Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Foreword by Richard J. Leonori, AIA, Lackawanna Historical Society trustee

The ever-changing landscape of Northeastern Pennsylvania reflects our history, values, economy and way of life. The rugged natural beauty of the Lackawanna Valley remained largely in its natural state until the 19th century. The Lenape tribes migrated through the area seasonally for hundreds of years yet barely left a trace. The Connecticut settlers cleared and farmed and the most entrepreneurial took advantage of the rich mineral resources of the land. The railroads regraded the valley slopes and opened the area to burgeoning East Coast markets. The iron industry failed, but hard coal transformed the valley into an urbanized center. The dark angular structures and culm banks of the mining industry scarred the region. The valley floor gave way to a string of commercial centers, with the city of Scranton emerging as the most prominent. Wood frame houses, ranging from shanties and shacks to great, pillared mansions covered the surrounding hillsides.

The industry and commerce brought people. Those people came from New England and New Jersey, or the surrounding countryside, but also from Ireland, Germany, Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, Russia, Lithuania, Italy, Sweden and virtually every corner of the European continent. Many came with very little other than a desire to work hard, for their children, if not for themselves, and to have a better life. They would give up their homeland, their language, much of their culture, but not their faith. In each neighborhood or settlement, prominent religious buildings were erected. Often, the beauty and grandeur of the religious structure would belie the hard-scrabble character of the surrounding houses. Each ethnic group would identify with a particular religious institution, and the pastor, rabbi or priest would play an important role in family life. The steeple, tower or dome became a prominent element of the landscape as religion was integral to life in the Lackawanna Valley.

Today, most of the rails are gone, turned to trails and one significant museum. The coal industry too is remembered in a tour and a museum. Virtually all of the structures are gone, and we will be cleaning up the wasteland for another century. Most of the shanties have been replaced with more substantial housing and many of the mansions are also gone. Still remaining, for the most part, are the religious structures.

The painful, but overdue, restructuring of the Scranton Diocese has now closed a significant number of unsustainable churches. Through photographs and historical background, Framing Faith documents 10 churches in Lackawanna County that have closed in recent months. This publication honors those structures and the history and lives that they touched.

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