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.
During 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

JS

John Stone

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.