Originally part of Blakely Township, the Borough of Jermyn is situated in the northeastern part of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in Lackawanna County, eleven miles north of Scranton, the County Seat. Jermyn sits in the Upper Lackawanna Valley with the Lackawanna River separating the east and west sides of the Borough. A main tributary, Rushbrook Creek flows from both Chapman and Heart Lakes into the Rushbrook Reservoir from the west through the borough and into the river. Main roads into Jermyn include Pennsylvania Route 107 and the Eynon-Jermyn Road. Other nearby thoroughfares include U.S. Business Route 6 on the west side of the borough and Robert P. Casey Highway (U.S. Route 6) on the east side of town. Jermyn is bordered on all sides by either Archbald or Mayfield Boroughs. Area size of the borough is 501.18 acres or 1 square mile, which includes Edward ‘Rippy’ Callahan Field on Lincoln Avenue and the World War I Veterans Park on Bridge Street. Jermyn is known as “The Birthplace of First Aid in America”.
Recognized as a borough by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania since 1870, Jermyn’s elected officials consist of a mayor and a seven member council.
Officers as of January, 2017: Mayor: Bruce Smallacombe; Council: President – Frank Kulick, Vice President – Joseph Smith, Daniel Markey, JoAnne Wilson, Joseph Smith, Kevin Napoli, Robert Parks III and John Mark;. Jermyn School Director for the Lakeland School District (Jermyn being part of the jointure) is Henry Stachura.
1800’s Through 1900
Settlers began to lay claim to present-day Jermyn in the 1820’s and 1830’s. Originally known as “Four Mile Town”, due to its close proximity to the Town of Carbondale, the village was later called Rushdale and Baconville. Among the findings of those original settlers was the discovery of Anthracite, or Hard Coal. The first mine shaft here was dug in 1857. In 1860, Winton and Chittenden built a coal processing breaker and in 1866, Shaft #2 was sunk. Other businesses of the time included the Rushdale Powder Mills (1864), which was sold in 1872 and renamed the Moosic Powder Mills. Louis Pizer built the Settlement’s first hotel in 1866. Later that year, John Nicholson erected the Farmer’s Hotel (now the Windsor Inn). In 1868, the name of the village was changed to Gibsonburg, after Judge William Gibson of Philadelphia, who was a wealthy and extensive landowner in the settlement.
It was also around this time that the village settlers wanted Gibsonburg to be its own community. Early in 1868, two-thirds of the townspeople presented a petition to the Luzerne County Court of Quarter Sessions in order to make the village its own entity. Throughout the next two years, the case would slowly make its way through the court system. In 1869, the first post office was established in Gibsonburg with John Gardner acting as first postmaster. Finally on January 28, 1870, Luzerne County Courts granted Gibsonburg its Borough Charter. The first borough elections were held on February 3, 1870 at the schoolhouse (“Dolce Donum”) with John Jermyn (1825-1902) elected the borough’s first Burgess, or Mayor.
Other elected officials were:
- Borough Council: Dr. Sumner D. Davis, P.J. Mullen, Oliver Morgan, Josiah Bloss and Henry Tripp.
- High Constable: Michael McAndrew
- Judge of Election: John B. Cole
- Inspectors of Election: B. Mulholland, David Carle.
- Assessor: John B. Cole
- Justice of the Peace: Henry D. Carey
- School Directors: Henry Niemeyer, James Dunn (three years each), P.J. Mullen, Henry Kennedy (two years each) and Michael Roach and Giles Scull (one year each)
- Auditors: M.H. Barber (three years), James Shields (two years) and Henry Tripp (one year).
The first borough building was at 509 Madison Avenue, former site of the Crystal Fire Company and current home of Jermyn’s Department of Public Works. In 1943, the borough moved into the former Winter residence at 438 Washington Avenue. From there, the borough moved into its current home at 440 Jefferson Avenue, site of the former Jermyn High School in 1981.
During the 1870’s, many businesses came to town. In 1870, Burgess Jermyn erected the Jermyn Steam Flouring Mills which had the capacity to process 100 barrels of flour daily. Two years later, two hotels– Eben Roberts’ Sweeney Hotel and Pizer’s Saint George were erected. It was also in 1872 that the Miller Brothers organized and built a casket and coffin works.
After the lands of Judge Gibson were sold to the Delaware and Hudson Canal Company, the movement began to change the name of the borough. On January 19, 1874, Luzerne County confirmed the judgment of the Grand Jury and the borough was renamed after its first Mayor, Jermyn.
