PAUPACK TWP. - Judge George S. Purdy, whose family were early settlers of the Wallenpaupack valley and lent their name to Purdytown- later known as Lakeville- rose to a distinguished career on the bench in Wayne County, Pa. He served the Wayne County Court as President Judge from 1894 until his death in 1909.

PAUPACK TWP. - Judge George S. Purdy, whose family were early settlers of the Wallenpaupack valley and lent their name to Purdytown- later known as Lakeville- rose to a distinguished career on the bench in Wayne County, Pa. He served the Wayne County Court as President Judge from 1894 until his death in 1909.

He was born in Paupack Township, January 24, 1839, the son of Abbott N. Purdy and Eliza (Dobel) Purdy. His father was a farmer.

George Purdy was educated in the local, common schools, exhibiting a discipline for study and sharpness of mind. Upon adulthood Purdy taught school for four years. During the latter half of that period was principal of the graded school in the Borough of Providence- which later became part of the city of Scranton. Afterwards, he was employed as bookkeeper for two large tanneries, at Ledgedale and Middle Valley in Wayne County.

In 1866 he accepted the appointment of Commissioners’ Clerk at the courthouse in Honesdale. In those days the courthouse was a large wood frame structure, on the site of the present building (which was finished in 1879). He held this post 10 years, leaving it to practice as a lawyer.

He studied law under Hon. Samuel E. Dimmick of Honesdale and was admitted to the bar, May 9, 1873 at the age of 34. Continued as commissioners’ clerk another two years, his active law practice did not begin until 1876.

Election

When the Hon. Charles P. Waller, judge of the Court of Common Pleas in Wayne died August 18, 1882, Henry M. Seely, a Republican, was appointed to fill the unexpired term.

Elections took place in 1883 for judge. Hon. William H. Dimmick, a prominent Wayne County attorney, was a candidate. The opposition united behind Purdy to run. Both Democrats, Dimmick eventually withdrew his name from being placed on the ballot. Mr. Purdy was then nominated at the county convention by acclamation.

The 22nd judicial district at that time included both Wayne and Pike Counties.

Democrats in Pike, however, supported the Hon. Daniel M. Van Auken, of that county, as their candidate. 

The conferees of the two counties were unable to agree and the conference deadlocked. At the election, Judge Seely was nominated by the Republicans in both counties. Although the Democratic party was in majority in both counties, its vote could not be united by either of the two Democratic candidates (Purdy and Van Auken).

Purdy had the majority in Wayne County; Pike backed Van Auken.

In 1893, the Democrats of Wayne and Pike united in the nomination of Judge Purdy for the next judicial term. Judge Seely chose not to seek a new term. The Republican conference then threw their support for Judge Purdy as President Judge. The Hon. Judge Henry Wilson, who ran the Republican-backed Citizen newspaper, endorsed Purdy in 1893 and encouraged Republicans to support him knowing Purdy would win the election. 

“By endorsing Purdy a large part of the Democratic ticket was defeated so it was politics militant all around,” the Herald (a Democratic paper) reported of Wilson’s eulogy of Judge Purdy years later.

When Judge Purdy took his seat on the bench, it was the first instance of seating  judge her with practically united bipartisan support of the voters. He was re-elected in 1903.

During his tenure, Judge Purdy was frequently called to preside in other counties.

Gone fishing

While presiding over sundry felonies and misdemeanors, another judicial matter that came to his bench in July 1908 involved fishing in the Lackawaxen River.

In the case of Hopkins vs. Foster, David Hopkins accused Harry J. Foster for trespassing in the river to fish, where the river crossed through the Hopkins farm. The incident occurred two years before, when Foster ignored warnings to get out of the river, but kept walking along the river bed sandwiched by Hopkins’ private lands.

This was the same farming valley which in 1960 was flooded due to erection of the Prompton dam. The 1872 map for Clinton Township shows “W.W. Hopkins” right along the old road in this valley, paralleling the West Branch of the Lackawaxen, south of Aldenville. It had been in the Hopkins family since 1812.

Judge Purdy found Foster guilty of trespass and fined him $5 and the costs.  Foster appealed to the Superior Court, and the opinion rendered that July by President Judge Charles E. Rice affirmed Judge Purdy’s ruling. The Herald paper stated the ruling “practically makes the Lackawaxen a private stream, wherever owners of the adjacent land see fit to forbid public fishing.”

