By Peter Becker
HAWLEY- One of the many landmark commercial buildings in Hawley, Pa., is the Watts Building, constructed in 1912. At the corner of River Street and Main Avenue, it commands a prominent position at the beginning of the lower downtown section of Main, overlooking the Middle Creek.
We know it today as an office building for AM Skier Insurance. Through the past century it has been an automotive garage, a hardware store, and an indoor shopping center.
An early picture of the Hawley railroad depot that sat near where the library is today hangs in Henry Skier's office diagonally across the street from the Watts location. As was noted in an earlier story, the picture shows Henry's grandfather Morris D. Skier next to his horse-drawn wagon. The elder Skier started out in the Hawley area as a peddler in the late 19th Century. An umbrella propped over the wagon's seat advertises "Graham Watts & Son, Hawley, Pa."
Interestingly, Graham and his son, William Watts, operated the garage at River and Main, in the same building that Morris's grandson Henry Skier would one day expand office space for the family insurance business.
Shirley Bea Gumble shared a different picture, showing an umbrella announcing, "For sale by W.S. Watts Hawley, PA." It is held by a woman aboard a horse-drawn buggy.
Graham Watts first opened a hardware store in Honesdale. Born in New York City, he came to Honesdale in 1850, and after nine years, moved to Michigan. He answered the call to arms in the American Civil War, serving in C Company 67th Pennsylvania Infantry. He engaged in the various battles of the Army of the Potomac.
After the war he came back to Honesdale and worked as a store clerk and in the sewing business. In 1882 he purchased half interest in the hardware store of F. W. Jenkins, carrying on the trade as Jenkins & Watts. Two years later the firm became Watts & Haley, when Jenkins sold to Samuel Haley. In 1888 Watts became sole owner of the store, which was situated on Main Street in what is now the Park & Shop Lot. In 1891, he built a large, three story building at 619 Main.
Watts served on Honesdale Council several times as a Republican. He also served as commander of the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) James Ham Post, which served Civil War veterans.
Came to Hawley
On May 5, 1911, Graham's son William bought the corner lot at 206 Main Avenue in Hawley from William and Jeanett Schardt. A small wooden building was replaced in 1912 with the two-story garage, made of blue stone.
The 1912 Hawley business and street directory lists Graham Watts in business with his son William S. Watts, with a hardware store on Keystone Street near Main Avenue, and the garage at River and Main.
Graham and his wife Elizabeth were living in Honesdale; William and his wife Mary Grace Baisden Watts lived on Keystone near Main, in Hawley.
William was born in 1872.
"G. Watts & Son Garage" appears on the windows in a photo from the period. The late Graham Roger Lobb, who was related to the Watts family, wrote in 1989 that they called it the "Bluestone Garage."
Watts served the early generation of automobile owners, at a time when Hawley's streets were still dirt and the stone hitching posts were still in use around town. The 1912 directory lists three garages, G. Watts & Son; Theilke & Edwards on Church Street near Bishop, and Richard Reichert's garage on Church near Academy.
Automobiles and automibile supplies were listed as part of the business at G. Watts & Son Hardware, on Keystone Street.
The 1912 Sanborn street map of Hawley locates the hardware store immediately behind the 1st National Bank (as of late, Tort Knox), on Keystone, where Murphy Insurance is now found.
Farm machinery, tinware, stoves, ranges, cutlery and general hardware were also advertised products.
At least in the teens, the Watts garage had a hall upstairs for social and community functions. In September 1915, the Hawley chapter of the Society of Red Men Society held a big dance at Watts' Hall, as part of a large pow-wow gathering. Charles Murphy and George Murphy conducted the dance, attended by crowds of young people from out of town as well as Hawley. A Hawley orchestra furnished music.
Graham Watts died in 1921.
By 1925, the hardware store on Keystone had closed and the Watts garage was now a hardware store operated by William S. Watts. Automobiles were no longer part of the business.
Warren P. Murphy had opened an insurance business at the original hardware store location.
It appears William and his wife lived upstairs from the hardware store at River and Main.
After William's death, his widow carried on the hardware business, as is listed in the 1931 Hawley directory.
She later married Arthur ("Jimmy") James, a long-time store employee. On May 23, 1938, the deed was transferred to Arthur and Mary (Watts) James.
Roger Lobb recalled that the store sold general hardware, paint, toys, fishing and hunting supplies. Among the employees were Freddy Schmidt and Josiah "Cy" Lord.
March 17, 1951, Arthur and Mary James conveyed the property to Daniel Vacca Jr., Sunday Venese and Herman Vacca.
The 1953- and 1961- directory lists Sunday's husband Michael J. Venese operating the store. He and his wife lived there as well.
The store survived the 1942 and 1955 floods, but in the latter, the hardware store was undermined when the Middle Creek overflowed. Dramatic pictures of the aftermath of the August 1955 flood show where the Middle Creek Bridge collapsed, and a man was killed watching the flood too closely trying to take photographs. The hardware store is in the background, its corner suspended.
The property was conveyed to Daniel Vacca Sr. and his wife Mary Vacca on Sept. 21, 1963.
Edward L. Drake bought the business in 1966. He and his first wife Marie were co-owners of the business, which they eventually renamed as Drake's Hardware. August 30 was their first full day in the hardware store. They also leased the building, purchasing it in 1971.
Stanley Dyser assisted them in the store when they started.
The 1968 Hawley directory listed the Drakes as living there as well. There were two apartments above the store.
Ed Drake, who was born in 1921, died January 10, 2013 at the age of 91. He was a World War II veteran and very active in the Hawley community. He was a charter member of the Hawley VFW post, was a member of Hawley Ambulance, past president of Hawley Fire Department and served on Borough Council, eight years.
Mary Vacca, widow, conveyed the property to Edward Drake on Dec. 15, 1971.
Watts in Hawley
Drake retired from the hardware business, and on March 23, 1984, he and his wife conveyed the property to Community Restoration Projects, a limited PA partnership linked with the Skier family.
It now became an indoor shopping mall. Tenants include the first location for The Dime Bank's Hawley office, a bakery operated by Woodloch Pines, Cover to Cover art gallery and book store, Merle Norman Cosmetics, and downstairs, Woolrich clothing store. It was known as "Watts in Hawley."
Roger Blough and Henry Skier were the original partners. They later added Harry Kiesendahl, Frank Kelly and Don Kranich, and owners of other local resorts. There were 10 partners in the project. Skier eventually bought them out.
In the 1990's Watts in Hawley closed and the property became offices for camp, accounting and I.T. personnel for AM Skier Insurance. On Nov. 3, 2009, the property was transferred to Skier Family Partnership.
Extensively renovated, the landmark still proudly retains the Watts name on top, with the year it was built, over 100 years ago.