Better in the Poconos
The Story of Pennsylvania’s Vacationland
Better in the Poconos
The Story of Pennsylvania’s Vacationland
“The book does a fine job of weaving history and the sense of exhilaration of the lodging industry. It’s enough to inspire a trip to the land of love.”
- Table of Contents
- Sample Chapters
The flourishing tourist and resort industry in the Poconos can be attributed, in part, to the area’s splendid mountains, streams, and forests. But the timeless appeal of nature was matched, and even surpassed, by the resorts’ ability to redefine themselves. In the mid-nineteenth century, William Cullen Bryant depicted the Pocono region as a hunter’s delight, describing abundant game and sublime landscapes. The Victorian era, however, brought genteel carriage rides and croquet; later, specialized ethnic resorts catered to the minority populations of Philadelphia and New York; and in the 1940s and 1950s, the Poconos earned its reputation as a honeymoon paradise. This evolution continues today: the land of romance has given way to the ski resorts and water slides enjoyed by today’s vacationing families.
Poconos resort owners and innkeepers have long recognized the cutthroat competition inherent in the vacation business. Early on, they realized that they were vying not only with each other but also with other resorts—first in the Catskills and on the New Jersey shore, and then in Florida, in the Caribbean, and even in Europe. Better in the Poconos illustrates the strategies by which resorts in northeastern Pennsylvania responded to these market forces. They were compelled to provide superior service and amenities as well as novel amusements and activities for their guests. In the latter half of the twentieth century, for example, "super-resorts" started to supplant the old hotels: the new resorts could offer year-round activities, thanks to the invention of artificial snow. Similarly, honeymoon hotels declined as couples resorts—retreats that boasted such innovations as the heart-shaped bathtub and the Jacuzzi in the shape of a tall champagne glass—emerged on the Poconos scene.
Better in the Poconos recreates that scene and the people who brought it to life—not only the innkeepers, souvenir sellers, laborers, and service workers, but also the community leaders and visionaries who promoted the vacation economy and sought to guide it. The proper Victorians, the devoted sportsmen, the young newlyweds, the families and singles, the staid ladies of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (and the sinners whose vices they wished to temper), the members of the Ku Klux Klan, the rich Quakers, the Jewish socialists, and the immigrants—all these, and more, make up the humanly rich mosaic of the Poconos.
“The book does a fine job of weaving history and the sense of exhilaration of the lodging industry. It’s enough to inspire a trip to the land of love.”
“From gorgeous waterfalls to man-made snow, from honeymoon hideaways to ski lifts, many different things contribute to making the Poconos a special place. This book puts all those elements in perspective.”
“Freed of preconceived notions, Squeri, a professor of history at East Stroudsburg University, did a first-class job of researching and writing the history of this storied vacation mecca. . . . Whether or not you ever visited this vacation paradise, Better in the Poconos is worth a look.”
Lawrence Squeri is Professor of History at East Stroudsburg University. He is the author of numerous articles and co-author of the book Pride and Promise: A Centennial History of East Stroudsburg University (1993).
List of Illustrations
1. A Niche Resort: The Antebellum Years
2. Here Come the Vacationers: The Poconos After the Civil War
3. Never Sit Still: Surviving the 1890s
4. The Glory Days, 1900 to 1914
5. City Meets Country
6. An Archipelago of Fun, 1914 to 1929
7. Guess Who’s Coming to the Poconos? The Rise of Ethnic Resorts
8. Laurel Blossom Time: Surviving the Great Depression
9. The Poconos at Midcentury: The Last of the Good Old Days
10. Prelude to Reinvention
11. Welcoming a New Millennium
P R E FA C E
This book could begin with a memoir of my very first visits to the Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania. I could lyrically describe pleasant memories of idyllic vacations with my parents. This might be charming indeed—but my family never went to the Poconos. People in my New York City neighborhood, Astoria, went to the Catskill Mountains in upstate New York; my parents were no different. During the summer, they would take us to the Catskills, where we’d spend a week in a small boardinghouse that catered to New Yorkers from northern Italy. I first learned of the Poconos when I went to Philadelphia to attend the University of Pennsylvania. Hearing about the Poconos on KYW radio, I became interested in this alternative to the Catskills, located in northeastern Pennsylvania. Even then, though, I did not visit the area. I was busy with academicpursuits, and I did not have the money for a vacation. Still, my curiosity had been piqued. It was reinforced every time I listened to the Philadelphia news. More than once I wondered about the Poconos, these fabulous mountains of honeymoon havens, ski lodges, children’s camps, summer homes, and resorts.
When I finally saw the Poconos, I have to admit that I was somewhat surprised by their popularity. I have seen higher mountains. I could understand why Philadelphians found them exciting: they are the closest mountains to the city of brotherly love. Why New Yorkers went there when they had the Catskills was still a mystery. But gradually, the truth dawned on me. The Poconos are an acquired taste. They have to be sampled, experienced over again, like a good wine. The winding roads, the gentle hills, the idyllic waterfalls, the placid Delaware River that separates the Poconos from New Jersey—all have a charm that grows on a person.
The story of Pocono vacationing really begins in the nineteenth century. The factories that created the big cities also created a middle class with disposable income and a taste for annual trips. All over America, mountains, seashores, and lakes that were near urban centers and railroads became likely spots for resorts.
