100 Years of History: Celebrating the Centennial Anniversary of the Waverly Community House

“When we started the Waverly Community House, many people thought and told us we were dreamers. We admit we are dreamers; we have envisioned the ideal community. We belong to the order of men and women who know that the ills, blights, limitations, disabilities, and curses from which human society suffers can be greatly abated, and many of them entirely eliminated. We see the time coming when all reasonable desires and ambitions shall enjoy a certain satisfaction. Pessimism cannot paralyze our faith. We dream with our eyes wide open and every faculty alert.” Paul Belin,  Waverly Community House Annual Meeting, 1927.

Since 1919, the Waverly Community House has served individuals and families in the region through educational, recreational, and cultural opportunities. Its mission has remained true to the manifestation of the Belin Family’s desire to enrich and enliven rural community life in the early 20th century. This dream became reality for Margaretta Belin and her children on July 26th, 1919 when the cornerstone to the building was laid, followed by a formal celebration, solidifying its emergence into our region and its place in local history.

web1_waverlycommSince that day in 1919, the Waverly Community House has gone from what many may have viewed as a luxury, to a necessity. The Comm is where the community gathers in celebration of birthdays, holidays, and receptions. The Comm is where individuals come to receive education on a multitude of topics ranging from Medicare to the Underground Railroad. The Comm is also where children gather to do homework, interact with friends, and learn about various topics ranging from art to science. The Comm is home to an After School Program, an Artisans’ Marketplace, an Archive, dance classes, health and wellness classes, walking tours, and many more activities designed for community enrichment and engagement. The Comm is where the community receives their mail, greets their neighbors, and plays tennis. The Comm has withstood the testament of time and has served the community through tumultuous times within our country’s history such as World War II. It has remained a place of comfort for decades– now, a century of service. For the many individuals and families in our region, the Comm is home.

In celebration of its 100th year of service and dedication to the community, the Waverly Community House recently kicked off its Centennial Year. This year will focus on honoring the roots of our organization (its founders, mission, and history), while also looking forward to its future. This wonderful milestone commenced on the weekend of July 26th, 2019 in order to honor the Comm’s Cornerstone Ceremony 100 years ago. The recent celebration began on the Comm’s Front Lawn with a flag raising by members of the Clarks Summit VFW Post 7069 and Honor Guard. Abington Heights Middle School student Ethan Cutillo led the audience with a rendition of “God Bless America,” followed by remarks made from: Bridget Kosierowski (114th Legislative District), William Byron and Christine Capozzi (Waverly Township), and Mary Ann Savakinus (Lackawanna Historical Society), among others. Children from Comm Camp also honored our founders by performing a play entitled “Margaretta’s Gift,” inspired by Belin Family letters and quotes. The Comm Square Fair kicked off that evening at 5 pm featuring music from the Molly Pitcher Path Band, a caricaturist, balloon animals, dunk tank, and various fun-filled games and activities.

A more formal program kicked off on Saturday with welcoming remarks from Hedrick Belin (great-great grandson of Margaretta Belin). Additional speakers were: Mary Belin Rhodes (great-granddaughter of Margaretta Belin), Rick Lewis (nephew of Comm architect George M.D. Lewis), Bridget Kosierowski, and William W. Scranton III (Lieutenant Governor of PA), among others. Doug Smith’s Dixieland Band performed after the program, before guests were then encouraged to take tours of the building’s centennial exhibits. An old fashioned barbecue hosted by Pat and Tara Atkins, and catered by Epicurean Delight began at 1 pm. The Destination Freedom Underground Railroad Walking Tour of Waverly followed at 2 pm, hosted by EJ Murphy. In true Comm fashion, all of these events were offered to the public free of charge in celebration of our 100 years of service.

As we now embark on our Centennial Year, we have many events planned for the near future including: Cocktails for the Courts, the Comm Classic Centennial Golf Tournament, Antiques Show, Artisans’ Marketplace, and the Centennial Masked Ball. We are also accepting donations of memorabilia and items for our Centennial Time Capsule, which will be sealed at the 2020 celebration for the next 25 years. Keep checking our website for updates on these activities and events, or call the Comm at (570) 586-8191.

WaverlyComm 6-26-19 (227 of 311)“Goals (for the Comm) were bold– to build the community, to build a civil society, to build a sense of civic engagement, responsible citizenship, and civic philanthropy. And it was based on shared responsibility– not just for this place, but for the ideals that it represents. A shared responsibility both financially and ideologically to unite around the concept of community for its citizens. Fundamental question– will you join in the goal of enriching community life?” Hedrick Belin, Centennial Ceremony, 2019.

Happy Birthday Waverly Community House.

 

This House Builded: Alfred Twining’s Historic Abington

In 1920, Waverly Community House Historical Committee Chairman Alfred Twining published a series of articles centered on the rich history of the Abingtons. This series premiered in October of 1920 and is regarded as a very rare collection. In today’s blog post, we will explore Twining’s work by focusing on his significant piece written about the Waverly Community House.

“This House Builded for the People of This Community In Memory of Henry Belin Jr.”

It is fitting to end my series of articles on “Historic Abington,” with the story of the priceless gift to the present and future generation of Abington, which in its emerald setting is an architectural gem, the inspiration of George Lewis of Scranton. On a marble block above the main entrance door to the building are inscribed the words as above.

Mr. Henry Belin Jr., one of Scranton’s foremost citizens, whose business perspicacity, BFintegrity, social standing, and prominence in various lines of righteous endeavor, made him conspicuous in the city’s history, passed to his reward on Christmas Day, 1917. Mr. Belin was a lover of the Abington country, and one of his greatest enjoyments for years, was his fine mansion and well ordered grounds at “Glenverly,” on the Waverly road almost at the boundary line between Waverly and Glenburn. Mr. Belin had long thought of some gift to Waverly, to show his appreciation of the beautiful Abingtons and the people therein with whom he had come in contact, but had not fully formulated the plan he had in mind. Upon Mr. Belin’s death, his widow, Mrs. Margaretta Belin, whose generous gifts to local endeavors in Waverly, and her kind and democratic personality, conceived the idea of a memorial to her husband, that would be of usefulness and value to Waverly, which would benefit the future as well as the present people of the village. The plan of a Community House was discussed with her children, with which they heartily concurred and the machinery was set in motion to purchase the site and plan for the edifice. It is largely due to the energy and devotedness of Mr. Paul B. Belin, that the project was consummated with dispatch and perfectness.

The informal opening, nearing the completion of the building took place in April of 1920, at which Mr. Paul Belin made a fine address in which he outlined the purpose of the Community House, in which social service was the main object where there would be a center for farmers and for local residents to have an attractive diversion, where meetings for good purposes could be held, a place to read, write, and have amusements, which would enable the youth and older people to have privileges and enjoyments without having to go to the city to obtain them. The various officials, committees, etc., were announced, and Mr. Belin said upon the completion of the grading grounds, interior furnishings and other objects in view, there would be fitting ceremonies before the Community House and grounds were turned over by Mrs. Belin to the borough.

The dedication of the Community House took place on the evening of June 25, 1920, prior to which Mrs. Belin entertained Governor Sproul of Pennsylvania, with other guests at a dinner at “Glenverly.” The beautiful building, glowing with electric lights, indoors and exteriorally, the grounds, which had been graded, sodded and beautified by the landscape artist, were most inviting, and the program arranged was carried out with a delightful smoothness. Governor Sproul, Judge George Maxey and Rev. Joseph Odell were the orators, and Mrs. Belin, whose kindly smiling face glowed with the warmth of congratulations and praise showered upon her by the speakers for the munificent and most beneficial gift to the community, was a central figure. It was an occasion not to be forgotten, when Mrs. Belin turned over the deeds and property of the Community House to the borough trustees.

The social needs of the community are amply considered, and from the little folks to the oldest people there is something of pleasure and profit to be gained in the use of the Belin Memorial. The recreation rooms are not open on Sunday, but the reading rooms and verandas are to be used after church hours. The building is 100 feet deep and 80 feet wide, and stands in a plot that is 365 x 165 feet. The edifice embodies all that its name signifies. It shelters various local activities, including the first department equipment, the post office, barber shop, council chamber, an auditorium with stage and dressing rooms, moving picture booth and library. The basement contains two bowling alleys that are the delight of the countryside; two billiard tables, dressing room and shower baths; the Boy Scout room, ice storage room, deep well pump and pressure room, boiler room, fire department, for village chemical and hose wagon, and the village lock-up.

