Aren’t old postcards fascinating? I especially love historical postcards from familiar places. High on my list, of course, are old postcards from InSide the Back Mountain! They make me wish I could climb into a time capsule and go back to, oh, maybe, 1900-1910, like I did this month with my watercolors, brushes, and my artist’s eye.
In the years after our young country won its independence from Great Britain, a few settlers in the Wyoming Valley began to gaze at the notch in the mountain where Toby’s Creek tumbled through a cut between two steep, heavily forested inclines. First migrations to a new countryside always follow the openings made by streams to the country above its headwaters. And thus the first settlers arrived “back o’ th’ mountain.”
Beyond Luzerne, then known as Mill Hollow, the first settlement in the Back Mountain was Trucksville. William Trux (Trucks), a Hessian soldier who spent a winter with George Washington at Valley Forge, established a mill on Toby’s Creek at the Trucksville falls, still visible from the Back Mountain Trail. By 1810, Trux had moved to Ohio and by 1910, the Lehigh Valley Railroad had established a station at Harris Hill Road, Trucksville. The stone bridge across the creek originally sported two arches, one for the stream and a second arch for the trolley line underpass.
Even back in 1900, Dallas was the heart of the Back Mountain. There are so many historic postcards it was difficult to choose which one to paint, but this scene is my personal favorite. It depicts the intersection of Huntsville Road and Mill Street with Main Street, looking toward what is now the roundabout. The house to the left is where my husband Joe grew up, and where his mother, his grandmother, and even his great grandmother lived their lives! It was built by Chester White who owned a butcher shop on Main Street. On the right is Mill Street and two buildings that later housed the Hearthstone Pub and a hardware store.
If one followed the old dirt roads out to Lehman Center (since routes 118, 415, and 309 weren't even on any drawing boards yet, and most roads remained unpaved until the 1930s), one would come to the center of the village where the William Neely store stood. The structure on the right was known as the Gleason House.
I drew all three Back Mountain scenes from old black and white postcards. The Lehman and Trucksville views depicted winter, but the Dallas postcard was a summer scene with leaves on the trees and two young boys playing in the middle of Main Street! I changed some signs for identification purposes, added twilight, lighted the windows and cast reflected light on the crest of the new-fallen snow. All three communities already sported electric poles and wires, clearly seen in the old postcards.
After I painted the three historic scenes, I visited them in present time. Dallas was easy! My art studio is now tucked into the narrow space between the house on the corner (which now has an enclosed porch) and the Victorian structure just beyond. Of course the street has been widened and beautiful lawns were sadly lost. The building on the far right is still there after many changes, and is now part of the still-for-sale old hardware store. A modern structure has replaced the old Hearthstone Pub. At Lehman Center, the Neely Store has morphed into a coffee and gift shop. Changes in the Gleason House include enclosed upper and lower porches. When I pulled off Route 118 onto Firehouse Road, exited my vehicle, and looked back across the highway toward Mountain View Drive, I knew I was standing exactly where the postcard photographer stood over a century ago! The left hand structure has been replaced by Route 118. Down in Trucksville, the old railroad station is gone as well, and the historic bridge, now completely closed to traffic, is scheduled for demolition and replacement. Long ago, the trolley arch was closed up and backfilled, and the stones were reinforced with concrete. Just uphill from the stone span, I was excited to find both houses still standing, well over a century from the time the postcard photo was taken!
InSide the Back Mountain was beautiful back then and it is still very beautiful today! At this time of year, a bit of an excursion into the past is always fun, especially with an artistic license for a time machine! I wish all our readers a happy holiday season, a very blessed Christmas and a wonderful and healthy New Year!
This article originally appeared in the December 2023 publication of InSide the Back Mountain.