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News Eagle - Hawley, PA
  • Local History: Clara Labes' Tafton House recalled

  • TAFTON - Mrs. Clara Labes, who was referred to in a 1900 biography as "a most estimable lady," operated the Tafton House, a popular place for wayfarers and Wallenpaupack fishermen well before a grand lake would be formed.
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  • TAFTON -  Mrs. Clara Labes, who was referred to in a 1900 biography as "a most estimable lady," operated the Tafton House, a popular place for wayfarers and Wallenpaupack fishermen well before a grand lake would be formed.
        Her story adds another chapter to the account of the Tafton House published here in July 2011.  This grand old inn and hotel, a landmark into the early 1980's, was wrecked by fire and never replaced. We learn that the hotel had been rebuilt following an arson that destroyed it once before, in 1900.
       As we already knew, since that time, the Tafton House had to be relocated a few hundred feet when Lake Wallenpaupack was being formed in the 1920's.
        Her 1900 account states, "A woman of more than ordinary business ability, Mrs. Labes has met with excellent success in the management of her hotel at Tafton. It attracts many city boarders, as the accommodations are first-class and ample, and the scenery of the surrounding country both wild and beautiful."
       The Wayne County Herald, April 23, 1903, carried a news brief on page 1: "The most imposing building about Tafton is Mrs. Clara Labes' hotel. It is admirably located for summer boarders, a fact that Mrs. Labes fully appreciates. But a short distance away is the Wallenpaupack with its fishing privileges, while within the range of vision are the hills and valleys hiding the black bear and deer, to say nothing of smaller and more accommodating game. The Tafton House has accommodations for about 25 guests."
       In the 1820’s, Royal Taft purchased land close to the northern end of the Wallenpaupack valley. Containing about 440 acres, the land was just south of Wilsonville, a busy mill settlement at the falls on the Wallenpaupack. Taft and his wife Sarah built their home there, where they had a store, the local post office and operated an inn.
        A local news item in 1900, however, states that the hotel was built by Thomas V. Taft in about 1840. He kept it as a public house. Thomas was one of Royal's sons.
        The location today is just to the right of Palmyra Township Public Beach, behind the Visitors Center, as seen from Route 6. The view today is obviously in stark contrast to what the Tafts knew or Mrs. Labes in later years.
       Mrs. Labes was born in Prussia, Germany, July 8, 1860, the youngest child of Gustaf and Lena (Rosencky) Schultz. She emigrated with her family to America, landing in New York, June 21, 1864. There they stayed until 1879, relocating to Palmyra Township, Pike County, Pennsylvania.
    ••• Took over hotel in 1879
        That year, she took over operation of the hotel.
    Page 2 of 4 -      Clara was married at Tafton in Palmyra Township to Otto Labes, also a German immigrant. He was January 31, 1856. Otto had served as a lieutenant in the German army, his father being a colonel.  
         Well known in the local German ethnic community, Otto was director of the Hawley Maennerchor and the Honesdale Liederkranz. These German singing societies were also social outlets with club rooms, hosting dances and picnics and taking part in parades.
       Otto Labes was a musician of marked ability. He lost his life in the burning of Gantzberg's Theater in Hoboken, NJ, February 20, 1888. He was the musical director, and brother-in-law to the proprietor. He had tried unsuccessfully to lead his 12-year old nephew (Otto Gantzberg) to safety, reaching the door but unable to get out in time. The blaze was later described as set by an incendiary. Labes was brought out unconscious, and died shortky afterwards at the hospital.
        Tragically, the Labes' son, also named Otto, had died only the month before at the tender age of four years.
        Otto and Clara Labes had the following children: Lena, born in 1880; Martha, born in 1882 and lived six months; Otto, born in 1884; Clara, born in 1885 and Agnes, born in 1886.
         A happy occasion was noted in the Scranton Tribune,, July 11, 1895. Mrs. Labes held a party in honor of her 35th birthday Monday evening July 8th inviting several friends to her home at Tafton. On the guest list was the Eddy Cornet Band of Hawley, and others from this town just up the road.
    ••• Husband burns it down
        In 1899 she was married again.
       The Pike County Press, Milford, reported on May 25,  1900 that Pike County District Attorney D.M. Van Auken and Sheriff Vandermark had returned from New York with Clara's husband, having been charged with setting fire to the Tafton House. The defendant was lodged in Pike County Jail.
        A later news item recounted that the family had a narrow escape from the blaze, which destroyed the hotel. The blaze was discovered at about 1 a.m. on Sunday morning, April 29, 1900.The fire spread rapidly, only allowing a small part of the contents to be removed. A ball alley, corn crib and outbuildings were also lost. There was evidence from the start that it was arson.
        Insurance totaled $2,000 for the building and $500 for the liquors and two pianos.
         Clara was separated from her husband.
         Her husband entered a guilty plea to arson in October 1900, and was lodged in Pike County Jail. He was transferred to the Eastern Penitentiary.
    Page 3 of 4 -      She had the hotel quicky rebuilt. A notice in the Wayne County Herald, September 13, 1900, states announced that she was having a formal opening to the public with a two day reception.
         In about 1907 she sold the Tafton House to Richard Reichert for $5,500. This was the only licensed public house between Hawley and Milford.
    ••• Sold to power company
         The Honesdale Citizen reported on April 5,1911 that Reichert had just sold the property to Wallenpaupack Power Company for $9,000. The company had intentions to dam the Wallenpaupack River and construct a power plant. Land was being sold across the valley in anticipation of the grand lake that would be created.
        "The water of the dam, when filled, will come close to the hotel," the Citizen reported. Reichert later bought a property in East Hawley.
        Mrs. Labes moved to Hawley Borough. In 1908 Clara and Agnes had an art store in Hawley; whether this was Mrs. Clara Labes or her daughter Clara is not clear.
         The 1910 Census has her renting a home on Main Avenue, where her daughters Clara, 24, and Agnes, 23, lived with her. Both of the girls worked as telephone operators. Mrs. Labes was 49. They also had a lodger, John Radeliff, 75, a Civil War veteran.
       We found that Miss Clara Labes had entered the big subscription contest run by the Honesdale Citizen. Open to single women only, the top prize was a trip to Bermuda. Alas, she was not one of the winners.
       Mrs. Labes and her older daughter were members of the German Lutheran church in Hawley.
        Within a few years, however, she would relocate to Scranton, where she stay with her now married daughter Clara Webster, husband William and their children. The 1920 Census lists Mrs. Labes' two grandsons, Robert Webster, 2 and William Webster, 4. Their father was a public street worker.
        No record was found of what became of daughters Lena or Agnes, or when Mrs. Labes died. She was not listed with the Websters in the 1930 Census.
        Louis Engle bought the Tafton House in 1924 from the development company for $300. He moved it that year a few hundred feet, to the other side of the road, to avoid the coming lake waters. The lake was finished in 1926, owned by PP&L.
          As told in detail in the previous story, the hotel and restaurant thrived in its new location through several owners, across from Tafton Dike.
          Last known as the Tafton Manor, the landmark burned down in 1980 or 1981.
    Page 4 of 4 -     

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