How did a farm boy brought up just outside 1860's Hawley, Pennsylvania, rise to become an accomplished teacher of violin in New York City?

HAWLEY - How did a farm boy brought up just outside 1860’s Hawley, Pennsylvania, rise to become an accomplished teacher of violin in New York City?

Louis B. Wegge returned to his roots for a visit and a concert in August of 1910.

“Prof. Louis B. Wegge of Brooklyn, NY, a former Hawley boy, is spending his vacation in town,” the Hawley columnist in the Honesdale Citizen penned in the August 24th edition. “He is a skillful violinist, having devoted 20 years or more to its study and to the teaching of the violin, with which he will give a recital in Odd Fellows hall Friday evening [August 26]. This will be a grand musical treat and should be appreciated by the people of Hawley…”

The Odd Fellows Hall stands at the corner of Main Avenue and River Street; its second floor chamber was host to many club meetings, banquets, services and recitals over the years.

With him were his friends, Mrs. William D. Mitten (Frances) and her two daughters, Edna (18) and Madeleine (15), the latter who was one of his pupils. The Mittens were spending a couple weeks vacation at the Park View Hotel in Hotel, in the Eddy section.

Hawley was bustling with summer activities in 1910, from ball games to picnics. St. Philomela’s Church had just held a “rose tree festival” at the Odd Fellows Hall. Locals were joining summer visitors at rented cottages at Fairview Lake (“Big Pond”). Park View Hotel was reportedly brimming with city visitors. Fifty rail excursion tickets had just been sold at West Hawley Depot for the Heptasoph Picnic at Lake Lodore in Waymart. A full 100 people came out for the picnic hosted by Hawley’s Maennerchor Society. Louis Geisler, a Hawley hotel keeper, was taking picnickers up the Wallenpaupack River in his motor boat.

Train loads of fresh air seekers came to Hawley by rail from the congested city where Wegge had made his home.

Wegge, a bachelor, lodged at 453- 50th Street in the Kings section of Brooklyn with William Mitten and his family. William was an electrical machinist. The neat three-story brown stone row house was intact as of the latest (January 2013) Google street view, showing similar row houses up and down both sides of the street.

Brooklyn newspapers of that era (found online) have several news briefs concerning Professor Wegge’s violin recitals, with his classes of boys and girls.

He was also listed in social news of concerts where Wegge himself played the violin. In February 1905, for example, he was with other musicians at a musicale held in the Howell School of Music. Wedge was part of a violin trio, playing “War March” (Mendelssohn); a violin duet (Lied- Mazas) and a violin solo where he performed “Traumetel” (Schuman).

Wegge performed at church events and at benefits. One of the latter was held at Poli Theater, Bridgeport, Connecticut, to aid a Catholic school.

His visit to Hawley was part of a concert tour with his star pupil, Madeline Mitten who played the violin, accompanied by her sister Edna. Both parents were present at a performance held in late September 1910, in Geneva, NY.
••• Children ran farm

His full name may have been Louis Brown Wegge; only Brown is listed in the 1870 census.

He was born in 1864 to Ignatius and Diana (Hillbrand) Wegge, German immigrants. When they emigrated has not been determined; their daughter Frank, however, was born in 1846 in Pennsylvania.

They purchased a plot of ground in Lackawaxen Township where they farmed. Their children appears to have included Mary, Frank, Augustus (Gustave), Emma, Louis, Charles and Matilda. Their youngest, Matlida, was born in 1868.

No record has been found of their father’s death but the 1870 census lists Diana Wegge, 42, as head of the home, with Ignatius not listed. Frank, 22, was a farmer; Augustus, 18, was a farm laborer. Louis (or “Brown”) was 5.

The 1872 Pike County map shows where they lived, their home labeled, “Mrs. Wigge”. The farm was in the same general area as the Woodledge Village development today, about a mile east of Hawley, at the corner with Gerrity Road. The community was Baisdenville, considered distinct from Kimbles, just down the road. The real estate was valued at $4,000 in 1870; personal property, $600.

Baisdenville was a hamlet that served the canal, where there was a boat yard and a blacksmith shop. There was also a one-room school, shows on the 1872 map and in use until 1946. The school, until recent years, was seen across from the Forest Volunteer Fire Company on Kimbles Road where it meets Route 590.

Whether the Wegge children attended here, is not clear. Their farm was a little closer to Hawley, where they might have walked.

It appears a crisis occurred for the Wegge brood, sometime in the 1870’s.

The 1880 census shows that the children were running the farm alone. This may infer that their mother was now dead. Augustus Wegge, 26, was single, and listed as a farmer; with him were his sister Emma, 22, who was keeping house; Louis, 16; Charles, 10; and Matilda, 12.

••• Education

It may be that the abundant cultural opportunities available in late 19th century Hawley inspired young Louis to make music rather than stay on the farm.

There were private schools, where music education may have been fostered. Mr. and Mrs. James T. Rodman had the Select School at the corner of what is now Chestnut Avenue and River Street in Hawley (what may have been the actual structure burned in 2013). the Rodmans’ school was highly respected as a leader in the area. It was in operation from 1855 to 1878. “Many of the shining lights in all professions and branches of business received their early training from Mr. and Mrs. Rodman,” Michael J. McAndrew wrote in his 1927 Hawley history.

The Hawley Graded School was opened in 1879, the year Louis turned 14. This much improved school provided an expanded curriculum of opportunity, including a high school program. It was an ambitious and concerted undertaking for the community desirous for better education for their young people.

The 1886 commencement program for Hawley High School shows that music was provided by the Dolmetsch Orchestra, and the Maenerchor Society, the local German social and singing club.

In this environment, young Louis B. Wegge may have charted his course to fill the air with fine music and to teach others to do the same.

Louis Wegge died at age 61, on October 17, 1927 while living in Brooklyn. Interment was held back in Pennsylvania.

••• Large family  

The Wegge family continued to make their mark in northeast Pennsylvania. His brother Charles was wed to Mary Aug of White Mills. He was a blacksmith for the D&H Railroad, living in Dunmore. Augustus continued to farm, relocating to Palmyra Township-Wayne County. Sister Mary was wed to Joseph Bacshon, a blacksmith at Baisdenville.

Sister Emma Wegge was married to Henry Bried, a mason in Hawley. The 1900 census lists Henry’s wife as Elizabeth, with seven children.

Louis’ brother Frank Wegge may be the same as Francis S. Wegge, born in 1846, who wed Mary Roche. The 1900 census has them on Erie Street (Welwood) in Hawley, with seven children. Francis was a blacksmith.

One of them was John J. Louis (or Lewis) Wegge, still remembered locally by his nickname Booty. He first kept a blacksmith shop and later an auto repair business on Paupack Street, Hawley. A Hawley Fire Department member, he let the fire company use his garage to house a fire truck. Booty died in 1958 at the age of 72. He is believed to have been a nephew of the violinist.