Only in the latter half of the eighteenth century did settlers from Connecticut get around to clearing the land in the wooded northern hills of Wayne County. Dyberry Forks, which was to become the county seat, was then just a swampy wilderness at the point where the Dyberry River joins the Lackawaxen on its way to the Delaware.
The town got started in the 1820s because of Maurice and William Wurts’s coal business. To get their anthracite coal from the mines in Carbondale to seaboard cities, they decided to build a canal from Dyberry Forks to Rondout (now Kingston), New York, on the Hudson River. That was only the second of their two problems - the coal wasn’t in Dyberry Forks - it was in Carbondale across 1,942-foot-high Farview Mountain. In 1825, backed by Philip Hone, a successful businessman turned mayor of New York, the Wurtses succeeded in raising over $1 million for their Delaware and Hudson Canal Company, and they were off.
By October 1828, Philip Hone, inspecting the newly completed D&H Canal, marveled at the ‘’stupendous stone work’’ and the impressive rock cuts - entirely achieved by men, mostly ‘’wild Irish’’ immigrants, wielding pick and shovel and the unpredictable black blasting powder of the day. The canal negotiated a drop of 1,030 feet by means of a series of more than 100 locks, in the 108-mile journey to Kingston.
Honesdale was incorporated in 1831. Its sole purpose was to serve as the jumping off point for canal barges loaded with coal headed for New York City markets. That coal came over the mountain from Carbondale on a ‘’gravity railroad’’ as loaded cars were hauled up on tracks on a series of planes, or inclines, to the top of Farview by stationary steam engines, then lowered by gravity down planes on the other side to the town of Waymart, finally coasting on a steady downgrade into Honesdale. Empty cars were brought back to Waymart by horse or mule. At one time Honesdale had the largest stockpile of coal in the world.
By the mid-19th century Honesdale was a bustling waterfront town; it became the county seat in 1841. Our walking tour will begin in the parking lot in the center of town in front of the Visitor Center, that was actually a boat basin once at the start of the historical canal...
Delaware and Hudson Canal
behind Main Street parking lot
The Delaware and Hudson Canal was a 108-mile, man-made waterway, an engineering feat of pre-industrial America that brought coal from the hills of Pennsylvania out to the Hudson River. From 1828 to 1898, mules pulled barges laden with anthracite coal along river valleys from Honesdale to Eddyville on the Rondout Creek near the villages of Kingston and Rondout. From here, it was shipped on barges down the Hudson to New York City and up the river to Canada. The canal was conceived in 1823 by William and Maurice Wurts, two Philadelphia dry goods merchants who had purchased large tracts of land in northeastern Pennsylvania rich in anthracite coal deposits. They hired Benjamin Wright, Chief Engineer of the newly created 350-mile Erie Canal, to survey and design a canal out to the Hudson. The canal proposed would be four feet deep, 32 feet wide, contain 108 locks, 137 bridges, 26 basins, dams, and reservoirs, and cost an estimated 1.2 million dollars. In contrast to the state-financed Erie Canal, the D & H Canal was begun with private money. To raise money and interest in the project, the Wurts brothers arranged for a demonstration. On January 7, 1825, the business leaders of New York City gathered at the Tontine Coffee House on Wall Street to witness for the first time the glow of anthracite fire that was to shape the industrial and domestic development of the city. The stock offered for sale that day was oversubscribed within a few hours, and the newly-formed Delaware & Hudson Canal Company became America’s first million-dollar private enterprise. At its peak over 5,000 boats were traveling the canal at one time, each loaded with as much as 160 tons of coal. The Canal operated successfully until the Delaware & Hudson Canal Company made a unique transition in 1898 into a railroad company, becoming America’s oldest continuously operating transportation company.
