The Wilkes-Barre & Eastern Railroad
By Amy Leiser, Executive Director
Monroe County Historical Association
During the late 1800s, anthracite coal was in high demand, and northeastern Pennsylvania boasted the largest concentrations of this natural resource in the entire country. At that time, this relatively clean-burning fossil fuel was used primarily to heat homes and businesses, and the greater Scranton and Wilkes-Barre area served as the central hub for coal mining.
The newly mined coal was processed and loaded onto coal cars, each car carrying as much as 100 tons of rock. Using rail lines, many companies were responsible for hauling these heavy loads to large cities, such as Philadelphia, New York, and Washington DC. These railroad companies all experienced the same difficulty in transporting the coal. Because the coal mines were located in the Lackawanna and Wyoming Valleys, the trains had to climb steep grades up and over the Pocono Mountains to reach their eastern destinations. Despite this obstacle, the demand for coal was so high and the profits so large that seven rail companies worked out of the Scranton and Wilkes-Barre area.
In 1893, the Wilkes-Barre & Eastern Railroad was built. This short-route railroad traveled southeast out of Wilkes-Barre, through the Pocono Mountains, where it met with the already established New York, Susquehanna & Western Railroad in Stroudsburg. The Wilkes-Barre & Eastern Railroad not only hauled coal, but also transported ice from various Pocono lakes and passengers eager to visit Wilkes-Barre, New York, or places in-between.
The Wilkes-Barre & Eastern Railroad was a single track and boasted the shortest route out of the Lackawanna Valley – 14 miles shorter than competing rail lines. Because the route was shorter, goods could be delivered to New York faster, thus increasing profits. The Wilkes-Barre & Eastern rail line climbed over 1100 feet onto the Pocono Plateau before descending 1400 feet into Stroudsburg.
The winding route through the Poconos was scenic and passed through many farmlands and pristine forests. Monroe County citizens often referred to the Wilkes-Barre & Eastern as the ‘‘Turkey Line,” ‘‘Cow Path” or the ‘‘Scenic Route to Stroudsburg” because of the charming and picturesque scenery. Trains for the Wilkes-Barre & Eastern Railroad stopped in several places in Monroe County. Depots or stations were located at Pocono Lake, Naomi Pines, Crescent Lake, Tannersville, Reeders, Bartonsville and, finally, Stroudsburg.
Within the first year of its completion, the short route became a huge success with engines pulling over one million tons of coal to market. At its peak, the tracks carried as many as four coal trains daily, each with 25 cars and three engines, two headers and a pusher. By the early 1900s, the single-track line was in such demand that dispatchers found it difficult to schedule meets and passes, and passenger trains were frequently delayed. Although the line continued delivering coal to the east, newer routes with more efficient multiple lines to the west began to out-compete this small single-track line. By the mid 1930s, the WB&E line was obsolete, carrying only a few mixed trains to their destinations.
The WB&E railroad may have been a short route, but it connected the people of northwestern Monroe County to Scranton, Wilkes-Barre, Stroudsburg and beyond for more than 40 years. Today, remnants of the Wilkes-Barre and Eastern railroad are still present. A piece of this Monroe County railroad history is still alive; a section of the old-rail bed can still be explored as part of the trail system at Big Pocono State Park in Tannersville.