The Poconos had a great location. Stroudsburg, which is the largest town in the region, is located roughly one hundred miles west of New York City and one hundred miles north of Philadelphia. The New Jersey suburbs of New York City and the northern suburbs of Philadelphia are closer. Even nearer are the small cities of Wilkes-Barre, Scranton, Trenton, Easton, Bethlehem, and Allentown. (Only thirty miles separate Easton from Stroudsburg.)
Despite their location, though, the Poconos were not necessarily destined to give rise to resorts. If the region had been blessed with good soil, the local residents might have become happy farmers in the years after the Civil War. Instead, the poverty of the mountain soil forced them to supplement their incomes by housing summer boarders. Successful boardinghouse keepers gave up farming altogether,while ambitious city people moved to the Poconos and opened their own resorts. Eventually, the large number of boardinghouses and hotels redefined the Pocono economy—and farming and lumbering evolved into a service economy of leisure. All this happened long before deindustrialization made service economies fashionable.
At the beginning of the twentieth century, resort keepers banded together to create a trade association to promote the Poconos. The resort keepers believed that they needed such promotion. Although the area had its natural attractions, it also had serious competition from Niagara Falls and the New Jersey shore. Visitors from New York could not be taken for granted, because they could easily travel to the Catskills or the Berkshire Mountains of Massachusetts. The trade association wanted to stimulate an already existing flow of tourists, and Pocono innkeepers were not shy in letting the public know of the area’s many assets, such as the Delaware Water Gap and the scenic waterfalls. In the long run, though, the natural beauties of the Poconos were less important to the success of the vacation industry than that industry’s ability to renew itself. The Poconos originally appealed to sportsmen (fishermen and hunters) and to tourists who, in the years before the Civil War, preferred the scenic to the fashionable. After the Civil War, the Poconos developed a mass market. Along with their picturesque attractions, they offered the refinements of the Victorian vacation, including carriage rides, lectures, and card parties.
In the twentieth century, the public became more demanding. Resort keepers responded with golf courses and swimming pools, and by the 1920s, they were providing social directors to keep guests busy. In the 1940s, clever entrepreneurs realized that newlyweds had money for honeymoons. They transformed the Poconos into the "land of love" by opening honeymoon hotels, which evolved into couples resorts—the institutions whose garish heart-shaped bathtubs have become Pocono icons. In the 1950s, alert resort keepers saw that young singles had money and the freedom to enjoy it. This was the golden age of the singles resorts, where twentysomethings could meet and connect. In today’s market, people look for nightclub entertainment and family fun, and again, the large resorts oblige. The greatest act of reinvention after World War II, however, was the introduction of skiing. Although snowfall in the region tends to be uncertain, the Pocono ski runs can offer artificial snow. Neither Colorado nor Vermont feel threatened, but Pocono skiing does fill a niche for nearby skiers on tight budgets. It is no accident that the Pocono Mountains Vacation Bureau called the area "the near country."
Aside from their capacity for reinvention, the Poconos stand out for their close relationship with Philadelphia. Although the Poconos drew tourists from New York City and Philadelphia—perhaps even more from New York, which is larger and had a direct rail connection to the Poconos—the region has been a peculiarly Pennsylvanian resort. It is almost an extension of Philadelphia. To begin, there is the proprietary attitude Philadelphians have toward "their" Poconos. For Philadelphians, the Poconos are the only accessible mountains within a reasonable travel time. It is telling that the New York City media never mention the Pocono weather, leaving the curious to settle for the forecast in "western New Jersey." By contrast, Philadelphia radio and television always mention Pocono weather, as if the Poconos were as close as the backyard.
The Poconos have also shown their Philadelphia connection by sharing the same ethnic culture. Philadelphia was unique among the old East Coast cities in that its "ethnic" citizens accepted Protestant dominance. As late as the 1940s, Philadelphia elected Protestant Republican mayors. Likewise, ethnic diversity was never a dominant feature of the Poconos. Although the Poconos had Jewish resorts and Italian resorts, the great majority of resort owners had northern European names, giving Pocono vacationing a WASP image. The Poconos, then, were quite unlike the Catskills, which were defined in the twentieth century by a heavy Jewish presence from New York City.
Another trait of Philadelphia is its relaxed, understated tone. Philadelphia was founded by Quakers, modest people who frowned upon ostentation and braggadocio. Long after the Quakers lost political control of Philadelphia, their ethos continued to influence the city’s culture. Philadelphia has not cared to compete with other cities, never becoming a metropolis boasting skyscrapers and spectacles. Its famous Mummers Parade aside, Philadelphia is not a city of popular display. Its New Year’s Eve celebration cannot compare to New York’s. Philadelphia has no Rockefeller Center or Times Square. The Philadelphia tourist bureau tacitly admits that visitors may not be fully satisfied: aside from recommending the city’s colonial buildings and museums, the tourist bureau urges side trips outside of Philadelphia to Atlantic City, Valley Forge, and Longwood Gardens in the distant suburbs. The Poconos, too, have been quiet and unobtrusive. The region has never been known for monumental hotels, neon, glitter, or world-class hanky-panky. When the very famous visited the Poconos, they did not call attention to themselves. Even the couples resorts have plain exteriors. An uninformed traveler would never guess that the walls hide "love nests" that, according to one’s point of view, are either tacky or colorful.
The Poconos have survived, though, in the very competitive vacation business. The region attracted vacationers prior to the Civil War, thrived in the late Victorian era, remained a major resort center during the twentieth century, and enjoyed great business at the end of the 1990s. The future looks bright in the new millennium. This book is the history of this successful vacation region, of its renewal and reinvention, and of its status as a particularly Pennsylvanian resort. The book pays attention to children’s camps, bungalow colonies, hunting clubs, and day-tripper attractions, but it concentrates on the resorts. Without them, the Poconos would lack vacation glamour.
