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News Eagle - Hawley, PA
  • Local History: Hawley harness dealer elected to State House

  • The Hon. John H. Thompson was a butcher and harness dealer in Hawley, Pennsylvania, who twice served as mayor (chief burgess as it was called then) and was elected to the State House of Representatives.
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  • The Hon. John H. Thompson was a butcher and harness dealer in Hawley, Pennsylvania, who twice served as mayor (chief burgess as it was called then) and was elected to the State House of Representatives.
    He was born at Crawford, Orange County, N, July 30, 1835 (another reference said he was born at Hopewell), to Horace and Mahala (Harton) Thompson. He had three younger sisters. His father , who was a farmer, died in 1841 when John was five, at which time they moved to Middletown, NY. John's mother died in 1861.
    After receiving a public education, starting in 1858 he engaged in butchering at Bloomingburg, Sullivan County, NY.
    On March 12, 1862 he married Ellen M. Todd of Bloomingdale. One year later, they removed to Hawley, Pa., where they stayed. Ellen's father went out west in 1849 during the California Gold Rush but died on the way, at the Isthmus (Panama) where he was buried. Her mother had died in 1847.
    ••• Harness dealer
    At Hawley Thompson was employed by the Pennsylvania Coal Company (PCC), operating a stationary steam engine to pull the cars back up the company's gravity railroad. He held this position until 1877. After this he worked as a butcher for 11 years.
    Starting in June 1888, he was a dealer in harness and horse furnishings, and had a large and well-stocked store. The location of the store has not been learned.
    In March 1910, Fred Reineke, who had a harness shop in Uswick, was doing business in the former stand in Hawley where Thompson applied his trade. In August 1913, George Simons bought the Hawley livery business of G. Matter & Sons, planning to join this with the harness business he had purchased of the late John Thompson.
    ••• Mayor in 1890's
    A staunch "Free-silver Democrat", Thompson held several political offices, since first settling in Hawley. He served as tax-collector, elected in 1870 and 1872 for Palmyra Township (which included Hawley at that time), and also as assessor in 1872.
    He was twice elected as burgess of Hawley, in 1892 and 1897. During this time, the Delaware & Hudson Canal was nearing its end. Hawley Borough was progressing as a manufacturing town, majoring in textiles and glass. Steam trains came and went in three directions, served by the Erie Depot near the present library. The 1890's were also a time of great trial in Hawley, with two large infernos downtown as well as a destructive fire at the Bellemonte Silk Mill on top Welwood Avenue. The bluestone mill, responsible for hundreds of jobs, was rapidly rebuilt.
    Hawley Fire Department formed in 1898 while he was mayor; they were located in the Odd Fellows Hall building on Main Avenue, where Thompson attended regularly for fraternal meetings upstairs, as well as Hawley Council sessions on the first floor, on the left side.
    Page 2 of 3 - Thompson served as justice of the peace and notary from 1880 to 1896. It appears he again had that role after his term as state representative.
    ••• Fought corruption
    In November of 1898, he was elected to the House of Representatives. He served a single, two-year term. He owed his election to the fight against Quayism and was elected by a large margin. The Hawley correspondent for the Honesdale Citizen, reporting on Thompson's death in 1909, said of his time as representative, "he fully sustained his reputation as a friend of the working masses."
    He had been nominated as a representative by the Wayne County Democrats at their convention held in September 1898. Also nominated were A.B. Gammel of Bethany for Congress; F.P. Kimble for State Senator; John B. Bennan of Mount Pleasant Township also as a state representative; and E.H. Clark of Texas Township for Treasurer. We aren't told where the parley was held.
    The Wayne Democrats adopted strong ant-Quay resolutions and approved the course of events with the Spanish-American War, underway.
    Quayism concerned a political corruption scandal in Pennsylvania politics during the late 19th Century centered on a Republican U.S. senator, Matthew Stanley Quay. In 1898 Quay was arrested and charged with taking $200,000 in interest from state money on deposit. His Senate seat expired during his indictment. Quay was acquitted of the charges, and the Governor moved to reinstate him in the Senate, but the U.S. Senate refused, by a 33-32 vote.
    Surely he would have known Edmund B. Hardenbergh of Hawley, who became a state senator in 1894 and served two terms. Hardenbergh then was elected as state Auditor General. A Republican, Senator Hardenbergh was on the different side of the political aisle from Thompson.
    ••• Long time Odd Fellow
    Like many men of that period, he was very active in the many fraternal organizations available. Thompson was active in the Wangum Lodge of the International Order of Odd Fellows Fellowship for 35 years starting in 1863. He served as district deputy for four terms beginning in 1870. He served as a trustee for the Odd Fellows building in Hawley, which in 1899 built a brick storefront and meeting hall at River and Main, following a large scale fire that took out the Keystone Hotel. The Odd Fellows had also lost their former hall in another inferno in June of 1898, on the 300 block of Main Avenue. This organization was active in Hawley since 1851, and was still meeting in the 1980's.
    He was also identified with the Rebekah Lodge of Odd Fellows, was a member of the Lackawaxen Encampment of Odd Fellows, and a charter member of the High-Sun Lodge of Red Men of the Wangum Tribe in Hawley.
    Thompson also served at least five years as superintendent of the Hawley Methodist- Episcopal Sunday School.
    Page 3 of 3 - As of 1890, the Thompsons' home was on Keystone Street (15th Street), where he also had his office for the justice of the peace and notary. In 1906 they were living on Penn Avenue near River Street.
    A search of the 1872 Hawley map shows only the home of "Mrs. Thompson" on the far end of Chestnut Street (20th Street), above Pine. They had no telephone listing in the 1900's. A March 1911 news column lists the widow Mrs. John Thompson living on Church Street, Hawley.
    John H. Thompson was the only Thompson listed in the 1906 directory. The 1912 Hawley directory, however, lists Mrs. Charlotte Thompson; a grocer, George Thompson and his wife Nellie; and Mrs. S. Ella Thompson.
    No indication has been found that the Thompsons had any children.
    A Hawley correspondent for The Honesdale Citizen reported the passing of Hon. John H. Thompson, at the age of 74, on June 3, 1909. "Our town was greatly last Thursday evening by the news of the sudden death of John H. Thompson, Esq.," the unnamed writer penned. He had taken ill at his office after supper. Hs wife checked in on him, and friends carried him home. He expired before he reached his house. "Acute indigestion" was thought to have been the cause of death. He had a similar attack a couple months previous but had never fully recovered.
    The funeral was held at his home in Hawley with a large number of friends, including about 75 Odd Fellows. Rev. Benjamin P. Ripley officiated. His body was laid to rest "with the dust of kindred," as the Honesdale Citizen put it, at Middletown.
    The Honesdale Citizen carried a column with an interesting disclaimer in the headline, "Gossip by Our Correspondents – That May or May Not Interest." The Dec. 20, 1911 edition informs us of the death of Ellen M. Thompson, widow of the Hon. John Thompson. She died Dec. 10th in a hospital in Middletown, NY after an illness, in her 74th year. Her sister-in-law Mrs. Frank Thompson lived there, and that is where the funeral and interment were conducted. Several Hawley friends attended her funeral.
    She had won many friends in Hawley "by her bright and sunny disposition and high character. She was part of the Hawley Methodist- Episcopal Church for many years.
    Commemorative Biographical Record of Northeastern Pennsylvania (1900) spoke of John Thompson's civic service: "The reigns of city government were never in more capable hands, for he is a progressive man, pre-eminently public-spirited, and all that pertains to the public welfare receives his worthy endorsement."
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