The National Park Service has many different kinds of attractions -- there are parks, of course, and then you will find historical sites, national monuments, and even heritage valleys, of which Pennsylvania's Lackawanna is among the first. It aims to celebrate America's industrial revolution in places, programs, and museums. Examples include rail yards, coal mines, blast furnaces, great architecture, landscapes, ethnic churches, and "the birthplace of organized labor."
Between 1880 and 1920, dozens of ethnic groups and many thousands of people made the Lackawanna Valley their home. Now, the Lackawanna Heritage Valley Authority (LHVA) is sponsoring a variety of community-outreach initiatives here, the better to keep alive the history and traditions of a not-so-distant past. Especially important here were the anthracite coal, rail, and iron industries. During the 30-year period mentioned, Lackawanna County had the highest percentage of immigrant residents of any county in the state.
Most of the area's sites are located in downtown Scranton in northeastern Pennsylvania, the city host to its own airport.
(Other important Heritage Areas include those in Essex, Massachusetts; the Hudson River Valley in New York; Freedom's Frontier, Kansas; and the Delaware & Lehigh Corridor, New York.)
Whenever appropriate, non-industrial sites are incorporated into the Valley's attractions, such as the burial place of George Washington's bodyguard, Parley Hughes, at Memorial Cemetery in Taylor, PA.
One of the most important sites here is the Steamtown National Historic Site (tel. 570/340-5204; www.nps.gov/stea; admission $6). To see examples of the mighty marvels that helped build America, check out the Locomotive Shops, open almost every day. The building itself dates from the 1860s, with machinery for making and repairing the engines that crisscrossed the country for decades. Be sure to see the Technology Museum here and the History Museum, with restored passenger and freight cars, a sectioned steam locomotive, films, and more.
Short train rides on the Scranton Limited ($3) are available through Dec. 4, 2010 on select days and weekends, as well as longer excursion rides on weekends only.
The site is about 40 acres of the rail yard of the former Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad. A seafood processor from New England put together a collection of locomotives and cars in the 1950s and 1960s, which was bought in 1984 after his death and brought here. The biggest engine on site is the 600-ton Big Boy, 132 feet, which is 12 feet longer than the Wright Brothers' first flight.
There are two Junior Ranger programs for kids, one for ages 6 to 8, another for ages 9 to 12, as well as an activity sheet for kids 5 and under.
For what it's worth, there are about 1,950 steam locomotives in the country today -- only 250 of them are capable of running and just 100 of them operate at any given time. Steamtown has three that can still run.
Close on Steamtown's heel is the Electric City Trolley Station and Museum (tel. 570/963-6590; www.ectma.org; adult admission $6), adjacent to Steamtown. It is open year-round, but its trolleys ($8 for adults; combo admission and ride $10) do not operate in winter. In addition to interpretive displays, there are models that kids can operate. Included are items from several trolley systems outside Scranton, such those from New York City, Boston, and Philadelphia.
The Lackawanna County Coal Mine Tour (www.lackawannacounty.org) takes you 300 feet underground. The descent takes only 3 or 4 minutes, but the underground walking tour lasts about an hour, covering nearly half a mile. I loved the gift shop for its selection of jewelry and amusing figures of owls and people -- all of which are sculptured from anthracite coal. Admission for adults is $10, less for seniors and children. The underground tour is closed in winter.
The Anthracite Heritage Museum also includes old iron furnaces, but the highlight is its history of the labor union movement in the coal industry, full of conflict and sometimes violence. There is also an Eckley Miner's Village in the complex, which is owned and operated by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Museum admission is $6, subject to change, closed on Mondays in winter and on all national holidays.
Finally, check out the Everhart Museum of Natural History, Science & Art (www.everhart-museum.org; adult admission $5), in Nay Aug Park, the largest public museum in northeastern Pennsylvania and dating back to 1908. Among its many features is a planetarium. Open daily but closed in January for maintenance.
Fees & Reservations
There's no admission fee to the Historic Area, but individual partners do have fees. Check each partner's listing for fees. Admission for children and seniors is typically less than the price for adults.
Lackawanna Heritage Valley, tel. 570/963-6730; www.nps.gov/lhva.