Wilkes-Barre, the “Diamond City,” was laid out in 1770 by Connecticut
settlers in typical New England fashion, with the focus on two public
spaces: common land along the riverfront (known today as the River
Common), and a central civic square (known today as Public Square) that was set into the grid on the diagonal (like a diamond). The
boundaries of the original town plan encompass most of today’s Downtown
In the late 18th century, the region was claimed by both Pennsylvania
and Connecticut, which led to a series of bitter turf battles before
Congress permanently awarded the territory to Pennsylvania.
Wilkes-Barre was incorporated as a borough in 1806, becoming a city
in 1871. The city’s namesakes are John Wilkes and Colonel Isaac Barre,
two notable English Parliamentary sympathizers with the American cause
during the War for Independence.
Wilkes-Barre‘s presence at the center of Pennsylvania’s anthracite
coal fields fueled its rise as one of the United States’ great 19th
century industrial cities. That prominence is still reflected in
Downtown’s built environment; gorgeous structures, such as the
magnificent Luzerne County Courthouse, or the Art Deco F.M. Kirby Center for the Performing Arts,
continue to grace the streets of Downtown.
"Wilkes-Barre Walkitecture": Your Guide to our Historic Downtown
If you’re visiting Downtown Wilkes-Barre, and
you want to learn even more about the rich history of Wilkes-Barre and
the Wyoming Valley, be sure to visit the museum of the Luzerne County Historical Society – Pennsylvania’s oldest county historical society – where a host of intriguing exhibits bring our community’s past to life.