History of Lackawanna State Park
Lackawanna State Park is named for the county through which the Lackawanna River flows. The word Lackawanna, translated from the American Indian, means “the meeting of two streams.” Indeed, the 44.9 square miles of Lackawanna State Park’s watershed land contains the meeting of many tributaries that form the four main streams that flow to the 199-acre Lackawanna Lake.
Today, the lake is the main focal point of the park; but as the following history reveals, this was not always the case.
The park is located in an area rich in local and state history. Within the 1,411 acres of the park one can learn many stories. Stories that include:
Ancient American Indian trails
County fair and race course
Industrial coal operator
Reverend who forever changed the future of deaf children in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania
Ancient American Indian Trails
Prior to modern transportation, many horse hooves and moccasins traversed the main road in the area, old Route 407. This route served as an ancient American Indian trail that connected the Lackawanna Valley to New York State. This route proved to be a vital link in the future development of this rural county.
During 1805, the first early settler in Benton Township, Ezra Basset, came here from Plainfield, Connecticut. Ezra built his log cabin in a spot called “Prickly Ash Flats,” now covered by the upper end of Lackawanna Lake. North Abington Township settlement came during 1812, with the arrival of Asa Knight.
Following these early settlers were:
The settlements along the old Route 407 in North Abington Township became known as Carpentertown named for this latter family. These ambitious New England Yankees cleared the land and developed farms to make a better life for themselves and their families.
Increased prosperity came to the area with the building of the Philadelphia and Great Bend Turnpike. Built through Northeastern Pennsylvania from 1821-1826, it followed that same ancient American Indian trail, old Route 407, giving rise to many businesses along the way.
Such businesses included, a stagecoach tavern built in 1825 by Ezra Wall. Ezra also opened the first store and post office in the tavern in 1829. In his honor, it was called Wallsville and stood at the end of the road of the present day boat mooring area, as this was the original Route 407.
Following suit, across the road, Mark Whaling opened an early blacksmith shop and Abel Harrington started a wheelwright shop nearby where he made wagons and wheels.
Benjamin Spencer built a gristmill during 1820 near the present park dam. He ran the mill for 10 years and was succeeded by Samuel States who operated it for the next 50 years. It was from him, the creek was locally known as “State’s Creek” for many years.
With the growing community came:
Two, one-room schoolhouses
Two water-powered sawmills
The Wallsville Methodist Episcopal Church
The church was started in the Aylesworth Schoolhouse in 1832. By 1860, the congregation grew and built a church on land donated by Leonard Hopfer.
Located by the present day park office on Route 524, the church was closed and sold in 1928 due to declining numbers and later torn down. All that remains is the Hopfer’s family cemetery and what was once the parsonage. It is in this small cemetery that Reverend Jacob M. Koehler is buried.
Reverend Jacob M. Koehler
Reverend Koehler was husband to Ida Hopfer; daughter of Josiah Hopfer who was son to Leonard Hopfer. Reverend Koehler, who was deaf, was born in 1860 in York, Pennsylvania, and led a long and distinguished career.
During 1882, he established the first classes for deaf children in Northeastern Pennsylvania, which is today known as the Scranton State School for the Deaf.
His experience teaching deaf children proved to him that although not hearing, children who are deaf could indeed learn. Being a man of vision and persistence, he approached the Pennsylvania Society for the Advancement of the Deaf (PSAD) and presented a resolution at their 1884 convention calling for the support of compulsory education of deaf children in Pennsylvania.
The PSAD passed the Koehler resolution, and then went to the Pennsylvania legislature resulting in a bill being passed mandating education for deaf children in Pennsylvania.
County Fair and Race Course
While religion and education were a priority for this bustling community, recreation also found a niche. During 1898, several area farmers organized the Maitland Fair and Driving Park Association. Annual fairs and horseraces attracted large crowds for a dozen years. The site of the former racecourse is located in the park camping area on the Woodland Ponds Trail.
Industrial Coal Operator
The siting for the location of Lackawanna State Park indirectly resulted from an early controversy between the officials of the Scranton Gas and Water Company and the D.L. & W. Railroad over water rates needed for the operation of their steam locomotives in 1912. It seems the railroad felt the water company was charging too much for their water rights, so the railroad decided to build their own reservoir and water supply.
Agents were dispersed by the railroad to purchase farms located along State’s Creek (as it was then known) in North Abington and Benton Townships. During 1913, 13 farms were purchased from local residents. With this action, the water company had a change of mind that resulted in them lowering their rates. The reservoir was never built and the railroad rented out the land to tenant farmers for many years.
During 1946, Robert Moffat -- a prominent Scranton coal operator -- purchased the entire parcel, which he rented to families, employed by the coal company until 1968. At that point, the state took advantage of the early surveying work done by the D.L. & W., and purchased Mr. Moffat’s 600 acres with two voter approved state bond issues -- projects 70 and 500 funds.
These project 70 and 500 parks were developed as part of Secretary of Department of Forest and Waters (now the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources) Dr. Maurice Goddard’s initiative to have a state park located within 25 miles of each resident in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
And as they say, the rest is history! Construction began during 1968 with the clearing of 125 wooded acres and the construction of a high dam on the South Branch of the Tunkhannock Creek to form Lackawanna Lake. The park was dedicated on June 10, 1972, and the campground was opened in 1975.