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News Eagle - Hawley, PA
  • Local History: J. Wilson Ames, civic leader, served as D.A.

  •  HAWLEY- J. Wilson Ames Esq., a life- long resident of Hawley, served as Wayne County District Attorney during the Great Depression.
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  •  HAWLEY- J. Wilson Ames Esq., a life- long resident of Hawley, served as Wayne County District Attorney during the Great Depression.
        He was also president of the Wayne County Memorial Hospital Board of Directors, overseeing its move from next to the courthouse to the new site on Park Street following the Second World War.
           The Ames family was a large one in Hawley, involved in many business endeavors of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. These included managing a livery to operating a private bank, the first of any bank in town.
           James Wilson Ames was born March 1, 1895 in Hawley, to James D. and Lucy (Millham) Ames. James the elder was born here in 1865 to Reuben T. and Ellen (Thorpe) Ames. After working in his father’s mercantile, James the elder served four terms as Hawley Postmaster.
          Starting in 1918, he became cashier of the 1st National Bank in Hawley.
           He was wed to Lucy on April 15, 1899. Her parents were James and Mary (Dunlap) Millham; James Millham was a Hawley merchant and became the first burgess (mayor) when the Borough was formed in 1884. Their home was at 216 Penn Avenue.
           J. Wilson was an only child. He graduated from Hawley High School in 1912 and entered Swarthmore Preparatory School. He was in the Class of 1917. He studied political science and was in the Phi Sigma Kappa fraternity.
         His World War I draft card in 1917 listed him as a conscientious objector, but soon he would be joining the cause. Just out of college when the United States entered the World War, he immediately enlisted as a second lieutenant in Company 1 of the 36th Regiment, and was sent to Camp Devans, Massachusetts. (A 1919 reference stated he was a sergeant in the infantry.)
        Following the armistice he returned to Hawley and began the study of law in attorney Victor A. Decker’s office. He was admitted to the bar in 1922.  Ames had a law office in 1925 at 508 Keystone St., Hawley.
       On June 26, 1923, he was united in marriage to Ethel Schiessler at Honesdale. They made their home at 523 Academy Street in Hawley; the house still stands. They never had children. She was born in 1892.
        Ames’ father stayed with them at first and in later years, Mrs. Ames’ father moved in.
       Ames became solicitor for Hawley Borough in the 1920’s. He became Referee in Bankruptcy Court, a director in the Hawley Water Company, and the Hawley Building & Loan Association.
       The decade of the 1920s was a prosperous time for the nation, although roiled by Prohibition and its consequences.
    Page 2 of 4 -   Locally, Hawley had its dirt streets paved and in 1927 Hawley held a grand, week-long centennial celebration. He was a charter member of the Hawley Chamber of Commerce which formed that year, and was involved in planning the centennial.
        *** Platform of ‘good horse sense’
     Ames, however, set his sights on the next step in his legal career: Wayne County District Attorney.
        Attorney Chester A. Garratt of Honesdale, a fellow Republican, was running for his second term as the county’s chief prosecutor. Ames entered the race.
       An advertisement in the Wayne County Citizen ahead of the September 20, 1927 Primary had Ames’ picture and the following comments. “J. Wilson Ames… solicits your vote on the basis of good horse sense, plus ability, integrity, and a real desire to faithfully and intelligently perform the duties of the office.”
       The Primary was close but Ames won by about 100 votes: Ames, 3477, Garratt, 3376. In Hawley Borough, Ames netted 375 votes to Garratt’s 61.
       The Republican nominee ran unopposed in the November 8th General Election, on both tickets. County-wide Ames received 5,068 Republican votes and 938 Democrat. In Hawley, he had 408 Republican supporters and 126 Democratic.
       No Republican candidate was defeated. New to office were Forrest Taylor who won as sheriff; Mrs. Harriet Many, treasurer; Fred S.
    Keene, prothonotary; Mrs. Edna Maisey, auditor. T. Y. Boyd was re-elected as register-recorder and Dr. J.A. Baer won a new term as coroner.  County Commissioner Charles Herman received a new term. The current judge was the Hon. Alonzo T. Searle, whose term had not yet expired. Such was the case with jury commissioners Edward Varcoe and Howard Roe.
       Ames moved in the District Attorney’s office at the Wayne County Courthouse, the first week of January 1928. Garratt returned to his private law practice, and rented office space in the Jadwin Building in Honesdale (8th and Main).
