Incorporated by a charter granted on August 23, 1875, Nicholson is a borough in Pennsylvania’s rural Wyoming County that, according to U.S. Census data , had an estimated population of 716 in 2018. Just five years after being incorporated, there were 586 residents in Nicholson, according to the 1880 U.S. Census.
The borough was named after John Nicholson, former comptroller general of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania from 1782 to 1794 who greatly influenced our early Nation. Although at one time he held millions of acres of land in Pennsylvania, he died in a Philadelphian debtor’s prison in 1800. There are two other Pennsylvania municipalities named after John Nicholson: Nicholson Township, also in Wyoming County, and Nicholson Township, located in Fayette County.
Nicholson is located where three streams become one: Tunkhannock Creek, Marten Creek and Horton Brook. The largest of the three, the Tunkhannock Creek flows from the northeast and whose name comes from the Lenape Indian name meaning “two small streams opposite each other merging to become one.” Marten Creek flows from the north and is named for the weasel-like creatures that once had lived along the stream banks. Horton Brook also flows from the north, but is at the western boundary of the borough, and is named for an early settler of the area Foster Horton. Present day Nicholson was once the crossroads of two Indian trails. Although little is known about the Indians that once lived here, arrowheads and other Indian artifacts can still be found. The Iroquois sold this land around the time of the French and Indian War (1754 – 1763) to the Connecticut settlers who first named this area Thornbottom, named after all the thorny bushes in the area, Township.
A Luzerne County newspaper had an advertisement for property for sale in Nicholson in 1791. At that time, Wyoming County had yet to be established and Nicholson had yet to be incorporated. In 1795, Nicholson Township was incorporated out of Tioga and Wyalusing townships. This tract of land was about twenty miles east to west and thirteen miles north to south. In 1798, the Tunkhannnock and Great Bend Turnpike was built along the Tunkhannock Creek from the Susquehanna River in Tunkhannock, PA to Marten Creek in Nicholson, PA and then north along the west bank of the Marten Creek to Great Bend, PA. The turnpike followed an Indian path and by 1816 , a four horse stage coach, mail and luggage passed through Nicholson three times a week each way.
In 1811, the first Post Office, called Thornbottom, Luzerne County, Nicholson Township, was established in the area about a mile south from the west end of the borough in a store run by Caleb Roberts, who was also Postmaster. In 1825, the Post Office was then moved to Bacon’s Tavern, built by Nathan Bacon at the west end of Route 92 at 153 State Street in present day Nicholson. When Nathan Bacon became Postmaster, he changed the name of the settlement to Baconville (also later referred to as Bacontown). In 1855, the Post Office was moved again to the railroad station in town, currently located off Route 11, and the name was changed to Nicholson. The United States Postal Service maintains a list of Postmasters of Nicholson.
In 1842, Wyoming County was created from part of Luzerne County.
In 1849, the Liggett’s Gap Railroad began surveying for a railroad line from Scranton, PA to Great Bend, PA with construction beginning in May 1850. Construction on the first, and largest, railroad station on the line in Nicholson began at that time and was used to board transient workers along the line before being used as a station. As mentioned above, this railroad depot still exists today. Building a rail line in Nicholson forever changed the small community.
Liggett’s Gap Railroad would later become the Lackawanna and Western Railroad in 1851 and then the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad (D.L.&W.) on March 11, 1853. On March 15, 1876, the D.L.&W. converted all of its tracks from 6-foot gauge to standard gauge. The line was originally 6-foot gauge because of the D.L.&W.’s predecessor, Liggett’s Gap Railroad, connection with the Erie Railroad at Great Bend.
According to the History of Luzerne, Lackawanna and Wyoming Counties, many associations and lodges, which some still meet today, formed in the mid to late 19th Century. The Nicholson Agricultural Society was organized in August 1867, however no longer exists. The Nicholson Lodge No. 438 of the Free and Accepted Masons was established April 7, 1869 and still meet today in the Masonic Hall at 10 Oak Street. The Nicholson Savings Fund, Building and Loan Association was established in August 1872, but no longer is in existence. Another lodge that no longer exists is the Nicholson Lodge, 857, of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows which was established on October 22, 1873. Finally, the Nicholson Cemetery Association was incorporated in 1870 and still manages the Nicholson Cemetery that is located on a sloped hill west of Nicholson’s downtown.
In February 1904, a destructive fire burned nearly half the town. In response to this fire, and previous fires, the Nicholson Fire Company #1 was chartered on February 29, 1904. The all volunteer fire company was one of the first established in the area. The Nicholson Fire Company #1’s first steam engine, a Silsby Pumper with a Foxwater Tube Boiler, was delivered in 1906. This steamer was built by the American Fire Engine Company in Seneca Falls, NY.
