(Photo - USDA.gov. Photo taken by Calvin Beale, May 1977)
Luzerne County Courthouse
The Wyoming Valley region was originally settled by the Iroquois Indians, and as colonial settlers spread, the Minsi and Delaware Indians relocated there as well. In 1753, the first permanent white settlers came to the Wyoming valley region from Connecticut. With limited room for expansion, Connecticut residents formed the Susquehanna Company and began to settle the land along the northern branch of the Susquehanna River.
At the time of the creation of the colonial charters, the British government lacked knowledge of the geography of the region, therefore, both the Connecticut and Pennsylvania colonies were able to lay claim to the land in the Wyoming Valley. This increased tensions between the two groups, and a series of intermittent conflicts known as the Yankee-Pennamite Wars erupted in 1769.
In 1774, Connecticut created the town of Westmoreland, CT in the Wyoming Valley territory and incorporated it as an extension of Litchfield County in Connecticut. By the end of the Revolutionary War, ownership was still debated, so Congress was asked to settle the issue. With the Decree of Trenton, in 1782, the U.S. Congress declared the territory belonged to Pennsylvania. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania refused to recognize the Yankee land titles, and this action led to the Second Yankee-Pennamite War.
During one attempt at compromise it was suggested that an entirely new state called Westmoreland be made in the region. Eventually, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania reversed their decision and allowed Yankees in the territory the rights they were originally granted under the Decree of Trenton. As part of the compromise, Luzerne County was formed in 1786 from Northumberland County and was named in honor of the French minister to America, Chevalier de la Luzerne.
At the time of its creation, Luzerne County included part of Bradford County and all of what is now Lackawanna, Susquehanna and Wyoming Counties. After the first census enumeration in 1790 the population was estimated to be around 2,000, with the majority living in mostly rural areas. The population increased dramatically during the mid 19th century as the process of mining and refining anthracite coal was developed.
Breaker Boys, Woodward Coal Mines, Kingston, Luzerne County
(Photo courtesy of Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection, LC-D401-11590)
Anthracite coal was the fuel that drove the engine of the Industrial Revolution, and much of the coal was mined from the anthracite fields of Luzerne County. Areas in the Wyoming Valley such as Pittston, Wilkes-Barre, Hazleton, Kingston and Old Forge were settled by miners and their families, with the smaller settlements being known as "mine patches." The back-breaking work of mining coal from the ground was accomplished by a mainly immigrant work force, which was consistently replenished with an immigrant labor force comprised primarily of settlers from England, Ireland, Wales and Germany who were drawn to the region because work was steady.
As immigration patterns shifted, more immigrants from eastern and southern Europe began to settle in the county. The number of Polish and Italian immigrants remained steady through the late 19th and into the early part of the 20th century.
Today, Luzerne County covers 891 square miles. The largest city, Wilkes-Barre, is also the county seat.
1874 J. Sturdevant & Co. Map of Luzerne County (#186; Pennsylvania State Archives)
(Luzerne County Township Map Courtesy of Kristin Bryson & Bare Roots Publishing)