Finally, the task remains of defining and locating the Pocono region. The eastern boundary of the region is the upper Delaware River, which separates the states of New York and New Jersey from Pennsylvania. The much smaller Lehigh River is sometimes considered a southwestern boundary. The Blue (Kittatinny) Mountains separate the Pocono region from the Lehigh Valley to the south. The opening through these mountains is the famous Delaware Water Gap, through which flows the Delaware River. Even today, because of Interstate 80, Delaware Water Gap remains a gateway into the Pocono region from New Jersey.
The Pocono region contains two distinct mountain chains: the Blue (Kittatinny) Mountains and the Pocono Mountains proper. The Pocono Mountains are located inland from the Delaware River. They are, in fact, a hilly plateau, an eroded remnant of mountains formed in the Cambrian Period, before the dinosaurs. This plateau has definite boundaries. It covers the north and west of Monroe County and adjacent chunks of Pike, Wayne, Carbon, Luzerne, and Lackawanna Counties. In the nineteenth century and in the first decades of the twentieth century, residents used precise language when referring to local geography. The term "Pocono" referred only to the plateau. The thirty-five miles along the Delaware River from Milford to Delaware Water Gap was called the Upper Delaware Valley or the Minisink, its Indian name. The mountains around Stroudsburg and Delaware Water Gap were called by their correct names of the Blue or Kittatinny Mountains. But in ads that appeared in the New York City press, the entire region was occasionally called "Pennsylvania
These assorted names can pose problems. Outsiders might confuse a name that contains "Delaware" with the state of Delaware. Milford, too, is common. Stroudsburg might be confused with Strasburg, a village in Lancaster County’s Amish Country. And much of Pennsylvania is mountainous, as travelers know. As a result, around World War I or so, the area adjacent to the plateau—even the Blue Mountains—began to be known as "the Poconos." Local purists resisted the change, but the term "Pocono," with its Indian origin, is unique. Referring to the region as "the Poconos" has been a stroke of genius.
This larger region, occupying the plateau and beyond, is the vacationland of northeastern Pennsylvania. It is what the modern public calls the Pocono Mountains. And in this work, I use the term "Pocono" to refer to this larger area.
The Pocono region, though, still has uncertain boundaries. It may be easiest to define the vacation hub by ignoring geographic features and concentrating instead on political divisions. During the nineteenth century and much of the twentieth, the Pocono vacationland consisted of Monroe and Pike Counties. (This book focuses on these two counties.) When the modern-day Pocono Mountains Vacation Bureau was founded in 1948, however, it added Carbon County (which lies southwest of Monroe County) and Wayne County (which lies north of Monroe County and west of Pike County) to the original two. The Poconos thus officially became a four-county region.
Since the word "Poconos" conjures vacation glamour, the Pocono region will continue to expand. Ambitious real estate developers are already stretching the boundaries at the fringes. Lately, the Scranton and Wilkes-Barre area to the northeast has been occasionally included in the Poconos. In the new millennium, the Pocono region may eventually include all of northeastern Pennsylvania. The only certainty is that the Delaware River will continue to define the eastern boundary of the region. There are no indications whatsoever that the Pocono region, like George Washington, will cross the Delaware and conquer the New Jersey side.
A Niche Resort
The Antebellum Years
In October 1846, the poet William Cullen Bryant visited the Delaware Water Gap, the spot where the Delaware River cuts through the Kittatinny (or Blue) Mountains. When Bryant saw Mount Minsi and Mount Tammany, the "lofty peaks" that flanked the Gap, he was impressed. But when his poet’s ear heard the river running "noisily over the shallows," he was inspired. He wrote that the river was "boasting" of the victory it had won "in breaking its way through," and he described the area around the Gap as a hunter’s paradise abundant with deer.
Bryant, who was based in New York City, often depicted exotic locales for its press. In his Letters of a Traveller, he told the story of a little boy who had been playing near the Delaware River when a copperhead bit him on the leg. The boy cried violently and attracted the attention of a nearby innkeeper, who cut the wound, allowing the blood to flow. The boy was given milk mixed with a mountain herb. Despite these ministrations, the leg swelled terribly, causing ten days of agony. But the boy survived.
Having painted the Poconos in primitive colors, Bryant then assured his readers that he had not strayed beyond the pale of civilization. As if he were contrasting darkness with light, he mentioned the "excellent hotel" near the northern entrance of the Gap. This "resort of summer visitors," as he called it, stood on a cliff and rose "more than a hundred feet almost perpendicular from the river." While dining at the hotel, Bryant gazed at the Gap and again was inspired, sketching a scene in which the "mountains shut in one behind another, like the teeth of a saw."1
In his few pages on the Delaware Water Gap, Bryant summed up the appeal of the Poconos for American vacationers of the 1840s. The imposing Gap and poisonous snakes called up the "sublime," the dominant aesthetic or theory of beauty in the literature and arts of the day. According to this theory, nature was a locus of danger and spectacle, one that aroused both fear and awe. Edgar Allan Poe’s moody pieces (such as his short story, The Maelstrom) and Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner gave literary expression to the sublime. Educated people—the only tourists of the day—would have been familiar with the idea of the sublime, and their cultural upbringing conditioned them to enjoy scenery that evoked it.2 The Gap was such a spectacle. If hikers reached the heights of Mount Minsi (on the Pennsylvania side) and looked downward, the view could make them dizzy. If hikers looked upward from the river before beginning their ascent, they would face the shadows cast by the twin peaks that stood, sentinel-like, over the Gap. The Delaware Water Gap offered all this—along with its poisonous snakes.
