JERMYN BEFORE TV
by Walter Avery
Jermyn Historical Society
In my article for July, I told about Ollie Edmunds building her Assembly Hall with a movie house on the first floor. Well my mother and dad often talked about two other movies on our block when they were growing up before World War I. Of course in those days they showed silent movies with piano accompaniment. One of these movies was across Main Street from the Assembly hall at 648 Washington Ave. Looking at the building now it doesn’t look big enough to house a theater. In the 1940’s it was Heckman’s gas station and repair shop. It is now Violet Staples’ home. Although very faded now, you can still see the decorations painted on the theater wall in a storage room in the back of her house. I was told that the theater was called “The Picture Gallery”. The other movie in this block was at 612 Washington Ave., I first remember it was a home, and later Shimahusky’s pool hall. It is once again apartments. My Dad said it was a movie house for just a few years; but every once in a while they had vaudeville acts. Imagine that! Three movies in Jermyn!
The only one in our time was the one in the Assembly Hall. Before World War I, Pat Walker built a movie house on the corner of Poplar St. and Penn Ave. in Mayfield. He died in 1917. Later his widow Maria Walker purchased the Jermyn movie from Ollie Edmunds and operated both theaters. Later her son in law Ernie O’Neill took them over. The same movie was shown in both theaters. The first reel would be shown in Mayfield, then Mike Liptack would take it to Jermyn in his wagon to be seen there. The movie would change every other night. An ad in the Mayfield News for October 3, 1947 noted that “The Red house” would only be shown in Mayfield. Jermyn still had “blue laws” and couldn’t show movies on Sunday. Although many of my friends went to the movies each time they changed, as a rule I was only allowed to go once a week. No matter what, you had to go on Saturday to see THE CHAPTER and find how Flash Gordon, Bomba the Jungle boy or the Lone Ranger got out of the life or death situation he was in at the end of last week’s episode. You could almost count on the film breaking down at least once every night. We would yell, stomp our feet, and through candy at the screen until it came back on. I don’t know what the adults in the audience did, with one exception, Billy young, he was so tall he could take up three seats and was easily excited. He would cheer and clap his hands and should “hacha! Hacha!” whenever a pretty girl would come on the screen. (We called the Jermyn movie the “The Rat Trap” and the one in Mayfield “The Bug House”). Every once in a while the screen would light up from someone opening the side door to let some friends sneak in. I don’t know if it really happened but the story was circulated that some kids got in to the building one day and took the screws out of alternate rows of seats and put them on top of the others. In the summer you knew when the movie let out, you heard the screen door of Russell’s Ice Cream Store banging and Billy Young coming down the street loudly stuttering; greetings to everybody. The Jermyn movie closed about 1950 and several years later so did the one in Mayfield.
We did not have theaters with many screening rooms with booming surround sound or IMAX, but we had many good times to fondly remember.
FROM HUMBLE BEGINNINGS UNTIL NOW
by Walter Avery
Jermyn Historical Society
As president of The Jermyn Historical Society, I have been writing this article since January 2010. Sometimes I wonder what to write about, that you haven’t read before. This time I thought you might like to hear how this all began. In October 1999 Jermyn celebrated the centennial of the founding of first aid in our town. People once again got interested in our past. By August 2005 that seed had germinated to the point that Joseph “Pepper” Krenitski, Bruce Smallacombe, Mark Coons and Bob Tomaine, met in the Council Chamber; to see if they could get enough people interested in gathering bits of our history before it is lost. I was not part of that first group, but soon joined them. The group had already started to collect things of historic interest and, as I no longer sold fresh flowers in my shop and had shut off the refrigeration to the walk-in refrigerator it seemed like a logical fireproof place to keep those items. If I only knew then, what this would lead to! In those early meetings, it was decided to limit ourselves to just the history of the Borough of Jermyn and not Jermyn RD unless it had a bearing on our history. It was thought that was all we could handle.
