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Kirby Hall was one of a group of nineteenth-century homes built by the financial and industrial elite of Wilkes-Barre and situated along the waterfront of the north branch of the Susquehanna River. The collection of mansions along the river was unusual, occupying an area normally associated with industry and commerce, and was a result of the location of the North Branch Canal several blocks inland. The mansions in this narrow three-block strip belonged to the entrepreneurs leading the development of the anthracite coal industry in the region, which played an important role in the industrial revolution.
The house was built in 1873 for Stephen Thurlow, a successful coal dealer. It was considered by architect Frederick Withers to be one of his most important works, and was featured in the December 1876 issue of Architectural Digest. Thurlow died suddenly in 1880, whereupon the house was sold to an undetermined buyer. In 1886, the local banker and philanthropist Rueben Flick purchased the house, and in 1906, it was sold for $55,000 to Frederick M. Kirby, one of the founders and major stockholders of F. W. Woolworth & Co. After Kirby's death in 1940, his son, Allen P. Kirby, donated the house to Bucknell University Junior College in memory of his parents. It was the fourth building given to the growing BUJC, preceded by the first Conyngham Hall, Chase Hall, and the first Weckesser Hall.
The building was officially dedicated as the Kirby Educational Home of Bucknell Junior College on December 2, 1941, with many of Wilkes' founders, including Dr. Eugene Farley, Attorney Gilbert McClintock, Attorney George Bedford, and Dr. Arnaud C. Marts, in attendance. Originally, the first floor of the building was used by music students, the second served as a library, and the third was the residence of the first President of Wilkes and his wife, Dr. and Mrs. Eugene Farley. Eventually, the library expanded to all three floors until the Eugene S. Farley Library opened in 1968 to replace it.
Kirby Hall, a "diamond in the rough," was showing signs of age. Plans for an extensive renovation were announced in 1992 by President Christopher N. Breiseth. The announcement was in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the birth of Allan P. Kirby. Completed in 2000, the project restored the home to the splendor of its original Victorian style and earned it the Greater Wilkes-Barre Chamber of Business and Industry's annual "Pride of Place Award," which is given to member businesses, industries, and organizations that improve the physical environment of the Greater Wilkes-Barre area.
Kirby Hall's purpose on campus has always reflected the changing needs of the growing Wilkes College, and later, Wilkes University. Kirby Hall has always stood as a cornerstone of the campus and as testament to Wilkes' commitment to excellence in higher education.
Andrews, Ronald L. "An Inventory of Historical Landmarks on the Campus of Wilkes College, Wilkes-Barre, Luzerne County, Pennsylvania." Typescript. July 1975. Wilkes University, Wilkes-Barre, PA.