West Wyoming Borough

A community in Historic Northeastern Pennsylvania


The History of West Wyoming was taken from the “West Wyoming Centennial” book that was published in 1998.

In 1750, a scouting party of settlers from Connecticut discovered Wyoming Valley, the heart of the Great Northeast. They fell in love with the picturesque beauty, the powerful Susquehanna, numerous animals for hunting and trapping, and the rich farmland. Many people from the Windham region of Connecticut made the southwesterly journey to make the first non-Native American settlements. The Susquehanna Land Company was quickly established to organize the influx of new Pennsylvanians.

By the Royal Charter of 1662, Connecticut had already laid claim to this territory from King Charles II of England. In 1754, the Connecticut Susquehanna Company had also completed a treaty with the Iroquois Indians purchasing the land for 2,000 pounds. History is unclear whether West Wyoming Borough was part of the territory included in this transaction. However, 18 years later, the King included his same land in a grant to the Pennamites of William Penn Colony. The error was caused by the lack of knowledge about the geography of the new colonies. In 1768, after an appeal to Governor Johnson of New York, the Pennamites received the deed from the Iroquois for the same lands the Yankees had already purchased. The Iroquois were not paid once, but twice for this land.

The only recourse the Yankees had was to occupy it by force. That was the beginning of the conflict between the Connecticut settlers and the Pennsylvania settlers known as the Pennamite War. The Revolutionary War enlisted the men from both sides of the Pennamite War. This put a temporary end to the fighting.

Settlements and the End of Peaceful Resolutions
In 1762, the Susquehanna Company sent nearly 200 of its settlers to explore the regions more completely. The surrounding areas were originally named Maughuvawama and Shenandowana, meaning large flats and large plains. These names were given by the Indians out of great love for the pristine and productive land. A series of attempts to take possession of these lands, however, from the Indians proved unsuccessful.

The Indian vision was one of a peaceful union that came to the use of force only out of self-defense. Under the terms of an unwritten constitution, the clan mother of an individual household selected a spokesman who met in council. After canvassing opinions from their own tribes to discuss and vote on many issues affecting the league, each tribe cast a single vote. The vote for war had to be unanimous. Every member’s vote was considered in the process of reaching an overall opinion. The Indian decision-making process so impressed the settlers that similar proceedings were later written in the state laws of Connecticut and Pennsylvania. The basic premise became part of the United States Constitution. The dream of peace was never achieved because of the Iroquois’ decision to strike first and hardest.

Settlers Return Next Spring
Flying in the face of such formidable opposition, the Susquehanna Company appropriated money to improve the roads to gain access to the lands. And in early May, ten or twelve men that had been there the previous autumn returned with wives and children. By June, all the Indians had left the valley. In 1762, when this news had reached Connecticut, many of the other pioneers arrived with their wives, children, livestock, and farming implements. They completed several log cabins and saw mills nearby.

Susquehanna Company Lay Claim to This Territory
In 1768, the Susquehanna Company devised a plan to maintain possession of the northern third of Pennsylvania. The plan was to divide Wyoming Valley into five townships, each five square miles. West Wyoming became part of Kingston Township.

Each township was divided into forty shares assigned to the first forty settlers who migrated into the townships to hold land against the Indians. West Wyoming’s first forty arrived in February 1769. The first forty were followed by additional settlers in the spring, who occupied the four remaining townships. The flat land was called Abraham Plains after Chief Abraham.

Prior to 1800, there were few permanent settlers here. The Indian invasion, the Yankee conflict over land ownership, and the Revolutionary War involvement all hindered the permanent settlements in the area. It is uncertain the number of settlers before 1898 since no records are available, nor is it certain who the first family was in West Wyoming. However, the families that made the most impact on West Wyoming were Finch, Carey, Belford, Carpenter, Shoemaker, Frears, and others who gradually came here.

In July 1778, settlers defending the town of Forty Fort in Wyoming Valley by the Loyalists and the Indians were brutally tortured and slain in the Wyoming Massacre.

After the revolution, Pennsylvania was plagued by border disputes. The ownership in Wyoming Valley concerning the Susquehanna, a river initially claimed by Connecticut settlers in 1754, was finally settled in 1782 after much bloodshed. Congress decided in favor of Pennsylvania and forcibly dispossessed the Connecticut holders of the title, although it was 1811 before Pennsylvania land deeds were given to the Connecticut settlers.