On the first floor an imposing entrance leads directly into the lounge hall with large stone fireplace and oak seats. This room is 28 x 32 feet, and from it opens at the left, the women’s club room, 16 x 21 feet, richly furnished in mahogany and handsome upholstery, with a fireplace. There is an enclosed sun porch 14 x 32 feet furnished in wicker. The canteen and soda fountain open to the right and are beautifully equipped. The cigar and confectionery cases are in this department. The post office had bronzed boxes with combination key less doors. The auditorium seats 200 and the arcaded terraces open from it toward the west. The second floor provides a balcony for the auditorium with a moving picture booth. The library used also for the council room is very impressive with its Old English ceiling, open beamed and grained.

The supervisor’s apartments are on the opposite side of the hall. There are also bedrooms, bathrooms, linen rooms and a balcony overlooking the playgrounds. Tennis courts and playgrounds for the children occupy much space about the building. The social rooms are rented for teas, dances, and other affairs by those from Scranton and elsewhere who wish to enjoy the advantages thus provided. The building and grounds are free for the people of Waverly and its vicinity.

I may add that Mrs. George C. Peck, wife of Dr. Peck, former pastor of the Elm Park Church in Scranton, a charming lady, who is specially adapted to the work from her church, Red Cross war work, and social activities, is the head of the Community House.

It must be a source of satisfaction to Mrs. Margaretta E. Belin to note the appreciation of the people of Waverly in the enthusiastic manner in which young and old use the facilities and advantages of the Community House, in the varied features which it presents.

On July 8th, 1920, Waverly Community Grange was organized with 110 paid charter members and now numbers 140.

On July 14th, a Woman’s League for political education was organized with 25 paid members and numbers 62 at present.

On July 14th the children’s playground was opened and during the last half of the month 975 boys and girls took advantage of the recreation afforded.

On July 14th the Boy Scouts organized with a dozen members.

On August 16th, Mrs. Frances Jermyn Belin, as a memorial to her mother, provided a community trained nurse, services free to the people of Waverly.

The library and reading room are well patronized, as well as the tennis court, baseball grounds, and the Saturday evening movies.

The Radcliffe Chautauqua presented a delightful course on July 26th, 27th , and 28th,Bowling Green this will be an annual event.

On October 8th and 9th a community agricultural fair was held, the exhibition of fruits and vegetables exceeding in quality and quantity anything seen at the Autumn county fairs in Northeastern Pennsylvania.


Alfred Twining died in May of 1922; his series on the Abingtons ran in the Scranton Times in October of 1920.

This blog post is dedicated to the lovely Joan Belin (1930-2019).

They Stick like Death to their Guns: Soldiery, Citizenship, & the Civil War Era in Waverly, Pennsylvania

Today’s blog post was written by E.J. Murphy; E.J. is a history teacher at the Howard Gardner School in Scranton and has written this post highlighting the Civil War and its significance in the Northeastern Pennsylvania region. Enjoy!

“This city feels dark…the Cabinet seems tumbling to pieces. Our armies do nothing, & despair is seizing hold of a great many people. The battle at Fredericksburg was a great disaster and a terrible loss of life to no purpose. If God is not with us in this fight, we are in trouble.”

Writing from Washington D.C. on December 19, 1862, four days after the conclusion of the lopsided Union defeat at Fredericksburg, Virginia and eleven days after his confirmation as Supreme Court Associate Justice, David Davis could not contain his own despondency. About two weeks later, again writing to his brother-in-law, Northeastern Pennsylvania iron and coal magnate and President of the Lackawanna County Iron and Coal Company, Joseph H. Scranton, Davis’ emotion poured through the pages. “If the Country was at peace and my home was not broken up I should feel like another man.” Unbeknownst to Davis was that the Northern effort was destined to suffer further calamity. Commanding the Union Army of the Potomac was the famously whiskered General Ambrose E. Burnside, and Burnside was not about to see the Union’s largest fighting force disgraced under his authority. Toward the end of January 1863, looking to redeem his reputation which was now inextricably linked to the embarrassment at the Battle of Fredericksburg, Burnside attempted to lead a rare and ill-fated winter offensive against Robert E. Lee and the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia with the peripheral goal of boosting his troop’s sagging morale. While on the move in the wet and cold, the Army of the Potomac became bogged down attempting to re-cross the Rappahannock River near Fredericksburg, at which confident Confederate troops who had been eyeing the movement of the Union forces lie patiently in wait for the dispirited Yankees. Without so much as a skirmish, the offensive was aborted and with it President Abraham Lincoln’s faith in Burnside who would be replaced by the hard-drinking “Fighting” Joe Hooker on January 26.

Among soldiers, Joseph Hooker was a popular choice as Burnside’s replacement. “Under Hooker we began to live,” wrote one solider. “I have never,” conceded an officer previously skeptical of Hooker’s prowess, “known men to change from a condition of the lowest depression to that of a healthy fighting state in so short time.” Hooker, however, was a contentious man and was not afraid to speak out on his distaste for certain generals and his lack of confidence in the government (he had lambasted Burnside after the debacle at Fredericksburg and the Mud March). Regardless, Lincoln knew that he needed Hooker’s military acumen to succeed. “I have heard, in such way as to believe it, of your recently saying that both the Army and the Government needed a dictator. Of course it was not for this, but in spite of it, that I have given you the command. Only those generals who gain successes, can set up dictators. What I now ask of you is military success, and I will risk the dictatorship,” wrote the President to his new commander. Lincoln hadn’t need to concern himself with the dictatorship as the success needed to yield such a dictator never came.

Hooker and Lee’s forces met from April 30- May 6, 1863 at the crossroads village of Chancellorsville. approximately ten miles west of Fredericksburg. Despite being outnumbered two to one, the Battle of Chancellorsville became Robert E. Lee’s masterpiece. In the face of superior forces Lee defied all accepted military convention by splitting up his army and sending Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson on a twelve-mile flanking maneuver that would help crush Hooker and his Union troops. The victory would cost Lee his number one lieutenant in Jackson who would lose his left arm in a friendly-fire incident and later lose his life, but the victory at Chancellorsville would nevertheless boost the confidence of the now legendary general and lead him to plan an offensive of his own- one that would lead him and his army to a quiet, small town nestled in the hills of South Central Pennsylvania with the intention of finishing the war. Hooker on the other hand had begun to fall out of favor and as a result of this his time commanding Lincoln’s greatest army was slowly coming to an end.

Less than a month later both armies began to maneuver north. As the Army of Northern Virginia made its way into Maryland the Army of the Potomac stayed cautiously in between Lee and Washington. D.C. Hooker, still at odds with Lincoln over strategy, offered his resignation after a disagreement with General in Chief Henry W. Halleck regarding the use of troops stationed to defend the Union garrison at Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia (which became a Union state on June 20, 1863). Lincoln happily accepted Hooker’s resignation and quickly found his replacement. On June 28 he made George Gordon Meade the fifth man to command of the principal Union army in the eastern theater. Marching with the Army of the Potomac was the 143rd Pennsylvania Infantry regiment. The citizen-soldiers of this regiment were recruited mostly from Luzerne County (of which present-day Lackawanna County was still a part) but also included troops from Lycoming, Susquehanna, and Wyoming counties. This horde of Northeastern Pennsylvanians had experienced combat against the Army of Northern Virginia during the defeat at Chancellorsville where the regiment arrived on the field of battle as Old Stonewall made his famous march. Part of the First Army Corps, Third Division, Second Brigade, the 143rd was one of the first regiments to arrive at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. The Second Brigade, which was comprised of the 143rd, 149th, and 150th Pennsylvania Infantry regiments, was a reformation of the famous “Bucktail Brigade.” While the 143rd was not considered a Bucktail regiment, the 149th and 150th were known to sport actual buck tails in their caps during battle. In any case of attire, these regiments would need to live up to the reputation that was born with the original Bucktails.

