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News Eagle - Hawley, PA
  • Local History: County seat moved back and forth

  • March 26, 2014 marks the 200th anniversary of the formation of Pike County. On that date in 1814, the Pennsylvania General Assembly approved creating the new county from what had been the much larger territory of Wayne County in the state's far northeast.
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  • March 26, 2014 marks the 200th anniversary of the formation of Pike County. On that date in 1814, the Pennsylvania General Assembly approved creating the new county from what had been the much larger territory of Wayne County in the state's far northeast.
           Like the proverbial pong-pong match, heads would turn left and right as the county seat shuffled back and forth in formative years leading to this new county.
           Where the county seat would be was far from certain since Wayne County was cut from the vast territory of Northampton County in 1798. The place for county business, including the courts, would leap back and forth to try and satisfy the settlers in remote areas of what was then a wilderness. For just over a couple years, court was held at Wilsonville, a short distance upstream from Paupack Eddy, what would later be known as Hawley.
          By the time Pike was created, Paupack Eddy was an established hamlet, with a handful of settlers but with big dreams. Mills were built to harness the powerful Paupack Falls, and where the falls leveled out and flowed into the Lackawaxen River, Hawley's original inhabitants built their homes. This would become known as Hawley's Eddy section, where the Wallenpaupack River met the Lackawaxen and swirled. Lumberers were also hard at work, felling legendary virgin conifers and sending them down the Lackawaxen in rafts.
         The mills at Paupack Eddy shared the falls with its older neighbor, Wilsonville, only about a mile and a half away. Here a dam has been created to make a larger falls, for the industrious lumber and grain mills. Wilsonville had been named for its most famous entrepreneur, the Honorable James Wilson, who retired from the U.S. Supreme Court and was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. he had purchased a large tract in the area known as Wallenpaupack Manor, in 1768.
       Palmyra Township was formed in 1798 when Wayne County was created, and was one of its largest townships. The Wallenpaupack falls divided it, with the hamlet of Paupack Eddy on the north side.
    ••• Population 805
       The Census of 1800 listed only 805 residents in Wayne County (remember, this also included what is now Pike), in what was largely a vast and rocky virgin landscape of forest and swamp. Until only recently it had been the province of the Lenni  Lenape, a branch of the Minisink tribe. While most of them left, the scattered white settlers remained.  They contended with bears, wolves and cougars, as well as the perhaps equally potent threats of isolation, hunger and intense labor. While their successors 200 years later speak of rural living and complain of driving 10 minutes to a mall, these pioneers carved out homes and livings in the midst of raw nature.
    Page 2 of 4 -     Within fresh memory were confrontations that occurred with the aboriginal inhabitants, including skirmishes in the area of Paupack, on the Upper Delaware near present-day Damascus and the Battle of Minisink on July 22, 1779, across the Delaware from the outlet of the Lackawaxen River.
        Their first roadways were foot paths of the Native Americans, paths that were beaten and cleared to make way for oxen, the horse, and wagon wheels.
        A few of the early roads were the Delaware Road (1750) along the river from Bushkill to Matamoras, today Route 209; Belmont- Easton Turnpike (1790), generally following Routes 196 and 296 in Wayne; Milford-Owego Turnpike (1804), generally following Route 6 in Pike and Wayne's Owego Turnpike ; Bethany-Dingmans Choice (1811), including Route 739 in Pike, Long Ridge Road and Route 6 to Honesdale.
       Roads were difficult to travel and the cart was slow; a trip from the northern hinterlands of Wayne to Bushkill - almost 70 miles as the crow flies- meant finding places to lodge along the way.
        The placement of the county seat in this huge county took on extreme importance.
    ••• Wayne Co. Court- in Milford
        Milford was first settled in 1796. When Wayne County was organized, the first courthouse was established there.
        Where court was first held may still be seen by passing motorists. Still a private residence, in 1798 court was located in the home of George Buchanan. Called the Mansion House, it has two huge chimneys, one on either end of the frame structure. It is seen along Route 209 by the Sawkill Creek, just south of the Milford Borough line.
         Dissatisfaction with the distance from the northern reaches brought the county seat to Wilsonville only a year later.  This was only meant to be temporary, until a suitable agreement could be made. Court was held in one room of an inn. The inn was also a stage coach stop. Wilsonville served as county seat only until 1802. Unfortunately the inn was destroyed by fire in the 1890's, and no known pictures of it have been located. The site was covered with the waters of Lake Wallenpaupack in 1926.
