Sometimes referred to as the town under the lake, Wilsonville Pennsylvania was once a hub of activity and a center of commerce.  Fortunes were made and lost along the Wallenpaupack River and the fertile valley along its banks.  Explore the story of Wilsonville and the remnants that still exist under the surface of Lake Wallenpaupack today.  Created by Connor Simon. Click on photo for YouTube video.

Once upon a waterfront

Adapted from an article By Peter Becker, Managing Editor, News Eagle, Posted Aug. 12, 2013

If only the Pocono Lake Region Chamber of Commerce had started this early! What a tourist haven it would be. Hawley, Pa. once boasted a commercial waterfront chock full of shops, eateries, stores and lodging for the night. Between them and the water was a boardwalk. You could hop on a horse-drawn carriage and take in the sights. In full view around the bend was a roller coaster people loved to ride!

From these stores and along the boardwalk, you could look over the expanse of water coming up the edge of the lane. The sun glistened off the water as boats came up and were tied to the docks. The roar of the coaster beckoned as another group of merry travelers coasted in or were pulled up the track by a cable.

This was Hawley, Pennsylvania in the latter half of the 19th Century.

All it needed was a place to get salt water toffee and buy a nice souvenir t-shirt.

The waterfront was Hawley's main commercial district, lining First Street, eventually to be named Hudson Street.

The boardwalk was the actual street, which was lined with planks to keep people and horse-drawn vehicles out of the mud. Also known as Plank Road, it was a wooden pavement that lined the way to the county seat at Honesdale.

An organization of Wayne County men constructed the “road,” with stringers laid about every 10 feet and planks of rough hemlock, about three inches thick, set across and held with spikes. The road was about 12 feet wide.

A toll booth, kept by James Oldfied, sat right at the west edge of Hawley for those traveling up what we now call Route 6.  There was another at East Honesdale. Revenue was raised to pay for the road.

Traffic then was by horse and carriage or wagon or on foot.

The water filled the Delaware & Hudson (D&H) Canal Basin, covering the northern half of what would become Bingham Park. Signs of the basin are evident today, with earthen side walls still standing.

The boaters were crews of the canal boats, often whole families, transporting anthracite coal and other products.

The roller coaster, of course, was the Pennsylvania Coal Company (PCC) Gravity Railroad, which had high trestles bringing coal cars into Hawley six days a week and empty cars pulled back to the Wyoming Valley mines. Hard working Irish and German laborers settled in Hawley, finding work on the gravity railroad and transfer operations, as well as the canal.

It wasn't all toil. Recreation and relaxation was very important then, as now.

On Sundays, the public could go for boat rides on the D&H Canal. This boat load, complete with a band, is seen on the canal basin in Hawley

On Sundays, when the canal transport business was shut down, special passenger boats for tourists and picnickers would come and go from the basin. Don't expect, however, that the shops would have been open on Sunday, catering to Sunday afternoon revelers. This was known as the Lord's Day.

Those merry rail travelers boarded the PCC passenger coaches in Hawley, one of which has been preserved and is displayed by the Hawley Public Library. The coaches would take passengers as far as Dunmore. A popular stop along the way was the amusement park at Lake Ariel. Although the gravity railroad was built for transportation rather than amusement, the joys of riding the high trestles and taking in the fresh air as they rolled through the countryside were a big attraction.

Hawley's commercial area on First Street developed with the opening of the D&H Canal in 1828. The basin was constructed in the late 1840's when the PCC was being organized as a second gravity rail route to bring more coal to the canal. This complemented the original D&H gravity rail system, which took the coal over the mountain to Honesdale where the canal started.

First Street was part of what was known as East Hawley. While the area would flourish with the canal basin and significant growth in the local population, the commercial waterfront would be reduced to ashes on two separate occasions.

The 1860 street map records a busy main street in this section. The PCC had developed the flat lands below the Middle Creek and was selling off lots. By this time much of the downtown area was occupied but the commercial area along Main Avenue (then known as 18th Street) was not well established.

A huge 50-room hotel, the Ewen House, sat at the corner of First and Seventh (today, Hudson and Spruce, where the Hawley Medical Center now stands). The hotel was built by the PCC; it burned down in 1876.

At the next corner- today an empty lot and for decades the site of a brick knitting mill, there was a large grocery and dry goods store run by Uriah Mills & Son. Meat was sold in the cool basement by Dick and William Freethy. Continuing down the waterfront was a millinery store run by Ezelma Richardson, with tenants on the second floor. A large hall occupied the third floor for public meetings and shows. A livery and exchange stable was in back with a blacksmith.

John Powell had a restaurant next door, known as the Maple Saloon. Next were Charles Spicher's barber shop; Ira Daniels' general store, which included a pool and billiard parlor upstairs, and Isadore Kastner's meat market.

William Scholl had a large bakery in the next building. Morris Freeman sold clothing in part of it.

Next door, Michael Tighe operated a general store with stables in back extending to Prospect Street.

John Kanittle ran a store and stable next to that, with Reinhard Warg's shoe repair shop in part of it.

Next in line was a large boarding house operated by Patrick Carr. His son Peter Carr later had it and the inn was a popular social center for canal boatmen coming from out of town. The place was called the Cold Spring Hotel and had a fine view looking out at the middle of the basin.

Patrick Bohan's general store and stables adjoined the hotel. D.C. Martiness, a tailor and soft drink vendor, was located in the next building. Thomas Gaffney ran a store and stables next to that, with a clothier, Samuel & Sons, in part of the structure.