Crossing the Mason-Dixon Line into Pennsylvania was a joyful occasion for the boys from the Keystone State. Some men broke out into melody, gleefully singing “Home Sweet Home,” a saccharine song that both North and South tried to ban due to its evocation of home and family and its tendency to cause men to desert. “Mid pleasures and palaces though we may roam,” they sang. “Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home/ A charm from the skies seems to hallow us there/ Which seek thro’ the world, is ne’er met elsewhere.” But the mood was not universally jovial. One of the boys from the 143rd remarked that “he could smell a fight.” As the men bivouacked on the night of June 30, Private Avery Harris noted that the men were uneasy and “anxiety seemed to be settling down upon them.” In charge of the Second Brigade was Colonel Roy Stone and on the morning of July 1 Stone’s men woke not to the usual noise of bugles and drums, but of officers warning the men against any unnecessary noise. Their supplies were late, so instead of a decent breakfast to fill their stomachs the soldiers were left to the infamous hardtack and coffee that was so often the undesirable option for a meal. In the distance, the sound of artillery began to ring out and the brigade then moved quick-time toward the action which was taking place to the northwest of town. The especially hot and muggy weather led many troops to fall out and seek water at nearby farm wells. As the exploding artillery became louder and louder the brigade moved on the double-quick along Emmitsburg Road. While passing over Seminary Ridge the soldiers ditched their knapsacks and blankets and amid the cannon fire a shell ricocheted and ripped off the haversack of one of the members of the 143rd. Recognizing the tactical disadvantage he now found himself in, the soldier remarked to his comrades, “well boys they have cut off my supplies.” General Abner Doubleday of the Third Division tried to rally and inspire the men who were somewhat wavering due to the intensity of the battle. What’s more, the Union had also lost one of its most promising generals early in the fight. John Reynolds, commander of the Army First Corps, a native Pennsylvanian, and widely regarded as one of the premier leaders in the army, had taken a bullet through the neck and was dead before his body fell from his horse to the ground. It was an inauspicious time, and the battle was just beginning.

Stone’s brigade started to take an initial position to the right of the McPherson Woods and the Iron Brigade, the Union’s most famous and hard-fighting unit, but the emergence of Confederate General R. E. Rhodes’ troops on Oak Ridge forced Stone to shift his troops north. “This movement had scarcely been completed when the enemy advanced against our entire front in large numbers, and, when within easy range, were received with an effective fire from our whole line, which threw them into confusion, and a charge by the One hundred and forty-ninth forward to the railroad cut being made, they fell back to a sheltered position, where they were re-enforced and their broken ranks reformed,” wrote Wilkes-Barre native and commander of the 143rd, Colonel Edmund L. Dana, after the battle.

The 143rd covered the 149th as they met North Carolina troops at the unfinished railroad cut but despite the appearance of initial success, the fight was not theirs to be won that day.  The brigade suffered crippling loss of command with Col. Stone, as well as his replacement Col. Langhorne Wister, suffering wounds that removed them from the field. Not all troops came out of the first day of battle with little reason to keep their heads high. For his heroic and successful attempt to save a wounded comrade under heavy fire, Wilkes-Barre native James M. Rutter would later be awarded the Medal of Honor. In any event, command of the brigade fell to Col. Dana of the 143rd, but the loss of their officers and the pressure being put on the troops by the Confederates caused the Yankees to retreat back through town to hills just south of Gettysburg. Lieutenant Colonel John Musser recalled after the retreat that the troops “sat down to rest, but could not sit still. Officers and men shook hands in silence great tear drops standing in their undaunted eyes, as they thought of the dead and wounded left in the hands of the cursed Rebels. We were almost afraid to ask each other where the rest of our regt. were, we knew most of them were either killed or wounded.” The Second Brigade entered the first day of battle with 1,315 men and by the end of the conclusive third day had suffered 850 casualties (killed, wounded, and missing), a staggering 65 percent of their manpower. The 143rd regiment itself entered the battle with nearly 500 men, of which 27 would be killed, 150 wounded, and 60 or 70 missing in action. While the battle would eventually be won by the Army of the Potomac and the Army of Northern Virginia would be sent back into Virginia to stay, this was not yet reality on July 1. Of those among the dead scattered throughout the site of the largest battle ever fought in the western hemisphere, after likely being wounded on the first day and dying as the 143rd assisted in the repulse of Pickett’s Charge on the last, was Waverly’s own George O. Fell.

Waverly and the surrounding communities were not immune to the divisiveness that helped lead the men of the 143rd and the rest of the country into war. A northerner wrote in 1841 that “the truth is I am jaded to death in wars of Abolitionism and other isms connected with it. The spirit which has been diffused through the length & breadth of our work is fraught with the Elements of faction & caters for anarchy. You may think this language too strong and that my fears are groundless or regarding them as the declaration of existing facts and a fair deduction you might think one wanting in courage or fidelity to leave the field in the midst of an engagement.” Throughout the country Northern and Southern Democrats divided themselves over the issue of slavery to the point of crippling their party and allowing the election of Republican Abraham Lincoln in 1860. The Republican party was also split among ideological lines with a faction of “radicals” who favored immediate emancipation and full citizenship and voting rights for African-Americans contending with moderate and conservative Republicans whose motivations and values regarding race were dubious (by today’s standards) at best and at worst just as racially prejudiced (again, by today’s standards) as their Democratic counterparts or even Southerners. While echoing the national mood to an extent, events in the years leading up to the war helped elevate Waverly into a unique position as a safe haven for those escaping bondage.

Since the 1840’s slaves fleeing from their masters, plantations, and the cruelty of slavery had made their way to freedom by following the Underground Railroad – a system of cities, towns, safe houses, and individuals sympathetic to the plight of the enslaved and determined to undermine Southern efforts to not only continue but strengthen the hold that the peculiar institution had on the country. The freedom seekers who ended up passing through or settling in Northeastern Pennsylvania largely came from Maryland and would enter familiar places such as the Gettysburg area, Wilkes-Barre, Tunkhannock, Montrose, and Towanda en route to upstate New York, New England, or Canada. As early as the 1830’s, antislavery societies had been sprouting throughout the region. One of the first was the Susquehanna Colonization Society, established in Montrose in 1834. Two years later the Susquehanna County Anti-Slavery & Free Discussion Society was formed under the premise of immediate abolition. This group garnered the attention of local Democrats who condemned the group as an “unlawful assembly” and its members “disturbers of the peace.” The first meeting of the group attracted over 100 attendees and within a year the group’s following had reached 275. By 1839 there were four more antislavery societies in the county. In February a convention for abolitionists from Bradford, Susquehanna, Wayne, and Luzerne (including residents of Waverly) counties was held at Montrose’s First Presbyterian Church. Over 500 people showed up and the group raised $123 (over $2,000 today) for the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society. The meeting itself was a strong political statement, but convention attendees sought more. Moral action was going to be key in achieving the group’s ultimate goals. Public debates over slavery and press coverage of abolitionist sentiment were needed to spread the ideas that the group was based upon. This call for public attention worked at doing just that, but the circulation of that information did not just reach the likeminded and curious. Opposition waited just around the corner and it did not take long for the opposition to show their political teeth intended to chew through the moral fiber of the abolitionist movement.

Southern slaveholders were more than well aware of what was taking place up north. As abolitionists became more outspoken and hostile towards slavery, southerners in Congress looked for ways to stem the tide that was seemingly sweeping over them. It was not just the abstract objection to slavery that worried slave owners. In the wake of the Mexican War the United States had enlarged its territory by nearly a quarter while reducing Mexico’s by half. The questions could not help but present itself: would slavery be allowed in these newly acquired territories? In 1846 David Wilmot, a Pennsylvanian Congressman from Towanda who also spent time practicing law in Wilkes-Barre and did personally share some antislavery conviction, put forth a proposal that would ban slavery in all territories gained from Mexico. Later instrumental in forming the Pennsylvania Republican Party, Wilmot at the time was a member of the Free Soil Party whose platform advocated for the abolition of slavery and the denial of slave property in the new territory not based on a moral unfriendliness to slavery, but in the interest of  protecting the welfare and future opportunity for the advancement of white men and their families, specifically out west in this instance. Nevertheless, Wilmot’s Proviso enraged slave owners and regular southerners alike and is seen historically as one of the central events that flamed the fires of secession and war. A leading national magazine proclaimed that “…the Wilmot proviso has been discussed in Congress, in the newspapers, on the stump, at the street corners, all over the country, until David Wilmot’s name is now mentioned more frequently than those of the candidates for the Presidency – because it stands wedded to a great principle of legislation.” The subsequent years did not quell the sectional divide. As the debate over slavery extension heated up, moderates in Congress tried to cool things down. In 1850 a compromise written by Whig party member Henry Clay and backed by Democratic Senator Stephen Douglas was passed to the chagrin of radicals on both sides of the isle. Among the provisions of the act was a strengthening of the Fugitive Slave Clause which was a part of the original design of the Constitution and called on all states, no matter location, to return escaped slaves to their masters. To northerners this was unacceptable. In effect the Fugitive Slave Law forced northern states to enforce laws that they did not believe in and found to be repugnant. Among residents of Waverly, this aggression could not stand. Waverly had been home to runaway slaves for nearly twenty years at this point, even to the extent that one of the largest and most successful African-American communities in the area existed in the village. Slave catchers had met early resistance in the area already and, now with the tipping point approaching, that resistance was hardening.