The Carpenters and The Shoemakers (by Eileen Cipriani)
In 1778, Asahel Buck sold a tract of land that would many years later become Wyoming and West Wyoming to Benjamin Carpenter. Carpenter and his brother Gilbert developed several mills along the banks of Abraham’s Creek before 1800. The early mills included a grist mill and a saw mill. Other mills soon sprang up along the creek and the area was referred to as Carpenter’s Mills.

The area was actually called Carpenter’s Mills, due to the mills Benjamin and his brother Gilbert owned along Abrahams Creek. Besides running the mills, Benjamin fought in the Battle of Wyoming and was later commissioned a judge on the county court. His daughter Elizabeth married Lazarus Denison, son of Colonel Nathan Denison. Benjamin was a carpenter by trade and he and his brother Gilbert built Colonel Denison’s home. He was one of the most prominent men in Wyoming Valley before moving to Ohio in 1807. Gilbert Carpenter was also active in the early economic growth of the area. He was a devoted Methodist and eventually organized the Carverton Methodist Church before he moved to Ohio as well.

On July 14, 1807, Benjamin Carpenter deeded to his son-in-law, Jacob Beford, a 435 acre tract of his land that was just north of Kingston Township. Early land grants were often given name by clerks in the land office; Bedford’s tract was referred to as New Troy. The name stuck and the intersection of Mill road (now Eighth Street) and the Great Road (Wyoming Avenue) was labeled Troy Corners. Later that year, Carpenter sold his mills to Isaac Shoemaker. Shoemaker improved these mills, adding a woolen mill and before long the town of Carpenter’s Mills was renamed Shoemaker’s Mills. The continued growth of the communities known as New Troy and Shoemaker’s Mills was due to the development of manufacturing along the banks of Abraham’s Creek.

After Isaac Shoemaker died, his son, Isaac Countryman Shoemaker re-equipped the woolen mills, producing cassimere, flannels, twill blankets, stockings and knit coats. Prior to the Civil War, Shoemaker owned the largest woolen factory in Northeastern Pennsylvania. Isaac Shoemaker used profits from the mills to build a row of little cottages on West Eighth St. The neighbors called this “Satinette Row”. Jacob Shoemaker built the original Shoemaker Tavern on the corner of West Eighth St. and Shoemaker Avenue. He improved it over the years, heating it with fireplaces throughout and added a large ballroom. Jacob was a good fiddler and the place became very popular for dances. The hotel was later sold to John Pollock and was destroyed by fire in 1912. The Shoemaker Family built several estates along the back road, which are still standing today. The family was also generous to the community; Jacob I Shoemaker donated land and funds to construct the Shoemaker Memorial Chapel, so the people in town would have a place to worship. The Shoemakers continued to be well-known and active members of the local community for many years to come.

James Bird Story (from the “West Wyoming Centennial” Book of 1998)
One of the most dramatic stories in the history of West Wyoming is that of the heroism and tragic death of James Bird, whose home was on West Eighth Street.

John Bird, father of the martyr, came here from Somerville, NJ after serving three and one-half years with the New Jersey troops during the Revolutionary War. He purchased four acres of land, two on each side of what is now West Eighth Street, near where the West Wyoming Borough building now stands. He was the father of five sons and six daughters, of whom James, born December 20, 1785 was the eldest.
The thrilling and tragic story of James Bird is told in part in many local histories and in Lossing’s History of the War of 1812.

On March 27, 1813, when Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry assumed command of the force of shipwrights who were building the fleet at Erie, found that the only protection the men had from the British was infantry of the Pennsylvania State Militia. In 1812 and 1813 there was a battery of artillery in Kingston Township that ranked high by military standards.

When the call came from Perry, Governor Snyder ordered the Luzerne Matross Company to leave for Erie immediately. However, one man was missing and through the begging of his wife, the soldier was allowed to stay home. A young man, James Bird volunteered to substitute. His name and fame spread nationwide because of his bravery in the face of the deadly fire of the American fleet which brought about the surrender of the English.

