(PART 1 of 2 PARTS) Slate picking isn't so bad after all. Another biographical sketch has been located on a Hawley resident of the 19th Century who had such a humble beginning, only to arise to be a respected local merchant and bank director.
He is Michael Corcoran, a general merchant in Hawley who was described as "a man whose successful struggle with adverse circumstances shows what can be done by industry and economy..."
This account in the 1900 Commemorative Biographical Record of Northeastern Pennsylvania continues that sentence thus: "... especially if a sensible wife seconds the efforts to secure a home and competence."
Corcoran was among a wave of immigrants from County Mayo, Ireland, who arrived at Hawley in the mid-19th century. Many of these Irish families settled at Shanty Hill- later known as Marble Hill, their own ethnic neighborhood along the Middle Creek and crossed by what was eventually named Columbus Avenue. Many of their men -and boys- found work with the Pennsylvania Coal Company (PCC) which began operation of its gravity railroad in 1850. Shipping coal into Hawley for the waiting canal boats- and later Erie steam trains, these laborers had many duties related to the rail works, coal sorting and storage, and transfer of the coal onto the boats or train cars.
He was born in Ireland on July 29, 1843 to Thomas and Mary (Haley) Corcoran. His paternal grandparents, John and Mary (McAndrew) Corcoran, and maternal grandparents, Thomas and Mary (McDonough) Haley, stayed in Ireland. The Grandfather John was a fisherman; Grandfather Thomas engaged in farming.
--- The crossing
Thomas and Mary Corcoran and their children emigrated in 1847. Later, their granddaughter Mary would recount the story. They left Ireland in the midst of the potato famine, though Thomas's heart was torn as he left his house behind. He went back to take one last look and found a poor beggar man dead in the house on the straw that was their floor.
During the ship crossing, sharks in the water indicated that someone on board was sick. A woman was found sick of fever; exposed food and chickens had to be thrown overboard. The woman and several others died on the way.
Michael was only five years old and spent much of his time on deck where he was befriended by the sailors; he enjoyed climbing the masts.
In those days your port of arrival wasn't necessarily what your ticket read; where you headed was largely depended on the wind in the ship sails.
They landed at St. John, New Brunswick, Canada. Their baby, John was sick of the fever. The family was quarantined on board ship and all of their bedding and clothing were piled up and burned. When they were allowed to go on shore, the baby was dead. The family carried it to a Catholic cemetery and buried baby John there.
Page 2 of 3 - They left Canada and went to Boston where their father found work. They heard about the gravity railroad being constructed at Hawley, Pennsylvania, and decided to move there.
Irish immigrants were being attracted to work in Hawley by George Johnson, a land agent for the PCC. He was quoted as saying, "Mayo refugees, pick a lot for yourself, sixty feet front and one twenty back. I' be over in a week or two with a contract."
We are also told that as nearly all the settlers were from the same place and many had the same name, they were pegged by some token, as size, color of hair or where they came from before arriving in Hawley. This custom fixed the name "Boston" to Thomas Corcoran so firmly that many in Hawley never knew him by any other. His son Michael also inherited this nickname and for years answered to "Boston."
The PCC was at its height in the early 1850's and employed every man and boy able and willing to work. Many poor immigrant families on their way to settle at the coal mines would first stop at Hawley for awhile to earn some money.
Before the Erie steam trains reached Hawley in 1863, the immigrant families would take the train as far as Lackawaxen and travel the rest of the way to Hawley by canal boat. On their way the skipper would advise them that there was plenty of work at both Hawley and Honesdale- the latter where the terminus of the canal was found- but if they didn't have the dollar to go as far as Honesdale, they would be dropped off at Hawley.
At first the family lived at the No. 14 plane of the gravity railroad at Wangum, north of Hawley. Young Michael and his brother William attended school at Wangum. Their father worked a No. 12.
In 1852, they moved to the Marble Hill section of Hawley. In 1853 he bought the home where he died, from the PCC.
Shortly after arriving in Hawley, Thomas Corcoran found work as engineer in charge of the stationary engine hoisting and screening coal at the old breaker. This was near where the Hawley Coal Pockets were built, what is now an area along Old Gravity Road.
In 1862 a new breaker was built on Marble Hill. Thomas was then given charge of the same class of engine located on the east end of the coal pile and dong double duty of hoisting coal to the stock pile one one side from the pile on the other.
Thomas worked as a stationary engineer for several years at the foot of the plane near the McGinty farm.
Stationary steam engines, and one engine operated by a water wheel, were used to haul the empty coal cars back up the track out of Hawley as well as the passenger coaches.
Page 3 of 3 - In the summer of 1870, while coupling some cars for the PCC, Thomas suffered an accident, losing his right arm. He continued to work for several years afterwards as the operation of the engine required only one hand.
He retired before the closing of the gravity railroad in 1885 when he enjoyed the company of his devoted wife Mary whom he fondly called "Mollie." A newspaper columnist later penned of Mary, "one of the mots likable old Irish ladies ever lived."
Thomas Corocoran died on Christmas Day, 1895, at the age of 77. The elder Mr. Corcoran was a Democrat, and with his family were active Roman Catholics. His wife Mary survived him.
Michael was the oldest of six children. His siblings were Mary, who died in Ireland during childhood; John, who died at St. John, New Brunswick; Daniel, who was still living in 1900 and Peter, who died at Hawley. Michael lived with his parents until the age of 27.
[Editor's Note: Anyone who remembers Bea Corcoran of Hawley, who lived to almost 105 years old and died in 1982, is welcome to contact the writer at (570)226-4547 or firstname.lastname@example.org to share your memories. She will be discussed as part of Part 2 of this story, next week.]
--Continued next week--