In 1814, the State Assembly has made part of the river, including this portion, a public highway for the passage of rafts, boats and vessels. On May 17, 1906, Foster, relying on the Act of 1901 that declared waters declared navigatable by the state were open for public fishing, entered the river and fished on Hopkins’ land. The suit was brought to test his right to do this.

The Superior Court ruled that after land had been sold by the State, with no reservation, it belongs to the purchaser and his successors, and the State has no power to give anyone else use of any of it, without the owner’s consent or providing for his compensation.

The court’s decision was based on the reasoning that the Legislature could not declare navigable a stream that was physically not navigable.

Foster had accessed the river at a highway crossing and had waded in the river some distance, to reach the Hopkins farm.

Off the Bench

Judge Purdy was married, September 25, 1873, to Agnes C. Addoms, of Honesdale, a stepdaughter of the Hon. Otis Avery, associate judge in Wayne County. Otis Avery was also a well known dentist.

They had no children.

The Purdys resided with Otis and Mary Avery (Agnes’ mother), at 609 Park Street. Mary Ort was their live-in servant, in 1900. The property is part of the Wayne Memorial Hospital parking area, or possibly the Verizon property which the hospital parking lot surrounds.

In January 1878, George S. Purdy Esq. and the Hon. W. M. Nelson were among prominent citizens who presided Benjamin F. Haines to come to Honesdale and establish a newspaper, which was to be named The Wayne Independent. This publication was designed as independent in politics, in opposition to the building of a new courthouse.

The Herald, a Honesdale paper, dutifully reported on Judge and Mrs. Purdy’s vacation in August 1906. They were staying at the Chalfont Hotel in Atlantic City. “When he ‘does’ the Boardwalk the Judge lays aside his judicial dignity and enjoying the leveling influences of the promenade as much as any common citizen,” the newspaper stated. This had been reprinted from the North American publication. One publication referred to his home as “refined.” His “estimable wife” presided over the home, which was said to “radiate a warmth of hospitality” and reached out to social circles.

The 1912 Sanborn street map of Honesdale, as well as a photograph, shows that the house was wood frame, two and a half stories high, with bay windows on the upper and lower floors in front on either side of the center entrance. 

A news brief in May 1909 said that Judge Purdy is enjoying his “fine new six-cylinder Winton touring car.” Howard Erk was his chauffeur. Erk had brought the car from New York on May 9th.  “It is one of the finest machines in all this section,” The Herald reported.

Winton Motor Carriage Co. in Cleveland, Ohio, was advertising the “Winton Six” in two models, five passengers, 48 h.p. for $3,000, or seven passenger, 60 h.p., $4,500.

He was president of the board of trustees at the 1st Presbyterian Church in Honesdale. He and his wife were regular attendants at service and helpful in the church.

Eulogized

Judge George S. Purdy died September 1, 1909. He and his wife were in Mt. Clemens, Michigan at the time, where he had gone for medical treatment for a severe case of shingles. They had arrived there in early August.

Agnes Purdy still was residing at 609 Park Street as late as 1931. The 1935 Honesdale street directory contained no listing for her.

The Wayne County Bar eulogized Judge Purdy October 19, 1909, at the close of regular session of court. Judge Alonzo Searle, who succeeded Judge Purdy, presided.

The Bar noted that Purdy was distinguished for being free of resentment despite bitterly being rebuffed in the election process. He was noted for never acting with impulse but instead deliberating matters fully. Recognizing even the criminal as not bad at heart, he was lauded for tempering justice with mercy. 

His obituary years stated, “Judge Purdy brought to the discharge of his judicial duties the grasp of essential facts, the comprehensive knowledge of the law, and the accurate perception of the the governing principles in the case in hand, which distinguished him at the Bar, accompanied with the impartiality, freedom from bias, and independence of action which was recognized as indespensible to the due administration of justice. As a result his decisions generally mark the end of litigation as very seldom were his decision reversed by the higher courts.”

“As a citizen he was honored and esteemed, he was a man of large heart,” his obituary stated.

He and his wife were laid to rest at Glen Dyberry Cemetery in Honesdale.

Main sources:

Wayne County Historical Society

Illustrated Wayne (1900)

The 20th Century Bench & Bar of Pennsylvania (1903)

Fultonhistory.com