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An Ode to Concrete City

In the early 1900s in Northeast Pennsylvania, the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western RR had rail lines…

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An Ode to Concrete City

Category Installations/Sculptures
Date September 26, 2019

In the early 1900s in Northeast Pennsylvania, the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western RR had rail lines running over the rich anthracite fields of PA, NY, and NJ carrying coal from the mines it owned – a monopoly.  This didn’t bypass the notice of the Federal Government.  The DL&W RR split forming a new company, the DL&W RR Coal Division.

The Concrete City was conceived as company housing for the Truesdale Colliery (Nanticoke, PA) the highest producing of all the company’s facilities.   Company housing was a well-known and highly used practice.  It tended to be cheap, dull, and uninspiring.    Conditions were unsanitary with general conveniences lacking.  The early 1900s was an era of reform and the Concrete City wasn’t just going to be any company housing, it would be something different.  Proclamations were made about “safety in the mines by assuring the health and comfort of its employees above ground.”  But, which employees?  The Concrete City could house 40 workers and their families, but the Truesdale colliery employed 1700.  The houses would be rented to employees in key strategic positions.  It was an investment in production, a show of loyalty, tinged with a hint of racism.  Only “desirable” employees could live there, a reaction to the flood of Slavic immigration into the region.

Its design and execution were considered progressive and cutting edge.  The most up to date technologies were used, employing a newly patented technique from a NYC architectural firm.  The buildings were made out of cast concrete, picked because it was durable, sanitary, fire resistant and fashionable.

Once completed in 1913 the Concrete City consisted of twenty duplexes, each two stories high.  Every unit was a mirror image of its neighbor and each building was identical to the next.  They consisted of a living room, dining room, and kitchen on the lower level and four tiny bedrooms on the second.  They all had a cellar, patio, and a concrete outhouse.  The buildings faced inward on a courtyard which contained a swimming pool, playground, and ball field.  Special attention was paid to the maintenance and overall appearance.  Sponsored garden contests earned it the moniker, “Garden City of the Anthracite Region.”

Soon problems began to arise.  Moisture and condensation were an issue.  Houses were hot and humid in the summer and cold and dank in the winter.  The monopoly issue arose again too.  A 1915 Supreme Court case ruled that the DL&W RR and the DL&W RR Coal Division were one company.  The Glen Alden Coal Company assumed ownership in 1921.

The final straw came in 1924.  A local ordinance required the installation of public sewer at a cost of $200,000.  The steep price was too much to pay and the buildings were vacated and razed.  Several buildings were packed with dynamite and detonated, but they were built so strongly it merely blew a hole in the floor.  They would be left abandoned instead and have remained so for nearly a hundred years, having become a haven for paintballers and graffiti artists.

Price $775

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