The history behind Kirby Park as it nears its centennial milestone

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WILKES-BARRE, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU-TV) — The month of May typically marks a significant increase in the number of people visiting local parks.

One such destination in northeastern Pennsylvania is closing in on a milestone anniversary. We’re just three years shy of the 100th anniversary of Kirby Park. But before that anniversary occurs, a centennial milestone for the park is happening this very year.

On a beautiful, breezy spring day, Harriet Swartz took her two Yorkies named Bella and Jake out to Kirby Park.

“It’s a beautiful place to walk and enjoy family. I mean in the summer, you can’t park here it’s so crowded with everybody enjoying it,” Swartz said.

This 52-acre park with all of its space for recreation, exercise and relaxation wouldn’t be possible if not for something that happened in 1921.

“That was when the Kirby Foundation was formed by Fred Kirby and part of that purpose was to establish Kirby Park,” Wilkes-Barre city administrator Charles McCormick said.

It took three years for that to happen which led to “Kirby Park Day” on June 4, 1924. A reported 50,000 people attended the park that day which was capped off with fireworks. Having such a park in a crowded city was a big deal.

“This gave the people of the cities a chance to come out. They could get here either on a trolley or walking,” McCormick said.

While people and pets often populate Kirby Park, it’s also become a home to wildlife as evidenced by Canada Geese.

The wildlife was even more wild here in the 1930s when the park included a zoo featuring such animals as monkeys, buffaloes and bears. But flooding eventually brought about the zoo’s demise.

Flood problems from the nearby Susquehanna River brought about a levee system which split in half what was a park roughly double the current size into a maintained park and a natural park.

Kirby Park has gone through many changes through the years adding walking and biking trails, pavilions and a playground area. Mayor George Brown’s administration aims to make more park changes with physically-challenged people in mind.

“Just get the park back up into a little bit more accessible for all the people in the community,” McCormick said.

Part of that plan is to build a special needs play area at the park. The goal is to have it ready for when Kirby Park celebrates its 100th anniversary in June 2024.

Meanwhile, the city of Wilkes-Barre is talking about another popular event at Kirby Park: the old-fashioned Fourth of July celebration. The Brown administration is still deciding if it will hold it this summer after canceling it last year because of the pandemic.

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