Ella B. Langan- known as "Nellie"- served as Assistant Postmaster at Hawley, PA for 50 years or more, at least into the mid-1940's.
She has the distinction, perhaps little noticed or sought, of being one of a very few women from her era whose life story was mentioned in print and even her photograph published. Her world was still largely a man's world in the public realm, the contribution of her gender enormous and yet largely behind the scenes.
The History of Hawley, written by Michael J. McAndrew for the 1927 town centennial, has numerous short biographies, several with pictures, of notable Hawley citizens. Miss Langan was the only female so honored.
••• Cromwelltown native
Nellie Langan was born in Cromwelltown, a neighborhood on the Pike County side of the Paupack Creek opposite Hawley's Eddy Section and part of Hawley's suburbia. She was born August 10, 1868. She never married.
Her family name is remembered to this day by Langan Avenue in Cromwelltown, where Eastern Propane is located.
Nellie was the daughter of Irish immigrants Michael and Celia (Cecelia) Langan. Michael emigrated in 1849, built a small house in Cromwelltown and got a job at the Cromwell Tannery. The hamlet was settled for the tannery's workers where they had their own school. The stone foundation of the tannery is still visible at the falls, by the bridge. Michael sent for his wife and son Patrick J. They raised the rest of the children here (Walter, William, Cecelia, Mary, Ella and Joseph).
She attended secretarial school in Carbondale. Afterward, Nellie went to work in the Hawley Post Office once her older brother Patrick J. was appointed as postmaster by President Cleveland in 1894. He was first appointed in 1888 to the Hawley Post Office.
On the night of July 19, 1897 an inferno destroyed the post office as well as much of the west side of the 200 block on Main Avenue. Nellie helped in rescuing the mail and other contents, and was helping to run the post office on the sidewalk the next day.
In 1912 she applied for the position of postmistress. The post service during her long career was moved several times, either on Main Avenue or Keystone Street. Although the postmaster was a political appointment in those days, Nellie was said to have done so well and was so well liked, that subsequent postmasters kept her on, despite her political affiliation.
Patrick B. Langan emigrated from Ireland in 1849, the year he turned 17. This was Michael's brother (and uncle to Nellie). He was working as a tanner at the times of the 1870 and 1880 Census. Patrick was listed as the foreman. He married Mary Loftus of Carbondale; their home was next door to Michael and his family. Patrick and Mary had seven children, Kate, Robert, Mary A. Charles, Celia, John and Loretta.
Page 2 of 4 - The 1900 Census lists Nellie living with her mother Celia Langan, age 74; brother William, age 37 and sister Celia, age 32.
As early as 1900 and in later years Nellie's sister Cecelia E. Langan operated a millinary (woman's hat shop) at 520 Church Street near Penn Avenue. She would travel to New York to see the latest styles and procure inventory. The latest fashion hats would be displayed for the spring. In the early 1960's this shop would become the original Hawley Public Library.
Nellie's father Michael died in September 1894 at home; he was 87. Her mother Cecilia died in October 1911 at the age of 78. A funeral was held at St. Philomena's Church in Hawley.
••• Entered contests
In July 1910 Nellie was named "the most popular young lady in Hawley" by the Dreamland Theater management in town. She won a week-long trip to Atlantic City in a contest sponsored by the theater. All expenses were being paid. Nellie, who was 42, was described as the popular and obliging assistant postmistress by the local press, describing her chances to win.
She then entered a few more, although we don't have word that she won any of them.
Nellie participated in a grand subscription contest in the fall of 1910, promoted by The Citizen newspaper in Honesdale (the forerunner of The News Eagle). The Citizen offered a trip to Bermuda for five young ladies who would earn the most votes by selling subscriptions. A diamond ring and gold watch were also offered as second and third prizes.
There were nearly 80 participants- all single women; their names and tallies were posted in each edition since November 1910 leading to the results announced February 1, 1911. Nellie came in 19th place; Susie Banks was her helper. They earned 108,390 votes.
Coming in first place, however, was Helen Lehman of Hawley, with 1,732,474 votes. She was allowed to take a companion, and chose her sister Lena, also a high ranking contestant.
A competing Honesdale paper of The Citizen was the Wayne County Herald. They also had a big subscription contest at the same time, and sure enough, Nellie had entered. The top prize offered by the Herald was a $400 upright piano.
Still another competition Nellie entered in the winter of 1911 was a contest for subscriptions to the Scranton Tribune-Republican. The first place prize was a $5,000 home. The Hawley correspondent to The Citizen wrote, "Miss Langan's long and acceptable service to the Post Office here gives her a wide acquaintance and will make her a very popular candidate."
••• Bottling factory
Nellie's brother William B. Langan started a bottling business in Cromwelltown around 1899. Eugene at this time was a glass cutter. We also find a Charles B. who was an undertaker and Charles Langan who was the bartender at the Wayne County Hotel on Church Street.
