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MYSTERIOUS AMERICA
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About Mysterious America

This column, hosted by our own Dr. Seymour O'life, goes out of its way to bring you the bizarre, strange, uncanny, and just plain mysterious places that dot this fair land. Perhaps it is a huge Buddha statue in New York or a state park in Pennsylvania, where the stones ring like bells - each month is always a peculiar jewel when it comes to Mysterious America.

The Concrete City • Toughest Town in America

Nanitcoke, Pennsylvania

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I often joke that there is so much that you can find right along the side of America’s backroads. Such was the case when I was making my way along the northeast region of Pennsylvania coming from a conference on Interdimensional Time Travel and the Ramifications of MLB’s Play Review Rules, when I passed an historic marker that firmly grabbed my eye.

Indeed, just when I needed it – a taste of Mysterious America.

The year was 1911 and coal was King – especially in northeastern Pennsylvania.

To fulfill the energy needs of the growing nation in the midst of the Industrial Revolution thousands of tons of the black combustible rocks came out of the Keystone State by the trainload.ConcreteOriginal

To keep all this flowing they needed manpower and the Delaware, Lackawana & Western Railroads Coal Division needed to bring in workers and needed a place for them all to live. Looking to make a strong and worthy investment they created what would become known as the Concrete City.

Concrete was still a novel material at the dawn of the twentieth century and the Pennsylvania railroads were using it to build a wide variety of projects. The largest were the high viaducts that the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad (DL&W) built along its New York-Scranton-Buffalo main line. At its opening in 1915, the 240-foot-high Tunkannock Viaduct, just north of Scranton, was hailed as the largest concrete structure in the world.

So when the DL&W decided to build “model worker” housing alongside its Truesdale Colliery (at the time the largest anthracite coal mine operation in the world) near Nanticoke they were determined to combine the latest technologies with the best notions of progressive social thinking and the railroad decided the houses would be built of concrete.

Praised by its designers as the "Garden City of the Anthracite Region," Concrete City was built in 1911 to house only a select few of DL&W's employees. Prospective tenants had to speak English as their first language (re: Americans only), and also had to be employed in positions of "high value," such as foreman, shopman, or technician.

The grandly named Concrete City was in actuality a square of twenty double houses. Only forty of the Truesdale mine's 1,700 employees would receive a spot in the wondrous new community, which featured sidewalks, electric street lights, a concrete swimming pool, playgrounds, a baseball field, and tennis courts.

To build this cutting edge residential complex, the DL&W hauled in materials on railroad track built around the construction site, and mixed the component sand, cement, and cinders on flat cars. An innovative system of portable hinged steel molds, designed and patented by the New York firm of Read and Merrill, allowed the company to build an entire two-family house in a single day.ConcreteBrian

Each house (half of a double) rented for $8 per month, and had seven rooms: living room, dining room, and kitchen downstairs, with four bedrooms above. A coal stove between the living and dining rooms provided heat, as did a coal cook stove in the kitchen. Concrete outhouses, complete with coal bins, were located in the rear of each house.

Social expectations were implied, if not required, and E. E. Loomis, company president in 1913, contended that the "model surroundings" were the just reward for company workers, and assured the "health and safety of its employees above ground.”

As you would think the first to move their families into Concrete City were middle-management - the chief of the power plant, the chief clerk of the colliery, the fire bosses, the head electricians and so on.

Most of the workers, or immigrants, had little hope of securing a home.
The Concrete City homes, however, never lived up to the hopes of their builders. Although the engineers had added coal cinders and crude oil to the building material to inhibit moisture absorption, the interior walls dripped with condensation. One former resident recalled that her father's shirts froze in an upstairs closet during the wintertime, and her mother had to iron them every morning just so he could put them on. By 1920, paint and plaster were peeling from the walls. By 1924, a mere eleven years after its construction, Concrete City was abandoned.

The buildings were then sold and were to be demolished to make way for new construction. But, there was a little bit of a problem. The Cement City was built far too well.

The new owners, the Glen Alden Coal Company, set about to take the buildings down in a big way - with explosives - only to discover that the power of 100 sticks of dynamite in one of the buildings had little impact. If fact, it barely dented it!

The buildings of the Cement City are still there in the hills of Pennsylvania and recently the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission has undertaken a mission to save the buildings, recognizing their important role in one of the failed technological experiments in Pennsylvania railroad and coal mining history. O’Life out!

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