Pittston is a city in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, United States. It is situated between Scranton and Wilkes-Barre. The city gained prominence in the late 19th and early 20th centuries as an active anthracite coal mining city, drawing a large portion of its labor force from European immigrants. The population was 7,739 as of the 2010 census. At its peak in 1920, the population of Pittston was 18,497. The city consists of three sections: The Downtown (in the center of the city), the Oregon Section (in the southern end), and the Junction (in the northern end).
Pittston lies in the Wyoming Valley on the east side of the Susquehanna River and on the south side of the Lackawanna River. It is approximately midway between Wilkes-Barre and Scranton. Named after the famous British statesman William Pitt the Elder, the city was settled around 1770 by the Susquehanna Company of Connecticut. It was originally called "Pittstown".
During the Revolutionary War, Connecticut Continentals (Patriots), led by Captain Jeremiah Blanchard and Lieutenant Timothy Keyes, held and maintained a fort in Pittston. On July 4, 1778 (one day after the Battle of Wyoming), a group of British soldiers took over the fortress and some of it was destroyed. Two years later, the Continentals stormed the fortification and recaptured it. From then on it was under Patriot control until the end of the war in 1783, with the signing of the Treaty of Paris. Today a marker stands at the site where the fort once stood.
Pittston broke away from Pittston Township and officially became a borough in 1853. It was later chartered as a city on December 10, 1894. Throughout the late 1890s, the city's borders extended from Scranton to Wilkes-Barre, but due to financial and civil differences, the city would soon be divided into the many townships and boroughs that exist throughout the central Wyoming Valley today.
With the opening of a canal in the 1830s, Pittston became an important link in the coal industry. Money made through the mining and transportation of coal led some of the leading merchants to petition its separation from Pittston Township. The anthracite and railroad industry attracted thousands of immigrants, making Pittston a true melting pot with once-distinct ethnic and class neighborhoods.
The anthracite coal mining industry, and its extensive use of child labor in the early part of the 20th century, was one of the industries targeted by the National Child Labor Committee and its hired photographer, Lewis Hine. Many of Hine's subjects were photographed in the mines and coal fields in and around Pittston between 1908 and 1912. The impact of the Hine photographs led to the enactment of child labor laws across the country.
Coal mining remained the prominent industry in Pittston for many decades, but disasters did strike on more than one occasion. The first major tragedy occurred in the Newton Coal Company's Twin Shaft Mine near the city's railroad junction on June 28, 1896, when a massive cave-in killed 58 miners.
Anthracite coal mining remained in Pittston until January 22, 1959, when the Knox Mine Disaster in nearby Port Griffith in Jenkins Township ended the industry completely. There, the ice-laden Susquehanna River broke through the roof of the River Slope Mine of the Knox Coal Company, allowing billions of gallons of river water to flood the interconnected mines. Seventy-four miners were trapped; sixty-two miners escaped; twelve miners died and their bodies were never recovered. The heroic efforts of one miner, Amedeo Pancotti of Pittston, led thirty-two miners to safety. For his efforts, Amedeo Pancotti was awarded the Carnegie Medal for heroism from the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission.
City's boom and bust
Pittston became an active railroad center in response to its mining and industrial activity. The Lehigh Valley Railroad maintained a beautiful station in downtown Pittston, near the foot of the Water Street Bridge. Sadly, the station did not survive the urban renewal of the 1960s; it was demolished in 1964. Pittston also had a station on the historic Lackawanna and Wyoming Valley Railroad, commonly known as the Laurel Line, an electric interurban streetcar line.
Besides mining anthracite coal, Pittston was home to many industries in the 19th and 20th centuries, including metals, plastics, paper products, apparel, electrical equipment and beverages. The Pittston Stove Company, established in 1864, manufactured coal and wood-burning stoves for heating and cooking. The Pittston Brewing Company, brewers of Glennon's Beer, maintained operations in Pittston from 1873 until 1948. Evan R. Jones Stoneware crafted pottery which bore the Pittston name in the 1870s and 1880s.
Main Street was home to at least two theaters, the Roman at 27 South Main and the American at 48 North Main, both of which have been razed. Many historic commercial structures were demolished in the urban renewal efforts of the 1960s.
On March 15, 1993, two Pittston firefighters (John Lombardo and Len Insalaco) were killed while fighting a blaze on the city's main street. A monument was built in the downtown, and the nearby Water Street Bridge was renamed to commemorate their sacrifice during that tragic March day.
For decades, the towering spires of the many Protestant and Roman Catholic churches dominated the city's skyline. Most of the numerous Catholic churches were established to serve one of the many ethnic communities that made up Pittston. The Irish had St. John the Evangelist, the Slovaks had St. John the Baptist, the Lithuanians had St. Casimir's, the Germans had St. Mary's Assumption, and the Italians had St. Rocco's and Our Lady of Mount Carmel. There is also a Byzantine Catholic Church on Main Street (St. Michael's). From 2004 to the present, the Diocese of Scranton has closed many of the churches and private schools in and around Pittston due to declining population and enrollment. Saint John the Baptist Elementary School closed in 2004, and Seton Catholic High School closed in 2007. St. Mary's Assumption School closed in 2011.
In recent years, the downtown area was renovated with new sidewalks, trees, and street lights. Older buildings are being demolished and newer structures (i.e., condominiums, restaurants, bars, and stores) are being built.