

If you are looking to learn about coal mining and how it affected those that lived in the area, Scranton’s McDade Park offers two great destinations.

The Lackawanna Coal Mine Tour offers the chance for visitors to venture down into an old coal mine and learn how anthracite coal was mined and what life was like for those working in the mines.

Entrance to the mine is by way of a sloping mine car, which takes visitors 300 feet below the ground. This mine was operational from 1860 through 1966, but has been open to visitors for the last 30 years. If you’ve never been in a coal mine before, this is a fascinating experience that allows visitors to better appreciate the hard work that went into powering the nation during the Industrial Revolution.

Next door is the Anthracite Heritage Museum, which tells the story of coal mining in northeastern Pennsylvania and the many immigrants who made their way to the Lackawanna Valley to work in the industry. Going beyond the historical details of coal mining, the museum focuses on what life was like for those that worked in the mines, how they went about their work, and how they set up a wide variety of immigrant communities throughout the region.

Another great destination for those looking at the human side of the region’s industrial history is the Lackawanna History Museum. Functioning as the historical society for Lackawanna County, the museum showcases what life was like from the earliest settlers to the region through the 20th century. While the museum does have a bit of information about the coal mining industry that once dominated the region, the focus is more on what day-to-day life was like for those that lived in the region.

The Everhart Museum in Scranton shows that there was more to the region than just work. Founded in 1908, the Everhart Museum is the oldest museum in northeastern Pennsylvania and offers one of the state’s best curated collections ranging from dinosaur fossils to Asian art. The museum also features a wide variety of popular temporary exhibitions that offer unique looks at both local and international topics.

Another aspect of the region’s history is transportation. With coal mining being such a big business, a network of trains sprung up to haul the region’s goods to markets in larger American cities and around the world.

Steamtown National Historic Site tells the story of train travel throughout the country, with a special focus on northeastern PA during the Industrial Revolution. During this time, the trains were not only hauling the valley’s anthracite coal, but were also powered by it. Because of this, many steam engines are on display at Steamtown, including the only “Big Boy” east of the Mississippi River. Visitors can even hop aboard a historic train for a ride through the valley.

However, trains weren’t the only form of transportation in the city. In the 1880s, Scranton became the first city to run an all-electric trolley network, garnering it the nickname “The Electric City.” These trolleys allowed residents of the area to travel through the city and into the surrounding communities and were vital to life in the valley. Today, the Electric City Trolley Museum, which is located next door to Steamtown, tells the story of trolley transportation in the region. Like Steamtown, visitors can see trolleys on display, learn about their history through artifacts, or even take a ride on a vintage trolley.

Without a doubt, The Lackawanna Heritage Valley was a vital region to the Industrial Revolution. Those looking to learn about this fascinating history won’t want to miss these great museums located in Scranton, Pennsylvania.

For more information about the region, visit the website of the Lackawanna Heritage Valley.


About the writer: Jim Cheney is the writer behind UncoveringPA, Pennsylvania’s most read travel blog. He has traveled to every county in Pennsylvania and to many countries in North America, Europe, and Asia. He lives in Harrisburg, Pa.