From 1908 to 1932, the Northern Electric Railway, also known as the Scranton, Montrose & Binghamton Railroad, operated an interurban trolley line between Scranton, Lake Winola, and Montrose, PA. The Northern Electric Railway not only transported passengers, but also carried freight, including agricultural products like milk. Although the railway had planned operations to Binghamton, NY, the automobile and competition from the D.L.&W. eventually put the trolley line out of business. The original trolley station in Nicholson burned in 1926, but the successor station still exists today and is located in Nordahl Park off of State Street.
From 1912-1915, the D.L.&W., under the leadership of D.L.&W. president William H. Truesdale, undertook a major design and construction project, called the Clarks Summit-Hallstead Cutoff. Truesdale was looking for ways to modernize the railroad and make it more efficient. The final project shortened the D.L.&W. main rail line from Scranton, Pennsylvania to Binghamton, New York by 3.6 miles, lessened the steep grades that had previously required pusher engines, and straightened the rail line. The construction of the Tunkhannock Creek Viaduct, also known as the Nicholson Bridge, was part of this significant engineering and construction endeavor. Not only did the railroad construct a smaller version of the Tunkhannock Viaduct nine miles north in Kingsley, Pennsylvania, called the Marten’s (also referred to as Martin’s) Creek Viaduct, the D.L.&W. also built a 3,630 foot tunnel about two rail miles south of Nicholson. The entire cutoff, sometimes referred to as the Nicholson Cutoff, was built with two sets of tracks to allow for trains going north and trains going south at the same time. This shortened route costing $12 million saved considerable travel time between the two major cities: as much as an hour for freight trains and at least ten minutes for passenger trains. The abandoned D.L.&W. main line was turned over to the Pennsylvania Highway Department, who built the Lackawanna Trail, now Route 11, on the land which was opened for traffic in June 1922.
In 1965, the Tunkhannock Creek Viaduct celebrated its 50th anniversary, and for the previous half century had stood guard over the town of Nicholson. Under the direction of Dr. William J. Llewellyn as general chairman, a committee was formed to organize the celebration of the world’s largest steel reinforced concrete bridge that was eventually held on October 23rd, 1965. The committee was comprised of Malcolm Hinklie, vice chairman of committee; Robert Aud, committee publicity; Nelson Stull, parade chairman; Elmer Nordahl, Mayor of Nicholson; Herbert Krauss, president of the Nicholson Rotary Club; Norman Saxton, chairman of the Nicholson Borough Planning commission; Stanley Lochen, president of the Nicholson Businessmen’s Association, and Roberta Wallace, president of the Nicholson Women’s Club. In the observance of the anniversary, the Scranton Times had 1,000 copies of its 1915 edition, which was dedicated to the opening of the Nicholson Bridge, reproduced. The program for the day started with a parade forming at Nicholson Lumber Company, north Main Street, and proceeding down Main Street with a right turn onto State Street, then the parade turned up Maple Street to Oak Street, and proceeded to the Nicholson Elementary School, formerly the Nicholson High School. The rest of the festivities took place in the large gymnasium at the Nicholson Elementary School. Following the benediction given by Father Dunleavy, there was an old fashioned square dance held for everyone to enjoy the rest of the evening.
In 1990, the Nicholson Bridge turned 75. The newly formed Nicholson Heritage Association had already been working on celebration plans for this special occasion that resulted in three days of marvelous festivities on October 5 – 7, 1990. Main Street was closed for the entire weekend and every store and many homes in Nicholson were decorated with yards and yards of red, white and blue bunting. There was an old fashioned pork supper at the Catholic Church. Also, there was live music by the band of Harrison Barns and the Sound Machine on Main Street. Moreover, there was a costume ball at the Nicholson Elementary School’s gymnasium where everybody dressed in 1915 period attire and music was provided by Mark Vanko’s band. There were hot air balloon rides. On Saturday about 2:00 p.m., Steamtown arrived with dignitaries who held a ribbon cutting ceremony on the bridge. Following the official program on Main Street, a parade of 80 entries of floats, bands and various groups took place. That evening, there was a spectacular display of fireworks, provided by the Tunkhannock Kiwanis Club, from the top of the bridge. Newspaper and television reports stated that over the three day weekend there had been at least 15,000 people in the little town of Nicholson.
There were two sitting Members of Congress at the same time from this small rural borough: U.S. Representatives Jim Saxton (NJ’s 3rd, November 6, 1984-January 3, 2009) and Don Sherwood (PA’s 10th District, January 3, 1999 – January 3, 2007) . Both lived on State Street growing up, only four houses from each other.