HAWLEY- Admirers of Hawley and the surrounding region span over 200 years. This is a first hand account of them, a son of Ireland whose family helped fuel the coming rising industrial revolution, laboring on the gravity coal trains that entered Hawley. James O’Connor was the son of Irish immigrants; his father labored on the a stationary steam engine of the Pennsylvania Coal Company Gravity Railroad. These engines would pull the empty coal cars back from Hawley to the mines. In later years, as a journalist and resident of Scranton, James penned an account of his memories of Hawley, Pa. Although raised along the gravity railroad near Lake Ariel, his grandfather Edward Donnegan worked on the Gravity railroad at Hawley. James went to live with him for six months in January 1863, after his father died. His grandfather lived on Railroad Street, overlooking the tracks and Middle Creek. This is believed to have been the narrow street in Marble Hill closest to the creek, now known as Wyoming Avenue. Marble Hill -then known as Shanty Hill- was an Irish neighborhood at that time. James’ account was reproduced in the 1927 History of Hawley compiled by Michael J. McAndrew. Born in 1857, O’Connor was a contemporary of McAndrew (who was five years older), as well as Michael Hoban the boy from Hawley who arose to become a Catholic Bishop (who was four years older tahn O’Connor). They were all sons of the Irish, and may have played together in those carefree days of youth on the dusty streets of their town. They likely got together at St. Philomena’s Church. Like any Hawley lads they likely longed to go swim in the Middle Creek, despite mothers’ concerns over the polluting coal dust. The bustling gravity train yard and canal basin also presented lots of excitement and danger to a Hawley youth, an ever present alarm for a brooding mid-19th Century Hawley parent. Yet it was a place for a lifetime of memories as times ahead changed.
Worthy of a poet
“Thomas Moore wrote an undying poem entitled ‘The Meeting of the Waters.’ This beautiful rhyme dealt with the vale of Avoca in Ireland. A present-day poet could write with similar feeling about the vale of Hawley in Wayne County, Pennsylvania, where there is a meeting of two streams, the Lackawaxen River and the Middle Creek. The river thus increased in volume, pursues its way through rural and historic scenes 16 miles to the broad Delaware at Lackawaxen. “Hawley, the garden village and the junction of pleasant waters, is imbedded in my memory, with its hills, waterfalls, canals, Gravity Railroad and other attractions, for it was the first large place I saw. “My father, John O’Connor, and my mother, whose maiden name was Margaret Donnegan, were married at Hawley in 1856 by the late Reverend Michael Filan. I was born at number eighteen plane, Salem Township, Wayne County [on the “light’ return track of the Pa. Coal Company Gravity Railroad, east of Lake Ariel, in what is now the northern part of The Hideout]. My father at that time was fireman at the number eighteen engine house on the Pa. Coal Company Gravity Railroad. He died in January,1863, of a cold he caught while shoveling snow from the foot of the plane.
Page 2 of 3 - Riding the Gravity Railroad
“As soon as I was old enough I rode on the Gravity coal cars and was pleased whenever my mother took me on railroad trips to Hawley. To go to that village from our hamlet we boarded the light cars at number eighteen and rode two miles to number nineteen, now [Lake] Ariel. At that place we got on the trucks pulled by horses for two miles to the head of number twelve on the loaded track. Then, on the loaded cars, we began a 14 mile ride to Hawley. “As we sped along we could see from the hill two miles east of number twelve the zigzag course of Middle Creek through a number of fields in the valley. How the creek deviated from a straight line into numerous closely lying curves is a mystery. Farther on the beaver dam and still farther two large vacated lodging houses that had occupied by workmen who in 1849 built the Gravity Road, which was opened to traffic in May, 1850. And superseded by a locomotive line in December, 1885. “From the hill at what is now Clemo [Cherry Ridge Township] we looked upon Robertson & Cail’s tannery, a wide spreading hive of industry... “At Hoadleys we passed large pockets at which local sales of coal were made. A few miles more we rode over Wangum Falls, a part of the Middle Creek. This experience was thrilling, especially to a youth. A long wooden aqueduct here also attracted attention. This structure took water from a dam in the creek above the falls and carried it across the valley to number fifteen, on the light track, where it drove e big wheel which hoisted cars and which, after 15 or 20 years’ service, was replaced by a steam engine. This water wheel was first run by Jacob Ames, after him John Ames and Ezra Swingle. “The loaded track passed under the outbound or light track at number fourteen, two miles from Hawley. There was a water wheel at number fourteen in the early days. It was fed by a canal from the Middle Creek. The wheel runners were successively, Charles F. Hand and William Hand. “My mother and I were once riding from number twelve on what were called log trucks. We sat with the runner at the head end f the first car. As we entered Hawley yard at slow speed one of the front wheels broke and stopped the trip. The truck pitched somewhat and shook us badly. Had the accident happened while the trucks were running fast there is no telling what the result would have been. With the matters hat took us to Hawley attended to, we boarded light cars on a trestle at the foot of thirteen and took home, almost to the door of our house.”
Page 3 of 3 - Part 2, next week: Life in Hawley