Bryant’s reference to deer hunting pointed to the appeal of the Poconos for sportsmen. In the 1840s, the Poconos had been barely settled. Although mountain lions and elk were extinct, their passing had been so recent that hunters might still expect to find them. Bear and deer were plentiful; rattlesnakes, ubiquitous. Fishing was an attraction that has not yet faded. The eastern Poconos are still noted for their many streams, full of mountain trout that invariably find their way to the Delaware River. The sportsmen of this era stayed in travelers’ hotels or in fishing lodges such as the Henryville House, which began its 150-year existence in the 1830s.3
The Kittatinny Hotel
The "excellent hotel" that Bryant mentioned was the Kittatinny, founded in 1829 to take advantage of the emerging vacation business in America. The Kittatinny was the first tourist hotel in the Poconos (and remained a leading resort until fire destroyed it in 1931). The hotel became widely regarded as the best Pocono hotel of the nineteenth century, marked by elegance and refinement. However, in its early years, it was as insignificant as its location—a rustic village that itself had only just appeared on the scene.
The founder of the village of Delaware Water Gap—as well as the Kittatinny Hotel—was Antoine Dutot. Dutot had ambition, but he was an extraordinarily unlucky man. His travails started early. He had the misfortune of being a planter in Haiti when the slaves rebelled and expelled the French. Dutot went to Philadelphia before settling in the wilds of the Delaware Water Gap in 1793 and reinventing himself. Formerly a slaveholder and planter, he became a frontiersman, hoping to find fame and fortune. Instead, he found failure. When he opened a toll road at the Gap, travelers often pretended that they did not understand his accented English and left without paying. A poor road master, Dutot also failed at prospecting, wasting a good deal of money in fruitless searches for precious metals. He wasted even more money in lawsuits against Ulrich Hauser, a neighbor from Germany whose English was as broken as his. It was said that neither man could understand the other’s insults. If nothing else, the frivolous litigation showed that Dutot, the immigrant, had become a real American. Another debacle for Dutot was the Kittatinny Hotel, which he started in 1829 and sold, unfinished, three years later, when he ran out of money. A sad description of Dutot is found in the diary of a German nobleman, Prince Alexander Philip Maximilian of Weid, who visited the Gap on August
23–25, 1832. The Prince wrote that all of Dutot’s speculations had failed, forcing him to sell his property
and reducing him to great poverty, an object of pity for passing travelers.
Dutot’s bad fortune continued even after he died in 1841. He had named the village that he had founded "Dutotsburg," but in 1856, it was renamed "Delaware Water Gap" to reflect its famous natural asset. The twelve buildings that Dutot had erected as a nucleus of a metropolis were gone by the 1860s. Other plans had gone awry as well. For instance, Dutot had bought a cannon and a bell for the town, and he requested that the cannon be fired over his grave and the bell rung when a railroad went through his village and a steamboat appeared on the Delaware River. When the tracks of the Lackawanna Railroad were laid down in 1856, the cannon had already exploded during a patriotic holiday; the bell had been moved to Stroudsburg. His grave on Sunset Hill was neglected and its location is today unknown. Dutot is remembered mainly as the founder of the Kittatinny Hotel.4
Isaac Bickley bought the hotel. A wealthy Philadelphia bachelor, Bickley made it his fishing lodge in the spring and his hunting house in the fall. In the summer, the Kittatinny catered to vacationers, housing twenty-five in 1833. In these early days, the Gap Hotel, as it was then called, also relied on the patronage of rafters, who floated logs downriver every spring and would spend the night at the hotel. Since Bickley was based in Philadelphia, he leased the hotel to Samuel Snyder, who was the superintendent of the slate quarries below the Water Gap. The real manager of the hotel was Snyder’s wife. So began the Pocono tradition of wives running hotels while husbands worked elsewhere.5
The First Vacationers
In 1820, Delaware Water Gap had seen its first vacationers, Quakers from Philadelphia, who had been attracted by coreligionists who had settled in the area. Staying in private houses and at an inn, the Quaker visitors were not seeking comfort. They had chosen a summer locale with abundant wildlife, off the beaten track, and with a touch of the primeval. The journey from Philadelphia was similarly primitive: a two-day stagecoach ride of bumps and groans over unpaved roads that would keep many other potential travelers at home.6
In the 1840s and 1850s, the few vacationers attracted to the Poconos defined themselves by their lodgings. If they did not stay at the Kittatinny or at fishing lodges, they stayed at the handful of hotels in Stroudsburg and Milford, which ordinarily catered to travelers and farmers visiting the county seat. Although little is known of these antebellum vacationers, a few remarks can be made. According to the ledger of the Stroudsburg House, most guests in the summer of 1859 were men traveling alone. Presumably, they were on business, because men were not likely to bring their wives and children along on commercial trips. Conversely, the Philadelphia families seen on the register most likely were vacationers. These families had names such as Buzby and Longstreth, which today are considered old Philadelphia names.7
These scarce data give the impression that Pocono vacationers of this era were not status seekers, people who wanted to be noticed. This does not necessarily mean that they were urban laborers and clerks, men of modest incomes who would not have been able to afford a traveler’s vacation, and in any case would not have received vacation time from their employers. Only the wealthy selfemployed—such as merchants, professionals, and southern plantation owners—had both the leisure time and income to take a holiday. Visitors to the Poconos, then, had money, but they were looking for a different vacation experience. It was no accident that Bryant had referred only to the "excellent hotel," as if few of his readers would recognize the Kittatinny by name. Bryant was admitting that the Gap was rather out of the way, even though it did have great scenery.8
