By Katherine Pugh, Wilkes-Barre Times Leader
WILKES-BARRE — Wilkes-Barre City Councilman Tony Brooks hosted a walking tour of the architecture of downtown Wilkes-Barre on Saturday, stopping at residential and commercial buildings on Franklin, West South, West River and South River streets.
The councilman detailed the history of iconic Wilkes-Barre landmarks like the Westmoreland Club, the First Presbyterian Church, the Mary Stegmaier mansion, the Fred Kirby mansion, the Ohav Zedek Synagogue, and even the oldest surviving house in Wilkes-Barre. The tour was attended by an attentive crowd of dozens.
Brooks cited facts about Victorian, Edwardian, Gothic, Romanesque, French, and several other types of architecture in the buildings in addition to interesting facts about their history.
“I think it’s very important to know about a place that you come from,” said the councilman. “When you know about a place, you have more pride. All the streets we have in the Wyoming Valley all have names, and they all mean something.
“I think it’s really important to unmask the history behind the names so that when someone goes down Hollenback Street, and sees the Hollenback Cemetery, they can say: ‘Hey, there was a guy named George Hollenback who was an early entrepreneur of the anthracite industry who helped fuel the Industrial Revolution’ and that’s where these names come from.”
Brooks continued: “It makes the place that we live psychologically comfortable and it creates community.”
Several names became a recurring theme in the tour— Hollenback, Stegmaier, Kirby, Butler, Welles, and more were identified as the patriarchs and matriarchs of Wilkes-Barre with extravagant homes to match. Mary Stegmaier’s mansion on South Franklin Street, which is open to a variety of private events, is preserved almost perfectly with Edwardian furnishings and features like a ballroom, solarium, and carriage house.
The oldest home in Wilkes-Barre, a white wooden residence with green shutters in classical colonial form, belonged to Zebulon Butler, a local politician who Brooks says held over 20 offices in his lifetime.
Brooks will be hosting a walking tour of the Hollenback Cemetery on Saturday, Oct. 14, with a focus on the Revolutionary War. More events, trivia, and ways to get involved can be found on the Wilkes-Barre Preservation Society’s Facebook Page — @WBPreservation.