Waverly businessman John Raymond penned a letter a week after the passage of the new Fugitive Slave Act to Judge William Jessup, a prominent area abolitionist in Montrose, pleading with the judge to call for an abolitionist convention. “There seems to be a desire amongst some of the people that there should be a rally made or a convention of the Sons of Freedom in Northern Pennsylvania so that the people may know that the spirit of freedom is not entirely gone amongst us,” he wrote. Raymond’s appeal eventually showed corporeal results. The convention met in October in Montrose and adopted a resolution of resistance to the national concessions to slavery. “Resolved, that we tender the unhappy fugitives from the house of bondage our warmest sympathies – we know not how to advise them amid their deep trials – above all we pity those helpless women and children. We repeat we know not how to advise. Society and law have made war on the colored man; they disown and outlaw him, and afford him no protection; and if in this war he throws himself upon the rights of manhood and defends himself and his family, when no one else will defend, who can blame him! – and if the pursuer falls in the conflict, whom has he to blame but himself!” This resolution was more telling than the authors had probably considered. Thirteen years later African-American men from all across the north would take up arms and throw themselves “upon the rights of manhood” by defending themselves and their families when few else would. The African-American men of Waverly were no exception.

In the wake of the Confederate bombardment of Union controlled Fort Sumter in South Carolina’s Charleston Harbor that inaugurated the Civil War, enlistments in both armies had reached a fever pitch. In the North so many men volunteered that newly formed regiments and fresh recruits were denied because the government simply did not have the resources to equip them. The 1860 census showed that there were approximately 555,000 men of military age in Pennsylvania. One in every four of these men volunteered during the first year of the war. From April 1861 until early March 1862 Pennsylvania troops consisted of one-third of the total enlistments in the army which numbered about 344,408. As the Confederate tide began to roll into success following Union General George B. McClellan’s failed Peninsula Campaign to capture Richmond, Virginia and the emergence of Robert E. Lee, enthusiasm for the war effort faltered. In response to this and the diminishing number of men in the ranks, debates raged in both North and South over the use of black troops in combat. In the South, this debate raged for years in the face of blatant racism and skepticism of how African-American troops would handle themselves in combat until the final stages of the war when a scant amount of these regiments were raised but never used. The North, however, settled this issue not without resistance but still in time for these men to see combat. One of the African-American regiments raised in the north was the 22nd United States Colored Troops and in the ranks of this unit were a few good men from Waverly.

When the 22nd USCT organized at Camp William Penn just outside of Philadelphia in January 1864 they made have had an idea that they were going to see action during the war, but it can hardly be believed that they were aware that the campaign they would join would be the one that, for all intents and purposes, ended that war. Assigned to the Third Brigade, First Division of the Eighteenth Corps, the regiment eventually found itself, after drilling and construction duty (some of the menial assignments black troops were often only trusted with), staring down the remnants of the Army of Northern Virginia that the 143rd Pennsylvania had squared off against at Gettysburg less than a year earlier. Now they were a part of General Ulysses S. Grant’s attempt to capture the city of Petersburg, Virginia, a rail hub south of the Confederate capitol at Richmond that if taken would cut off Richmond from the rest of the Confederacy and put Lee’s army out in the wind. The 22nd was assigned the task of leading a charge to capture a line of Confederate artillery works outside of Petersburg. Upon hearing that USCT regiments were to lead the assault on Petersburg, a white soldier showed his appreciation “for we knew we were to see fighting before night & we wanted to see these pets go in ahead of us & see how well they could fight.” Approximately 400 troops of the 4th North Carolina Cavalry and a section of guns at Petersburg awaited them.

The 4th USCT, positioned to the south of the 22nd, met the enemy first and inaugurated the Battle of Baylor’s Farm. So anxious were these troops to engage in combat that they could not even wait for orders to advance from the tree line they found shelter in. The 22nd and 5th USCT covered the desperate and failing advance, making sure not to minimize their exposure by taking advantage of that tree line that they were content to stay covered by. Eventually Colonel Joseph B. Kiddoo, commander of the 22nd, ordered his troops forward to capture the Confederate rifle pits covering the artillery. Cannons converged on the 22nd after the 4th’s desperate charge had been cleared and as the men made their way to the enemy they began to shout “Remember Fort Pillow!” in reference to the battle in western Tennessee where Confederates under the command of Nathan Bedford Forrest had murdered surrendering black troops. With that in mind the men moved forward “with a wild yell that must certainly have struck terror into the hearts of their foe.” The attack on the rifle pits was a success and after the Color Sergeant of the 22nd planted his flag in the enemy breastworks the regiment, for a moment, basked in their success of capturing a 12-pound Napoleon howitzer cannon while holding the field. Another troop from the same regiment praised the efforts of the USCT saying that they “will keep on their feet, and move on, with wounds that would utterly lay out white men, and they stick like death to their guns.”

Like with the 143rd at Gettysburg, the 22nd’s initial success could not be celebrated because there was more fighting to come. As the 22nd advanced through the battle it had been shifted to the command of Major John B. Cook. His assignment was to “push their skirmishers well to the front and to charge the works as soon as the charge should begin to their right.” Cooks troops then advanced on an artillery position labeled Battery 7. The position was taken, but with heavy loss. A drummer boy from Maine recalled that “I beheld one of the grandest and most awful sights I ever saw. Those colored troops started on a double quick, and as they descended the hill, the fort poured volley after volley into them. The men seemed to fall like blades of grass before a machine, but it did not stop them; they rallied and moved on; it was only the work of a few minutes.” Col. Kiddoo took the leftovers of the 22nd that did not join Cook during his advance to assist with the capture of Battery 7. Upon seeing the works held and after running into the Colonel Elias Wright and the 1st USCT who had just taken Battery 6 Kiddoo decided it was time to press the assault. “I proposed that we unite our commands and charge Battery No. 8. He (Wright) thought it not safe, but proposed to support me if I would do so.” Kiddoo’s troops advanced on Battery 8 by crossing a deep, swampy ravine and caused the Confederate troops firing artillery to abandon their cannon and take up small arms as infantrymen. “My men wavered at first under the hot fire of the enemy, but soon, on seeing their (1st USCT) colors on the opposite side of the ravine, pushed rapidly up and passed the rifle-pits and fort.” An officer of the 22nd described the scene as the troops made their way up the side of the ravine while “all the time subject to a hot fire of grape and canister until we got so far under the guns as to be sheltered.”

The convergence of the 1st and 22nd USCT caused the rebels to abandon the position. Another daring charge by men who many in the country did not believe could be relied on in the field helped carry the attack. Even on the battlefield, though, couldn’t racial tensions be left at the door. Another officer of the 22nd, referring to the refusal of southerners to allow themselves to be held in the hands of such an enemy, had a matter-of-fact thought on the idea. “The real fact is, the rebels will not stand against our colored soldiers when there is any chance of their being taken prisoners, for they are conscious of what they justly deserve. Our men went into those works after they were taken yelling ‘Fort Pillow!’ The enemy well knows what this means.” Despite the efforts of the USCT troops on June 15, the initial assaults on Petersburg eventually failed and the army was forced to hunker down for a siege. It would take almost ten more months for the southern supply center to fall, eventually leading to the surrender of Richmond itself as well as the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox Courthouse just a few days later. The United States survived the armed rebellion and jumped (for the short time being and with questionable results) the political and cultural hurdles of the mid 1800s on the track to becoming one of the foremost world powers in the twentieth century.

The cessation of hostilities did not mean that the effects of war ended as well. Some of John Mason Gravesite at Hickory Grove CemeteryWaverly’s fighting men made their way back home. John Mason, a private in the 22nd USCT, was wounded in the hand during the celebrated June 15 assault at Petersburg. Returning to Waverly on a disability charge, Mason was incapacitated to the effect of never again having a fully functioning right hand. With one hand still functioning, however, Mason was granted only one-half disability status. His pension was $8 a month. Others did not make it home. George Fell had joined the army in 1862 at the age of nineteen, serving under his brother Lieutenant Asher Fell. A year later George’s father John G. Fell, a local Baptist and abolitionist leader, ventured to Gettysburg in search of his son’s remains where they would be found on the field where he fell, wounded in the hip which was all too often a killing blow for the Civil War soldier. A memorial stone still remains in the Hickory Grove Cemetery in Waverly but this was not Fell’s final resting place.