By the 1840s, America had its own Grand Tour of important places that anyone with social pretensions had to see. The American Grand Tour mimicked the European version; rich Britons customarily made the rounds of the Continent’s highlights, which (as a minimum) consisted of Paris, Florence, and Rome. The rich and educated of America visited the Hudson River Valley, the White Mountains of New Hampshire, Niagara Falls, or went to fashionable shore resorts. But by and large they avoided the Gap. The guidebooks of the era usually ignored it. The Poconos were a niche region, visited by hunters, fishermen, and those tourists who did not care for status and fashion—those for whom a vacation was country living instead of display.9
Some Philadelphians found the niche character of the Poconos appealing. They were usually Quakers whose seventeenth-century ancestors had founded Philadelphia as a haven where they could practice their radical version of Christianity. The early Quakers were rebels, neither removing their hats in the presence of their betters nor deferring to their social superiors. They were also outsiders, because as pacifists, they refused to defend their community—thus automatically disqualifying themselves from public office. By the nineteenth century, Quakers had long lost political control of Philadelphia, but they had overachieved in other areas. Their aversion to vices (both major and minor), their plain living and work ethic, and even their clannishness had made them very successful merchants. Success created a unique dilemma: Quakers had money to spend, but also had scruples about spending it. Quakers of the nineteenth century often solved the dilemma by leaving the fold and becoming respectable Episcopalians. If Quakers kept the faith, wanting to remain a plain people who frowned upon ostentation, they would have to master the art of spending without being arrogant,
of living well and being humble. Not surprisingly, people of this persuasion would not like the Grand Tour, which would attract all sorts of name droppers and businessmen who believed that humanity was eager to hear of their success. The Poconos aptly suited the Quaker ethos.10
The Poconos were a niche resort partially because of poor accessibility. Prior to the building of railroads, Americans avoided land travel as much as possible, preferring river or sea travel to stagecoach rides over unpaved roads. For this reason, the rich often chose to vacation at Atlantic Ocean resorts, which they could easily reach by sailing up and down the coast. Prior to the Civil War, Cape May and Long Branch in New Jersey, Bar Harbor in Maine, and Newport in Rhode Island emerged as leading seaside resort communities and social centers for high society.11
A comparison of the Poconos with the Catskill Mountains of the Hudson River Valley underscores the importance of good transportation. Before the railroad era, steamboats carried New York City’s tourists up the Hudson River to the Catskill region. By contrast, the upper Delaware River was unfriendly to traffic. The rapids and low waters below Delaware Water Gap prevented Philadelphians from reaching the Poconos by steamboat. In the Pocono stretch of the river, from Delaware Water Gap to Port Jervis, navigation was nearly impossible, except for rafts. Later in the nineteenth century, small steamers occasionally attempted to reach Port Jervis. If they succeeded and managed to return to Delaware Water Gap, they rarely repeated the adventure. Not surprisingly, the Catskills developed a brisk vacation trade earlier than the Poconos.12
Aside from access, the Catskills had the good luck of favorable publicity. Many noted painters and writers based their works on the Hudson River Valley, and the Hudson River’s storms and fogs were painted by the first major landscape school of American artists. Thomas Cole, perhaps the most famous member of the Hudson River School, went a step further. He argued that water at rest could stir the soul. Nature at peace was not the original sublime, but it was reassuring. It made the sublime more accessible to the timid.13
The Poconos also attracted artists. Landscape painters Thomas Birch, Karl Bodmer, George Inness, and lesser-known figures painted the famous Delaware Water Gap. From the river, depending on the time of day, Mount Minsi (on the Pennsylvania side of the river) and Mount Tammany (on the New Jersey side) would cast ominous shadows. Artists loved to paint rowboats on the still waters with the twin peaks looming in the background. The overall effect is not the sublime of thunderous, misty Niagara Falls, but a gentler sublime, one that invites contemplation. It is the sublime of Thomas Cole, who heard sound in silence and saw fury in peace. According to Cole’s schema, the Gap should have been considered as worthy a subject as the Hudson River Valley, but the art world did not agree. Pocono artists never received the acclaim of their counterparts in the Hudson River School.14 The Hudson River School also had the adjunct advantage of a literary tradition. The emerging literature of the young American Republic was inspired by the Catskill Mountains that overlooked the Hudson River Valley. Washington Irving placed The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Rip Van Winkle in this setting. Rip Van Winkle seized America’s imagination, and Irving helped the legend along by
calling the Catskill Mountains the fairy region of the Hudson. Likewise, James Fenimore Cooper, another early American writer who reached a national audience, used the Catskills as the setting for two of his novels: The Spy (1821) celebrated the Revolution, and The Last of the Mohicans (1826) took up the French and Indian War. Along with the landscape artists, Irving and Cooper established an atmosphere of adventure and mystery for the Hudson River Valley that permeated the national consciousness throughout the century. As early as the 1850s, this free publicity helped create a Catskill resort culture that was far better known than its Pocono counterpart.15 Aside from the family trade, the Poconos also attracted city anglers whose favorite pastime was
spending hours at a mountain stream, trying to snare the elusive trout. Fly-fishing was an art in itself with a lore and a rich literature. Here again, the Catskills won the publicity war. According to flyfishing historian Ernest Schwiebert, American popular culture places the cradle of fly-fishing innovation in certain streams of the Catskills. Schwiebert begs to differ. He writes:
[I]n recent years, considerable evidence has emerged that the lesser-known Brodheads [creeks] in the Poconos of Pennsylvania is probably the true wellspring of American trout-fishing tradition. There is also considerable evidence that Henryville House on its laurel-sheltered upper reaches is the oldest trout-fishing hotel in America, and its rambling clapboard structure sheltered every major American angler from its establishment in 1835 until the Great Depression of the nineteen thirties.
