Rick Hiduk Spring 2016
Residents of Tunkhannock in Wyoming County proudly call their picturesque river town “The Gateway to the Endless Mountains.” The county seat is situated at the crossroads of commerce between the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton area and Pennsylvania’s mountainous northern tier. Tunkhannock entices visitors off the beaten path with charming downtown and residential districts that seem instantly reminiscent of the history and heritage behind them.
In June, the Historic Tunkhannock Walking Tour will return, providing a portal to the town’s rich past and ongoing preservation efforts. Co-sponsored by the Wyoming County Cultural Center, Wyoming County Historical Society (WCHS), Endless Mountains Visitors Bureau (EMVB), and the PA Route 6 Alliance, the walking tours will take participants past more than two dozen homes, businesses, houses of worship and other historic venues. EMVB and the PA Route 6 Alliance have provided the funding for the project.
With Tunkhannock currently enjoying a renaissance in both culture and commerce, Walking Tour project partners saw both an opportunity and a need to breathe new life into a former version of the tour. The heritage of the borough will be more accessible and relevant than ever thanks to the tour, which moved its base downtown to the restored Dietrich Theater, altered the course for safety, and will dig more deeply into the origins of the buildings.
“Tunkhannock has such a rich tapestry of history that it is important that we preserve not only the structures but the stories about the people who lived and worked in them,” said Mark Mitchell, Wyoming County Historical Society board president.
On West Tioga Street, for example, is the former home of Walter Tewksbury, prominent town dentist and 1900 winner of two Olympic gold medals in track and field. The Tewksburys lived in the home into the 1980s.
“Tunkhannock has one of the most intact historic districts that I’ve seen along Route 6,” stated Paula Zitzler, instructor of anthropology and archaeology at Penn State Altoona. “There are lots of great, well-maintained properties concentrated among a few blocks.”
The Dana-Hobbs Block on Warren Street is a row of adjoining brick buildings constructed between 1873 and 1899. Civil War veteran and medical doctor Charles H. Dana oversaw the construction of the block’s three anchor properties, in which he and his son resided and conducted their respective practices. The younger Dana perished in a hotel barn fire in 1901 while trying to save six horses trapped inside.
Serving as headquarters for the new tour is the Dietrich Theater. Opened in the 1930s by George Dietrich, the theater was rescued through a community effort in the 1990s after having closed.
“As a historic theater in the heart of downtown that already brings local history programs and exhibits to the community, we are a great fit to serve as the starting and ending venue on the tour,” related theater director Erica Rogler.
An exhibit featuring photos of the homes, businesses, and churches on the tour will open in the theater’s gallery in the days prior to Tunkhannock’s annual Founders Day celebration conducted by the Tunkhannock Business & Professionals Association (TBPA) on Saturday, June 25.
A panel presentation and tours for preregistered groups will begin as Founders Day winds down. The guided tours will continue on Thursday evenings in July, and private tours can be arranged for later dates through the theater. There is a suggested donation per participant.
Project partners plan to further collaborate with the Business Association to combine the tours with unique shopping and dining experiences. In fact, some of the town’s most popular eateries are part of the tour. A three-story building on the first block of East Tioga Street has served as a hardware store, trunk and harness manufacturer, and bonnet and dress shop. The building has more recently rendered itself as a clothing store, a youth center, and an upscale café, which offers al fresco dining in season.
“Tunkhannock has a unique reputation for an eclectic mix of businesses and restaurants throughout the shopping area,” said Nancy Parlo, TBPA board member. “Participants of the Historic Walking Tour will enjoy discovering all that Tunkhannock has to offer.”
Times for the June 25 presentation, tour details, and additional information can be found at www.dietrichtheater.com or by calling 570-996-1500. Residents and visitors may also pick up Walking Tour brochures at various locations for self-guided tours.