By August of 2007 we had accumulated so much, that it was time to let the rest of the people see it, so we staged our first “Open house” in the community Center. Some things were placed in showcases in the hall and things like newspapers, maps, etc. were on display in the Legion room on tables including the pool table. We were surprised how many people came out to see what the Historical Society was all about. On August 23rd we were officially incorporated. Article II of the by-laws read, “to collect and preserve documents, photos, newspaper articles, and artifacts from Jermyn’s past so future generations may learn of our rich history”. I will here, insert that we are delighted to see how many other towns in our valley now have vibrant historical societies to augment The Lackawanna and Carbondale Societies , in telling the story of Northeastern Pennsylvania.
Since 2007 our membership has steadily grown. I often call it “The Hysterical Society” because we are the most illogical group. We are from all parts of town, ethnic backgrounds, and denominations. Each one has different information and stories to tell, and we all like to party. Why not join us? You don’t have to live in Jermyn, just love history and a good time. WE usually meet in Longworth’s Family Restaurant on the first Sunday night each month. But call me at 876-3171 to make sure.
Now to bring this up to date; that walk in refrigerator I talked about, is now jammed with framed pictures, maps and newspapers from as far back as 1900, objects of all sorts from the same era, and about 2500 pages of things either given to us, or we were allowed to copy, kept in forty eight binders divided into subjects such as: People of Jermyn, Churches of Jermyn, Sports etc. etc. We still haul most of it, to the Community Center each year for “Open House”. Our 8th one will be on Sunday, September 16th from 1:30 p.m. until 4:30 p.m. We now fill every part of the Center, so if you like history as we do, it will take a long time to see it all. As it is a Jermyn event, there will be goodies to fortify you as you enjoy the show. And remember as I always say, “DON’T THROW ANYTHING OUT”. Let us see it first. It may look like trash to you but maybe it is just what we are searching for.
A WOMAN OF VISION
by Walter Avery
Jermyn Historical Society
In 1894 Livi Snyder and George Edmunds bought the Farmer’s Hotel on the corner of Washington Avenue and Rushbrook Street and renamed it “The Windsor Inn”. Livi’s daughter Olive (known as Ollie) married George Edmunds. The original Assembly Hall next to the Windsor was destroyed in the disastrous 1904 fire. Ollie decided to rebuild it and drew up plans for the new Edmund’s Assembly hall. The new hall was a three story brick building with a movie theater and store on the first floor, the second floor had a hall with a stage; until the new high school was opened in 1937 graduations and other civic gatherings were held here. We have many photos of graduation classes taken on the stage. This room was also used for dances, basketball and in later years as a roller skating rink. Most fraternal and civic organizations met on the third floor. Like its predecessor this building burnt down on May 19, 1960.
Soon after Ollie built the Assembly Hall, she decided to use the corner lot across Rushbrook St. from the Windsor, which was now vacant, after Odd Fellows Hall burnt down in 1903. She had this building built out of cement blocks. It was a two story building. The first occupant on the ground floor was Dr. Graves Drug Store. Besides apartments on the second floor, Dr. Finnegan had his dental office there before he moved it to Carbondale in the 1940’s. Nobody I talk to remember the building with porches over the sidewalks on Washington Ave. and Rushbrook St., but movies my dad took in 1939 show them.
About the same time at the turn of the century, Ollie got the idea to build a resort hotel at Heart Lake. Today we know it as Harmony Heart Camp. People would come in by train and be met and transported to the Heart Lake Hotel to enjoy the fresh air and beauty of Northeastern PA. During their stay, they had both good food and entertainment. Many prominent celebrities and famous dance bands, such as Paul Whiteman, played there in its hay day.