Indeed, the Poconos deserve attention if only for the famous people who fly-fished in the mountain streams. Among the famous fishermen of later years were Presidents Benjamin Harrison, Grover Cleveland, Theodore Roosevelt, and Calvin Coolidge. Harrison and Cleveland, in fact, were guests during the same week prior to their 1888 election campaigns—the campaigns in which they ran against each other.16
Pocono History and Its Neglect
If the Poconos had inspired a great literature, the region would have attracted greater numbers of visitors and much more attention. The problem with the Poconos was not an absence of literary material, for the Poconos did have the stuff of historical fiction. In the eighteenth century, the Lenape Indians were driven off their lands, but got their revenge during the French and Indian War of 1754–63—and again during the Revolution, when they killed isolated farmers. Nonetheless, they were defeated, and they eventually left. As for the colonists, they produced a great villain in Tom Quick, who allegedly murdered nearly a hundred Indians during and after the Indian wars. In explaining why he had killed an Indian baby, he replied that "nits make lice." On his deathbed in 1796, instead of thinking of sweet things and Jesus, he asked for one more Indian to kill.17 Quick was an Indian killer, not a patriot. He sat out the American Revolution, unlike many Pocono residents who volunteered to serve in Washington’s army. The patriots who stayed home lost several minor engagements. The worst was the Wyoming Massacre, which took place in the Wyoming Valley (at the edge of the Poconos) when a mixed Indian-Tory force routed American militiamen. The Indians ran amok and took 227 scalps. The survivors, mostly women and children, fled through wilderness and swamps, reaching Dansbury (East Stroudsburg) only after a long trek and near starvation. Here were martyrs for the new Republic whose sad and inspiring story was the stuff of mythology. These American heroes were begging for an immortality that would make them standard fare in textbooks. All they needed was a bard, a latter-day Homer. None came forth.18 If bizarre encounters were desired, Judge Daniel Dingman, a Pocono original, could have inspired a tale or two. The associate judge of the Pike County court, Dingman served on the bench for twentysix years, beginning three years before the creation of the county in 1814. Although his office proclaimed dignity, Dingman was uneducated and boorish. He addressed a fellow judge as "Bub" and
occasionally held court barefoot and in shirtsleeves. One time, Dingman was passing sentence on a vagabond accused of theft. According to Alfred Mathews’s History, the judge looked severely at the culprit and said: "You ought to be hung, but the sentence of this court is that you be banished from the face of the earth. Go get off the face of the earth." The thief asked how he could get off the face of the earth. Dingman answered: "You can go to Jersey." It was said that the thief immediately swam across the Delaware River to New Jersey.19
Authors could have found literary material among the rafters, too. Rafters were often farmers who saw more money in cutting trees and floating them to market than in tilling the stony soil. All along the upper Delaware Valley, on the New Jersey and New York banks as well as on the Pocono side of the Delaware River, trees were cut, lashed into rafts, and floated during the spring, when flooding raised the low water level of the river and allowed rafts to clear the rocks. Some rafters rode the current as far as Philadelphia. After arriving, the rafters broke the rafts, sold the wood, and took the stagecoach back—or saved money by walking.
The first rafter in the area, a man named Daniel Skinner, dates back to colonial times. In his early days, Skinner sailed in the Caribbean Sea and saw ships with pine masts. He realized that a market existed for the tall white pine trees back home in Wayne County. After his first rafting attempt failed, he succeeded with a second; he reached Philadelphia in 1764 and sold his wood for great profit. His exploits on the river earned him the unofficial title of "Lord High Admiral of the Delaware."20 Over the decades, rafting involved much hard work, some danger, and a unique form of life that is long gone. Rafters lived in shanties on their rafts, but they would stop at night, unwilling to navigate the river in darkness. A favorite destination was Milford. As many as two hundred rafters would stay overnight, drinking and carousing, giving Milford the flavor of a frontier town. The hard work created great appetites. A legend has it that one rafter ordered two dozen eggs, a dozen fried and a dozen boiled, at a restaurant in Belvidere, New Jersey. A rafters’ hotel in Dingmans Ferry served pancakes by the barrel along with gallons of molasses. The bony Delaware shad was a popular dish. It was said that eating fish was akin to eating corn. The fish entered in the east corner of the mouth and emerged
from the west corner, a perfect skeleton.21
Little was written about these colorful characters, and ignorance is no excuse. During the nineteenth century, rafting was a well-known activity. It peaked in the 1850s, but some 3,190 rafts passed through Lackawaxen in Pike County as late as 1875. The last rafters floated down the Delaware River in the early twentieth century.22 Although vacationers came to the Poconos after the spring rafting season, they surely must have heard of the rafters. People living downstream likewise must have known of them. The Delaware River rafters were the equivalent of the boatmen of the Mississippi River, needing only an eastern Mark Twain to make them part of American lore. No such writer appeared, and no great novel was written. The Delaware River rafters were fated to end up as footnotes to history, omitted from the main narrative.