WALK THROUGH THE PARKING LOT OUT TO MAIN STREET AND TURN RIGHT, WALKING EAST.
east side of Main Street, between 6th and 7th streets
In March 1871 W. Jonas Katz opened the doors of his little store for the first time. The full extent of his inventory was $41 worth of merchandise he had bought from a salesman. When he closed the till, first day’s receipts were $31.14, an encouraging start. Katz Bros. Department Store would remain a fixture in town for the next 116 years. The brothers were Samuel and Jacob who joined the business early on, before their store was destroyed by fire in 1875. the Katz brothers joined other entrepreneurs in constructing new buildings on Main Street between 6th and 7th Streets. J.A. Wood, a New York architect, was hired to design the new commercial block in Honesdale (he was also the architect for the Wayne County Court House). The block was completed in 1875, and became known as the “Centennial Block” in honor of our nation’s one hundredth birthday. The Centennial Block consists of multiple Italianate three-story brick buildings sharing a mix of architectural details, including segmental windows with decorative hoods and sills, and cornices with panels and brackets. Each building bears minor, but distinctive decorative differences. Three original bracketed Italianate storefronts are still visible at street level.
Murray Co. Store
626 Main Street
The foundation for Murray Co. began in 1829 when Captain Ed Murray began selling goods on the newly constructed canal. In 1833 he opened the first Murray Store, which was destroyed by fire. The present building opened in 1907. It is the only four-story building on Main Street - known for years for its elevatorand was fashioned from concrete blocks made locally by hand. The store had hardware and appliance departments and expanded to the manufacturing of silos and cattle stalls under the Maple City name. In the early 1980s Fred Murray took over the family business and moved to Commercial Street. In 1987 he sold the business out of the family. In 1996 it closed, leaving Honesdale without a Murray store for the first time in 167 years.
TURN LEFT ON SIXTH STREET.
The National Hotel/ VanGorder’s Furniture
southwest corner of Sixth and Church streets
This corner was where the first house in Honesdale was built, a small plank cabin built by pioneer settler Samuel Kimble. He had bought 152 acres of the Indian Orchard Tract from Mordecai Roberts, Jr. in 1823. Kimble’s northern boundary was an east-west line through what is now Central Park. In 1827, having been told that the proposed canal basin would be built south of his land and that the canal would ruin his planned farm, Kimble sold 100 acres to Maurice Wurts, Delaware & Hudson Canal entrepreneur. That land became the southern half of Honesdale. In 1868 William Weaver built the National Hotel on the site. The large brick structure had 27 rooms and an opera house on the second floor. Each room had its own fireplace and those overlooking the street sported balconies. A stable for 110 horses was built next to it with a second story access from the livery to the hotel. In 1929 the Athens Silk Company bought the hotel and it was for some years a silk mill. Ralph Van Gorder purchased the building in 1938 to house his growing used furniture business.
TURN LEFT ON CHURCH STREET.
St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church
southwest corner of Church Street and 7th Street
This Gothic church building was dedicated in October of 1904 to replace a wooden 1848 structure that was the congregation’s home a block to the north. The early Honesdale Lutherans began organizing a congregation during the 1840s. At first they met in private homes and later rented a dwelling on Court Street opposite Beth Israel. This group of worshippers was known by the name “Die Deutsche Kirche” (The German Church). The land was given by the Delaware and Hudson Canal Co.
Zenas Russell House
803 Church Street
Zenas Russell was born in Madison County, New York in 1806 and came to the nascent Honesdale as a merchant at the age of 22. He was a member of Honesdale’s first town council and in 1830 a director of the newly formed Honesdale Bank. By 1863 he was president of the bank, an organizer the Honesdale Gas Company. and was a charter member of Grace Episcopal Church. The triple brick-walled house was constructed in 1861, blending an Italianate core with Greek Revival porches. In 1921, Robert Murray of Murray Company purchased the house from the Russell family. Highlights for Children , a staple in elementary school classrooms since 1946,was the dream of Dr. Garry Cleveland Myers and his wife Caroline Clark Myers. They ground out that first issue in a two-room office over a car dealership in town. Mrs. Myers then drove to Columbus, Ohio, to deliver the artwork to a printer with a first issue print order of twenty thousand copies. The magazine purchased the house in 1963 and has run its editorial offices here ever since.