On November 19, 1863 Abraham Lincoln presided over the dedication of the country’s newest national cemetery. Just yards from where Fell was eventually interred in what is now Gettysburg National Cemetery, the president, who himself would not get to see the world that this mighty scourge of war had wrought, spoke of “a new birth of freedom.” What would this freedom look like? That was to be seen, debated, and fought over the next century. Lincoln also noted that the world “can never forget what they did here.” The coming decades would see a cavalcade of commemorations celebrating the actions of brave men and women and memorials that would dominate the nation’s landscape. The 143rd Pennsylvania Infantry has two monuments on the Gettysburg battlefield, one of which depicts the regiments color-bearer, Sergeant Benjamin H. Crippin of Scranton, defiantly shaking his fist at his Confederate foes as the Union troops retreated to Cemetery Hill after the brutal fight on July 1. Witnessing the retreat was Lieutenant Colonel Arthur Fremantle, a British observer who would later write a best-selling memoir about his time in the South. Fremantle noted that as the Federals made their way back to and through Gettysburg, “the colour-bearer retired last of all, turning round every now and then to shake his fist at the advancing rebels. General Hill said he felt quite sorry when he saw this gallant Yankee meet his doom.” It was actions such as this that Lincoln implored the nation to keep in its collective memory. Having been asked to give “a few appropriate remarks” at the cemetery dedication, Lincoln went on to give an oration that has trickled down through the ages as an outline for how the people of the war-torn nation would reconcile with the death and destruction that had plagued them. “It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain.”

Veterans groups emerged as some of the most influential and powerful congregations in the country that would lend it’s hand to the way that the war would be remembered as well as how veterans and their families would be taken care of. The largest of these groups, The Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.), even had the Sgt. George O. Fell G.A.R. Post 307 headquartered in Waverly that was among the racially integrated posts in the state. On July 29, 1927 the Waverly Community House held a reunion of G.A.R. members from five Pennsylvania counties as well as two from New York. In association with members of the Women’s Relief Corps and Daughters of Veterans, G.A.R. president William T. Simpson hoped “a large number will come and ‘Rally around the Flag’ once more.” Forty-five veterans did and “the entire day was given over to discussing plans for continuing the splendid patriotism work being done by the organization(s), and to hearing short talks on the war-time experiences of the veterans.” While the reunion was a success the principal speaker at the event, Reverend I.J. Beckwith of the Green Ridge Baptist Church, made an effort to note the “diminishing ranks of the G.A.R.” The organization dissolved in 1956 and found a successor in the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, a group still functioning today that even runs a Civil War museum located in the basement of Scranton City Hall. Today The Comm, in the spirit of the aforementioned groups, continues to help bring to the forefront the amazing history of the town and the era that forged our nation.

Visitors to the village can take the “Self-Guided Walking Tour of Waverly” and seeFell School and Fell Family House antebellum and Civil War era sites such as the Fell family home, the Fell Schoolhouse which served as the first meeting place of the local chapter of the African Methodist Episcopal church, and the Hickory Grove Cemetery where some of Waverly’s six African-American Civil War veterans are laid to rest among the rest of the village’s fighters and abolitionists. Waverly is a living memorial to these individuals, but in the current climate of history and memory there is even more room for the community to become a destination for the historically minded to discover stories long neglected in the national eye. Who knows? Maybe one day Waverly will be home to northeastern Pennsylvania’s premier Civil War museum. Maybe in time the recreated homes on Carbondale Road comprising the community established by those escaping bondage will serve as an interpretive center describing the Civil War era experience of African-Americans. In the spirit of the North Carolina monument at Gettysburg, visitors to Waverly can potentially visit a tangible testament to the six men who fought for their country, freedom, and rights in the face of a population that told them they were not worthy. As the Civil War continues to be fought at county courthouses, public parks, and through civil discourse, Northeastern Pennsylvania has a story to tell to add to the narrative and a history that is still yet to be fully uncovered.

 

Historic Landmarks of Waverly: Documenting the Past

In the 1800’s, Waverly (known as Abington Center until 1853) saw much growth and development in the form of infrastructure additions and the creation of many local businesses. In fact, due to a “building boom,” which took place in the 1840’s, Waverly rivaled Scranton as a small-scale industrial center.  By the later half of the 1800’s, Waverly became home to a number of stores, including three general stores, as well as a hotel. Additionally, there were two blacksmith shops, a post office, a drug store, a farm machinery shop, and a tinsmith shop. The aforementioned name of Abington Center was bestowed upon Waverly in the early years due to its categorization as the trading center of the region. In this blog post, we will take a look at some of Waverly’s historic buildings, all of which made a considerable impact on society during that time period.

General StoreThe Waverly Corner Store: The Waverly Corner Store was one of the oldest buildings in the town; it was the very first store of its kind in the area and was started by local residents Stephen Parker, John Stone, and Elder John Miller. This store was built in 1830 and stood on the northwest corner of the Philadelphia Great Bend Turnpike in the village.It operated as a general store for a number of years until it was converted into an office building for the architect engineering firm Von Storch, Evans, Scandale, and Burkavage many years later; it then became an antique shop and is now the Waverly General Store.

The Fell Schoolhouse: The Fell School was one of the earliest schools in the Abingtons;Schoolhouse classes were conducted in a single schoolhouse modeled in Greek revival style. The schoolhouse was built in 1830 and remains a prominent historical landmark in the Northeastern Pennsylvania region due to its ties to the Underground Railroad Movement. When runaways began settling in Waverly, this building was used for the early services of the African Methodist Episcopal Church; prior to the permanent church’s erection along Carbondale Road, the Fell Schoolhouse on Main Street served as a place where congregation members held church services and also attended Sunday School. A gentleman by the name of Wanton Sherman helped to facilitate the idea of conducting Sunday School services at the location and his son Gilbert served as the instructor. In 1855, the official A.M.E Church was built along Carbondale Road, however the Fell Schoolhouse remains an important landmark in the region; it was renovated in 2017 and currently stands as a private residence.

Madison Academy: One of the most important sentiments of the village has alwaysMadison Academy been education; the historic Madison Academy served as a testament to this notion. In 1844, a group of investors facilitated the creation of this co-ed institution which was a private school known for its rigorous curriculum. Families traveled throughout the state to visit and enroll their children in the school due to its outstanding reputation; many future judges, lawyers, and doctors attended the school during its years of operation. Tuition ranged from $2.00- $10.00 per quarter, with the neighborhood boarding house charge of $1.25 per week. The private school ceased operation in 1878 and was utilized as a public school; the building was damaged by a wind storm in 1896 and was later torn down. At that time, the site of what is now known as Waverly Elementary became the center school of the town, serving all grades. The Waverly Elementary School was later built and officially dedicated on September 22nd, 1996; the bell to Madison Academy stands behind the Elementary School as a testament to the early educational institution in the region.

Bliss’ Store: In 1848, Bliss’ Store was built in the village; it was run by two gentlemen Blissnamed John Stone and Thomas Patterson. In addition to fulfilling the town’s needs as a general and dry goods store, a second floor was also furnished as a multipurpose location where many organizational meetings were held. Some of the organizations which assembled in the upstairs meeting hall were: the Odd Fellows Lodge (1847), Waverly Lodge of Masons (1856), George Fell GAR Post 307 (1883), and the Patriotic Sons of America (1890). The Waverly Post Office also served the community at this location for thirty-six years beginning in 1849.

The Waverly House: Village residents Dr. Andrew Bedford and Lemuel Stone formed a Waverly Hoteltemperance company in the mid 1800’s; this company consisted of Bedford, Leonard Batchelor, John Fell, and John Stone. They later persuaded a local tavern owner by the name of Alvah Parker to sell his tavern for the creation of a temperance hotel. Bedford and Stone’s company later bought out Parker and this hotel was built on the southwest corner of Main Street and Clinton Street. When Abington Center became Waverly three years later, the building was named the Waverly House. It was operated with strict temperance guidelines and became a village landmark. Due to low profits it was later sold in 1856 and changed hands a number of times before it was eventually razed in 1919.