One of the most famous events in borough history occurred on July 29, 1874. It was on this date that Jermyn was visited by the infamous Molly Maguires, an Irish-American secret society who resorted to intimidation, sabotage and even murder due to the harsh conditions and labor strife in the Anthracite Coal Region of Eastern Pennsylvania. Foreman A.L. Green of the Jermyn Colliery was shot three times by three members of the sect, but survived the attack. Workers from the Powder Mills, who had witnessed the incident, intervened killing one and captured one while the third escaped and was later captured. On the basis of Mr. Green’s testimony, both assailants were sent to prison.
On August 16, 1878, Lackawanna County was created as the 67th and final county in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, breaking away after a long-standing battle to separate from Luzerne County.
Without question, the most famous happening in borough history occurred on October 25, 1899. Dr. Matthew J. Shields conducted the first training class on First Aid in American History at the Windsor Hotel. In attendance were 25 miners of the Jermyn Coal Colliery, believing that many lives could be spared with quick, efficient medical care until a physician could reach the mine. Once the course was completed, each of the miners was prepared and able to render first aid to those injured miners. This led to marked decreases in serious mining injuries and fatalities as well as creating of laws and guidelines for safer workplaces all over the country.
1900 Through 1950
By the turn of the century, Jermyn’s population had doubled from the 1,156 in 1870 to 2,567. Part of this was due to the town’s employment structure, considered by many to be the most diverse of all the boroughs of the county. At this time, Jermyn boasted two coal breakers, two glass factories, a gun powder mill, a coffin and casket works as well as several specialty shops along the principal streets of town.
On January 4, 1902, a group of men met at Assembly Hall to create the First National Bank of Jermyn. On January 22 at the Crystal Fire Company rooms, a contract was signed to purchase a lot from William O. Hill on Main Street with “alley and sewer privileges.” The bank, which is still in the same place as it was in 1902, would retain its name, eventually buying out the First National Bank of Olyphant, until 1998, when it was changed to First Liberty Bank. Since 2001, the bank has been under the auspices of Community Bank, N.A., of Dewitt, New York.
On March 24, 1904, Jermyn was visited by the worst fire in its history. Five buildings, including the Assembly Hall burned as the conflagration tore a hole in the borough’s business district. Also among those who were burned out was Dr. Shields, who would move his practice to Scranton and, in 1910, took the concepts of first aid nationally with the American Red Cross.
In May of 1943, a monument was erected to honor those who took part in the First Aid Movement. The monument, which includes Dr. Shields as well as 24 of the members of the original first aid class, was placed in the courtyard of the Jermyn Community House on Washington Avenue. Today, the monument sits in the Memorial Brick Garden in front of the Jermyn Community Center, the old high school on Jefferson Avenue.
During the first half of the 20th century, the population of Jermyn was at the highest point in its history. The highest recorded United States Census report showed the borough peaked in 1930, when 3,519 residents were recorded.
After World War II, the population dipped under 3,000 people, where it has stayed.
1950 to the present
The Fifties proved to be a time of change for not only Jermyn, but the entire Lackawanna Valley. The Anthracite mining in the area was crawling to a standstill, forcing townspeople to look to other towns and, in some cases, other states, to find employment. Despite this, Jermyn’s population remained steady in the 2,200 to 2,400 person range during this time.
One of the greatest social events during this time was the Borough’s Centennial Celebration in 1970. Wherever you went in Jermyn, and wherever Jermyn went, the town’s community spirit shone loudly and proudly. The citizens of town would attend events in neighboring communities dressed in their centennial attire. The year-long celebration brought the community together like never before or since. Among the festivities included banquets, a week-long picnic with several parades, banquets and kangaroo courts. Among the souvenirs that were sold during the year included commemorative plates, wooden nickels, silver and bronze coins and an anniversary book, – “The First Hundred Years, Jermyn, Pa.”
During the mid 1970’s, women across the country were seeking equal rights. And, during this time, the town showed that they were more than willing to change with the times. On November 6, 1973, the citizens of town elected longtime teacher and educator Eleanor Cawley as the first female Mayor in Lackawanna County. In June of 1974, borough council appointed Betty Lou Tucker to the police force, making her what is believed to be the county’s first female patrolwoman.
Labor Day Weekend of 1999 was another time-capsule moment for our hometown as Jermyn celebrated its rich history by honoring the 100th Anniversary of the Founding of First Aid in America. Complete with concerts, dances, a block party and parade, bed races, a banquet and the rededication of the First Aid Memorial Monument, the festivities brought awareness and interest in the borough’s finest hour.
Today, the spirit of Small Town U.S.A. permeates all that the citizens of Jermyn do. The borough continues to thrive through the efforts of its elected officials, community groups and its civic-minded residents. From the darkest hours of the floods that ravaged portions of Jermyn in September of 2003 to the revitalization projects of our community parks and main thoroughfares, the Borough of Jermyn has shown an ability to rebuild and recreate itself without forgetting its historic past.