      While he was in office, a daring daylight bank robbery rocked Hawley and the entire county, unaccustomed to such news. On September 18, 1934, robbers had hit the Hawley Bank; after a wide investigation they were apprehended out of state and convicted.
       J. Wilson Ames served three terms as District Attorney, totaling 12 years.
    ••• Memories
        “I remember J. Wilson Ames very well,” said Eugene “Art” Glantz, a Hawley native now living in East Stroudsburg.  “He was the principal speaker at my high school graduation and he was the one who distributed the diplomas. There’s a story behind that, but I think it better left unsaid!”
       Glantz continued, “After we moved from our restaurant in 1937, we lived in an apartment above the Skier store and the entrance was at 503 Keystone Street. So, I usually saw Mr. Ames, the elder (J.
    Page 3 of 4 - Wilson’s father) walking to the bank almost every business day.  He lived in a house on Penn Avenue right next door to the Andres Hotel.
       Mr. Ames was always nattily dressed for and I especially remember his homburg hat.
       ”Also, as I remember, J. Wilson Ames would stop at the 1st National Bank every morning before going to his Honesdale office. And, he always drove the latest car (usually a Chrysler).”
        Tom E. Sheridan of Hawley, who is 83, immediately recalled attorney Ames. “’Red  Ames!’ That’s what we called him,” he said.
    Ames’ World War II draft card tells us he had a ruddy complexion, which might account for his nickname. By the way, he also had blue eyes, black and gray hair, was 5’10” and weighed 160 pounds.
      Nicknames were very common back then. Tom’s nickname was “Rafferty,” he disclosed.
       Sheridan said that Red Ames was a nice, friendly man, quiet, and sociable.
       Sheridan said he believes Ames was an incorporator of the American Legion Wilson-Kelch Post 311. Ames was very active there, and enjoyed placing a game of “liar’s dice.”  He never, however, picked up a cue stick, Sheridan asserted. Ames served a Post Commander.
       He also remembers Red Ames and his wife Ethel coming in the market at Spruce and Hudson, which Tom and his brother Gene Sheridan owned.
         The Ames’ would be on their way back into Hawley coming from Honesdale where Ames had his law office. His Honesdale law office was at 110-9th Street, at the corner of 9th and Court streets.
       Ann Morgan of Academy Street in Hawley said she remembers the Ames. She used to visit Mrs. Ames at her home. She recalled that Ethel Ames was also very active in the community.
    ***  Hospital President
       Ames continued his private law practice after serving as District Attorney and was highly involved in community affairs.
        In June 1945 he was elected as President of the board of directors of Wayne County Memorial Hospital during their annual meeting. Plans were discussed at that meeting for a new hospital building on Park Street. The property had already been purchased with plans to build after the war. The hospital had been established in 1920 in a large brick house next to the courthouse. Ames continued as president during the process of constructing the new, modern hospital. A $600,000 capital campaign was launched, which was oversubscribed by $25,000.  A groudbreaking ceremony was held April 25, 1949. The new hospital at Park and West streets was dedicated October 12, 1951.
    Page 4 of 4 -    Ames was president of the up to the time of his death.
      In addition, Ames served as President of the 1st National Bank of Hawley, where his father had been Cashier. He was President of the Hawley Water Company, Green Gates Cemetery Association and Hawley-Lake Wallenpaupack Chamber of Commerce.
      He also chaired the Lake Wallenpaupack Advisory Committee He was an elder and trustee at the 1st Presbyterian Church in Hawley.
    Evidently he would enjoy a boat ride on the lake: he was also an honorary life member of the Lake Wallenpaupack Yacht Club, as well as its solicitor.
    He was a member of the Wayne County Historical Society; Hawley Fire Department; Woodmen of the World; Wangum Lodge IOOF of Hawley and the Hawley Masonic Lodge #305 where he was Master.
    Ames was the Dean of the Wayne County Bar Association and frequently handled cases in Lackawanna County.
    *** Died in 1960
    The Hawley Times displayed a large portrait picture of attorney Ames accompanying a page one article reporting his death that occurred December 31, 1960. He was 65. His death occurred at Wayne County Memorial Hospital, where he had been admitted three days earlier.
    Numerous local attorneys and community leaders served as honorary pall bearers.
    His wife Ethel died in August 1984 at the age of 91.
    ---
    Sources:
    Wallenpaupack Historical Society newspaper files

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