The aforementioned sites are simply a few of the historical landmarks in Waverly. In the early years of the village’s development, these locations served the community’s needs in the form of education and recreation. Presently, Waverly remains an educational and recreational hub with the addition of new businesses and of course, the Comm. The history of the village also remains as many of the significant sites are either still standing, or documented in educational materials.

Visit our website for more information on current efforts to highlight the history of our region such as the Abington Visitor’s Center and the Destination Freedom Walking Trail.

Collective American Memory: Post Civil War Commemoration at the Waverly Community House

The American Civil War remains one of the defining events in United States history; between 1861-1865, American soil was inhabited by conflicts, battles, and general unrest. This four year war between the Union and Confederate armies forever changed the country’s dynamic leaving lasting effects throughout the nation. This crucial period in American history is recognized and commemorated through publications, archive collections, and various other means of remembrance. One particular way that the Civil War stays in American memory is through the organization of veterans groups and associations designed to serve as a meeting ground in the post- war world dedicated to linking individuals together through their collective war experiences. In addition to providing a refuge for runaway slaves during the Underground Railroad Movement, Waverly also served as a significant meeting ground for the aforementioned early Veterans’ Association meetings following the war. These meetings were held at the Waverly Community House and were well received and highly attended; this is exemplary of the Comm’s dedication to community needs throughout history.

In an archival letter dated July 29th, 1927, Mr. W.T. Simpson, organization president writes:

Dear Comrade,

The Civil War Union Veterans’ Association of the counties of Broome, NY, Bradford, Lackawanna, Luzerne, Susquehanna, and Wyoming Pennsylvania will hold their reunion at the Waverly Community House in Waverly, Pennsylvania on Friday July 29th, 1927. It will be held at 9 am and continue all day. Two bus lines will leave Scranton for Waverly as follows: the Scranton and Binghamton area has a bus leaving from the station at 231 Wyoming Avenue at 8 and 10 am, returning bus leaves Waverly at 2:10, 4:10, and 6:05 pm. There is another bus leaving from the 600 block of Lackawanna Avenue near the D L& W Station at 9:30 am and 12:40 pm. This bus leaves Waverly at 3:34, 6:04, and 9:14 pm. This invitation is extended to members of the Womens’ Relief Corps, Daughters of the Union Veterans, GAR Circle and their auxiliaries, and Sons of the Union Veterans and their auxiliaries. Dinner will be served free to all present. Hoping a large number will come and “Rally around the Flag” once more.

A short time later, a follow up letter was sent to the Waverly Community House addressed to Paul Belin. This archival piece reads as follows:

Dear Mr. Belin,

At the Annual Meeting of the Seven County Reunion, held at the Waverly Community House on July 29th, 1927, a resolution was adopted to send you a tremendous vote of thanks for your kindness in carrying out your mother’s wishes and making it possible for us to have one of the most enjoyable reunions ever held. Everything certainly was arranged for the comfort of all present and we want you to feel that we highly appreciate it. 

Finally, an additional letter sent to Mr. Belin from the Daughters of Union Veterans indicates:

Mr. Belin,

CW2On behalf of Elizabeth DeLacy Tent N. 10 Daughters of the Union Veterans of the Civil War, I wish to express our sincere thanks for the courtesy and wonderful dinner given by you, in your mother’s memory, which was thoroughly enjoyed by the old veterans and members of our Tent at the recent Seven Counties Reunion in Waverly PA.

In the letters above, it is revealed that Paul Belin served as one of the principal organizers of the reunion dinners in memory of his mother Margaretta; her death that preceding February remained in the background of the occasion however, it respectfully did not overshadow the primary message of the event– to honor the Union veterans of the United States. These types of events became prominent throughout the country in the years following the Civil War which demonstrates the national imperative to collectively commemorate this period of time in American history. The Waverly Community House, still relatively new at the time, certainly made an impression on the authors of the above written letters by serving as a meeting ground for their much valued reunion. In the years to come, the Comm would develop and serve the community in various similar ways; with its centennial anniversary approaching, all of these ways will be highlighted in our blog and we look forward to continuing to provide our readers with these significant historical milestones.

Historical Legacies: the Civil War in Northeastern Pennsylvania

Good morning everyone, today’s blog post is brought to you by Comm Camp Director E.J. Murphy. It highlights the history of the Civil War in the United States, and how our region, and its residents contributed to both the war and Underground Railroad Movement. Enjoy!

On Monday, July 10, 2017, a Confederate battle flag was hoisted outside of the South Carolina statehouse. When asked to explain the motivation behind the unofficial flag raising, South Carolina Secessionist Party President James Bessenger deferred to a vague self-defense, and in turn, self-preservation. “They are trying to demonize and vilify our ancestors,” he claimed, “150 years after their deaths.” It is Bessenger’s opinion that the removal of the Confederate monuments and flags adorning state government buildings amounted to the erasure of a critical component of Southern history, heritage, and pride. The protest, being held in conjunction with the second anniversary of South Carolina’s decision  to remove Confederate banners from state government buildings, was met with equally strong sentiment dissenting from the SCSP perspective. “Go home, you’re not welcome here. You lost then and you’ll lose again,” shouted a loudspeaker-wielding counter-protestor as the “Stars and Bars” ascended over the crowd. “Go home Confederates!”

BattleOfCorinthThe confrontation between the two-dozen or so Confederate supporters and the much larger assembly of counter-protesters was a microcosm of the ideological divide that this country has struggled with since the end of the Civil War in 1865. Geography will naturally play a large part in formation of opinion and remembrance regarding the war. South Carolina was the cradle of secession. On December 20, 1860, following the election of the nation’s first Republican president, South Carolina became the first state to secede from the Union. On April 12, 1861 at 4:30 a.m. the Civil War began in the Palmetto State with the bombardment of Union-controlled Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor by Confederate batteries.

The legacy of the Civil War is one of dissension–of values, of identity, and even of history. As James Baldwin once wrote, “the great force of history comes from the fact that we carry it within us, are unconsciously controlled by it in many ways, and history is literally present in all that we do. It could scarcely be otherwise, since it is to history that we owe our frames of reference, our identities, and our aspirations. ” So how do we, as citizens of northeastern Pennsylvania, reflect on and relate to a historical phenomenon that began over 155 years ago? As historian David McCollough reminded us in Ken Burns’ highly acclaimed 1990 documentary miniseries on the Civil War, the war was fought in 10,000 places: the bucolic fields of Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania where the men of the Union Army of the Potomac pitted themselves against Robert E. Lee and the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia; the swamps of the Mississippi Valley where Ulysses S. Grant fought tirelessly to dislodge the Army of Mississippi from its “Gibraltar of the Confederacy” at Vicksburg; the far-removed New Mexico territory where the “Gettysburg of the West” raged at Glorieta Pass. Northeastern Pennsylvania was one of the few regions of the country not to be ravaged by combat in the Civil War.

Although detached from the exploding artillery and relentless musket fire, it does not take a concerted effort to see the impact that the war had on our little corner of the Keystone State. Take a stroll through the Willow Grove Cemetery right here in Waverly (along with countless others in Lackawanna and Luzerne counties) and you will see gravestones decorated with Grand Army of the Republic insignia. At Courthouse Square in downtown Scranton stands the most imposing memorial to the war in the city, the Soldiers and Sailors Monument, which pays homage to the men who went off to fight in places with unfamiliar names. A quick walk around the block to the corner of Adams Avenue and Spruce Street will introduce you to General Philip H. Sheridan, preserved in concrete and bronze to commemorate his successful campaigns during some of the final engagements of the war in the Shenandoah Valley and at Appomattox Court House. If you are fortunate enough to have some free time on the third Saturday of every month, you can visit the impressive Civil War museum that is tucked away in the basement of Scranton City Hall.

While Scranton and the surrounding communities, with their rich history in the coal, iron, and railroad industries, were major suppliers of raw material for the Union, it is important to understand that real men left their families, careers, and lives on the line to join a fight that was waged for reasons numerous. Like most of the states committed to the Union, the citizens of the area showed support for the government, but Scranton was not without its Confederate sympathizers and anti-war opinion. A draft office in Archbald was attacked, as was a common scene throughout the country. These frustrations regarding the war are reflected in the voting numbers of the presidential election of 1864 during which Abraham Lincoln became the first president in history to seek re-election in the midst of civil war against his former commanding general, George B. McClellan. McClellan, a Democrat disgraced by Lincoln after being removed from command of the Army of the Potomac for his inability to crush Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia during Lee’s failed Maryland Campaign of 1862, received 9,541 votes to Lincoln’s 6,646. Had McClellan won the election nationwide it is likely that he would have sought a negotiated truce with the states in rebellion, ended the war sooner, and put a large question mark on the future of slavery in North America.

