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News Eagle - Hawley, PA
  • Local History: Jacob B. Fitch: Long time D&H Canal chief

  • An 1886 account tells of Jacob B. Fitch, superintendent of the Delaware & Hudson (D&H) Canal. The Hawley resident was said to be one of the elder D&H workers, Also of interest here is his son, Lewis B. Fitch, who is believed to have been the captain of a militia in Hawley that marched into the Civil War.
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  • An 1886 account tells of Jacob B. Fitch, superintendent of the Delaware & Hudson (D&H) Canal. The Hawley resident was said to be one of the elder D&H workers, Also of interest here is his son, Lewis B. Fitch, who is believed to have been the captain of a militia in Hawley that marched into the Civil War.
    The Fitch home was located on Hudson Street, known in his time as 1st Street or Plank Road. The 1860 Hawley map shows the Fitch home diagonally across from the D&H Canal offices, which still stands and is now a private residence. A canal weigh lock, used to weigh Pennsylvania Coal Company coal that was leaving Hawley and determine the charges, was directly behind the offices and is now part of Settler's Village.
    Jacob B. Fitch was born on November 22, 1818, the son of Benjamin and Content (Fox) Fitch. His father was from Connecticut, and served in the War of 1812. Benjamin Fitch was a lieutenant under General Brown and was wounded in the side as he carried the colors of his regiment. His wound ultimately caused his death in 1832, at the age of 45.
    After the war, Benjamin went to Bulington, Otsego County, NY, where he was wed to Content M. Fox. Still a part of the army in Connecticut, he accompanied the army to Council Bluffs, MO with his family. They returned by way of a team, a long and tedious trek taking many weeks to reach the east. They returned to Sherburne, Chenango County, NY, where Benjamin and his wife were eventually laid to rest.
    Jacob was the eldest of four children, brother to Sarah, Thaddeus and Sanford. Thaddeus came with Jacob to Hawley, Pa. in 1843.
    When their father died, Jacob was only 13. Raising the family largely fell to the mother, and they faced difficult circumstances. Jacob labored for many years to help support the family. His formal schooling was limited.
    On September 23, 1841, he was married to Lucy (1821-68) Aldrich of Sherburne, NY. His mother was taken into the home. Jacob learned to be a carpenter and joiner, and came to Wayne County to follow that trade.
    ** Career on the D&H Canal
    He found opportunity, however, on the D&H Canal where he and his brother worked for two years building locks and doing general carpentry work.
    At the end of two years Jacob was made foreman of construction and repair department on a part of the Pennsylvania division of the canal. From 1846 to 1849 he was at Lackawaxen, helping to construct the two aqueducts- one over the Lackawaxen River and the second over the Delaware, the famed Roebling Bridge. He also constructed feeders of the canal.
    In the latter year he settled with his family at Hawley and continued in charge of the same work. Upon the death of Thomas H.R. Tracy, who was superintendent of the Pennsylvania Divison of he canal, Jacob was selected to succeed him.
    Page 2 of 3 - During this time he erected several residences for the company, including his own house in 1850, and engaged in lumbering.
    On May 5, 1871 Fitch sold the lumber dock on the canal to F. Farnum for the latter's lumbering interests at Wilsonville.
    Fitch went on a trip to California in 1874 and was to be absent two to three months. George S. Kimble of Elelenville, NY was appointed to fill in.
    Fitch remained as superintendent until the fall of 1884, when he resigned due to poor health. He was known in his 41 years with the D&H to be a held in high regard for his efficiency and integrity.
    ** Captain Fitch's militia
    While a young man Jacob Fitch was fond of military life, perhaps inspired by his father. At the age of 16 he enlisted in an artillery regiment, served as orderly-sergeant, adjutant ad lastly as colonel. He commanded his regiment on training days in Chenango County, NY. The call to serve the country appears to have been passed on to his son.
    Jacob and his wife Lucy were the parents of two children, a son, Lewis B. and daughter, Sila A.
