A mountainous region of Northeastern Pennsylvania, U.S.A..

From a geological point of view, the Poconos are not mountains, but rather the edge of a formation known as the Pocono Plateau (part of a group of mountain plateaus which extend north to the Finger Lakes of Upstate New York). At its eastern edge, the plateau descends in heavily eroded slopes toward the Delaware River.

Native Americans had occupied the area for at least 10,000 years prior to the arrival of European settlers. The first of these, Dutch settlers, pushing west from New Jersey, settled in the Delaware Water Gap around 1659. They were forcibly removed by the British in 1664. Settlers from competing British colonies of Connecticut and Pennsylvania, with overlapping land grants from the Crown, fought a series of skirmishes over land, known as the “Yankee-Pennamite Wars”. Since the region is now part of Pennsylvania, it should not be hard to deduce who won.

The winners definitely did not include the local Native American tribes. During the 1730’s and 1740’s, British and German settlers exchanged atrocities with the local Indian tribes. These tribes --the Delaware, Shawnee, and others-- had the misfortune of not being part of the Iroquois Confederacy (which had the military might to resist European aggression) and were forced out prior to the Revolutionary War. During the Revolution, the Iroqouis made the mistake of siding with the British, and conducted raids in Northeastern Pennsylvania. This provoked a punitive response from the Continental Army, which mounted a counter-offense which was the beginning of the end of the Iroqouis Confederacy.

The region in general played an important part in the development of steel, coal, and railroad industries. From 1812 to 1966, the city of Scranton, to the northeast of the Poconos, was a mining and iron production center. Vast deposits of low-sulphur, high-carbon coal ideal for metallurgy, called “Anthracite”, made Scranton the “Anthracite Capital of the World”. Scranton’s mines and ironworks attracted immigrants, first from England, Wales, and Germany, and then later from Eastern Europe.

For the Poconos, Scranton’s development as an industrial center brought a transportation infrastructure to what would otherwise have been a remote, mountainous area: first canals and then some of the first railways in the United States. This infrastructure permitted the exploitation of water and forest, which the region has in abundance. For ice harvesting (prior to the widespread availability of refrigeration) ice companies made artificial lakes, cut, stored then shipped the ice to New York City and Philadelphia (both around 70-80 miles away).

Coal mining, and railroad track mileage, and Scranton’s importance as a city, peaked around 1919. Coal production declined rapidly in the first decades of the 20th century, and in the 1950’s, the price of coal dropped lower than production costs in Northeastern Pennsylvania, where extensive pumping had to be conducted to prevent underground mines from flooding. Underground coal mining ceased entirely in 1966, after numerous problems with subsidence and industrial accidents, including one particularly nasty one near Pittston where the Susquehanna River was accidently allowed to break into a large mine.

The people of the Poconos had, however, already figured out an alternative to heavy industry: tourism. The Poconos were close to New York and Philadelphia and easy to get to by rail. Those lakes the ice companies made helped. During World War II, the Poconos were also relatively close to important military facilities, like the naval yards in those cities, as well as a few army depots. Soldiers and sailors developed the habit of taking their girlfriends there on leave. After the war, the mountain resorts became a popular honeymoon destination, just in time to catch the post-war Baby Boom. In 1963, the resort at Cove Haven in Lakewood, Pa. installed a heart-shaped bathtub. When photos of the tub were featured in Life magazine, honeymoon in the Poconos became a cliche. (Nothing sells a meme like sex, you know.)

In 1946, a ski resort opened at Big Boulder, made possible by the invention of artificial snow-making. In the 1950’s and 1960’s, several major interstate highways were constructed through the area, including Interstates 80, 81, 84, and 380, as well as the Northeast Extension of the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Easy access by rail made a smooth transition to easy access by highway as automobiles became available to the middle class.

The Pocono Mountains can be spectacularly beautiful certain times of the year. The deciduous forests contain over 100 varieties of hardwood trees, which create a colorful spectacle in September and October. In the spring, Appalachian wildflowers, including whole forests of rhododendron bushes, are just stunning. Summer is a tad hot and muggy, but not ferociously so, and winter can be a bit gray and dreary, but there is skiing.

While population in Northeastern Pennsylvania, especially the former industrial center of Scranton, declined throughout the 20th Century and continues to decline today, the residential populations of Monroe and Pike Counties (the heart of the Poconos) has doubled between 1970 and the present. While it's possible to commute to New York or Philadelphia (though at 2 hours, it’s somewhat absurd) most of the new residents simply want to get out of the crowded cities.

Tourists and new residents tend to enjoy, on average at least, significantly higher household incomes than the long-time residents. There is no industrial base, and the tourism industry and new residents refuse to pay the taxes sufficient to maintain good infrastructure, schools, or low income housing. My parents are from this region (Lehighton) and I grew up near it (Clarks Summit). Growing up in a resort area is difficult. It’s like being a colonial in your own country.

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