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News Eagle - Hawley, PA
  • LOCAL HISTORY: Sonar traces ‘Town Under the Lake’

  •  Is there really a town under Lake Wallenpaupack? We know there was once a village named Wilsonville that was said to be removed when Pennsylvania Power & Light Company formed the lake in 1924-1926. An endeavor by the Tafton Fire Company Dive Team has shown that evidence for the town is still under there.


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  •  Is there really a town under Lake Wallenpaupack? We know there was once a village named Wilsonville that was said to be removed when Pennsylvania Power & Light Company formed the lake in 1924-1926. An endeavor by the Tafton Fire Company Dive Team has shown that evidence for the town is still under there.
    PPL Wallenpaupack Environmental Learning Center is located only a few hundred feet from the fabled village. Saturday night, July 7, their auditorium was packed with people- standing room only- eager to hear about the “town under the lake.”
    Wallenpaupack Historical Society hosted the event, which was led by Jon Tandy, president of Tafton Fire Company as well as secretary of the Historical Society. Tandy led the investigation under the lake, using their side-scan sonar as part of a valuable exercise for dive team members.
    The crowd sat enthralled as Tandy told what they had to do and how they interpreted the grainy sonar images from deep below the water’s surface. It was a detective story in a very real sense, mixing science, archaeology, history and good old-fashioned passion. Pealing back the layers of time, they revealed what has been there these past 85+ years. They found remnants of a time Lake Wallenpaupack’s forefathers had an entirely different view of the valley now known as one of the Poconos’ premiere recreational havens and hydroelectric power source.
    Valued equipment
    Their side-scan sonar, along with their robot submarine- called a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV), are important pieces of equipment which allow the dive team to more efficiently search- not for historic artifacts- but for drowning victims. They also used the ROV to find a car that fell through the ice in the winter of 2011. The driver and his passenger escaped through an opened sun roof, and the driver was eventually charged and convicted.  Color pictures from the ROV clearly showed the upside-down car, which was later brought up by Ledgedale Dive Team.
    The sonar device, looking somewhat like a torpedo, cost $22,000. The sonar was funded through large donations made by PPL and local townships, but up to $7,000 was still needed. Then an anonymous benefactor came along and provided $40,000, allowing Tafton to purchase both the sonar and the ROV.
    The sonar is lowered from a boat and towed.
    Calling himself Tafton’s “sonar geek,” Tandy is a retired US Navy commander. His primary duty was aboard submarines, serving on the USS Alexander Hamilton, US Chicago and USS Pasadena. He also taught ocean acoustics at the US Naval Academy.
    In September 2011 Tafton Dive Team Captain Richard Groo, 1st Assistant Chief Nick Spinelli and Tandy took a boat over the old Wilsonville bridge for sonar raining target. While doing so they imaged foundations of several buildings that once occupied Wilsonville, and could make out roads.
    Page 2 of 3 - Identification of features was pinned down after the imaging, comparing the pictures with historic maps and vintage photographs of the Wallenpaupack River valley.
    Traced the village
    The maps and old photos show a large lumber mill operation and several homes and outbuildings, including what may have been a boarding house, next to the bridge. Wilsonville was located in the northeast corner of the lake, between the PPL dam and Mangan Cove. The river that cut through the valley, led to a series of waterfalls down through Hawley, where it empties into the Lackawaxen River.
    Wilsonville is named for Judge James Wilson, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, who owned a large tract in the Wallenpaupack area and started a mill in the 1790’s. The hamlet served briefly as the county seat of Wayne County before Pike County was separated in 1814.
    There was a crossroads at Wilsonville, where the road from Hawley met with the road continuing down through the Wallenpaupack valley and another (old Route 71) that extended south towards Tafton and Milford. The bridge crossed the river near this intersection and carried the road to Tafton.
    Sonar images show where this bridge was widened by the power company to carry heavy trucks, when the dam was under construction. Stone foundations of structures and walls are revealed.
    A well-known postcard of Wilsonville, taken by Louis Hensel, shows a tree-lined road, houses, a woman and a girl. Comparing the postcard with old maps, Tandy said it confounded him for years, trying to decipher what was what. Shadows and slope of the land give clues.
    Studying the sonar images, Tandy found that the postcard image matches exactly- once the postcard view is flipped. All this time, the postcard has been shown as a mirror-image.
    The lake is about 55 feet deep in this area, the deepest part of Wallenpaupack.
    Iron bridge and trees
    In June 2012, Bob Ammon and Tandy returned with the sonar to the lake, this time exploring the central area. They were able to locate the Midvalley Bridge, which crossed Wallenpaupack River in the days the valley was a farming community. A road used to cut across the valley south to north, extending from the area of Ansley Road off Route 507 in Pike County to Goose Pond Road in Paupack Township, Wayne County.
    The submerged road is actually still there, shown in the images, and what appears to be the iron sides of the bridge stand out in the picture reflecting the sonar system’s echoes. Tandy said their divers are eager to go down and confirm this.
    Very intriguing was the clear image of a few trees, still standing underwater. One tree shown is 12 feet tall.
    Joseph Wheeler was given the duty by PP&L to clear the valley of buildings and trees, where the lake would go. Anything taller than 1,170 feet above sea level had to go. PP&L intended never to have their lake any lower than 1,174 feet.
    Page 3 of 3 - Some short trees were left or were topped off.
    There are not great forests of tree trunks or stumps to be found; most of the valley had been cleared for farm fields well before there were plans for a lake.
    For 30 years following the closing of the dam’s roller gates in 1926, stumps and other drift wood would surface, and litter the coves. The flotsam was well enjoyed by scampering fish and bonfire parties.
    Tandy said that the Dive Team hopes to conduct more training exercises, looking for an old boat house that may be there on a parcel of land where PP&L only had flooding rights, a sunken boat off of Epply Island, and a possible boat off of Ironwood Point. They would also like to eventually create a mosaic sonar map of the entire lake.
    Numerous people had questions following the talk. The first brought a round of laughter: “Did you ever find a Rolex watch?”
    Online:
    www.wallenpaupack
    historical.org
    www.taftonfireco.com
     
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