All of Pocono history has suffered the same neglect. The region had eccentrics, soldiers, and Indians. There were battles and, ultimately, genocide, for the Indian population disappeared after the wars of the eighteenth century. The Pocono mountains held much literary raw material—yet, incredibly, inspired little literature.
Quaker Modesty—and Its Consequences
Why eastern Pennsylvania produced a meager literature on the Poconos is difficult to explain. Philadelphia had its share of literate persons who were aware of the Poconos. An explanation for the absence of a Pocono literature may have been given by E. Digby Baltzell, a sociology professor at the University of Pennsylvania, who wrote Puritan Boston and Quaker Philadelphia. The book is a remarkable analysis of how Philadelphians think—and, by extension, how their neighbors in eastern Pennsylvania think as well. (Much of eastern Pennsylvania was settled by sects that valued Quaker pacifism and modesty.) Baltzell claims that Bostonians are chauvinistic about their town, while Philadelphians are negative about theirs. Anyone who has heard Philadelphia sports fans jeer the home team—the unforgiving storm of catcalls for the slightest mistake—will understand what Baltzell means.
Baltzell explains the difference between the two cities by pointing to their respective religious heritages. He argues that Boston’s Puritans saw themselves as God’s chosen people; Boston was God’s town as well as their own. A residue of Puritanism survived in Boston’s civic pride, which explains why nineteenth-century Boston dubbed itself "the hub of the universe." By contrast, Quakers were modest people, suspicious of authority. During the French and Indian War, their pacifism drove them out of Philadelphia politics. They retreated into their private worlds, doomed to be perennial outsiders who denied greatness in themselves and in others. Baltzell accuses Quakers of being smug and contented, but having little ambition for Philadelphia.
Baltzell adds that Quakers and Episcopalians of Quaker descent had the drive to make money but refused the civic obligations of wealth. An economic elite that refused to lead, Quakers had an enormous impact on nineteenth-century Philadelphia. According to Baltzell, their civic absenteeism explains why local pride was weak, why Philadelphia lost economic leadership to New York City, and why the city did not care if its museums and schools were inferior to those of New York and Boston. Philadelphia’s writers, often mediocre to begin with, showed little interest in Pennsylvania’s past.23 The Baltzell thesis can explain the literary neglect of the Poconos. No literature on the Indian wars and the Revolution would come from a pacifist environment, nor would a region obsessed with modesty celebrate its scenery and lore. But if residents of eastern Pennsylvania would not call attention to themselves, neither would anyone else. As a result, the Poconos never penetrated the American mind as deeply as the Catskills. This was true in the nineteenth century—and it remains true today.
Railroads Create Vacationland
The Poconos stopped being a niche region and entered the mass age of Victorian vacationing when the railroads came. The reinvention of the Poconos was somewhat fortuitous. There was no master plan in the Poconos, no clever entrepreneur who decided to kick-start a vacation economy by bringing in the railroad. The Poconos were quite different from Atlantic City, where savvy businessmen of the 1850s laid out a railroad to Philadelphia, realizing that a seashore resort would attract city folk who needed something to do on a Sunday afternoon.24
The needs of New York City explain rail service in the Poconos. Completed in 1851, the Erie Railroad carried freight to and from the city; it also connected the city to the Poconos, although it was in the paradoxical situation of never stopping there. The nearest station the Erie had to the Poconos was at Port Jervis, across the Delaware River in New York State. The distance between Milford and Port Jervis was eight miles and required a river crossing, but, as matters turned out, this was close enough. Vacationers who wanted to stay in the northern Pike County resorts stopped at the Erie’s Port Jervis station and took the stagecoach to Milford.
The Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad, commonly called the "Lackawanna," was similarly serendipitous for the future resort industry. Completed five years after the Erie Railroad, the Lackawanna Railroad was also a freight carrier: it supplied New York City with Pennsylvania coal. Although the Lackawanna Railroad regarded passenger service as secondary, it allowed Monroe County and southern Pike County to tap the prospective vacation markets of northern New Jersey and New York City. The orientation of the vacation business in Monroe County changed forever as its hotels and boardinghouses began to cater to New Yorkers as well as Philadelphians. Unlike the Erie Railroad, which skirted Pike County, the Lackawanna Railroad had eight stations in Monroe County. Four of these stations would be magnets for numerous hotels and boardinghouses. In these early days, the Delaware Water Gap station had the most vacation traffic. Its location—across the Delaware River from New Jersey—made it the closest Pocono rail station to New York City. Without this station, the village would have remained a backwater. Three miles to the northwest was the East Stroudsburg station, which was responsible for making the Stroudsburgs another vacation center. Twenty miles inland lay the mountain stations of Cresco and Mount Pocono. Their importance would come later in the century.