Mrs. Fralich had a large bakery in the next building. Gottlief Ammour was the baker in charge

Next was Jake Williams' building, which had a blacksmith shop, Fowler & Baschon on the ground floor and a hardware firm, Smith & Dixon, upstairs.

Following this were more merchants, Edward Padden, Casper Nichols, and Kane & Fitzpatrick.

All of these buildings were destroyed in a raging inferno in 1864, the first large conflagration of several the town would experience.

Several property owners immediately rebuilt. Many others relocated to Main Avenue and Church Street (then 18th and 16th Streets), where a new commercial downtown was quickly developing.

Among those who continued on "Hawley's Waterfront" were Curtis & Evans, who had a dry goods store at the Hudson/Spruce Street corner; Joseph Murnin's tenement house; John Weber's business and home; William Scholl's bakery and grocery; Michael Tigue's store; Patrick Bohan's store and others.

Another devastating fire swept First Street across from the basin on Sunday night, December 19, 1897. The Scranton Tribune carried a front page story on the inferno. It states that the blaze began in S.R. Evans' house at about 10 p.m. Fire spread rapidly, reducing homes, barns and business to ashes. Approximately $25,000 in damages occurred with no reference to any injuries.

"As this town is without a fire department or means of any description for fighting flames, all efforts to stay the conflagration were fruitless for a time," the reporter penned.

Losses included Evans' general store; H. Nollan's knitting mill; residences of Henry Webster and Mrs. William Scholl's; William Johnson's two houses; Mrs. Alice McDonald's house and the home of Huber Fennel.

"The houses melted like wax before the relentless fury of the conflagration and in a very short time nothing but a few charred timbers remained in the smoldering ruins," the reporter wrote.

The knitting mill had a large stock on hand in anticipation of holiday shopping season, but all was lost. The mill and Evans' store were fully insured.

Apparently surviving both fires was Levi Barker's large store across from the end of the basin and diagonally across from the entrance of what we now call Park Place. This is today a fine, large home with two-story pillars, a Hawley landmark.

Nollan soon replaced the factory with a large red brick knitting mill on the corner of Hudson and Spruce where it stood for a century.

The street planks rotted well before, leaving dirt awaiting more modern pavement.

The view of the basin and canal boats evaporated with the canal's closing in 1898. Baseball players quickly claimed the site. They have been playing ball there for over a hundred years. The view today --between trees-- is of the busy ball field and Bingham Park's bandstand. Only residences line Hudson today. A waterfront no more, one can only imagine how it once was as we motor by in our four-wheeled machines.

To learn more about the canal system, click here
 

The Hawley Silk Mill

1880

The Bellemonte Silk Mill was built by Dexter, Lambert & Co. At a cost of $130,000. The factory shaped like a Greek cross, 364 feet  by 44 feet with a 20 foot central extension, 80 feet high at its northern end.

The interior of the building was an open floor design to accommodate mill work machinery and workers. The support framing for each floor is steel beams. Supporting the floors are wood joists covered by wood subfloor over which is maple hardwood flooring.

The Mill machinery was driven by a 61 foot waterwheel in the center of the back of the mill powered by the natural fall of the Wallenpaupack. Although though the water wood aqueduct from the river to the Mill is no longer in existence, the water tunnel is still intact in the building. The building was heated by steam, originally coal powered; the lighting was gas originally to provide superior diffuse light for running looms.

1881

Bellemonte Silk Mill began operations. It employed 500 young women, ages 8 to 17.

1882

A boarding house for the Bellemonte employees was under construction. The wood building was 37 x 74 feet and stood three stories tall. There was also a recreation hall for the employees built to the immediate right of the factory as seen from the front, along the falls.

1894

A fire devastated the Bellemonte Silk Mill. About 300 people were thrown out of work and losses reached an estimated $80,000. The silk, valued at $175,000 was spared, across the road in the cocoon building. The factory was immediately rebuilt on the same dimensions.

1914

The Bellemonte Silk Mill was succeeded by the J. C. Welwood Silk Mill Co., Inc. The firm was liquidated in that year. The Bellemonte Silk Mill was purchased by J. C. Welwood Company to continue it as a silk mill. It remained a textile factory until 1986.

The Welwood Silk Mill was set to install electrical motors to run the plant instead of the water turbine. The reason was the anticipated completion of PP&L’s dam at Wilsonville, which would dam the creek and reduce it to the relative trickle it is today. Several thousands of dollars was to be spent on motors for the various sections of the mill including wiring throughout.

1929

Wayne Silk Mills, Inc. Purchased Welwood Silk Mill Co.

1943

Purchased by the Vacca Textile Business.

1956

Leased to Sherman Underwear Mill, a division of Top Forms Mills took over the operation of the factory. Sherman’s employed 250 workers and shipped 750,000 dozen ladies briefs.

1972

Kinney Shoes, a subdivision of F. W. Wolworth, bought it back from Sherman’s.

1989

The building was purchased by Kingdom Reality for antique business.

1990

Castle Antiques & Reproductions started operations in the building.

1994

The old water tower next to the stone storage building was taken down to put up a metal storage building.

2009

The current developers took over the Castle, heralding a new chapter and promise of economic revitalization.

2010

The Cocoon Coffee Shop opened in the stone storage building which once was used for storing silk and cocoons.

The metal structure was taken down.
Lackawanna Community College opened on the top floor.

 

2011

Numerous other professional office and commercial tenants moved in to the building, including The News Eagle in June 2011.

The Hawley Silk Mill has recently been added to the National Register of Historic Places.
This community development project cost $14 million invested in the local economy.

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