Page 3 of 4 - Bottling was done by a number of Hawley entrepreneurs.
William Langan's bottling plant was destroyed in fire Nov. 8, 1909. Known as Mountain Springs Bottling Works, there was no hydrant nearby which The Citizen said kept the Hawley Fire Department from being able to fight the fire.
We learn that the plant was built about 10 years before; it was two stories and 40 by 40 feet. Much of the equipment was designed and made by the owner. He lost a valuable bottling table, patterns for making bottles and a delivery wagon.
His loss totaled about $5,000; he had $2,000 in insurance and planned to immediately rebuild. The news article states that the fire was believed to have been an arson. There had been an attempt to burn the building about a year before by an unknown party; evidence was collected at that time.
The 1930 Census states that Nellie Langan was born about 1878 and lived on the "Hawley to Kimbles Road" in Cromwelltown.
Nellie at that time was living with her sister Ceclia Langan, who was 62. Cecilia was listed as head of the house and worked in the store. Nellie was 52 and was working as clerk in the post office.
Next door was their brother William B. Langan, age 64, his wife Anna, age 37 and 17-year old son William. The elder Mr. Langan was listed as a factory proprietor, likely the bottling plant.
••• Well remembered
People today (2014) still recall Nellie Langan.
Margaret "Peggy" Murphy, of Hawley, was her great-niece. She called her "Aunt Nellie" and has many fond memories of her. Nellie's sister Mary was Peg's grandmother.
Back in the 1930's Peggy was living in New York and came up as a child to Hawley to visit her grandparents, who lived in what is known as the Taft House at 538 Academy Street. There were precious times when Peg was told by her grandmother to go downtown because Aunt Nellie wanted to take Peggy to dinner.
Peggy would go down to the post office, which at that time was on Keystone Street in what would in later years become Murphy Insurance. The postmaster was George Murphy. Peggy would wait for Aunt Nellie to get done working, staying out in the alleyway playing hop-skotch or biding her time in other ways.
When Aunt Nellie was done, she took little Peggy- who was about eight or nine- across the street to the Hotel Andres (today it is a parking lot across from the Ritz) for fish dinner. It would be a a Friday night and they served nice fish dinners at the hotel restaurant, she recalled.
An amazing thing for Peggy was that she never dreamed that one day- in 1946 or 47- she would meet the postmaster's nephew Richard Murphy who would be her husband. Not only that, one day she would own the same building (Murphy Insurance) where her Aunt Nellie was working.
Page 4 of 4 - Nellie Langan had been living in the homestead in Cromwelltown with her older sister Cecelia; Nellie would bicycle to the post office downtown. Later on, when sister Mary's husband Martin J. Carlton died, Nellie went to stay with Mary to help her out. She was staying at the Taft House as early as 1931 and stayed there the remainder of her long life.
"Yes, I recall Nellie Langan very well," said Carl F. Rose, who is 88 and living in Phillipsburg, NY. Rose was born and raised in Cromwelltown. He said Nellie was their neighbor, living just down the hill.
He said his mother worked for the Langans in their bottling plant to earn some extra money. He recalled they made soda bottle caps for Canada Dry. They punched out the caps on a press with the Canada Dry name. Mrs. Rose was given several hundred caps every few weeks, filling in the name with enamel and wiping the cap clean, leaving the name in red lettering.
"My brothers and I would help," he said.
June Ellingsen Strait, who is 93 and living on her parent's property just outside of Hawley, said Nellie was very nice. She said she remembers her well, working at the post office and waiting on customers. June sometimes visited the Langans in their home.
Peggy Murphy said that Nellie Langan retired from the post office possibly around 1945 in her mid-80's. Nellie died of a stroke at the age of 91 on February 12, 1959. Peggy recalled that the laundry man had found she had taken ill at home and called Peggy, who came and got an ambulance.
••• Flower shop
Nellie's sister-in-law Anna Langan had a greenhouse and florist shop at 220 Main Avenue. June said her mother was good friends with Anna. Langan Flower Shop was located where the Hawley Bank put their parking lot. The shop was open through the 1960's and at least to 1972.
Shirley Bea Gumble, who was born in 1930, says she can picture Nellie "walking down the street" but had a better recall of Anna at the flower shop. "She was a lovely, lovely German lady," Shirley said. "Just a sweet, sweet lady."
William and Anna Langan's son William B. Langan became a scientist, researcher, teacher, writer and horticulturist. He was born in 1913 and lived in Hawley when he Feb. 1, 2002 at the age of 89. Dr. Langan trained physicians for service in World War II, notably as the Minute Men. He was a professor at New York Medical College, Hunter College, Jefferson University, the University of Scranton and Villanova.
Horticulture was his devoted avocation, nurtured by his early days selling flowers at his mother's Hawley shop.
At the time of his death he was survived by a son, Lt. Colonel William B. Langan and a daughter, Karen A. Myers; and two grandsons, Ryan Langan and Gregory Myers.