There was a time when an electric trolley was planned for Hawley and Honesdale, running back and forth on the abandoned canal towpath between the two towns. The trolley was to have been powered by the much anticipated hydroelectric plant that would dam the Wallenpaupack River and make a huge lake.
The trolley was being promoted a century ago as a means to boost the local economy, improve transportation and bring in tourists. More than talk, tracks were actually being laid on the northern end at Honesdale, down the length of Main Street in 1906.
Enthusiasm was high at both ends, although there were critics, particularly among Hawley merchants complaining the trolley would only be another means for shoppers to take their business out of town. Both the Hawley Borough Council and Honesdale Borough Council were behind the ambitious project.
This was one of those epochal times of transition, entering the bright future promised by the 20th Century. The Delaware & Hudson (D&H) Canal had been waning for years as the steam locomotive was quickly outpacing the horses and mules. The canal finally shut down in November of 1898. It was a golden age of local steam rail traffic, carrying freight and passengers and servicing numerous mills. Meanwhile, the affluent were rapidly catching on with the wonderful horseless carriages, those infernal automotive machines scaring the horses and getting stuck in the mud.
There was still opportunity for mass transit afforded by a regular trolley service. Scranton, Pa. Had become known as the "Electric City" for embracing the concept. The Honesdale to Hawley line actually was to begin at Seelyville, just west of Honesdale. After taking the towpath to downtown Hawley, another proposal was to extend the trolley on the abandoned Pennsylvania Coal Company (PCC) gravity railroad beds, heading to the popular amusement park at Lake Ariel and connecting as far as Scranton.
The first reference to the trolley project that has been found in the local newspapers was in 1898. The project would be in the news for at least 15 years. Much of this information comes from The Citizen, published in Honesdale and a forerunner to Hawley's News Eagle.
*** First talk in 1898
On Sept. 27, 1898 the Scranton Tribune reported that the Honesdale Electric Railway Company asked permission to lay track in Honesdale. Council called for a special public meeting in October to consider granting a franchise. The proposed trolley would connect Seelyville to the west of Honesdale and Traceyville, later known as East Honesdale. There was no mention of using the canal towpath and send the trolley to Hawley; the canal was still operating.
A Scranton Tribune writer in 1902, however, described the pleasant ride into Honesdale on the D&H train, and noted that there "wasn't even a trolley to mar the silence of this peaceful little place."
Page 2 of 3 - There were two companies involved with the line between Honesdale and Hawley. The first was the Honesdale to Hawley Traction Company. Later, the Wayne County Railway Company had taken it over.
The route in Hawley was announced in December 1908, to take the trolley line down the towpath on the east side of town parallel with Hudson Street to the Eddy. The trolley would the go up Church Street and turn onto Main Avenue.
Hawley Council had a special meeting with company officials, Martin B. Allen and a Mr. Richmond, both of Honesdale regarding a franchise. Allen was the postmaster at Honesdale. The company officials were asked to come back with a contract embracing certain conditions. The life of the franchise would be about 30 years. The project was in the hands of Honesdale parties where the work would begin and move south.
*** Work begins
Ground was broken on August 6, 1906 on Main Street, Honesdale.
Workers were laying steel rail and wood ties right down the middle of the dirt thoroughfare. Before the trolleys could actually begin, the public young and old alike took fancy to operating a hand car up and down the eight-blocks of Main Street.
"Several miles" of track were laid, although financial difficulties caused the work to stop.
By June of 1910, ties were being laid in East Honesdale.
*** Jitters in Hawley
While much was said about the enthusiasm of the public, the Hawley Times published a letter in January 1909 from a person (we don't have record of who) grumbling about why people shop in Honesdale and Scranton rather than in downtown Hawley. The letter-writer suggested that Hawley merchants had only to consider their poor stock and high prices. "The trolley between Honesdale and Hawley would be OK for the poorer class of people and bad for the Hawley merchants. They would be compelled to carry in stock what the people call for."
The Hawley Times had also reported complaints that the 1908 Christmas buying season was adverse for Hawley merchants due to out of town shopping. The Citizen noted that Honesdale merchants had the same complaint, and reiterated the wisdom in shopping locally. The editor said there was little need to speculate as of yet what impact the trolley will have on trade in the two towns.
The Hawley Times editor (Frank Warg) noted that on the Saturday prior to Christmas, 120 tickets were sold at the West Hawley train station for Honesdale, and a large number was also sold to take the train to Scranton. This apparently represented "hundreds of dollars" being taken outside of Hawley that should have been spent here, Warg editorialized.
"Probably never in the history of Hawley has so much Christmas buying been done out of town," Editor Warg wrote. "The question naturally arises, what would a trolley line between Honesdale and Hawley do to Hawley?"
Page 3 of 3 - *** Automobile parade
July 21, 1911… The Citizen reported of the excitement over the first automobile parade in Honesdale. The Oslek Tribe of the fraternal organization, the International Order of Red Men, was hosting the parade on Tuesday night, July 18, 1911. There were 55 entries; 12 cars were driven up from Hawley. The automobiles were highly decorated, competing for prizes as they motored along the principle downtown streets to the delight of onlookers.
The first place winner for "Most Original" went to Eugene Dorflinger Jr. of White Mills, an official with the family cut glass company. Dorflinger's car (we aren't told the model) was decked out in fine detail like an electric "street car" or trolley. He even had advertising on the inside of the windows. He won $10 for his efforts.
"It had the unique honor of being the first street car to run in the Honesdale ad Hawley Traction Company Line," said the Citizen writer. The White Mills columnist in The Citizen penned of their pride in Dorflinger's win, and noted that if was that easy to earn "10 in 33 minutes" then, "it looks like the 'real thing' would be on the right side of the ledger." The White Mills writer further said about the trolley plans, "The people of this vicinity are anxiously awaiting the time when they can use their money to a better advantage in going and coming from Hawley and Honesdale than is now furnished. The time is coming when we must keep abreast of the times. The nickels are burning in our pockets to hear the bells of the Honesdale to Hawley Traction Company ring, 'ALL ABOARD.'"
Others from Hawley with cars in the parade, by the way, included Edward Sachs, Richard Teeter and George Teeter. T. F. Wall was said to have the best automobile in Hawley in 1911, a 20 h.p. Stanley Steamer. We don't know if he had entered it.
The automobile age was all the rage of those who could afford it, but was not yet ready to replace the trolley.
To Be Continued ... Trouble brews... next week