"I work in a really old building."
When we hear that phrase, we usually don't envy the person who said it. While the advantages of a newly-constructed building are many and obvious, there is something to be said for working in a building that was built in 1840 and situated near the base of a lonely road that took travelers through Leggett's Gap. It was a time when wolf packs still roamed "the Notch" and Interstate 81 would have seemed a mad dream.
The building in question is the Silkman House in North Scranton. Many long-time Scranton residents think of it as the Providence Branch of the Scranton Public Library which it was from 1939 to 2006, but it has a long history that predates is use as a library branch – and which continues today.
In 1838, Aaron Burr Silkman (1815-1895) moved to this area from New York State. Silkman, who was in the lumber business, constructed the Silkman House in 1840 using wood from trees on the property. He lived there until the death of his wife in 1847. In July 1849, he transferred the property to his cousin William Silkman (1807-1874) in return for $2,000 and a parcel in what is now Scranton's Hill Section. A hand-written deed recording this complex transaction can be viewed in the Lackawanna Valley Digital Archives ( http://www.lackawannadigitalarchives.org).
There is still an antique Smooth Top stove in the basement dating from an era when people cooked in their cellars. The panes of glass may have flaws and bubbles, but these flaws are a spur to the imagination, where the body shop next door becomes a long-gone house with a friendly neighbor waving through their own flawed window pane. You can still find, throughout the building, random objects like a luggage tag likely hand-written in the late 19th century and a small bottle whose contents, long-vanished, was the "malt" in some child's malted milk.
William and his descendants lived in the Silkman House until 1938 when the property and building were given to the Scranton Public Library. It operated as a branch library until 2006 when demographic and population changes precipitated its closure.
However, it was not yet time for the library and this historic house to part ways. In 2010, the library installed a new heating and air conditioning system using funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and, thanks to a grant from the Lackawanna Heritage Valley Authority, had the exterior repainted. While it is no longer a public branch, it is home to the library's technical services cepartment, an operation that catalogs and processes new books and DVDs for all seven libraries in the Lackawanna County Library System. The second floor is occupied by the Lackawanna River Corridor Association while the area of the grounds bordering East Market Street contains the Kosciuska Healing Garden, a tranquil place to take a break on a summer afternoon.
We find ourselves with a poetic irony: an operation that deals with apps and the Internet and cutting edge technology is run from a building that was already two decades old when the Civil War started.
The Silkman House is located at 2006 North Main Ave. in Scranton. While it is no longer open to the public as a library branch, visitors are welcome between 8 a.m.and 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.