Ollie’s daughter Mary, while visiting Lancaster was impressed by all the row houses there. When she told her parents about them they went to see them. What a good type of housing. Seeing the old stables on Rushbrook St., next to her cement block building, Ollie had them torn down and replaced them with her style row house. In her plans, she used the latest wiring and fireproof materials, available in 1932. This paid off, for when there was a kitchen fire in one of the apartments, it didn’t spread – as fire does in most row homes. The building was dubbed “The White Elephant” for two reasons. The white stucco on its walls sparkled in the sun and during the depression many of her tenants didn’t pay their rent, or just moved out owing her, so it became her white elephant. Over the years it went in to disrepair and looked like it would have to be torn down. Then a man from out of state bought it and had it repaired. I looked up the street one day. WHAT ARE THEY DOING TO IT, THEY ARE PAINTING IT ORANGE! Then I found out the new owner was Caribbean. Well it’s no longer “The White Elephant”, but the landmark still exists.
TREASURES IN MY ATTIC
by Walter Avery
Jermyn Historical Society
A few weeks ago I went up into my attic, jammed with who knows what. You can hardly get through it. I was looking for the Indian outfit my father made out of deer skin, trimmed with bead work and horse hair; when he was in the boy Scouts Order of the Arrow. This must have been some time in the 1920’s. The last time I saw it was when I wore it to a Teen Town Halloween Party in 1952. I thought I spotted a box it might be in, behind many other boxes in a corner. After digging my way to my goal, I discovered the box contained four pictures of members of the Avery Family. I never saw them before. The one of great interest was of my Dad’s brother Fred. I knew the story of Fred being hit by a train and killed when he was six years old. My father was born a year later in 1906. Mark Coons found the complete story in the May 17, 1905 Scranton Times. Now I had his picture.
To get to the box, I had moved two other boxes. Taking them downstairs and dusting them off, I lifted the lid of the first one to investigate its contents. It was mostly filled with post cards. My Uncle Norman had run away from home and joined the Navy. As a child I had looked at post cards (not these, they must be in another box) with nothing but the address on them. Mother said when they got them from all over the world they knew he had sent them. One of the cards in this box had a message on it from him and a 1909 postmark. Another with the same postmark showed sailors having a cock fight on deck. Along with many cards like this, there were two of the fold out kind showing World War I soldiers and a picture of President on the cover. We knew that by World War I, Norman was in the army. Who knows why? There were other things in the box, like a very colorful elongated post card from the Methodist Church Sunday School wishing my mother a happy third birthday. That would be in 1909. There were graduation announcements from 1907, 1915 and 1917, an invitation to the Rev. John Healy’s silver jubilee at the Most Sacred Heart of Mary Church Jermyn, October 17, 1915. The Semi-Centennial Banquet at the Methodist Episcopal Church, Jermyn, November 22, 1922, John Mumford’s tax receipt for his 1863 state, county, school, poor, road and special taxes came to $1.68. In 1882 Armond Battenberg’s taxes were $2.15. There was inflation back then. This is just a sampling.
Now to the second box. It was filled too, overflowing with newspaper clippings that my grandmother saved. Who knew that she was a pack rat? Some things were dated others were not. There was my great grandmother (Mary Gardner Mumford Staple’s) obituary January 12, 1906. Grandpa’s brother Capt. Charles Battenberg, who fought in the Civil War, died December 26, 1904. Some obituaries of prominent people had no dates: Mr. Burdic; Jermyn’s long time photographer and Rev. W.R. West; former pastor of Jermyn’s Primitive Methodist Church. There were three different accounts of John Jermyn’s death from, The Scranton Truth, May 29, 1902, The Carbondale Leader (same date) and The Scranton Tribune May 30th, each one tells different details. On a happier note, there was the account of the “stylish wedding” of Miss Bell Gardner and Albert J. Baker. Not only does it describe in great detail the wedding; but lists all the guests and what they gave as gifts – a sugar spoon, celery holder, cherry rocker, etc. The oldest dated article I found, was The Jermyn Press July 8, 1898 headed “Rushbrook Lodge No 850 I.O.O.F. Celebrates Its Silver Anniversary”. It tells of all the Odd Fellows Grand Officers arriving on the 12:30 D&H train. The big parade, with bands and floats; began at their hall at the corner of Main St. and Rushbrook (this hall burned down in 1903). The parade ended at Odd Fellows Park where refreshments were served by different churches, followed by singing and speeches. In 1923 the Jermyn Press printed a poem written by a former editor, Thomas Boundy, upon his visit back to Jermyn. It is titled “Who I Saw at Christmas”. I will quote the first of his fifteen verses:
“Jack Solomon and Mickey O’Neal, Dod M’Cluskey and Billy Veal, Frank Welsh and Daddy Scutt, Rat Smallacombe and Tom Utt”
A few of the clippings I found were duplicates of ones we had, but as they were from The Jermyn Press, they often had more information. For example: Mark Coons found the account of John Mumford’s livery stable across from the Miller Casket Co. fire on July 4, 1925 in The Scranton Times. We now have the much longer one by local eye witnesses from the Press.