    Information is being sought to know whether Lewis was the same person identified as L.B. Fitch, captain of the Hawley militia. In September 1862, this militia, under the captain's command, answered the call for troops to counter General Lee's advance across the Potomac on Sept. 5.
    Local newspaper accounts reported a militia unit,the Honesdale Rifles associated with fire company Engine Company No. 3, left on Sept. 16, taking the D&H Gravity Railroad passenger cars to reach Scranton. Engine Co. No. 1, the Rescue Rifles, left Honesdale the next day on the gravity, and were joined by a group from Waymart. They reported to Harrisburg, where they were dispatched to the war on Sept. 18.
    Hawley's militia left on or about the same date. We are not told how they left, but we may speculate it was aboard the passenger coaches on the Pennsylvania Coal Company (PCC) Gravity Railroad. The route connected Hawley with Dunmore and the the rail hub to the outside world. They may have used the very same PCC coach sitting outside the Hawley Public Library today.
    The recruits left Honesdale, each man equipped with a gun, a rubber blanket, a woolen blanket, a knapsack , a cup and a knife and work. The community was very involved in arranging the supplies. We would like to know if the same circumstances benefitted the Hawley recruits, and might assume with the strong sense of community within Hawley, that this was the case.
    Few references to Hawley's militia have yet been found. The Honesdale Democrat newspaper reported in its Aug. 28, 1862 edition that 965 troops had enlisted from Wayne County, including 67 from Palmyra Township- which at that time included Hawley.
    Page 3 of 3 - The total of 965 that had enlisted from Wayne County, was not counting an initial three companies that left Honesdale in 1861.
    We have an earlier reference of the "militia companies of Hawley" (plural) which participated in a mock battle at Honesdale with the militia there. The battleground was on the flat lands in upper Honesdale which was still largely undeveloped, on April 5, 1858. Two artillery pieces were employed. There first was a grand parade. A large crowd of onlookers watched the battle. Another mock battle was held there on Sept. 20, 1859.
    A precursor to the modern Pennsylvania National Guard, local towns typically had militias where able bodied men were required to serve or face a small fine. The state supplied the arms while the militiamen provided their own uniforms.
    ** What became of them
    Jacob was a member of the Presbyterian Church where he was an active contributor. The Hawley Presbyterian Church at that time was located on Prospect Street, just up the hill from the Fitch home.
    Jacob's wife Lucy died in 1868.
    Apparently soon after the Civil War, Lewis moved to Skaneateles, Onondaga County, NY, where he worked for the Skaneateles Paper Company. He became a trustee at a bank and director of the railroad company at that locale. On June 17, 1869, he was married to Laura E. Clift, at Skaneateles.
    He died at age 65 on Oct. 24, 1907. Laura died at age 68 on Dec, 29, 1915.
    There were also a Mary C. Fitch and Lucy Aldrich Fitch in Skaneateles, who given their ages may have been their children, the latter named for her grandmother. Lucy died at 61 in 1934, and Mary at 67 in 1940. Mary and Lucy may have been twin sisters, born in 1873. They were all laid to rest at Skaneateles.
    Lewis' sister Sila married B. F. Martin of Livingston County, NY, and after his death she married Prof. L.A. Freeman of Palmyra, NY. Sila and her first husband had at least one child, Ralph, born in about 1872 in Michigan.
    Jacob B. Fitch died October 14, 1888. His grandson Ralph F. Martin lived in his home on Hudson Street after him. The 1925 and 1935 Hawley street directories list Ralph and his wife Harriet S. (born about 1881) residing at 745 Hudson Street, and engaged in the poultry business. He also kept Jersey cows. As of 2013, the house is still standing, as is the nearby, former D&H Canal office where Jacob Fitch worked.
    Sources:
    • History of Wayne, Pike & Monroe Counties, Pennsylvania (1886) by Alfred Mathews
    • Canal Town: Honesdale 1850-1875 (1983) by Vernon Leslie
    • The Raging Canal (2013) ed. Audrey Graybill
    • Skaneateles Historical Society records

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