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News Eagle - Hawley, PA
  • Local History: Long time banker had many interests

  • Charles Sylvan Houck, long-time cashier at the Hawley Bank, was on duty the day a band of armed robbers held up the place on September 18, 1934. Life fortunately wasn't always that dramatic, but Houck did have a varied career and lines of interest.
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  • Charles Sylvan Houck, long-time cashier at the Hawley Bank, was on duty the day a band of armed robbers held up the place on September 18, 1934. Life fortunately wasn't always that dramatic, but Houck did have a varied career and lines of interest.
        He is still remembered today. Shirley Gumble, when asked about him, immediately said, "oh, Charlie Houck"- pronouncing the last name as "howk." Art Glantz also remembered seeing him, adding that he was just a kid and Houck was a senior citizen- still at work in the bank. The 1940 Census listed his age as 71, and working as cashier.
        He was also a high school principal and trained to be an attorney.
        Houck was born January 9, 1869 in Scioto, Monroe County. Attending various schools, he  graduated in 1895 from East Stroudsburg State Normal School. He started teaching school at age 18 to pay for his school tuition.
        Census information shows his parents may have been John and Mary Houck; John was a farmer. There were three other sons, James, Franklin and Edward.
    ••• Editor, principal, banker
        The 1900 Census places him living in Hawley, where he boarded on Erie Street (Welwood Avenue). At the time, he was editor of the Hawley Times. He held the position "several years" a later article stated. He was still single at the time of the 1900 Census, and was age 31.
       At some point in the first decade of the 20th Century he secured a position as principal at the Matamoras High School in Pike County.
         In this time frame he had also had married Elizabeth Fryer, daughter Joseph S. and Margareta G. Fryer of Honesdale.  Elizabeth was born in 1878. Her father was a bookkeeper at a silk mill, in 1910, age of 53. They also had a younger daughter, Gertrude H., born about 1903.
        The Houcks were raising two children, Florence E., born about 1903, and Joseph F., born about 1904.They had made many friends at Matamoras, as was said in a later newspaper brief about a visit Mrs. Houck and her children paid after Charles had left the school. The school, at 205 Avenue G, was later the Eastern Star Hall and is now a church.
        First National Bank of Hawley opened its doors in 1902, at the corner of Keystone and Main. While overseeing the school in Matamoras, Houck was offered to come back to Hawley to work at the bank. The 1906 Hawley directory lists him as a teller, but he was soon referred to as Assistant Cashier.
        They lived on Chestnut Avenue near River Street. Close by the in-laws, Charles and his family would switch back and forth at Christmas time, between their house or the Fryers on 13th Street in Honesdale. Newspaper briefs, so far removed from what you typically see today, faithfully told the world who went where and why. The Honesdale Citizen announced that the Fryers spent Christmas in 1910 with the Houcks in Hawley.  In 1912 the Houcks were expected at the Fryers' home at Yuletide. The December 19, 1913 edition tells us in advance that "Mrs. and Mrs. Joseph Fryer, and daughter Gertrude, will spend Christmas with Cashier and Mrs. Charles S. Houck in Hawley."
    Page 2 of 4 -     Most frustrating, we are lacking information to report about Christmas of 1911 and where the Houcks celebrated.
        The Hawley Bank was organized on September 22, 1910, and opened January 19, 1911.
    Thomas F. Mangan was the first president; Charles S. Houck was cashier. The July 13, 1910 issue of the Citizen reported that Houck had severed his connection with the 1st National Bank.
    ••• Studied law
        Meanwhile, Houck was pursuing an interest in the law field.
        An August 1909 news item tells us Houck had become a registered student at the law office of Victor A. Decker of Hawley, a member of the Wayne County Bar. Houck applied to the State Board of Law Examiners for his examination,, December 7th and 9th.
       We are not told the outcome, but he took the final exams again on December 6-7, 1910 in Wilkes-Barre, and had passed.
           He had been devoting his spare time to the study of law for several years.
           Houck's picture and a short biography are given in the December 25, 1912 Citizen, with sketches on various members of the Wayne County Bar. It says that Houck was admitted to the bar of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania on January 27, 1911. The article adds, however, "Mr. Houck does not practice."
          At this point we are not clear what happened, as the Citizen reported again, on March 1913, that Houck had passed the law examination.
         The March 14th edition comments that another lawyer, Herman Harmes, had left Hawley, "to go west to seek his fortune" and left Victor A. Decker, Esq., as Hawley's sole barrister.
         "Now C.S. Houck has passed the required examination, and once more everybody is happy and feels safe," the Citizen article states.
        Further reference to any law career has not been found. Houck remained as cashier for several decades.
