By Peter Becker
HAWLEY – A vision for the coming tourism industry was embraced by community leaders in Hawley and the surrounding area when a massive lake was being planned for power generation, putting a great dam across the Wallenpaupack River. While the lake was being completed in the mid-1920’s, work was underway for a nice place for those tourists to stay.
Thus was born an idea for a grand inn, a community hotel designed with all the modern conveniences and luxury in mind. It would be a place to welcome the anticipated tourist boom.
Today we know the property as The Settler’s Inn.
It was known by several names through the decades, but there was a time when it looked like no one would be staying there anytime soon.
Hawley was not without its hotels in the early 20th Century. There were numerous lodging places. Dick Murphy, who is 88, is the son of one of the Executive Committee members who oversaw this community project. Murphy said that the hotels in existence were not modern; they had small rooms, containing little more than a single-person bed, dresser and chair.
Hotels and boarding houses, built in the 19th century, were made not with a tourist boom in mind as much as inexpensive accommodations for workers who lacked the cars we have today for long commutes.
Hawley, in those days, flourished with manufacturing jobs. Hawley’s population stood at about 2,400, over a thousand more than in 2013.
Pennsylvania Power & Light Inc. (PP&L) finished Lake Wallenpaupack in 1926. These were exciting and optimistic times for Hawley. The Hawley Chamber of Commerce organized in 1926 as well. Plans were being made for a grand town centennial celebration in 1927, and excitement was building over a vision for a park where once there had been a canal boat basin.
The street through the area where the park had not been there very long. Apparently after the canal closed in 1898, the street was laid out as an extension of Main Avenue and was known as "New Street." The new hotel would go on the upper end, at the corner where Route 6 continues to Honesdale and the abandoned canal bed passed.
The "Hawley Community Hotel" would have an assembly hall, fine dining, 54 rooms, 27 baths, but no bar- this was during Prohibition.
It would be paid for through subscriptions. The Executive Committee put together a sales committee and sent them out with an illustrated prospectus, to help attract stock holders.
"It will be a community project, financed through the community effort, owned by those who believe in the community, operated under community supervision, and by community operation," the prospectus states.
"The Executive Committee believes in this project; they believe in Hawley. They believe that an investment in this enterprise will mean direct financial dividends and great indirect civic dividends. In the name of Hawley, we ask your moral and financial support." Marketing to the whole community, "every citizen of Hawley" was called on to invest in the hotel, a symbol of advancement. "This is a practical business investment, and a sure way to develop Hawley and the adjoining territory," the committee assured.
Citing the need, prospective investors were told that due to the new lake, an estimated "2,000 people a day" would come to camp, fish and hunt. New hard-surfaced roads were attracting recreational motorists. The Roosevelt Highway, known as U.S. Route 6, brings people right into town.
"Up to the present time we have not had modern hotel facilities to care for those who come to Hawley, or those who would like to come, were modern hotel accommodations available. These conditions demand that this community finance and build a modern and first class hotel."
William F. Suydam served as General Chairman of the Executive Committee. Suydam was the manager of Lambert Silk Company and formerly the blue stone Bellemonte Silk Mill. He was also president of the Chamber of Commerce. Victor A. Decker, an attorney, was Associate Chairman; Warren P. Murphy, who operated a real estate and insurance business, was Treasurer. Allen E. Gilpin (real estate and insurance) was Secretary. William C. Anderson was General Sales Manager. He was the District Manager for PP&L.
With the aid of a hotel specialist firm, The Hockenbury System, Inc., good sites were identified; stock purchasers would help make the final decision.
The Casey family of Scranton, who operated the elegant Casey Hotel, was secured to manage the Hawley Community Hotel.
Room for $2.00/day
Estimated operating expenses were calculated. Room rates for this first class establishment were expected to range from $2.00 a day to $3.50 a day. A staff of seven was foreseen, with the manager earning $300 a month. Two clerks would earn $75 a month; the housekeeper would earn $60; two maids, $35 each and one houseman and chief engineer would be paid $75 a month.
Total income was envisioned at $39,968 a year. Expenses would total an estimated $15,518 a year. Six percent dividend on $87,000 in preferred stock would total $5,220 paid out yearly.
Plans were to sell $145,000 in stock, to pay for the site, equipment and furnishings.
Shares were sold at $100 apiece. Interest was set at 6%. A year payment plan was set, with full payment due Nov. 15, 1929.
The architect was Louis Edgar Welsh, a native of Hawley born in 1888. He studied at Pratt Institute, 1907-09 and lived in Westport, CT. Among his other projects were the Town Hall at Greenfield, Saratoga County, NY; several stores in the J.J. Newberry chain, and the home of the founder of the chain in Englwood, NJ. He also designed the Friends Meeting House in Wilton, CT.
Joseph Murray was the contractor. The family name appears on top the brick row of storefronts on the 300 block of Main Avenue, built by his father Edward. Work on the grand hotel began in 1927.
Then 1929 happened.
The exterior of the building was just going up two years later when the Stock Market crashed. Oct. 29, 1929.
The Great Depression brought the project to a halt shortly afterwards. The hotel was left as a shell. Lake Wallenpaupack remained mostly unsettled on its shores, as tourism was forestalled.
Hawley Community Hotel Company remained as a part of what was now named the Hawley- Lake Wallenpaupack Chamber of Commerce. A letter from the Chamber, dated Nov. 14, 1935, stated that $79,174.00 in stock had been paid.
The contractor had been paid $29,500.32, the architect, $1,103.64. There were $888.65 in miscellaneous bills and $5,033.75 in bond accounts. The estimate to complete the hotel was $18,000.00.
In 2008, Carolyn Murray Daniel, a niece of the contractor Joseph Murray, wrote to present owner Grant Genzlinger, thanking him for what he had done with Settler’s Inn. She stated that the heartbreak of not finishing the hotel nearly consumed her father George Murray. He also was in construction. During the 1930’s, George and Joe tried hard to get enough money to keep the hotel afloat.
It would take 18 years to finish the hotel.
It seemed the dreams of community leaders and investors had been dashed.
"They lost everything," said June Strait, of Hawley.
Strait, who is 92, said her father had $400 in shares in the hotel. He never had got a penny in returns.
She said she still remembers that day the Stock Market crashed. Her mother came in from the car with a long look on her face. Their bank account at the 1st National Bank of Hawley was wiped out- except for one dollar.
But leave it to the kids to make the best in a bad situation.
Still a construction site, the hotel without any doors installed became an attraction for some of the more adventurous kids in the neighborhood.
Dick Murphy, who today still works in his father’s insurance business, recalled the Great Depression days. As a child, he said he and his friend Wellie Murray (Weldon Murray, son of the hotel contractor) would wander in and play. The stairwell was completely empty- just a shaft where you could look down and see the basement. There was a huge sand pile at the bottom.
Murphy said he and his friend would ride a rope and pulley and land in the sand, to such great enjoyment he still laughed about it today.
[Next week: Part 2- The vision is fulfilled.]