The 1860 Census identified Luzerne County (Lackawanna County had not yet been formed) as having a population of 90,390. The county had furnished 5,500 troops including approximately 2,000 from Scranton and the neighboring region. Over 100 commissioned officers came from the area now comprising Lackawanna County, including Colonel Richard A. Oakford. As commander of the 132nd Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry Oakford was killed at the Battle of Antietam while attacking the Bloody Lane, a battle which thwarted Lee’s first invasion of Union territory and lead Lincoln to issue his now famous but contemporarily unpopular Emancipation Proclamation. Prior to the battle, Oakford found himself without a horse. In a letter to Joseph H. Scranton, an early investor in the iron and coal industries in the city that bears his family’s name and later the executive head of the Lackawanna Iron & Coal Company (now site of Scranton’s Historic Iron Furnaces on Cedar Avenue), Oakford pleaded his case, begging Scranton for a proper fighting horse. “It is an old adage that there is no use in having friends unless you can use them. Now I think this saying is true & take the liberty of calling on you for a little help just now,” he began. The Union government was not helping Oakford’s cause. “The Army having lost very heavily in horses as well as men has sent all the spare horse forward to the front & it is utterly impossible for us to get horses from the Government.” His desperation comes to surface later in the letter. “If you will help me out of the dilemma in which I find myself, I will promise as the Irishman in his prayer did. I am nothing like the other blaggards asking favors of you every day but Good Lord only just be after helping me this time & it will be a long time before I be troubling you with any prayers of mine.” This was an ominous foretelling, as Oakford would be dead only two weeks later.

Captains Patrick De Lacy of Carbondale and John C. Delaney of Dunmore were both awarded the Medal of Honor for their participation and bravery during the Battles of the Wilderness and Hatcher’s Run, respectively. De Lacy performed particularly heroic during a battle that some historians consider the worst, if not the biggest, battle of the war. “On the 6th day of May in the Wilderness I captured a rebel battle-flag on the breast-works and led the charge that re-captured the line of works from Longstreet’s corps, which they had just previously taken from Hancock’s men, and for which Congress presented me with a Medal of Honor,” De Lacy recalled in his memoirs. He would have to wait over three decades after the cessation of hostilities to receive this honor. This was not De Lacy’s only heroic endeavor during the battle. While the men still fighting at the Wilderness took to each other with rifle and bayonet, the wounded were in perilous danger. The Wilderness was a heavily wooded area and the leaves from the previous year, due in part to burning lint and linen from rifle and musket cartridges as well as cannon fire, started to burn. As their brothers in arms listened in horror to the screams of the men unable to escape the flames, De Lacy took action. “The situation was alarming; I suggested to the commanding officer, Col. Charles M. Conyngham, that we fight fire with fire, as I had seen done when a boy on the farm. It was a hazardous undertaking, because it was directly between the two armies, and in line with the fire of the enemy. The Colonel hesitated to give permission, thinking we would not live to accomplish it; he said we would never come back alive, but gave permission.” De Lacy, along with a few volunteers, approached the edge of the fire and when they arrived “the enemy could not help but see us, but we kept right on scraping up the dry leaves and brush, catching up burning brands and back-firing. We succeeded in preventing the fire from extending any nearer our wounded, who were being carried back while we were fighting the fire. We all three believed the enemy spared us, knowing we were engaged in such a humane undertaking.”

So where does Waverly fit into this narrative? While many residents of Waverly ventured to areas that would become this country’s most hallowed ground, a recent book by journalist Jim Remsen, “Embattled Freedom”, highlights Waverly’s fascinating history of abolition, African-American settlement, and participation in the Underground Railroad. Remsen shares the stories of prominent citizens of Waverly and their impact on the racial and cultural makeup of the town and surrounding areas (you can grab a copy of the “Self-Guided Walking Tour of Waverly” pamphlet at the Waverly Community House and experience for yourself the living history of the town). Many escaped slaves and freeborn men and women came to call Waverly home, settling in what became the largest African-American community for miles. Residents of this community, which existed along what is now Carbondale Road, also gave what may have not been their last but was certainly a full measure of devotion on the battlefield. The final chapter of Remsen’s book offers short profiles of some of the men who so consecrated the battlefield and helped change the hearts and minds of some of their white comrades in regard to the capacity of African-Americans in fighting and in citizenship. Francis Asbury Johnson (freeborn son of a slave), George Keys Sr., John Mason, William Bradley (all three born into slavery in Maryland), and John W. Washington (born into slavery in Virginia) all enlisted in the 22nd U.S. Colored Troops regiment and were engaged in the Siege of Petersburg. The Petersburg operations, just like those at the Wilderness and Hatcher’s Run, came toward the end of the war and served as General Grant’s final push toward the Confederate capital at Richmond, Virginia. Samuel Thomas escaped slavery in Virginia and became a cook in the immortal 54th Massachusetts regiment whose actions are portrayed in the 1989 film Glory starring Denzel Washington, Morgan Freeman, and Matthew Broderick as Robert Gould Shaw, commander of the 54th Massachusetts. As to what motivated these men to fight for a country that largely did not see them as equals before God and the law, that is a discussion for another occasion.

During a time when news headlines seem to be constantly shedding light on the ongoing debate over the war and the preservation of its memory and legacy, this history is becoming increasingly difficult to dismiss as irrelevant or unimportant. The causes of the war and the impact of its consequences reverberate throughout the nation today. On July 8, a Loyal White Knights of the Klu Klux Klan protest consisting of about 50 members of the North Carolina-based group and its supporters, objecting the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville, Virginia, was met by hundreds of counter protesters. Police lines were drawn, taunts were thrown back and forth, and eventually police had to intervene with tear gas and arrested 22 people. Virginia, one of the oldest and most prominent states in our history, sat at the heart of the physical and ideological conflict of the 1850’s and 60’s and that conflict still rips at the social fabric of today. Historians have more recently focused a large effort on the concentration of social history and how it plays out in modern society. “Historians have been using evidence about class, race, ethnicity, and gender to gain insight into Americans’ everyday lives–their work and leisure, their culture and ideology, their relations with one another and with the political and economic systems under which they have lived,” explained eminent Civil War historian James McPherson. This evidence has been collected and written about by the likes of McPherson, Eric Foner, Drew Gilpin Faust, and David W. Blight, but the understanding of that evidence seems to still bemuse the public at large. Clearly the debate is not over and the question now remains; where do we go from here?

Memorializing Village History: The Hickory Grove Cemetery

The Hickory Grove Cemetery currently stands as one of the oldest cemeteries in Northeastern Pennsylvania. The historic burial ground–formally established in 1807, not only contains the final resting places of village residents, but also holds a section dedicated to the former runaway slaves who established communities in Waverly during and after the Underground Railroad Movement. Additionally, the graveyard contains an area featuring eight of the thirteen soldiers who voluntarily served the country during the Civil War. Hickory Grove remains a significant part of the region’s local history and serves as both an active burial ground and preserved link to the past.

CEM46897700_118765265795The Hickory Grove Cemetery began with a gentleman by the name of Elder John Miller; Miller, a 32 year old preacher moved to Waverly (then known as Abington Center) in 1802 from Upstate New York and built a log cabin home along what is now known as Miller Road. From his home, Miller established the First Baptist Church of the Abingtons and held meetings in the homes of members until a formal site was erected in 1821. In 1807, the cemetery was officially established in the village by Miller on a portion of his 326 acre farm. In 1847, the tract was then enlarged and Elder Miller donated another acre and a half parcel towards its development. The location was then formally named Hickory Grove Cemetery due to the large grove of hickory trees surrounding the area. The first board of trustees for Hickory Grove were village residents: Thomas Smith, Dr. Andrew Bedford, Nicholas Reynolds, Reuben Sherman, Nathan Sherman, John Stone, Norman Phelps, Isaac Sherman, Leonard Batchelor, and James Stone. In 1875, the cemetery was expanded again when an additional half acre was purchased from village residents Charles and James Tinkham. In 1883, a lot was purchased for the burial of Civil War soldiers from Waverly; land was purchased again following World War I by the Joseph Bailey Post American Legion for the internment of its members. Subsequent land purchases were made throughout the 20th century as well as efforts to beautify the property. The Hickory Grove Cemetery is located along Miller Road and is currently featured on the Waverly Community House’s Destination Freedom Map. Many of the village members represented on the walking trail are also buried in the cemetery including: Dr. Bedford, Leonard Batchelor, and Rodman Sisson. The grave sites of the freeborn residents and former slaves who later went on to join battle in the Civil War are all located in Row 5. The Comm is currently working on compiling a separate piece which will feature specific burial locations of all individuals on the Destination Freedom Map.