        In History of Wayne County, PA (1798-1998) by Dr. Walter Barbe and Kurt Reed, the authors comment that the few residents of Wilsonville either did not want to have the county seat there or did not care. Under much pressure from others in the county, the State Legislature changed the county seat back to Milford. A petition signed of 55 persons from the lower townships asked the General Assembly to keep the county seat in Milford. They would keep it only three years.
         A site had been sought within four miles of the Forks of the Dyberry, a valley of forest and swamp where the Lackawaxen River bends beneath a cliff and the Dyberry Creek branches to the north.
    Page 3 of 4 -    The village of Bethany was established on a hillside in 1800, when the courthouse was laid out. Finally, the residents of northern Wayne would have their day.
      The new courthouse was opened in 1805, when Milford once more lost its role as county seat- at least for a while.
    ••• Two counties
        To satisfy both north and south, on March 26, 1814, the Pennsylvania Legislature approved creation of Pike County, from Wayne.
        One can imagine the situation at Paupack Eddy, the future Hawley. Overnight, the handful of citizens who had started a settlement there and operated the mills, found themselves not near the middle of Wayne County but at the southern border. In fact the ridge on the south side of the falls behind the mills was no longer Wayne County, but the new county of Pike.
        Perhaps there was no startling impact on their daily lives, and little attention was given. They were still in Palmyra Township, but so were the settlers on the south side. Palmyra Township had become broken into two, with the smaller section going to Wayne. To this day, 200 years later, we have to make plain which Palmyra we mean. For those not versed in local history, they might ponder why anyone would put two Palmyra Townships adjacent to each other.
        The new county was named for a hero of the War of 1812, General Zebulon Pike, who was also a celebrated explorer of the Wild West. Wayne County had been named for General Anthony Wayne, of the American Revolution.
    ••• Court in Blooming Grove?
        Residents of Milford may have seen their village to be the obvious choice for county seat in the new break-away county. Dingman's Choice - later known as Dingman's Ferry- had been considered. Judge Daniel W. Dingman, a member of the legislature, was given the choice of a courthouse or an academy for his hometown. He chose the school. The state appropriated a $1,000 grant to construct it. Dingman had also been the Wayne County Sheriff, from 1801 to 1804.
         Dingman, however, did not support Milford as the county seat and introduced a bill to put the courthouse at Blooming Grove. Milford, however, had been given until June 1, 1814 to raise $1500 for a courthouse. The fund-raising was successful, and the stone courthouse at High and Broad Street was built in 1816. Later this would become the county jail, and is today the Sheriff's Office.
        There had also been proposals to move the county seat to Shohola or Matamoras.
        Bethany, meanwhile, prospered as Wayne County's county seat but only until an upstart down the hill would soon eclipse it. Discovery of anthracite coal in the Lackawanna hills led to the forming of the Delaware & Hudson Canal Company to ship the coal to market. The canal was to start at Dyberry Forks, a new settlement that was soon renamed Honesdale.
    Page 4 of 4 -     The canal opened in 1828. The town quickly grew, and in 1841, with much protest from Bethany, the county seat was changed to Honesdale.
         A large frame courthouse built in 1817 in Bethany became a college, the University of Northern Pennsylvania. The structure burned in 1857. A separate, brick county office building in back, built in 1823, still stands, having eventually become the Bethany Public Library.
          Honesdale's first courthouse was a large wood frame structure on the present site opposite the park, but closer to the street. After a protracted debate, a new brick courthouse was built, and was finished in 1879.
        A cornerstone for a new, brick courthouse in Milford was laid in 1872. It was built in 1872-1873.
    ••• Judicial note
        We should note, however, that Pike County was not a seperate judicial district with its own judge of the Court of Common Pleas until Judge Harold Thomson took the bench in 1982. When Pike was created, the Hon. John B. Gibson served Pike and Wayne, as well as Susquehanna, Bradford, Tioga and Luzerne counties.
        The Hon. Allen Craig, in 1901, was the first judge of Pike County to not also hold court in Wayne. He served in Monroe County as well. The Hon. George S. Purdy of Purdytown (Lakeville) was President Judge of Wayne County when the judicial district shrunk in 1901.
        Sources
    • History of Wayne County, PA (1798-1998), Dr. Walter B. Barbe & Kurt A. Reed
    • Pike County Notebook by George J. Fluhr (1999)

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