During the height of the American Revolution in the summer of 1780, British sympathizers, known as Tories, concentrated from New York's Mohawk Valley, began attacking patriot outposts located along the Susquehanna River Valley in Northeast Pennsylvania. Because of the reports of Tory activity in the region, Captain Daniel Klader and a platoon of 41 men from Northampton County were sent to investigate. They traveled north from the Lehigh Valley along a path known as "Warrior's Trail," which is present-day State Route 93, since this route connects the Lehigh River in Jim Thorpe (formerly known as Mauch Chunk) to the Susquehanna River in Berwick.
Heading north, Captain Klader's men made it as far north as present-day Conyngham when they were ambushed by members of the Seneca tribe and Tory militiamen. In all, 15 men were killed on September 11, 1780 in what was known the Sugarloaf Massacre.
The Moravians, a Christian denomination, had been using "Warrior's Trail" since the early 18th century after the Moravian missionary Nicolaus Ludwig Zinzendorf first used it to reach the Wyoming Valley. This particular stretch of "Warrior's Trail" had an abundance of hazel trees. Though the Moravians called the region "St. Anthony's Wilderness", it eventually became known as "Hazel Swamp," a name which had been used previously by the Indians.
The Moravian missionaries were sent from their settlements in Bethlehem to the site of the Sugarloaf Massacre to bury the dead soldiers. Because of the aesthetic natural beauty of the Conyngham Valley, some Moravians decided to stay and in 1782, built a settlement, St. Johns, along the Nescopeck Creek, which is near the present-day intersection of Interstates 80 and 81.
Jacob Drumheller's Stage Stand
In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the "Warrior Trail" was widened and became the Berwick Turnpike. Later, a road was built to connect Wilkes-Barre to McKeansburg. This road intersected with the Berwick Turnpike at what is present-day Broad and Vine Streets, in downtown Hazleton. An entrepreneur named Jacob Drumheller decided that this intersection was the perfect location for a rest-stop, so in 1809, he built the first building in what would be later known as Hazleton. Though a few buildings and houses began to be built nearby, the area remained a dense wilderness for about 20 more years. Aside from small-scale logging, the area offered little else. Jacob Drumheller is buried at Conyngham Union Cemetery.
Discovery of coal
Railroad developers from Philadelphia became interested in the Hazleton area once previous rumors were validated that in 1818 anthracite coal deposits had been discovered in nearby Beaver Meadows by prospectors Nathaniel Beach and Tench Coxe.
A young engineer from New York named Ariovistus "Ario" Pardee was hired to survey the topography of Beaver Meadows and report the practicality of extending a railroad from the Lehigh River Canal in Jim Thorpe to Beaver Meadows. Pardee, knowing that the area of Beaver Meadows was already controlled by Coxe and Beach, bought many acres of the land in present-day Hazleton. The investment proved to be extraordinarily lucrative. The land contained part of a massive anthracite coal field. Pardee will be forever known as the founding father of Hazleton.
The Hazleton Coal Company built the first school on Church Street, where Hazleton City Hall is now located. Pardee also built the first church in Hazleton located at Church and Broad Streets. The Pardee mansion was built on the northern block of Broad Street, between present-day Church and Laurel Streets.
The coal industry attracted many immigrants for labour, mostly German and Irish in the 1840s and 1850s, and mostly Italian, Polish, Russian, Lithuanian, and Slovak in the 1860s to 1920s.
Many small company towns, often referred to by locals as "patch towns" or "patches" surrounded Hazleton and were built by coal companies to provide housing for the miners and their families. These include:
Sudden prosperity and growth
Hazleton was incorporated as a borough on January 5, 1857. Its intended name was supposed to be spelled "Hazelton" but a clerk misspelled the name during incorporation, and the name "Hazleton" has been used ever since. The borough's first fire company, the Pioneer Fire Company, was organized in 1867 by soldiers returning from the American Civil War. Hazleton was incorporated as a city on December 4, 1891. The population then was estimated to be around 14,000 people.
In 1891, Hazleton became the third city in the United States to establish a city-wide electric grid.
On September 10, 1897, the Lattimer Massacre occurred near Hazleton.
Post WWII Hazleton
After World War II, the demand for coal began to decline as cleaner, more efficient fuels were being used. Readily available, cheap energy helped open the door for manufacturing. The Duplan Silk Corporation opened and became the world's largest silk mill. The garment industry thrived and was invested in by New York mobster Albert Anastasia..
In 1947, Autolite Corporation was looking to expand operations in the East, and had been looking into Hazleton. Officials from Autolite came to the area to survey it and in their report, they noted Hazleton is a "mountain wilderness" with no major water route, rail route, trucking route, or airport. In response, several area leaders gathered to address these problems.
CAN-DO (Community Area New Development Organization) was formally organized in 1956 by founder Dr. Edgar L. Dessen. Their main goal was to raise money, through their "Dime A Week" campaign, in which area residents were encouraged to put a dime on their sidewalk each week to be collected by CANDO. The company raised over $250,000 and was able to purchase over of land, which was converted into an industrial park. Because of CANDO's efforts, Hazleton was given the All-America City Award in 1964. Hazleton's economy is now based largely on manufacturing and shipping, facilitated by the relative closeness to Interstates 80 and 81.
An article published in December 2002 by U.S. News & World Report was entitled "Letter from Pennsylvania: A town in need of a tomorrow" which reported Hazleton's shortcomings to the world. It was criticized by local politicians and business leaders alike, and again prompted local leaders to address the problems facing the community.
Changing demographics and a new wave of immigrants
In 2006, Hazleton gained national attention as Republican mayor Lou Barletta and council members passed the Illegal Immigration Relief Act. This ordinance was instituted to discourage hiring or renting to illegal immigrants. Initially, the ordinance levied an administrative fine on landlords for $1,000 per illegal immigrant rented to and a loss of permits for non-compliance. Another act passed concurrently made English the official language of Hazleton.
Mayor Lou Barletta of Hazleton estimated that as "many as half" of the estimated 10,000 Hispanics who were living in Hazleton left Hazleton when the ordinance was passed. The issue was covered by the television program 60 Minutes in 2006 and the Fox News show The O'Reilly Factor in March 2007.
The ordinance was criticized as illegal and unconstitutional. A number of residents (landlords, business owners, lawful aliens defined as illegal under the act, and unlawful aliens) filed suit to strike down the law, claiming it violates the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution as well as the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution. After a trial and several appeals including a remand from the Supreme Court, the Third Circuit found the ordinance invalid due to federal preemption.