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Catlin 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.
This house was built in 1843 as the residence of Elijah W. Reynolds, a merchant and descendent of one of the first settlers of the Wyoming Valley in 1769. The Reynolds' family insignia, a capital letter "R," appears in the top corners of the building with the construction date. William Reynolds, Elijah's brother, purchased the house in the late 1850s. In addition to being a merchant like his brother, William Reynolds was also a member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives and a Luzerne County judge. The Reynolds family was prominent in local politics, law, and banking; two of the home's owners were bank presidents. The Reynolds' family owned the home until 1957, when Mrs. Dorrance Reynolds, a descendent of the original owner, donated it to Wilkes University.
Wilkes re-named the former Reynolds' home after George Catlin (1796-1872), and renovated it for use as a student residence hall. Catlin, who was a lawyer in Luzerne County for four years before he committed his life to painting, became famous in the nineteenth century as a painter of the North American Indian. He traveled the United States and visited fifty Native American tribes over the span of eight years, creating more than five hundred oil paintings that depict Native American life. His paintings have been featured in the Louvre and the Smithsonian. A historic marker honoring George Catlin can be found near the northwest corner of River and South Streets.
In the late nineteenth century, the original Greek revival facade was altered to feature the Victorian look popular at that time. In the twentieth century, under the ownership of Col. Dorrance Reynolds, the façade of the building was restored to its former appearance. The original front door was salvaged from the stables, restored, and is still in use today.