By Peter Becker
HAWLEY- A rare photograph from around the turn of the 19th Century shows how strangely empty a section of Hawley Borough was, following the demise of the bustling gravity railroad days and closing of the canal. That area, where today stretches from Borough Hall to Settler's Inn, between the Lackawaxen River and Route 6, had all of one house.
June (Ellingsen) Strait, who was born in 1920 high up the hill on Spruce Street and today lives on the same property, has special memories of the area, so familiar where she and her siblings would pass daily on their way to school.
She shared the photograph, which appears to be taken possibly 20 years before she was born.
The picture shows the Lackawaxen in the foreground with a house and a couple out-buildings along the river, a fence and some small trees. It looks like it could have been a small farm. Stretching out in the background is a great empty expanse, as far as Hudson Street.
A dirt road parallels the river between the house and the water. More on this in a moment.
At right and snaking off to the distance is a narrow path, with what looks like someone walking along. Right of this path is another large abandoned section, with rolling humps and what appear to be pools of water.
If you didn't see the town in the background you might think this was an image from a barren wasteland way out in the country, with a lone farmstead.
This was the state of things around 1900 in this section of Hawley, which otherwise was a busy and prosperous community of manufacturing, sundry shops and the homes of nearly 1,000 more people than live here a century later. The picture captured only a transitional phase. Soon this section would flourish again.
The Delaware & Hudson Canal operated from 1828 to 1898 and was responsible for a good portion of Hawley's growth as a community, especially the "East Side" partly visible in the distance. The now abandoned canal bed may be traced on the picture as a line in the distance just under the level of Hudson Street, extending straight across.
A large basin was constructed for canal boats, seen to the right, where by now, most of the water has drained away.
Pennsylvania Coal Company (PCC) brought the gravity rail system to Hawley and operated from 1850 to 1885. High railroad trestles crossed the river in the foreground, bringing coal to the waiting canal boats. The heaps at right may be coal, or earth piled from the operation of coal transfer and conveyance that occurred in this area.
The dirt road along the river likely was a way townspeople got around the coal piles and PCC and canal operations, to get to and from the East Side and downtown. There used to be a bridge over the Lackawaxen just upstream from what is now Settler's Inn, connecting with Old Gravity Road. You can still see one of the piers, at the end of Old Gravity. Near this crossing was a bridge over the canal where people could cross from Ridge Street in the far northeast part of town.
There was also a bridge over the canal where today Park Place connects with Hudson Street, near the bend in the river. Likely there was a road on the river side of what is today Bingham Park, for the public top get around the canal basin and canal boat works.
In the distance we see the large red brick knitting mill, built in 1898 by Henry Nollan. This landmark- late known as Leonard Knitting Company and finally as Anke Knitwear at the corner of Spruce and Hudson was torn down in 1997. It is still an empty lot in 2013. Across Spruce Street is Friend Swingle's grocery market. There had been a grocery on this corner for well over 100 years. It is today the site of the Hawley Medical Center, which opened in 2010.
Note how Spruce Street zig-zagged up the hill (also known as Sport Hill), unlike today. Mrs. Strait recalled how this road used to do that. This was the road where she and her siblings would on snowy days ski down the hill from their home, leave the skis at Swingle's and walk the rest of the way to the school across town.
On the very top of the hill, Nollans' Knitting Mill is visible.
That was O'Hearn's house," Mrs. Strait said, of the house in the foreground.
Matthew and his wife Alice M. O'Hearn lived here, with their five children. The parents were born in Ireland, Matthew in 1880 and Alice in about 1899. They immigrated to the United States in 1914 where they set down roots in Hawley, and raised five children. Matthew was a laborer.
June spent a lot of time there swimming in the Lackawaxen with the other children, she said.
The daughter Alice was her friend from the 4th grade, when tragically, Alice drowned in the river. June wasn't there at the time. A couple men were crossing on the bridge nearby and tried to save her but couldn't.
She said that teachers at school brought the children to the wake, at St. Philomena's (Queen of Peace).
By 1940, Matthew had died, and the family was living at a Wangum Street address.
A property record search did not name this family. It could be they were tenants. The entire stretch from the Route 6 Lackawaxen River Bridge to Hudson Street intersection was owned by the Pennsylvania Coal Company.
The house was located approximately where Northampton Community College is found, behind the Sunoco station.
In June of 1918, the PCC sold a parcel to Michael J. Monaghan, where he built and operated the Erie Garage, immediately past the bridge with its back to the river. This remained as an automotive garage and auto dealership run by the Monaghan family, until 1964, when it was sold to Hawley Borough for a new town hall and fire station.
The Monaghans also owned the land next to it, where the O'Hearns (Ahearns) lived. In October 1963, the Monaghan family sold this parcel to Sun Oil Company, and it has had a succession of owners every since, operating a service station. Atlantic Oil & Hearing Company has owned it since 1985.
Back to that narrow dirt path on the right in the picture. It hardly looks like the busy piece of Route 6 today, between the borough hall and businesses, and the park.
At some point in the early 20th Century, this path was improved and became known as New Street.
It apparently took place of the dirt road that hugged the river bank, where parcels were being sold off.
1916 highway map
A 1916 state road map of Wayne County is a wealth of information to compare the way people traveled and how they do today. Route 6 between Honesdale and Hawley was then known as Route 7. (It was known as Route 6 between Honesdale and Waymart.)
The map shows Route 7 through Hawley, which included a curious 45 degree bend in New Street. The state depicted the bending as it connected with the bridge. This also simply could be an error.
Route 7 continued down Main Avenue, turned east on Church Street and then south on Penn Avenue. It then crossed Spring Street and became Bellemonte Avenue, heading up the hill on its way to Pike County. This was prior to the major highway project undertaken in 1963 when Route 6 was re-routed through a rock cut.
Hudson Street was State Road 255; today it is Route 590.
This map also shows how few improved roads there were as the automotive age was quickly catching on. Most roads in Wayne County were still dirt. The Owego Turnpike was had an improved surface.
By the time of the early 1930's when June was swimming with her friends at the O'Hearn residence, the abandoned canal basin and coal operations were coming to resemble what generations since would recognize.
A hotel had been built at the far end of this desolate stretch in the photo, at the corner with Hudson, today known as The Settler's Inn. In the 30's it was an empty shell, waiting for the Great Depression- and then the War- to pass, and someone to buy it and complete the project.
Once the old canal basin had emptied, community ball teams started hosting games on the northern end. Much of the land, however, on the downtown side, lay abandoned and became a refuse dump. Mrs. Strait recalled the stench as she passed by, and the smoke from a long-lasting underground fire.
In 1929, land was donated to the Borough to create what became Bingham Park. June's father was the architect who laid out the plans. In 1932, the bandstand was dedicated, as well as a large grandstand on the southern end.
Acme grocery market was opened across the street in the mid-1950's, today, Hawley IGA Market.
Sometime between 1953 and 1961, New Street was named part of Main Avenue.
What was called New Street was symbolic of a new day for Hawley, a day of community growth, with much needed services on one side and a pleasant place for recreation on the other.