823 Church Street
Allis Whitney, who owned the Whitney Livery and Exchange Stables located in the large stone building across the street, bought this house in 1865. He advertised “both open and closed carriages for weddings, funerals, and extra occasions, with twenty head of well-groomed horses.” His son, Major George H. Whitney was active and in the organization of Company E, 13th Regiment of the PA National Guard, where he held every position from private to major. He was in the front lines during the Spanish American War. He is best remembered as leading every Honesdale parade on his handsome snow-white charger. The horse was also trained to answer the fire bells, and would race to the firehouse upon hearing them. The house is a fine example of Folk Victorian architecture and was carefully restored by Highlights for Children after the magazine purchased the house for offices in 1978. All the paint was removed from the exterior bricks and the woodwork rehabilitated.
Grace Episcopal Church
southeast corner of Church Street and 9th Street
The “Protestant Episcopal Church” of Honesdale originated February 13, 1832 at the Charles Forbes Inn, now the site of the Wayne Hotel. The present building site was deeded to the Episcopal congregation by the Delaware & Hudson Canal Co., and a wooden structure was erected in September 1834. This building was later moved to a vacant lot to allow for the construction of a new church. The old Grace Church was eventually sold to the German Catholic Church in 1852 and was destroyed by fire in 1859. In 1854 the Episcopal Parish erected the present angular church in the Gothic Revival style from locally quarried stone. The adjoining stone rectory was completed in 1876, and in 1879 the spire was erected in memory of one of the founders, Zenas H. Russell, by his family.
CROSS OVER INTO CENTRAL PARK.
between 9th and 10th streets and Court and Church streets
The land for the park was donated by Jason Torrey and by the Delaware and Hudson Canal Company in 1834. A wooden fence enclosed the square for many years. “The Wayne County Herald” of October 4, 1848 notes that “the crowd gathered for the hanging of Harris Bell, clambered on and collapsed the wooded park fence.” In the 1850s the local militia held occasional military reviews in the park. The name change from public square to Central Park seems to have occurred during this period. The statue of a Union soldier in the position of old-time parade rest was chiseled of Quincy marble and bears the names of the 353 Wayne County men who died of wounds or disease during the conflict. The monument was one of the first Civil War memorials erected in the state and was dedicated with appropriate ceremony in 1869 by Pennsylvania Governor John W. Geary. The fountain in Central Park was built seven years later in commemoration of America’s centennial.
LEAVE THE PARK ON THE SOUTHEAST CORNER, AT COURT STREET AND 9TH STREET.
northeast corner of 9th Street and Court Street
The first house on this corner of Court and Ninth Streets was a clapboard building belonging to Honesdale merchant Charles C. Graves and his wive Julia. He sold in 1859 to Samuel Dimmick and four years later it burned to the ground. Dimmick, a lawyer active in Republican politics, erected this Italianate brick building with Second Empire mansard roof at a cost of $40,000. It had twenty-two rooms, rare chestnut woodwork, and ten-foot high front doors. Samuel Dimmick was Attorney General of Pennsylvania when he died in office in 1875 at the age 52. In 1919 the house was bought by The Wayne County Memorial Hospital Association and after renovations was opened in 1920 as the first hospital in Wayne County. When a new hospital was built on Park street the building was acquired by the Honesdale Gospel Tabernacle and was a church for the next forty years. In 1992 the County of Wayne purchased the property for much needed office space.
Wayne County Courthouse
923 Court Street
The first county courthouse was in Bethany, the county seat from 1800 to 1841. During the legislative sessions of 1840-41, Senator Ebenezer Kingsbury quietly secured the passage of an act for removal. Honesdale became the county seat and on May 4, 1841 the county commissioners accepted a plot of land opposite the public square for the county buildings. The land was a joint gift of the Jason Torrey estate and the Delaware and Hudson Canal Company. After many years of discussion of the need for a new building, the commissioners adopted a resolution to begin construction in 1876. J.A. Wood of New York was selected as architect and the massive stone walls of the foundation were begun. During the next two years, little progress was made on the structure as “The Courthouse Wars” raged. Taxpayers were angry, legal disputes aboundedand political disputes flared. Finally the commissioners resolved to complete the building and $130,000 later, the new Italianate courthouse was ready in 1880.
