BLYTHEBURN RESIDENT Frances Berg discovered some interesting facts on a proposed exclusive summer colony to be built in the Blytheburn area in the early 1900s.
It may be hard to picture or remember the Mountaintop area at the turn of the century –a rural, sparsely populated community with farms and summer cottages. No Rite Aid or Burger King, no developments, no parks, and just a few small churches and schoolhouses sprinkled in among the townships. Blytheburn resident Frances Berg was interested in finding out more about the history of her community and, while researching the old Blytheburn train station, she stumbled upon a unique use of 400 acres of the former Garrison farm.
The Blytheburn Station, which was completed in 1903 and was part of the Laurel Line of the Wilkes-Barre/Hazleton Electric Railway, connecting Mountaintop to Wilkes-Barre, via Ashley. The train was well known at the time by the name of the “cannonball” and serviced commuters until it closed in 1933. Near the old Blytheburn station, 400 acres of the old Garrison Farm was purchased in 1911 near Watering Creek and the Big Wapwallopen Creek –part of the present day American Legion Post 781. The plans for this purchase called for an exclusive summer “colony” to be built there for those looking to escape the daily grind in the surrounding cities. The March 9, 1912 edition of the Wilkes-Barre Record hailed a New Summer Resort” 21 minutes from Wilkes-Barre via the Cannonball that would enable residents to breathe the “pure mountain air” and pointed inquiries to one Thomas and Welles, Coal Exchange Building, W-B. A pamphlet from 1917 touted the summer home development‘s “lake and parks”, “town conveniences”, “rapid transit” and “artistic cottages”, and offered the summer change of scenery that people “required”. The pamphlet offered the summer home lots as an alternative to the “expensive hotels” on beaches and in the mountains that offered only a “brief respite”. Prices of various size lots were deemed as “moderate” but were quoted by inquiry only.
It does not appear that the settlement ever quite took off the way the developers were hoping, however, and by 1916, the Wilkes-Barre Record was reporting on an inaugural summer of a new Boy Scout Camp on the same property, touting the “big achievements” of the boys, such as hiking, swimming, campfires and fun. The headline, “Life in Open, Under Organized Supervision, Providing Delight and Benefit to Local Boys.” Appeared in the August 21, 1916 edition of the Wilkes-Barre Record and called for interested troops in Wilkes-Barre and nearby districts to register their boys for $3.50 per week per boy.
Her curiosity peaked; Berg set out to find the exact location of the camp, and began researching newspapers and online genealogy. However, after that inaugural summer of camp, the trail goes cold on Berg, who has not found any evidence of Boy Scout badges issued after 1916. Frances speculates, however, that it was still used as an unofficial space at least until 1922 or even the 1940’s when, according to her research and an interview with local resident, Wilbur Barry, the camp ended when all the adults involved enlisted or were drafted into the military during WWII. In fact, this particular area of Blytheburn is still called “the scout camp” by older residents. The last mention of the property in public record is a notice of a Sherriff’s sale in April of 1939, mentioning a YMCA Clubhouse along the Big Wapwallopen Creek.
According to what Frances has discovered, the exact location of the camp seems to vary from the American Legion property to the entrance of Valley Stream Trailer Park and closer to Prospect Road. Berg has spoken with numerous residents of Blytheburn and continues to research genealogy, geography and public records. She is still looking for a few missing pieces to pinpoint the locations of some buildings, including several elusive maps and blueprints of the original planned development from Thomas and Welles.
“I’ve been told that Blytheburn blueprints may be in the possession of some Blytheburn Community Association members or their families,” she said, and invited anybody from that organization to allow her access to digitize the documents and provide them to the Kirby Library.
“So far I have not located a detailed Blytheburn subdivision map,” explains Frances. “Blytheburn would have been in Wright, not Rice Township at that time. I hope somehow to get them online.”
A time long ago, and a camp long forgotten –by everybody except one, Frances Berg.
If anyone has any information on Blytheburn Station, the Boy Scout Camp, or the Blytheburn summer settlement, they can contact Frances Berg at 570-704-7791.