Just nineteen days after sending a letter to his parents telling them of his promotion to third lieutenant, James was arrested in Pittsburgh on a charge of desertion. Bird and ten others were arrested on June 22, 1814 and faced a court martial. It was doubtful that the court had jurisdiction over Bird. He plead guilty and was sentenced to death. President Madison approved the sentence on October 22.

Before the execution was carried out, Bird asked for a stay of execution until a message could be sent to Commodore Perry at Detroit. However, the death sentence was carried out before a reply was received.
James Bird’s execution aroused the whole country because of the way the court martial was carried out and the brutality of his execution. As a result, the laws governing military trials were changed. Today, Bird might have gone to prison for many years, but he would not be sentenced to death.

Early Industry
The settlers brought with them an increasing demand for homes in West Wyoming. Out of that demand, local industry sprung up along Abraham’s Creek in the form of grist mills and saw mills. Benjamin and Gilbert Carpenter operated one of the first mills in West Wyoming, of the thirteen water powered mills built in the 18th century and one of the last mills of that time to stand.

This will later become the location of the G&M Milling Company. G&M Milling Company was established as early as the 1900’s. In 1928 Ferdinand Gianini took over the business. In 1940, it was located at 205-29 Shoemaker Avenue. The grist mill was a center for industrial development where agricultural products were readied for local and export markets. This grist mill because steam powered in 1875 and moved industry into the 19th century.

The construction of the Carpenter Shoemaker Mill began in 1790 at what is now the site of the Uni-Mart at the corner of Eighth and Shoemaker. It was originally part of Kingston Township, also known as Carpenter Mills, Carpenter Town, or New Troy. The mill operated by water power supplied by Abraham’s Creek.
Another was the old Fulling Mill built by Jacob Bedford in 1798. It was located near the stone bridge which had been modernized in teh 1970’s as part of the Abraham’s Creek Project.

In 1813, Samuel Shoemaker and William Swetland established a carding machine. This machine was used for weaving wool on the Shoemaker’s property behind the original mill site. The first two carding machines were installed by Jacob Plumb, a tradesman and machinist who lived near the present Town Hall. Mr. Plumb is given credit by many for building the first two carding machines in this country. Author William Blaird, in his history “Michael Shoemaker Family”, wrote that the mill was established on land that later became the Borough of West Wyoming. It had the largest patronage and served the widest field of any wool mill in Northeastern Pennsylvania prior to the Civil War.

Settlers’ Homes
By 1848, West Eighth Street was lined with rows of early frame houses. One of these rows was called “Satinette Row” after the satinette that was manufactured in Shoemaker’s factory. The profits of the factory greatly contributed to the production of homes in the area, especially early sections where immigrants resided with friends and relatives. There is one home still standing at the present time, that of Lare Burt Brown, 542 West Eighth Street (or new owners). Water pumps were placed in between these houses to carry water into buckets. Outhouses stood at the end of most yards because of the lack of electricity and plumbing. Outdoor bake ovens served many of the families at the same time. Canning was necessary to prepare for winter.

Jonathon More Foundries, Marvin Ruthvin Foundry, and William Swetland Company had established the first foundries in the Township by 1847. These foundries specialized in making coal and cook stoves, grates, irons, and farm implements.

A tannery, soap factory, plaster mill owned by Marshall and Gore Company was completed in 1827 and stood behind today’s Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Church (now St. Monica’s Catholic Church). Philo Bower bought the business in 1831.

By 1842 another firm, Whitemore Gaines, also set up production along Abraham’s Creek. This factory made axes for the heavy burden of land clearing and house-building.

By determination to maintain possession of the northern third of Pennsylvania, the Susquehanna Company in 1768 resolved to survey Wyoming Valley into five townships, each five miles square. These townships later became Kingston, Wilkes Barre, Hanover, Pittston, and Plymouth. West Wyoming remained a part of Kingston Township until 1885. Many years before West Wyoming Borough was incorporated, the town was known as Carpentersville, Shoemaker’s Mills, New Troy and the West Ward, a part of Wyoming Borough.

In June 1898, a decree was granted separating Wyoming into two boroughs – Wyoming and West Wyoming Boroughs, with the dividing line being the Delaware-Lackawanna and Western Railroad right-of-way.

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