WALK NORTH ON COURT STREET TO 10TH STREET AND TURN RIGHT. GO TO THE END OF THE ROAD AT THE BANKS OF THE LACKAWAXEN RIVER.
Old Stone Jail
south side of 10th Street at Lackawaxen River
This imposing rough stone jail was built in 1859 to replace a wooden jail on this site. The rough stone of the exterior continues on the inside walls and floor as well. Passing through the heavy iron front door, the prisoner was led to one of five cells, each measuring about twelve feet by nine feet with arched ceilings. The opening to each cell was considerably lower than a normal doorway, making it necessary for even a man of medium stature to stoop to gain entry. The only light slipped through a long narrow vertical slit for a window. The dreariness of this dungeon was the fate for Wayne County ne’er-do-wells until 1936. More than one prisoner committed suicide and there were several escapes, including through the cupola on the roof that was accessed via a trap door.
TURN AND WALK BACK ON 10TH STREET PAST CENTRAL PARK TO CHURCH STREET.
First Presbyterian Church
201 10th Street
The Presbyterians were the pioneer church organizers in Honesdale, beginning in the “Old Tabernacle,” a log cabin structure located at the confluence of the Dyberry and Lackawaxen Rivers. One of the first members was Maurice Wurtz, the originator of the D & H Canal. The original Presbyterian Church was a wooden structure erected in 1837 at this site; the current building was dedicated on June 25, 1868.
TURN RIGHT ON CHURCH STREET.
Central United Methodist Church
205 11th Street
Methodism in Honesdale dates back to 1825, when the Reverend Sophoronius Stocking, a Methodist circuit preacher, came to the Borough and organized a church. In 1834, Jason Torrey presented the Methodist society with a lot on lower Ridge Street, and a wooden structure (later converted into apartments) was erected that same year. The site for the present structure was purchased in 1872, and was dedicated on July 1, 1874.
southeast corner of Church Street an 12th Street
The Baptist denomination has the honor of establishing the first church in Wayne County, dating back to June of 1796. However, the Honesdale church was first organized in 1833 by Reverend Henry Curtis, the pastor of the Bethany church, and services were first held in the “Old Tabernacle,” the same building used by the Methodists and Presbyterians in their formative stages. In 1843 the site of the present building on Church and Twelfth Streets was purchased and the construction of a wooden edifice begun. The church was dedicated on July 30, 1845, and remains the oldest house of worship in the Borough of Honesdale.
TURN LEFT ON 12TH STREET AND TURN RIGHT ON MAIN STREET. WALK TO THE BRIDGE OVER THE LACKAWAXEN RIVER.
The Wayne Hotel
1202 Main Street
Charles Forbes built Honesdale’s first lodging house in 1827, the same year as the D&H canal was being constructed. The Forbes House was a large wooden structure with long two-story porches and was the town place to hobnob for more than six decades. John Weaver bought the Wayne County House, as it came to be known, in 1891 and had the present large brick building constructed around the old wood hotel. When the new structure was completed, the old one within it was razed. Today the brick exterior is just as it was when built, with HOTEL WAYNE in dark brick high on the street-facing facades. The beautiful iron posts and balustrade of the porch were recently restored. Just west of the porch was once the entrance to the livery stable, and is now a commercial space.
TURN AND WALK SOUTH ON MAIN STREET.
Honesdale City Hall
958 Main Street
Built in 1893, this Romanesque Revival brick-and-stone building once sported brick and stone cupolas atop the building’s two towers but they were removed because of maintenance issues. Originally there were. These cupolas have long since been removed. Above the main entrance are a large arch and a balcony that runs between the two towers. Years ago local dignitaries used the balcony to make their public speeches. For many years the building was also the home to the Protection Engine No. 3 Fire Company.
TURN LEFT ON 9TH STREET.
