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Concrete City – The abandoned company town that was killed by its design

May 2019

When an entire town is abandoned, it’s usually due to things like the exhaustion of the natural resources that sustained it, a natural disaster, or man-made disaster like a mine fire or toxic contamination. There are literally thousands of “Ghost Towns” across the country.

For Concrete City, it was due to the construction method used for building the houses.

Concrete City was a company town, built by the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Coal Company in 1911 to house its workers and their families, using a new construction method of cast-in-place concrete that had been developed by Thomas Edison.

Located in Hanover Township, east of Nanticoke, Pennsylvania, Concrete City featured twenty-two, two-story homes, built side-by-side in a big oval surrounding a courtyard, complete with a wading pool, tennis courts, playground, baseball field and a small pavilion. It is believed to be the first example of modern tract housing.

The workers, who worked at the Truesdale Colliery, rented the homes for $8.00 a month. Each duplex featured seven rooms and had an outhouse behind each one. What made these houses unique was that they were constructed entirely of concrete, including the roof, and painted with dark green trim.

A two-story red brick school, Concrete City School, also known as Betsy Ross School, was built in nearby Nanticoke in 1913 for the local students, including the Concrete City children. It was demolished around 1979.

Their concrete construction proved to be a serious issue, with moisture problems, the interior walls dripping with condensation. It was common for shirts hanging in the upstairs closets to freeze in wintertime.

The residents were required to wash the culm off the walls with a garden hose to keep them clean. Wallpapering of the walls was provided for any tenants that wished to have them done, but the moisture seeping through the porous concrete routinely destroyed any wallpaper, paint and plaster that covered the walls.

When the housing complex was sold to the Glen Alden Coal Company in 1921, the township required the company to install a sewer system at a cost of $200,000 to replace the concrete outhouses used by the residents, something the company declined to do. As a result, the tenants were evicted and plans were made to demolish the homes.

Demolition began in December 1924, but due to the sturdy construction of the homes, the dynamite used had little impact. The homes were simply left to crumble as they are slowly consumed by vegetation.

For decades afterwards, Concrete City was used by police fire departments and the military for training exercises. It was declared a historical site in 1988 and is a well-known tourist attraction.

Betsy Ross School was demolished around 1979.

Sources: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Concrete_City, https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/concrete-city, http://www.itsveryeasytoremember.com/Pennsylvania/Concrete_City/History_of_Concrete_City/history_of_concrete_city.html
http://explorepahistory.com/hmarker.php?markerId=1-A-1AE, https://web.archive.org/web/20040723215615/http://mywebpages.comcast.net/tecsite/ConcreteCity/Concrete.html], https://www.tnonline.com/2010/oct/02/haunting-remains-concrete-city.

About the author

Bruce Forsyth

Bruce Forsyth served in the Royal Canadian Navy Reserve for 13 years (1987-2000). He served with units in Toronto, Hamilton & Windsor and worked or trained at CFB Esquimalt, CFB Halifax, CFB Petawawa, CFB Kingston, CFB Toronto, Camp Borden, The Burwash Training Area and LFCA Training Centre Meaford.

Permanent link to this article: https://militarybruce.com/concrete-city-the-abandoned-company-town-that-was-killed-by-its-design/

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