Editor’s note: Over the next several weeks, Jack Smiles will explore the history of communities throughout Greater Pittston. Today features the story of how Wyoming and West Wyoming, once part of Kingston Twp., became their own boroughs. Next week’s story tells how the boroughs were once again united — in grief — in 1918 .
In 1874, what we know today as Wyoming Borough was part of Kingston Twp. and was described as a virtual eden. From the Pittston Gazette: “The village of Wyoming is without rival in the state. Vegetation flourishes in its soil with amazing vigor. The beautiful farms which surround it add grandeur to the picture.”
James Atherton was a fruit famer who grew strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, goose berries, currants, apples, pears, plums and peaches and sold them at his 173-foot front on Wyoming Avenue.
Customers paid $5 per hundred for new strawberries called “Mammoth of the West” and famers bought grapevines and Herstine raspberry vines by the hundred.
Families with names steeped in local history — such as Pettebone and Jenkins — had businesses there, a terracotta company and a wool factory among them.
In the 1880s, residents of the area, already known as the village of Wyoming, petitioned in Luzerne County Court to break away from Kingston Twp. In a March 23 letter, they made a good case. “The road leading from the main highway to the river (Eighth Street) needs to be straightened and made wider. It will cost $3,000, which Kingston Twp. won’t pay.”
The letter also said if Wyoming residents didn’t have to pay for “an expensive road between Kingston and Wilkes-Barre,” they would have enough money to have “good stone or plank sidewalks in Wyoming.”
Then, too, there was the problem of Kingston Twp. letting cows pasture on the road. The cows were reaching through and over fences to eat from people’s yards and gardens. The letter and the petition asked the borough borders be “from the river to the mountain gap and as far down to Forty Fort as the court will grant.”
On April 5, 1885, a grand jury certified the conditions had been met and “the prayer of the petition is granted.” The village of Wyoming was incorporated as a borough officially on June 23, 1885.
Ideas for the new borough were floated. One proposal was for the borough to purchase land near the new school building for a public park, move the Wyoming Monument there, display Indian relics and charge 10 cents admission.
A letter writer mocked Kingston Twp. on the way out: “Goodbye to the old stone pile called a bridge up in Mutton Hollow Kingston Township. Please accept it as a token of friendship from the borough.”
Election of the first officers was July 1. Burgess was William Hancock, with a council made up of John P. Smith, president; John A. Hutchins, John Sharp, J.I. Shoemaker, Dr. C.P. Knapp and John Daugher.
An audit of Kingston Twp.’s books showed unexplained expenses of $900 and $1,400, prompting the burgess to comment, “All we have to show is a pile of stones for a bridge with foundations washed out and $900 life insurance on one of the ex-supervisors.”
But not all the citizens of the new borough were happy. Even before the petition was granted, a different petition, a remonstrance, was in circulation against extending the limits of the new borough beyond the Lehigh Valley Railroad. In other words, the petitioners did not want the new borough to include the West Ward, which would become West Wyoming. Like Wyoming, West Wyoming already had an identity of its own apart from Kingston Twp. and it was variously known as Carpentersville, Shoemaker’s Mills and New Troy.
Those citizens who wanted to separate West Wyoming from Wyoming had still another name in mind. From the Pittston Gazette: “The citizens are not ready for it (West Wyoming breaking from Wyoming) and when they are they will petition for a borough of their own to be called Cleveland Borough. They have enough population and taverns and stores as they have in Wyoming besides steam mills, cider mills, saw mills, foundries and factories. They need a borough of their own and do not wish to be the tail end of a borough where there have always been so many hungry chaps for office.”
Three hot businesses in West Wyoming were the Nathan Van Horn granite quarry at back road on land bought from John F. Lewis, the apple grower, for $1,500; the Laycock and Crouse Wagon shop, with a reputation for the best wagons in the state, and the the Robert Frear plow factory and foundry up the hollow, which couldn’t keep up with demand.
In May 1898, a petition for division of Wyoming into two distinct boroughs was filed in Luzerne County Court. On June 21, 1898, the petition was granted. On June 30, citizens caucused in the old school building to form a committee to nominate officers. Jacob Shoemaker was chairman of the committee. The first election was on July 15. Bert Space was elected burgess and Shoemaker was president of council. Nelson Hoffman was appointed street commissioner at $1.50 a day. Street department workers were hired at $1.25 per day and a driver and team were hired at $3 a day. J.G. Clark was appointed solicitor.
The West Wyoming school board met the same week with A. W. Gay as president, but West Wyoming didn’t start its own school district until 1899.
In the meantime, students living in West Wyoming stayed in the Wyoming schools. Three residents of West Wyoming — John Hunlock, C.W. Wilner and W.J. Fowler — were kicked off the Wyoming school board by the board majority, likely out of revenge or vindictiveness. The board members who lived in Wyoming declared the seats held by the West Wyoming men vacant, as they were non-residents, and appointed three men from Wyoming. The board majority claimed being a non-resident was tantamount to resignation.
The three sued and a Luzerne County Judge ruled in their favor, saying there had been no resignation and there was no vacancy. They were reinstated to the Wyoming school board.