    ••• Played the fife
         Houck also had a musical talent. The August 11, 1911 Citizen lists him with the Maple City Fife & Drum Corps in Honesdale. He played the fife.
         Then there was baseball. The May 6, 1909 issue states that Charles Houck was elected secretary of the Hawley Baseball Team, the week previous. M.E. Lewis was president; C.H. Freethy, treasurer and Edward G. McAndrew, manager. The team had done many improvements to the diamond at old canal basin (what is today the north end of Bingham Park and still a baseball field).
       We read that Houck was active with the Free & Accepted Masons, Lodge 305  in Hawley. He was among numerous Hawley Masons who attended a large banquet hosted by the Honesdale Lodge 218 at the new armory in September 1911.
    Page 3 of 4 -     Next we find Houck was an avid hunter. The November 14, 1913 edition says he was in Pike County that week with other hunters in pursuit of deer. Adding a political jab, the writer comments, "in as much as Mr. Houck is an ardent 'Bull Mooser' his friends insisted that he was hunting after a new set of horns to wear at the big rally that it is to be held on Saturday of this week in Scranton."
        Bull Mooser refers to a member of the Progressive Party ("Bull Moose" Party) formed in 1912 by former President Theodore Roosevelt. The party started after a split in the Republican Party between him and President William Howard Taft. Roosevelt was quoted in the press as saying he felt like a "bull moose" after forming the new party.
        Houck invested in a big lumbering operation at Resica Falls, Monroe County, in March 1912. He was one of several partners in purchasing 3700 acres of fine chestnut lumber, for $50,000. Delaware Lackawanna & Western Company was under contract to cut trees for mine ties, railroad ties and telephone poles. A five-mile railroad was planned to take the logs to the nearby rail line.
        The Houcks purchased a house at 213 Maple Ave., Hawley and were remodeling it in the winter and spring of 1913. "When it is completed it will be one of the coziest homes in Hawley," said the Citizen.
          Houck also became president of the Hawley School Board.
    ••• Bank robbery
          A previous story in this series went into detail about an armed robbery at the Hawley Bank in the height of the Depression. On  September 18, 1934, bandits entered the bank and fled with $39,000.
       The holdup occurred at 10:45 a.m. when three unmasked bandits entered the bank pointing revolvers at cashier Charles S. Houck and Assistant cashier Thomas Oldfield.
        Another stood outside the door. The fifth acted as chauffeur, waiting outside in a dark Chevrolet 1933 sedan, with the motor running. A sixth bandit waited outside of town.
    Cashier Houck saw one man enter the bank as he waited on a customer. The man asked at the desk if the bookkeeper was in. He was told she was out. Miss Catherine (Kitty) Schaeffler had gone to the post office on Keystone Street (then located in what is today Murphy Insurance), to pick up the bank’s mail.
        The second bandit went to cashier Houck and asked change for a $5 bill. He then said to the cashier, “Put your hands in front of you. This is a hold up!” The first men who came in the bank then sprang in front of Oldfield and made the same demand. The third bandit then appeared.
    Page 4 of 4 - The bandits ordered Houck to unlock the cage and enter the vault. A bandit took money from the cash drawer and counter. Houck and Oldfield were ordered to stay down in the vault.
    After a few minutes, cashier Houck, not hearing anything, reentered the lobby with his assistant. The bandits were gone. The alarm was immediately sounded and local police arrived.
        The bandits switched cars on a Pike County road. Authorities eventually captured them, and were tried and sentenced to federal prison.
        Art Glantz said he recalled as a kid, being in the bank and seeing a revolver sitting on the teller's counter inside the window. Whether this practice was instituted after the hold-up, is not clear, Glantz noted, but evidently it wasn't used at the time of the robbery.
    ••• Later years
       Charles Houck was still working as a cashier in 1940; he and his wife still lived at 213 Maple Avenue. Florence was living there in 1927 when she was working as a teacher; brother Joseph was a student.
        The Census does tell us they had a radio, in 1930! Joseph was home, age 26, but not working. Florence was not listed.
        Charles Sylvan Houck died in 1952 at the age of 83, and was laid to rest at Prospect Cemetery, East Stroudsburg. His wife Elizabeth died in 1963 and was also buried there.
        Research has located a Col. Joseph Fryer Houck who served during World War II in the US Army. He received an Army Commendation Medal. Col. Houck, who was born April 28,1904 in Pennsylvania, died March 27, 1968. He was buried at Gettysburg National Cemetery. Karl Stelly posted this information at the Find-A-Grave website. Presuming Col. Houck is the son of Charles and Elizabeth Houck, he was evidently named for his maternal grandfather.

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