The haunting remains of Concrete City
AL ZAGOFSKY/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS Photographer Linda Mann, right, of Albrightsville traveled "Back to the Future" with Wilkes-Barre gothic photographer Curtis Salonick to capture images of Concrete City-the haunting remains of a once-futuristic anthracite coal community.
Photographer Linda Mann of Albrightsville traveled "Back to the Future" with Wilkes-Barre gothic photographer Curtis Salonick to capture images of Concrete City - the haunting remains of a once-futuristic anthracite coal community.
Concrete City, just outside of Nanticoke, was the first phase of a new age in mining villages when the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad built this development of 20 buildings in 1911. It was a time when the companies were experimenting with giving their best workers better living conditions. Housing at Concrete City was a reward for service to the company or a high management position.
It's been abandoned since 1924. Nowadays, it's mostly a destination for shooting paintballs and photographs, and the occasional graffiti artist.
"This is the kind of thing I do," said Salonick. "I look for images to create other images. It's my genre." An award-winning gothic photographer, Salonick seeks out eerie spaces, places and faces to composite into his gothic images.
"I like old abandoned places that have lots of weeds and have a derelict look," explained Mann. "That appeals to me for my photography. I'm working on a series called "Abandoned."
Salonick, having photographed Concrete City several times, introduced Mann to the site. "Today, we will walk around some of the buildings and see what we can find," Curtis said, hoping to find a gross subject like a decaying carcass to photograph.
Concrete City is unique because its buildings were constructed entirely from cast-in-place concrete. From the foundation to the roof, from the walls to the stairs, everything was cast in concrete.
Concrete housing became popularized when, after Thomas Edison failed in the iron-ore refining business, in 1899 he reused the equipment to found the Edison Portland Cement Company. As there was little demand for his cement, Edison promoted its use for low-cost fire-resistant construction. By 1910, he developed a sand, gravel and concrete cement, and introduced reusable steel forms, and gave away the patented information to qualified builders. Edison suggested that along with the concrete walls, the houses should have cast-concrete furniture, pianos, refrigerators, and even phonographs.
The D, L & W Railroad saw these homes as an opportunity to add concrete construction to their markets. To construct Concrete City, the railroad built a special train to deliver the large amount of concrete mixture needed to make a continuous pour, and using a system of portable hinged steel molds, the company built an entire two-family house in a single day.
The 20 two-family duplex buildings were arraigned in a picture frame around a central landscaped green that included a children's playground, tennis court, baseball field, pavilion, and a swimming pool. Soon after opening, Concrete City suffered its first casualty, a boy drowned in the swimming pool. The pool was permanently closed in 1814.
Soon, the interior walls dripped with condensation. One former resident recalled that her father's shirts froze in an upstairs closet during the wintertime, and her mother had to iron them every morning just so he could put them on. Paint and plaster peeled from the walls.
In 1924, in need of a costly sewer system which its new owners, the Glen Alden Coal Company, would not provide, Concrete City was abandoned. An attempt by Glen Alden to demolish it with dynamite was unsuccessful.
The strength and fire resistance of the buildings was eventually recognized by the Luzerne County Volunteer Fireman's Association who used the site as a training center.
The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission has undertaken a mission to save the buildings, recognizing their important role in one of the failed technological experiments in Pennsylvania railroad and coal mining history. It was designated a historic site in 1998, and its remains stand as a tourist attraction near the Hanover section of Nanticoke.