There was a day when steam trains left and came to Hawley, Pa. in three directions. They carried freight as well as passengers, and some local residents still recall taking the train from the West Hawley Depot to New York City as well as Scranton. There was also train service to Honesdale. Caring for the passengers on many of those trips was George Washington Knapp, Erie Conductor.
Knapp had the distinction of being the first conductor of the first train operating over the Erie & Wyoming Valley Railroad- later shortened to "Wyoming Division" in 1885. That line linked Hawley with Scranton, replacing the Pennsylvania Coal Company (PCC) Gravity Railroad. Knapp was also put in charge of the very first train that left the Honesdale Union Station in 1899. This station was built on Main Street facing 9th Street, once the canal was closed the year before and tracks replaced the canal basin in Honesdale.
He was born November 3, 1856 in Damascus Township, Wayne County. At the age of four years he moved with his grandparents to Salem Township and 10 years later went to Hawley to live with his mother and father.
On April 25, 1874 he entered employment with the Erie Railroad Company and remained there until his death. He was switchman in the Hawley yard for two years, brakeman on the Hawley branch three years, flagman four years, and was promoted to conductor on December 3, 1883. He ran as an extra passenger conductor about eight years.
Passenger rail service was conducted on the PCC gravity route, which began operation in 1850. Although the main purpose was to ship coal to Hawley, two passenger trains operated in Hawley. Each had two cars, holding about 20 passengers in each; one train left Dunmore and the other left Hawley in the morning, and made a round-trip. The trip between Hawley and Dunmore took about two hours. One of the passenger gravity rail coaches is on public display outside the Hawley Public Library.
This rail coach stands in front of the site of the West Hawley Erie Railroad Depot, which was still in use into the 1930's.
Freight and passengers traveled by steam locomotive from Hawley beginning in 1863, on a new line constructed to Lackawaxen. The PCC arranged for this Erie branch to ship coal in the winter months when the canal was dormant, and to compete with the Delaware & Hudson Canal Company. In 1868, Erie trains began moving between Hawley and East Honesdale. When the PCC closed down in 1885, the Erie's Wyoming Division took over on a route closely parallel to the old gravity system, reaching Scranton.
On November 16, 1896, Knapp was given the Honesdale passenger train which ran to Port Jervis. He succeeded Senator Edwin Hardenburgh, a Hawley native that after an Erie railroad career, entered state politics.
In June of 1907 he was relieved of this train and for a while had a relief crew on the Erie and assigned to two other trains.
Page 2 of 2 - Knapp and his wife Frances Casterline were listed in the 1880 census as having two children, Clarence J. Knapp, age 2, and Ethel Knapp, 11 months. Both George and Frances were 23 years of age. They also had at least two more sons Paul and Lester, apparently born later.
He was a member of the Honesdale Methodist Episcopal Church and a part of its official board. He was also a member of the Order of Railroad Conductors and Wangum Lodge of the International Order of Odd Fellows at Hawley. He was in the Masonic Fraternity and became associated with the Odd Fellows at Honesdale, the O.R.C. Of Port Jervis and the Don't Worry Club of Jersey City.
Their son Clarence was wed to Addie L. Pethick at her parents' home in East Honesdale, Oct. 17, 1908. Clarence's parents, who were now living in Hornell, NY, were in attendance.
Their daughter Ethel was married to Edsun Blandin of Scranton.
In November 1908 Knapp was assigned to two trains between Elmira, NY and Jersey City, NJ. They moved to Elmira the following spring.
He died on December 13, 1915 after several weeks of illness. He had contracted malarial poisoning which developed into acute Bright's disease. His funeral was at his home in Elmira; internment was at Honesdale.
Knapp was described as a well-known conductor. An article in 1900 stated, "Conductor Knapp possesses a genial disposition, a sunny nature and makes and retains friends wherever he goes."
These were the days when steam railroad was king. Travel by automobile was still in its relative infancy when Knapp died. During his career, when one wanted to travel as far as 30 miles, it was a major effort if one didn't take the rail. Trains overtook both the slow-moving canal and rough-riding stagecoaches in the dust of history.
As a conductor, George W. Knapp represented the Erie Railroad, but was also an ambassador of his town. He helped make the trip pleasant and efficient, encouraging a flow of passengers connecting Hawley and Honesdale with the world at large.