Remembering Carbondale: The Racket Brook


In the early ‘40s, we lived at 41½ Garfield Ave. The Racket Brook was at our back door. It was polluted and our mother forbid my brother Dean and I to go near it.

That was all I knew about the sometimes almost dry creek that ran through the neighborhood with Brook Street on one side and Williams Avenue on the other.

The Brook Street side near our rented home was generally busy with Stephens Brothers Dairy delivery trucks, farmers bringing in raw milk and big Palmer Transfer tanker trucks loaded with milk from the Dairymen's League.

On the opposite side were a number of private homes and a big gray colored garage that was used by Oliver H. Shifler, the undertaker. In addition to a hearse, folding chairs and other accoutrements of the funeral business, it housed a welding school during World War II. Young men riding Indian motorcycles liked to congregate there, too.

I remember WPA crews building the stone wall on both sides of the creek. The stone was brought in from a quarry and cut to size by men working at little tables with hammers and chisels.

There were several bridges spanning the stream. One was on Spring Street near the connection with Dixon Hill, another on Terrace Street near the Gravity Park monument and a foot bridge to Canaan Street.

The WPA men built another bridge with a couple of telephone poles. It had a little shack in the middle which my dad said was a "tool house." That wasn't the case; it had another purpose which added to the pollution our mother warned about.

Dean and I had no idea where the Racket Brook started or the path it took before reaching our neighborhood. This information and a whole lot more is available on the Internet, something we never even dreamed of 80 years ago.

It seems the creek begins in the Moosic Mountains in Canaan Township, Wayne County, just east of the Wayne County/Lackwanna County line. It flows nearly 30 miles before entering the Lackawanna River near the former D&H Railroad yards.

At its source, Racket Brook is mainly fed by springs and seeps. It drains the western part of Salem Mountain, the highest part of the Moosic Mountains.

The Internet posting says the creek feeds the Brownell or "New" Dam from which the spillway discharge runs into the brook just above the renowned artesian well.

The gorge in which the well is located is known as the Brownell Ravine. It leads from the former D&H Honesdale Branch right of way to the New Dam. The ravine has been partially filled in to allow U.S. Route 6 to cross it.

I believe the engine house for Plane No. 3 of the D&H Gravity was located in the ravine and that was where my grandmother Pethick's 18-year-old brother John Krantz was working when he was fatally injured in February 1872.

After it leaves the gorge the stream flows through what I remember as a vast wasteland of culm, presumably deposited there from the nearby Racket Brook colliery, which included the first anthracite coal breaker in America.

The breaker, located along the Honesdale branch near Wayne and Cortland Streets, was still operating when I was a boy. It has since been torn down.

The U.S. Geological Survey classifies the Racket Brook as a perennial stream, meaning that there is always water in it.

There was too much water in June of 1922 when the Brownell and several other reservoirs near it were filled to overflowing by a cloudburst. Torrents of water rushed down the creek and caused at least $2 million in damages to downtown Carbondale.

There was good reason for parents warning their young ones to stay away from the creek in that era: you could see raw sewage flowing into it. The city had a permit to discharge storm water, there was industrial waste and then there was that little shack on the WPA "bridge."

Today, thanks to the demise of coal mining, sewage treatment and more awareness about environmental issues, the Racket Brook is much cleaner. I understand wild trout may naturally reproduce in the stream from the Brownell Reservoir downstream to the mouth.

What a change.

Ed E Rogers is a Carbondale native who, as a reporter and editor, spent more than 70 years chronicling the news of northeastern Pennsylvania. He remembers his home town in frequent articles for the Valley Advantage.

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