Another way in which the Lackawanna Railroad boosted vacation travel in these years was by improving service. In 1864, the Lackawanna shortened travel time between Philadelphia and the Poconos by arranging a connection between its trains and the Pennsylvania Railroad at Manunka Chunk in New Jersey. Passengers from Philadelphia left the Pennsylvania Railroad train at the Manunka Chunk station, crossed the platform, and boarded the Lackawanna from New York. New York City also benefited from the Lackawanna’s improved service. Prior to the Civil War, a rail trip from New York to Delaware Water Gap took more than five hours. In 1868, though, the Lackawanna shortened this travel time, moving its "New York City" passenger terminal from Elizabeth, New Jersey, to Hoboken (also in New Jersey, but closer to Manhattan). New Yorkers saved an hour of travel time. By 1881, five trains left New York City every day for the Poconos. The trip to Delaware Water Gap took fewer than three and one-half hours from both New York City and Philadelphia. Of course, the entire trip from New York City took far more time, for a horse and buggy were needed to reach a railroad station. Moreover, river tunnels did not yet exist. New Yorkers needed to ferry
across the Hudson River to reach the Lackawanna station in Hoboken. The Poconos were not close, but still, they were not very far. Excessive travel time would not ruin a short vacation.25
Accommodating the City People
A stay at a nineteenth-century resort was a social ritual that was identified with refinement. Middleclass
vacationers would not have stayed where the social climate was boorish. When straying from the resort, they might have been willing to countenance a few country bumpkins, but they would not want regular contact with the crass and the vulgar. In the first half of the nineteenth century, the Poconos were not yet ready to become a resort area. The isolated region was home to farmers, lumberjacks, and tanners whose hardscrabble lives would not suit a resort culture. There was a lady lumberjack, for instance, who smoked a pipe and drove a team with masculine abandon. She was not exactly the sort that refined city women who discussed the latest English novels cared to meet. Milford had the flavor of a frontier town. It was said that elections were won by the candidate who supplied the most free liquor.26
Milford also lacked churches, which were the taming, civilizing influence of the nineteenth century. Before the 1820s, not a single church member lived in Milford, but this was to change. By the 1840s, both Methodists and Presbyterians were active. Their impact is seen in Mathews’s History (1883), which reported that Milford had fewer licensed establishments than formerly. In other words, the Milford that featured resorts had fewer bars than the Milford that featured lumberjacks and rafters. In Stroudsburg, roughly thirty-five miles downstream from Milford, a population of seven hundred supported five churches during the 1840s. By 1860, Monroe County had thirty-three churches and all that churchgoing implied: a culture that frowned upon swearing and drinking.27
Although the Poconos would always have their share of crude people, the rules of proper behavior were now known. Gentility was necessary for a resort climate, since many guests were women. The spinster teachers, librarians, and housewives whose husbands worked in the city would frown upon bad habits. Along with a resort atmosphere, the residents of the Poconos had to be willing to accommodate vacationers. At the very minimum, entrepreneurs were needed to start resorts; cooks, chambermaids, and laborers, to work in them. The world beyond the grounds of a resort was also important. An enjoyable vacation required guides to lead hunters, liveries to rent horses, and tradesmen to provide services and souvenirs.
A workforce emerged because the urban demand for vacations came at a time when the Pocono economy needed renewal. Its primary industries were declining. Farming had become less profitable because the stony mountain soil of the Poconos could not compete with the fertile farms of the Midwest. And lumberjacks were putting themselves out of work: by the end of the century, the virgin forest was nearly extinct.28 The other great forest industry was tanning, which required tannic acid from the bark of hemlock trees. Most Pocono tanneries started in the thirty years before the Civil War and lasted as long as the bark did. Since tanning a single hide required ten pounds of bark, the hemlocks eventually disappeared. By 1890, nearly all the tanneries had shut down, and one can see the same pattern in the shoe peg and clothespin factories that used local wood. They flourished as long as the wood lasted. Bluestone and flagstone quarries supplied city streets for a time, but they too ceased operating when the stone was exhausted.29
Aside from natural resource depletion, the Poconos had to cope with the national economy. The Panic of 1873 ruined many tanneries, preventing Pocono farmers from exchanging hemlock bark for food and dry goods at the general store. Farmers needed this source of income to supplement the meager returns from the soil. In addition, the late nineteenth century was not the best of times for agriculture. Around the nation, low commodity prices ruined many farmers, even where the soil was rich and fertile. The Jeffersonian reported sheriff’s sales in the countryside and empty houses in Stroudsburg. The 1890 census registered population declines in both Monroe and Pike Counties.30 The residents of the Poconos, then, had few choices. They could give up and move elsewhere, or they could turn to new occupations. More than one farmer realized that city boarders would offer an income supplement, just as lumbering and tanning had done in the old days. Others sought work in the new economy. Farmers’ daughters became waitresses and chambermaids; farm laborers became cooks and porters; teenagers carried dishes and did odd jobs. These were the more visible of a vast army of workers, ranging from plumbers to stableboys, who would make up the infrastructure of the resort industry. The emergence of this labor pool meant that a major resort economy was possible. The birth of the resort economy can be seen in the expansion of the Kittatinny Hotel. William Brodhead bought the hotel from Isaac Bickley in 1851, and increased its capacity to 65 guests. Two years later, the hotel held 75 guests. Another renovation in 1860 increased the hotel’s capacity to 150 guests. Business was so good that his brother, Luke Brodhead (who joined William in 1857), planned another large hotel. Stopped by the Panic of 1857, he had to wait until the Civil War had ended before returning to this project—the future Water Gap House.31
By the eve of the Civil War, the Kittatinny Hotel had outgrown its original incarnation as a dualpurpose inn for vacationers and rafters. With the exception of the fishing lodges, the Kittatinny was the only resort hotel in the Poconos, although vacationers could stay at the traditional travelers’ hotels. The success of the Kittatinny—along with the new rail service—demonstrated the potential for a Pocono vacation trade. In the decades after the Civil War, the emerging labor and entrepreneurial pools, as well as a proper resort climate, allowed Pocono vacationing to reinvent itself.32
Also of Interest
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