Lincoln Nomination Site
115 9th Street
Horace Greeley, a prominent newspaper editor from New York, came frequently to the northeast corner of Pennsylvania, visiting both Pike and Wayne counties. The area was a familiar vacation spot for middle class families from New York or New Jersey. According to local tradition, the meeting to plan Lincoln’s future took place in Honesdale in 1859 at the law office of Samuel Dimmick, a local political figure and popular tavern owner. But local tradition and historical reality are at odds in the case of this marker. There may have been a political meeting in northeastern Pennsylvania to plot strategy for the 1860 Republican convention, and Horace Greeley may have attended it, but it was definitely not his intention to “boom” Lincoln for president. The editor recalled that he had “endeavored to fix on the proper candidate for President,” for months before the convention, but remembered clearly that Lincoln was not his preference. “My choice was Edward Bates, of St. Louis,” he noted in his memoir. Bates was a well-known lawyer, a former congressman, and someone who was considered acceptable to the “Know Nothing” movement, which was an anti-immigrant faction popular in the North. But he was too old -- nearly seventy -- and had spent most of his career behind the judge’s bench, not on the political stump. The Republicans had a new party and wanted a fresh face. The frontrunner for their nomination was Senator William Seward, a Republican from New York. He and Greeley had once been close allies, but the eccentric editor had fallen out with him and by 1859 was trying desperately to make sure that his former friend got defeated. He was pleased with Abraham Lincoln’s selection, but was not a prime mover behind the decision.
RETRACE YOUR STEPS TO MAIN STREET AND TURN LEFT.
Jason Torrey Land Office
810 Main Street
Built in 1830 and one of the oldest brick buildings in Wayne County, this was the land office of Jason Torrey. Torrey came to Mt. Pleasant in 1793 and moved to Bethany in 1801. He was a land surveyor and wound up buying much of what he surveyed. His family owned most of the land in and around Honesdale. He was one of the largest land holders in Wayne County and owned considerable territory in neighboring counties as well. In 1981 the Wayne County Historical Society moved the office from its original location at the terminus of the canal and it’s gravity railroad, saving it from demolition. A restoration of the exterior took $85,000 and 18 years to finish.
Delaware & Hudson Canal Office/Honesdale Museum
810 Main Street
The canal company built this brick building in 1860 after losing at least one prior office in Honesdale to fire. Strategically locating it near where the company’s gravity railroad and canal met, the employees inside could keep a close eye on the activities outside their back door. In 1923, with the canal era over, the Wayne County Historical Society, was granted a lease from the Delaware & Hudson Co. to use the north half of the building for storage while the Hudson Coal Co. used the south half. The Society opened the museum to the public in 1939. Its centerpiece exhibit is a full-size replica of the Stourbridge Lion. On August 8, 1829, its namesake, the first locomotive to turn wheel on commercial track in the United States, made its first run here in Honesdale. With the hope of finding a better way for hauling coal from Carbondale to Honesdale other than the gravity railroad that ran with the help of cables to the head of the canal, the D&H Canal Company ordered a steam locomotive from Stourbridge, England. The engine was called the Stourbridge Lion because a huge lion’s head was painted on the front of the boiler. Unfortunately the engine proved too heavy for the wooden tracks and was never used again. At the end of the 19th century, the remaining scattered pieces were reassembled and put on permanent exhibition at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C.
Honesdale National Bank
724 Main Street
During the canal era, this was a huge basin of water used for the storage and repair of canal boats; a bridge carried Main Street across the water. Established in 1836, The Honesdale National Bank is the oldest Independently owned Community Bank headquartered in Northeastern Pennsylvania. it occupied various buildings before moving here after the basin was filled in and the present building of local Forest City stone and trimmed in Indiana limestone was erected in 1896.
Wayne County National Bank
717 Main Street
Wayne Bank was founded on November 4, 1871, and was known as the Wayne County Savings Bank. Early financing included everything from boat building and harness manufacturing to tanneries and farming. The shutdown of the Canal at the end of the 19th century forced the Bank to change with the times by financing the expansion of the county into other industries such as glassworks, textile factories and logging. In 1924, the Bank’ moved to the present headquartersbetween 7th and 8th Streets on Main Street. The majesty of the building’s limestone and marble facade continues to represent the image of stateliness and security favored by banks in those days. The Bank’s heart remains the massive 12-foot high, polished steel vault, which when opened looks like a giant complex time-piece, a must see on any visitor’s itinerary.
YOU HAVE NOW REACHED THE TOUR STARTING POINT.