The first I heard about it was back around ’93. A friend told me about it while we were driving up to the then-new Steamtown Mall. “Hey, did you ever hear about that Concrete City place? Yeah, it’s weird; it’s like they were going to build apartments or something but they just stopped mid-way. Now it’s just all these concrete shells. It’s up around Wilkes-Barre somewhere. I dunno, I never actually saw it.” For the past 15 years I’ve just pushed it to the back of my mind, never giving it much thought. But after staking out the Abandoned Turnpike last summer, my interest in Concrete City was rekindled. And today, I grabbed some friends and made the trek.
Concrete City is (or rather, was) a mining village just outside of Nanticoke, PA. It was built in 1911 and abandoned in 1924. The Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad Company built it to house the upper levels of mine management and company VIPs. What makes Concrete City so unique is that the buildings were constructed entirely from cast-in-place concrete — then a revolutionary concept for housing. Aside from the window frames and doors, every inch of the building — from the foundation below to the roof above — was concrete. A special train was used to pour the concrete into the wooden mold, where it would sit until cured.
Each floor of each building was identical. The second-floor layout was identical to the first-floor layout, and the crawlspaces below were identical to the two floors above. Even the stairs from the first to second floor repeated on the second floor, reaching the roof at a rather uneventful dead-end. This was the result of using one single mold to build the entire complex. Novel, if not short-sighted.
The 20 buildings, each of which was a duplex housing two families, were arranged in a square around a central plaza that is slightly smaller than a football field. This plaza housed a small wading pool, a tennis court, a baseball field, and a pavilion, none of which are even remotely visible today. To look at photos of how the buildings used to look, one might think that they were actually habitable. Indeed, they were painted in an attractive dark-green-on-white scheme with lush, landscaped yards and concrete sidewalks lit by electric lights. Mansions they were not, but what do you want for $8 / month?
In 1924, the owners of the property chose to abandon the site rather than pay the then-gigantic sum of $200,000 to install a working sewage system. Demolition was attempted but unsuccessful. According to legend, 100 sticks of dynamite succeeded in doing only minor damage. I personally believe this to be a bit of a stretch — 100 sticks of dynamite is a lot of boom — but since the property is still standing, it’s absolutely indisputable that whatever methods they tried either failed or proved too expensive.
Today the site is largely in-tact. Aside from the vandalism, and considering that the structures have been left exposed with no maintenance for over 70 years, the site is in surprisingly good condition. I would never dream of calling the structures “sound” or “safe”, and some of them are tilting or leaning dangerously close to the tipping point. Others have already started to collapse (though whether said damage is from the aforementioned dynamite or from decay is up for grabs). But the fact that the site is easily identifiable for what it was with no imagination needed means something.
In November 2007, it was announced that the site has been sold for economic development. And to be fair, that may be a good thing. Unless someone is willing to step up and pour buckets of money into preserving the historic site (designated as such in 1998) and absorb the cost of liability for the property, it really needs to come down. Make no mistake about it: these buildings are exceptionally dangerous. Once rebar starts popping out (as it is in all of the buildings), that’s a sure-fire sign that the concrete has taken on substantial water freeze cycles and is nearing structural failure. At some point in the future — possibly tomorrow, maybe next week, maybe in 20 years — those buildings WILL start to collapse. And when (not if) they do, I hope nobody is nearby, let alone inside.
If you choose to go, take a group with you and head north (from Harrisburg) on I-81 to exit 164 (Route 29 / “South Cross Valley Expressway”). Then take exit 2 and turn left onto South Main Street. Turn left onto Clarks Cross Road, then right onto Front Street. You’ll see a large, well-marked entrance to a Susquehanna mining operation on your left; across the street is a dirt road leading back to Concrete City. Vehicular access is impossible, so you’ll need to park along the road (do so at your own risk). Hike this road back about 300 yards and you’ll see Concrete City below on your left. This road ultimately wraps around and leads into the plaza. Again, I must point out that the buildings are in very unsafe condition; any visits you make carry the risk of extreme and/or fatal personal injury.