A rare map of Honesdale reveals a wealth of information about a time nearly erased from the annals of disasters and progress that marked Wayne County’s seat of government.
The map was published in 1851 and displayed in the Wayne County Historical Society Museum, along with a detailed street plan featuring sketches of significant buildings, most of which are long gone and forgotten by almost everyone. .
Each was a landmark in its time, among which was the Mansion House, a grand hotel in the heart of Honesdale’s bustling Main Street.
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Three stories tall plus basement, the 40-by-90-foot wood-framed hotel had two upper porches lining the facade on the third and four stories, with eight equally spaced pillars. The ground floor at the front contained windows and a door, but the second floor had what appears to be the main entrance; there were three entrance doors accessed by stairs from ground level. The long roof had three chimneys, one at each end and one in the middle. The hotel was painted white.
The Mansion House stood on the site now occupied by Sawmill Cycles, 833 Main Street, directly across from the US Post Office. The hotel was in good view of the canal basin across Main Street.
In the mid-19th century, Honesdale was a bustling, progressive town. The town had come together in the mid-1820s as the terminus of the Delaware & Hudson (D&H) Canal Company. Millions of tons of coal arrived each year on the gravity railway to be loaded onto waiting boats in the basin behind Main, where the railway tracks are today. Huge piles of coal were stored on the west side of the canal, where Commercial Street is today.
As a center of business and government, Honesdale’s many hotels were in high demand. Anyone coming for more than a few hours by cart or buggy and visitors arriving by stagecoach would need a place to stay.
The sketch of the Mansion House shows two stagecoaches in front. William R. M’Laury ran a stagecoach office next to the Mansion House to the south. Regular coach trips were made to Carbondale, Montrose and Binghamton, Bethany, Milford and Middletown, and other stops.
Charles Forbes was Honesdale’s first innkeeper. In 1827 he founded the Wayne County House at the current location of the Wayne Hotel at the intersection of Park and North Main streets.
The Mansion House was the second hotel erected by historian Alfred Mathews in his 1886 history. Massachusetts native Thomas L. Reese may have started what he called the Mansion House as early as 1830.
Eliakim Major Field
In November 1892, Mark Van Dusen recalled for the Wayne County Herald that his father, who was from Massachusetts, came to Honesdale in 1830 on hearing that Reese’s hotel was for sale by the sheriff and could do with a bargain.
Van Dusen, who came to Honesdale aged nine in 1830, bought the hotel, but not caring to manage it, rented it from Major Eliakim Field, of New York. After a year or two, Field bought the hotel. Field, Van Dusen recalls, was a retired British officer.
Matthews wrote that Field, born around 1794, “was a very popular and widely known Boniface”. Local advertisements from 1844 refer to the business as “Field & Cox’s Mansion House”.
Van Dusen said Field was “round and ruddy, welcoming his guests with a smile as they alighted from the charming old stagecoaches of the era…”
One of Field’s permanent residents, Van Dusen recalled, was Major Rae, also a retired British officer. Rae usually wore a white waistcoat and dark blue semi-military coat and spent much of his time, when “not on costume parade”, trolling the Lackawaxen River for pike.
“The Old Tavern (Mansion House) was the scene of many good contests among the choice spirits of those days, most of whom are now, alas, gone and almost forgotten, like the Mansion House itself,” reported the Herald in 1892. .
Field began operating a tavern in Narrowsburg (Big Eddy) three years after selling the mansion. He died suddenly at Big Eddy on August 21, 1849. Major Field, who was 55, was buried in Glen Dyberry Cemetery, Honesdale.
His younger brother Almeron Field, who was hugely popular, helped him at the Mansion House. Almeron married a Catholic in Honesdale. He then worked as a hotelier in the Southside of New York. In April 1885 in Waverly, NY, he was also received into the Catholic faith. He died at the end of August 1885, at the age of 76.
The Major had several children. His son, Captain Samuel H. Field, resided in Honesdale for a time, where he advocated for the Franklin Lyceum Association. He supported the dramatic entertainments organized by the organization. Captain Field, who was a sailor and owned a yacht on Long Island, died in August 1889.
David Abel purchased the Major Field property in July 1846. In 1851 it was owned by Thomas Sherwood.
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Hosts of a big party
The shareholders of the Honesdale and Delaware Plank Road Company held an organizational meeting at the Mansion House on July 31, 1850, Matthews wrote. This plank road generally followed what we call Route 652, the Beach Lake Highway, to connect to the railroad depot in Narrowsburg, NY. The steam railways had not yet reached Honesdale.
The Eries opened their line in Upper Delaware in 1848.
An official opening of the road took place on Friday, September 19, 1851. The trustees and other citizens of Honesdale traveled to Narrowsburg to meet with delegations from there and from New York. They returned together to Honesdale accompanied by a group, taking an hour and 40 minutes including stops. A “joyful reunion” was held in front of the Mansion House where the New York delegation was welcomed.
