Much has been written here about Marble Hill, which started in the mid-19th Century as a neighborhood in Hawley for Irish immigrants.
They came here in large numbers seeking work on the Delaware & Hudson (D&H) Canal and the Pennsylvania Coal Company (PCC) Gravity Railroad. The PCC started operations in Hawley in 1850, bringing coal here to load onto canal boats in the newly dug canal basin.
It was the PCC that laid out the settlement for the Irish families, who apparently desired to stick together. They had come from County Mayo, and brought with them their Old World dialect and traditions. They brought their Catholic faith and were responsible for forming St. Philomena's Church in Hawley- today, Queen of Peace.
The neighborhood is still there, just west of the borough line along Columbus Avenue and its side streets, a part of Palmyra Township and sometimes called one of Hawley's' suburbs. Alas, no roadside historical sign tells the modern generation of the hamlet's proud heritage in the Emerald Isle.
For many years, their neighborhood along Middle Creek was called Shanty Hill, for the crude lodgings they were given. How did it ever get the more elevated name of Marble Hill?
Apparently it had to do with the baking skills of the Irish women, their use of their wonderful brick ovens, and a certain Catholic priest.
The Citizen newspaper, published in Honesdale, carried a regular column, "Down Hawley Way." The July 4, 1913 edition recalls the naming of Marble Hill. Unfortunately the correspondent's name is not listed.
"Years ago it was called 'Shanty Hill,' and boys from the country were afraid of that part of Hawley, for in it lived 'boat boys' and other awful creatures.
"The time will come, and that quite speedily, when 'Shanty Hill,' now called Marble Hill, will be the choice residential part of Hawley. It lies just high enough to be free from the smokes and smells of the railroad. Indeed, the prevailing winds waft all those things over and across the business section.
"But how 'Shanty Hill' was changed to Marble Hill will be a matter of interest to the people of the town in general; and by publishing the story now we may thus head off future controversy and prevent the local historians from going astray in the story of the future when the story of the town will be in demand and accuracy will be decidedly essential."
He added that "Marble" had nothing to do with the mining of blue stone in the Hawley area.
Father John H. Judge was the pastor at St. Philomena's in Hawley from 1891 through 1899. "About 16 years ago," the corespondent penned - about 1897- Father Judge named Marble Hill.
"There was to be a big picnic, and the good women of the congregation were to do dome baking. Father Judge suggested that a cake contest would be held by the women of Shanty Hill. 'Bake marble cakes,' said the priest, 'and not only will the championship be awarded to the one who bakes the best marble cake, but I will christen that part of Hawley as Marble Hill instead of Shanty Hill.'
Page 2 of 3 - "And so the women heated up their old out-of-doors brick ovens and baked; and true to his promise Father Judge christened the section Marble Hill. The people took kindly to the name. Marble Hill it is to this day, and Marble Hill it will be in the years to come.
"And it is said that for a superior quality of Marble Cake, the kind that will make every atom of your hungry nature call for 'more,' there is no place in Wayne County that can compare to Marble Hill and its famous bakers of today, for it is said the skill of the bakers of that famous cake contest is handed down from mother to daughter."
*** The old brick oven
The same Hawley corespondent waxed nostalgic in the August 29, 1913 edition, continuing his reminisces about those brick ovens of Marble Hill.
He began with a little poem:
"We're always crying wildly for the 'pies like mother made,'
"And we lay our disappointments where that never should be laid:
"Off we're boasting of he wond'rous bread that 'mother used to bake,'
"And we growl about our modern cooks, and call each one a fake.
"The secret of their failures in this 'poem' now is woven-
"No victuals can be quite as good as those from the old brick oven."
The writer bemoaned the loss of the old brick ovens which he heard them referred to as "Dutch ovens."
He wrote that as one rode the PCC gravity railroad through Shanty Hill one could see the ovens standing adjacent to each of the one-story homes. The ovens were hearted by building greta fires in them of wooden slabs and discarded hemlock sills and beech "ribbon" used to construct the old gravity track. When the tracks were upgraded with E-iron, this left over scrap became firewood.
"On a frosty morning it was an interesting sight on baking days to see these ovens as the flames belched upward from their chimneys, and the coals glowed and snapped in the oven itself," the correspondent penned. One the fire was made, the coals were carefully removed and the top was covered to hold in the heat.
"...loaves of bread, the blackberry and huckleberry pies were placed in the hot cavern," he recalled. "When these were done and removed, a huge pan of beans that had previously been boiled until tender, with 'hunks' of tender pork... were sunk deep in the beans so that only the surface (which had been slashed with a sharp knife so that it resembled a checker bard), was in evidence, was placed in the oven, and there it remained until the oven had cooled."
Along with the huckleberry pies were yellow cups of custard and other things the old time cooks knew how to make, were prepared in the brick oven. "It was all done with a simple 'twist of the wrist.' There was no tinkering with dampers and other contrivances tar are a part of the modern stove or range."
Page 3 of 3 - He continued, "But there isn't a brick oven left in Hawley. Shanty Hill has become Marble Hill. You can search it from end to end, and all the information you will be able to get will be that 'just about here,' or 'right over yonder,' is where the old brick oven I've heard father and mother talk about used to stand.'"
Firewood had become harder to find. The fuel problem drove out the brick ovens and open fireplaces. "The tendency nowadays is to get the most service out of the smallest quantify of fuel," the writer noted in the 1913 article. "And, undoubtedly, the modern stove one of these days will flow in the wake of the brick ovens and we shall bake our bread and boil our coffee by electricity or by solar heat."
He added, "As to baked beans, all the kind people get nowadays are the much vaunted, but miserable apologies, the kinds that are daubed up with tomatoes, and come in cans, and are baked by who knows where or how? And try to palm themselves off on us as the genuine article."
We might wonder, 100 years later, what the corespondent would have said about our microwave ovens and frozen foods.
[Editor's note: A picture and more information on Father John H. Judge have not been located. Anyone who can help is asked to contact the writer ay email@example.com or by calling 570-226-4547.]