Scranton, Pennsylvania was carved out of the wilderness by the Scranton brothers, a pair of 19th century steel and coal entrepreneurs, as a testament to their wealth and the strength of their will. As anthracite began to cede its role to petroleum in the second quarter of the 20th century, however, the region’s star began to wane.

Its tourist industry suffered a body blow in the mid-1980s, when a tax law change made vacation rental real estate less attractive. The turn into this century offered the first spark of an industrial renaissance when Corning commenced hiring for a new fiber optics factory. But the popping of the Internet bubble put a quick end to that.

The financial meltdown of 2007-09 was too much to bear for an area already weakened by economic misfortune and left behind by technological and social change. Every time I visited, I'd see another long-tenured store or restaurant had shuttered its doors. One day I passed a local resort—one much like I had stayed at as a young child, and similar to the New Hampshire “farm” where my family and I spent many happy summer weeks—that had been abandoned. Then I saw a second…

There’s a sad beauty to such spots. They also do much to explain why the area feels it has lost its role in today’s world, and votes for political candidates promising change.

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