River boat builders, carrying the tools of their trade, marched towards the feast to the sound of martial music. A cannon fired several times for most of the day. “Three cheers” sounded for the new plank road, answered with “three cheers” for the boat builders.
Thomas Sherwood, owner of the Mansion House, hosted around 150 people for a sumptuous feast at 3 p.m. Speeches and toasts followed, celebrating the promise that the plank road and its connection to the steam railway would bring to the region.
A large rally of Honesdale Democrats gathered at the Mansion House in September 1851 to help elect William Bigler as Governor of Pennsylvania. Bigler won the campaign and served from 1852 to 1855. His local followers formed what they called a “Bigler Club”. They then held an inauguration ball for Governor Bigler the following January, asking that he be non-partisan.
Dr. WW Sanger, physician and surgeon, moved to Main Street a few years earlier and resided at the Mansion House. Sanger sold “Dr. Townsend’s Sarsaparilla”, billed in local advertisements as “the wonder and blessing of age, the most extraordinary medicine in the world”. This concoction is said to have been a cure for drinking (tuberculosis), rheumatism, coughing up blood, fever and fever.
Other doctors, a dentist and an oculist, have also settled there to receive patients.
Gas lamps, parties and smallpox at the Mansion House
The marvel of gas lamps was advertised in the Herald in 1847. Jennings’ patented safety gas lamps were used at the Mansion House and a few other places listed.
Proprietor Sherwood announced plans for the Mansion House Ball for March 6, 1851, promising “one of the largest and most brilliant parties ever known to this section.” He used two rooms, large enough to accommodate 16 to 20 acts on the floor at the same time. Full tickets including dinner are $3; dinner alone, $1; spectators, 50 cents.
Another ball was held at the Mansion House in December to raise money for the poor.
The committee for the 1851 Independence Day celebration met at the mansion in June. Lawyer J. Woodward hung his shingle for his law office at the Manor, the same year.
A Prussian artist, MCW Illies, opened a school in town in February 1852 for pen painting and the French, German, Latin and Greek languages. He stayed at the Mansion House, where he exhibited his art in his room for the public at set times.
In the spring of 1852, Sherwood enlarged the portico of the hotel, earning praise in the Herald for its “enterprising and accommodating spirit… This not only adds greatly to the comfort of its guests, but contributes largely to the favorable appearance of the town.” “
A smallpox scare was reported in Honesdale in March 1853. Two deaths were reported, one occurring at the Mansion House. Sherwood has closed the hotel for a deep cleaning. The Herald played down the general alarm. The hotel was going to reopen in a few days.
A catch of 21 one-pound trout was served at the Mansion House in May 1853, the Herald reported. “They indeed made a dish, as delicious to watch as they were delicious to share if, as evidenced by the many expressions of satisfaction from those in attendance,” the Herald writer wrote.
Honesdale’s two military companies, the Washington Guards, made up of Germans, and the Honesdale Infantry Guards, planned a parade for July 4, 1853. The Honesdale Infantry proposed a grand ball at the Mansion House that evening to benefit the company .
On January 1, 1855, Sherwood hosted the “Grand Ball of the Age” offering 12,000 tickets at $2 each entitling him to many expensive gifts, including the Mansion House itself, worth $12,178.40 $. Pianos, watches and art were among other prizes. Tickets went on sale the previous April.
What happened to the ball has not been determined, but the hotel was run by someone named Wood in 1856. Supporting the campaign for President James Buchanan, Democrats gathered at the Mansion House in August 1856 to form a “Buchanan Club”. William F. Wood, who may have been the owner of the hotel at the time, chaired the meeting.
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Around 1 a.m. on August 3, 1855, a fire broke out at the Mansion House. A bucket brigade was able to put it out.Several disastrous hells broke out in Honesdale in the mid-19th century. Arson was often the suspected cause.
At around 4 a.m. on August 12, 1856, a fire burned down Russell’s Hall which quickly spread to Mansion House, Hawker’s Saloon and GW Deverell’s binding, destroying them all, the Herald reported.
Much of the furniture was saved from the hotel. About $4,000 of the loss was covered by insurance. A January 1857 Herald article stated that the Mansion House was in ruins. In April, the property of the hotel, owned by Almeron Field and Thomas Sherwood, was put up for sale by the sheriff. There may have been another fire at the site; in 1858 the borough paid the men $3.00 “to watch the burning of the Mansion House.”
In March 1859, Charles Petersen, a famous watchmaker and jeweler, erected a three-story building on the site of the hotel for his store.
At some point, Sherwood moved to Independence, Iowa, where he died at the age of 80 on April 14, 1899.….Main sources:Wayne County Historical SocietyHistory of Wayne, Pike, and Monroe Counties, Pennsylvania (1886) by Alfred MathewsHonesdale: The Early Years (1981) by Vernon LeslieNewspapers.comFultonhistory.com