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News Eagle - Hawley, PA
  • Local History: Lawrence Atkinson became D.A. at 25

  • Another Hawley citizen who became Wayne County District Attorney was Lawrence May Atkinson, who was active as a lawyer in the early 20th Century. A prosecutor at only age 25, his life as well as his fast and enterprising career was cut short only a few years hence.
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  • Another Hawley citizen who became Wayne County District Attorney was Lawrence May Atkinson, who was active as a lawyer in the early 20th Century. A prosecutor at only age 25, his life as well as his fast and enterprising career was cut short only a few years hence.
    Atkinson was the youngest son born to Captain Joseph and Helen Cooke Atkinson (Jr.) in Hawley, on May 5, 1874. Captain Atkinson's father was among the early settlers of Paupack Eddy, the original name for the village. The family made their wealth in lumber. Joseph Atkinson Jr. served in the Civil War and was Sheriff of Wayne County from 1879 to 1882.
    The Atkinson home was at 528 Academy Street, which is today known as Academy Street Bed and Breakfast. Joseph built the fine Italianate residence in 1873.
    Newspaper articles from the 1890's tell us that Atkinson, like so many Hawley youth, was active in sports. An 1897 article tells of a football game between the Honesdale and Carbondale teams. Lawrence Atkinson of Hawley was listed as umpire. Played at Honesdale, the Carbondale Indians won, 10-0.
    He graduated at Phillips Academy, Exeter, New Hampshire in 1893. He came back home and registered as a law student with a prominent Honesdale attorney, Hon. Henry Wilson in November of that year.
    Wilson served as an associate judge of Wayne County Court and was editor of the Honesdale Citizen. He was also commander of the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) Post in Honesdale, serving Civil War veterans.
    In addition to Atkinson, Chester A. Garratt of Berlin Township also studied law under Wilson, and likewise served as District Attorney.
    Atkinson pursued the law course in the University of Pennsylvania, graduating in in 1897. Immediately afterward he was admitted to the bar of Philadelphia where he started a law practice, but also joined the bar in Wayne County in 1897.
    In November 1899, Atkinson ran unchallenged on the ballot for Wayne County District Attorney, on the Republican ticket. He succeeded another Hawley attorney, Marcus M. Treadwell, who had served two consecutive terms. The new D.A. was only 25 when he was elected. Treadwell, who was featured in an earlier article in this series, was 51 when he took office.
    Atkinson and his sister Alice rented lodging in Honesdale that winter. He served one term as District Attorney, from 1900 to 1903. They also had a brother, Harry.
    ••• Youthful prosecutor
    During his term, Atkinson prosecuted a murder case. A July 12, 1901 article in the Scranton Tribune tells of a hearing for a man from Carbondale, charged in the murder of a man from Scranton. The defendant was lodged in the stone jail house in Honesdale on a charge of murder.
    The hearing was before Justice Robert A. Smith of Honesdale in the courthouse. Witnesses from Carbondale arrived that morning on the train.
    Page 2 of 3 - "District Attorney Lawrence M. Atkinson, whose youthful face, by the way, was somewhat of a surprise to the visitors who have been accustomed to looking upon older and graver men in the office that he holds, anticipated there would be a flocking to the hearing and he forestalled an uncomfortable crowding of the trial room by issuing admission cards..."
    The defendant smoked a cigar and exhibited a bravado air.
    D.A. Atkinson was assisted by attorney Alonzo T. Searles, who later in his career would be judge.
    The murder took place June 26 at Lake Lodore at Waymart, which at that time was an amusement park served by the train between Carbondale and Honesdale. The victim had been knifed. They had been reported to have been at the park for a picnic, and were both intoxicated.
    The trial was held that October. The defendant was found guilty of second degree murder and was sentenced to Eastern Penitentiary in Philadelphia, for 20 years.
    ••• Diverse career
    In 1900 Atkinson was also serving as the solicitor for Hawley Borough. After his term as District Attorney, he was solicitor for Wayne County and referee in bankruptcy for both Wayne and Pike counties. His law office was at 923 Court St., Honesdale, near the courthouse.
    He served as chairman of the Wayne County Republican Committee and was active with the Republican State Committee. He was nominated for Congress in 1904 by the Wayne County Republicans.
    It wasn't all law or politics.
    Since his father died in January 1898, he assumed the duty as manager of the lumber and box manufacturing business his father kept at Hawley. His brother Harry J. Atkinson was listed as president and treasurer of the company in 1912. This firm was located off Barker Street next to the expansive Hawley Glass Company. Hawley Village Apartments occupies the area where the Atkinsons operated their lumber and box business.
    Lawrence Atkinson was able to do some traveling; newspaper accounts record his 10-day trip to Cape Cod and a visit to see his sister in New Orleans.
    A New York Times article in December 1903 reported that Attorney Lawrence M. Atkinson of Honesdale, had injured in his leg in a train accident. An Erie passenger train was slowing down for the station at Rowlands when it ran into a coal train. There were no fatalities.
    Atkinson was a member of the Episcopal Church and a member of the Freemasons in Hawley. He was also director of The Dime Bank, which was founded in 1905.
    ••• Died at age 33
    The young lawyer died on March 16, 1908. He was only 33. He was found dead at his boarding house at 310- 11th Street in Honesdale. "The news of his death produced a great shock in Honesdale as he was about the streets here yesterday," The Scranton Truth reported. "Death was due, it is believed, to heart failure. Mr. Atkinson was taken suddenly ill after attending the banquet of the Carbondale Automobile club in Scranton on the night of March 6." Although up and around by the time of his demise, he has been confined to his bed a week. He stated during that time that he may have been poisoned by eating a lobster.
    Page 3 of 3 - He was highly regarded by his associates. "...His natural ability and genial disposition augur for him a successful career," said the editor of Illustrated Wayne in 1900.
    At the end he was remembered as having a host of friends and being very generous in his hospitality, and for being a lucid, logical speaker. The Pennsylvania Bar Association lauded him for his excellent attributes as a lawyer and unblemished character. "He was highly intellectual, and had every promise of a brilliant career in the law," The Scranton Truth stated.

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