The Hickory Grove Cemetery is a complex cultural landscape encompassing and representing many elements of both national and local history. Since 1807, the location has withstood the test of time and remains commemorative of both individuals and historical time periods within the United States.

Underground Railroad Field Trips at the Waverly Community House

This past Friday, the Waverly Community House welcomed two groups of students from both the Newton Ransom Elementary School and South Abington Elementary School. Arriving on the Comm’s back lawn, students were eager to learn about the locations and individuals featured on the map, and their significance in our region’s local history. During the trip, the children learned about Leonard Batchelor, an abolitionist so dedicated to aiding the runaways that he hid them on his property and provided transportation to their next stops. They also heard about Dr. Andrew unnamed (1)Bedford, Rodman Sisson, Reverend Kennedy, Samuel Whaling, and John Raymond- all local residents who once lived along North Abington Road and had varying levels of involvement in the Underground Railroad Movement. Next, the classes were escorted to Carbondale Road, where they learned about the runaways and were able to view the first African Methodist Episcopal Church (currently a private residence), along with some of the homes of former slaves. Also included in the tour was information about the local churches and their contribution to the movement as well as the cemeteries where former slaves and abolitionists are buried.

Both groups of students learned valuable information and were able to learn how our local region played a pivotal role in a movement so crucial to the history of the United States. Children were also able to utilize the walking trail map in order to see the real life locations still currently standing and to visualize what transpired there in the 1800’s. The Waverly Community House will continue to develop this initiative and is currently accepting reservations for fall trips. To make a reservation, or to learn more about the map and future volunteer opportunities, please contact Gia Reviello at (570) 586-8191 ex.7, or Comm Executive Director Maria Wilson at (570) 586-8191 ex. 1.

Finding Freedom along Carbondale Road: The Underground Railroad Settlement in Waverly

In the 1840’s, it is estimated that many fugitive slaves fleeing from persecution in the Southern states, began to make their way northward. Eventually, many started to
arrive in Waverly. They were welcomed primarily by many abolitionists who readily accepted them and aided them on their journey towards freedom. In this regard, the runaways were provided with shelter, food, and transportation to their next stop. Due to the comfort and solace they found in the area, many of them settled there, obtaining jobs and building properties along a street in the village named Carbondale Road. By the time the Civil War began, many additional runaways arrived with no further fear of pursuit and the total number of African-American residents in Waverly had once exceeded seventy individuals. Over time, these settlers created their own place in the region’s history and are perpetually remembered and commemorated by the community as many of the historic locations built and utilized by them remain in place today.

JSDuring the time of the Underground Railroad movement, Waverly’s Carbondale Road contained an undeveloped stretch of land, with many empty lots owned by a couple named John and Esther Stone. The Stones lived along the road amongst these unoccupied pieces of land until the runaways began to arrive sometime in the 1840’s. Initially, John Stone was a Democrat who opposed abolition; however, it appears that he eventually became sympathetic to the Underground Railroad Movement sometime after marrying Esther, the daughter of an abolitionist named Rodman Sisson. At some point, the Stones began to divide their  land into parcels which were then leased to the runaways on reasonable terms and installment plans. Stipulations included in the terms asked that the runaways maintain upkeep of the properties. Gradually, a settlement was built as runaways built and settled into their properties. They also obtained jobs as handymen, housekeepers, and nannies in order to support themselves and integrate into the community. As word traveled along the Underground Railroad system, more fugitives arrived in Waverly with the intention of joining the emerging African-American community. Names of the settlers are listed in numerous documents including the research of local resident William Lewis and are listed as such (in no particular order) : William Johnson, Richard Lee, John Lee, John Powell, George Keys, John Riley, Edward Smith, John Sampson, Samuel McDonald, Tom Williams, Benjamin Mason, John Washington, Thomas Burgette, John Mason, William Bradley, Paige Wells, William Fogg, William Talbot, Ignatius Thomas, William Allen, and William Wilson. Over the years, many more settled down in Waverly and a full list of those names can be found in the Waverly Community House’s Visitor’s Center.

In 1854, another significant development took place in Waverly. This was the year that the African Methodist Episcopal Church was erected along Carbondale Road. The church initially organized in 1844 with approximately twenty members; during this developmental time, services were held in the Fell Schoolhouse on North Abington Road. Land for the new building was deeded to church trustees by John Stone and provided a permanent place of worship, community, and refuge for the congregation members, many of them runaways. A Sunday school was also organized in 1856 with community member Joanna Raymond serving as the superintendent. The Waverly A.M.E. Church also had a literary society as well as a library; many runaways also learned to read and write sue to its creation. In addition to holding services at the church, camp revivals were also held in the woodsy space behind the building known as Fell’s Woods. These revivals were held regularly every summer until the 1900’s and drew crowds from outside the area who came to see the singing, dancing, and preaching activity. The church thrived for many years and is presently occupied as a private residence on Carbondale Road. During the time of its operation, it stood as a symbol of hope and unity for those fleeing from a lifetime of bondage and slavery.

As time passed, residents along Waverly’s historic Carbondale Road passed away and the fugitive population declined; by the year 1920, the A.M.E. Church had gone down to six members and was later sold in 1926. The rich memory of the Underground Railroad in Waverly is not forgotten however, and many of the historic properties presently exist in the form of updated private residences reflecting notions of the past. Furthermore, the Waverly Community House’s Underground Railroad Interpretive Walking Trail Map will shortly be available to those wishing to travel back in time to see the properties of the runaways, and the abolitionists who risked their lives to help them on their journey towards freedom.

 

Building a Community: Abington Township’s Early Years

In 1806, Abington Township was formed by the court of Luzerne County; it was previously been part of Tunkhannock Township which encompassed areas such as: Clarks Green, Clarks Summit, Scott, Glenburn, La Plume, Waverly, Benton, Greenfield, and parts of Carbondale. Throughout areas of dense forest and wilderness,  there were a few scattered settlements; for the most part however, this area remained largely uninhabited until around 1820. Waverly, in particular was initially known as Abington Center and did not have many residents during its early years until the construction of the Philadelphia Great Bend Turnpike (now Route 407). After the creation of this road, more and more settlers arrived in the area and eventually it became a small village with many stores, roads, and residents; most of the townspeople came from the New England states of Connecticut, New York, and Rhode Island. Eventually, Waverly was established as a borough in Pennsylvania in 1853; the name derived from the Waverley Novels, written by Sir Walter Scott.capture

Waverly’s Earliest Residents

John Flanagan: Flanagan was a Scotch-Irish man from Plymouth, PA who built the very first house on the Philadelphia Great Bend Turnpike. He initially came to the area to work with coal.

Dr. William Nicholls: Nicholls built Waverly’s second home on the Philadelphia Great Bend Turnpike; he came to Waverly from Oxford, New York to practice medicine. He died two years later at the age of 28.

George Parker: George Parker built Waverly’s third property along the Philadelphia Great Bend Turnpike in 1828. His property later became the Wayside Inn, an Inn dedicated to providing guests with lodging, food, and a location to change horses. Parker arrived in the area from Rhode Island and fought in the War of 1812. The Wayside Inn was modeled heavily from New England architecture.

Dr. Andrew Bedford: After Dr. Nicholls passed away, Dr. Andrew Bedford arrived in Waverly one year later. Bedford graduated from Yale University and previously resided in Dundaff, PA. Dr. Bedford became the primary physician in the Abingtons. His home, built in 1828 still stands on North Abington Road today and is one of the region’s oldest residences.

As Waverly grew, many businesses were created by those who settled in the area; general stores, taverns, and blacksmith shops soon materialized. With the creation of the Waverly Community House in 1919,the area saw its first recreational facility emerge; those who live in the area can still see the beloved Comm grow and develop new programs every year.

This past week, the WCH Archives was featured as the NEPA Blog of the Week; NEPA Blogs is a website that specializes in providing links to blogs and and other sites about Northeastern Pennsylvania.