All total, I added about ninety pages to our Historical Society’s archives with what I found in my attic. I wonder how many treasurers like these, are covered with dust in other attics. Look around and see if you have history waiting to be found in your home. If you find some, don’t throw out that old “junk”, donate it to your local historical society, it might be just what they are hoping to find.
Jermyn’s moving dead
by Walter Avery
Jermyn Historical Society
No, this is not a script for a Halloween movie about zombies. It is a part of Jermyn’s history that both amazes and fascinates newcomers to the area when they first hear about it. Before 1930, what is now Gibson Street was Cemetery Street, for it led to Jermyn’s first burial ground “Shadyside Cemetery”. Way up into the 1950’s the older people in town still called Gibson St. Cemetery St. Shadyside extended from just this side of Garfield Avenue to the area now occupied by the housing project on Henry Drive. Just to the right of the cemetery was Maple Grove Park. The first burial in Shadyside took place in 1872 and a cemetery association was formed in 1889.
In 1939 the Hudson Coal Co. who had leased them the land wanted to dig out the coal under the graves. They offered to pay all expenses to have the bodies moved to the old Powder Mill land that they now owned. On January 8, 1930; six hundred people met in the basement of the Methodist Church to hear the coal company’s proposal. Burgess John Mellow, president of the Cemetery Association opened the meeting. It took 15 minutes to read the proposal. Then Postmaster Arthur Winter spoke on an idea that he, Eugene Avery and William Staples had about buying land near Montdale for a cemetery in a rural setting. Lawyer H.D. Cary read the deed of Shadyside and said that the coal company had the right to dig up the coal without notice. After a heated discussion, all who owned lots were to vote to approve the offer or not, however; many lot owners were not there that night. The vote was 238 for and 38 against.
Those who were against soon formed their own cemetery association with Sam Langman, Mr. Vail and Eugene Avery’s daughter Edna as secretary. The land near Montdale was purchased and Valley View Cemetery was formed. Part of the cemetery was going to be a plot for Masons. A rock that kids jumped off when swimming in Rushbrook Creek just as you start up Route 107. It was called the “white rock”. They moved it to Valley View intending to put a Masonic emblem on it. The Masonic plot never happened. Just imagine the work to get that big rock there in 1930.
Funeral director Floyd Battenberg was awarded the contract to move the bodies and John Booth; the job to relocate the tombstones. They had to wait until cold weather to start to dig up the bodies, for many of them were buried in wooden coffins before there was embalming or vaults and before a hard freeze. Work began on October 23, and was completed on December 20, 1930. Many family members came to watch their loved ones being exhumed. I have been told by descendants of people involved that it was hoped that family members be there at the time to identify the body. I also have heard many stories of jewelry being reclaimed by family members. One written account tells of a badly decomposed body but the crease was still in his trousers and a woman’s hair still neatly pinned in place. Several of the bodies that were buried in wet places were found petrified. One account tells that 1,171 bodies were moved to Jermyn, 610 to Valley View and 30 to other places for a total of 1,811 bodies and all done in just 45 working days.
I got the information for this article from many articles in our archives but have yet to find a photo of Shadyside. This is a void in our history.
MAY THE SOULS OF THE DEPARTED REST IN PEACE.
No Jermyn without John J.
by Walter Avery
Jermyn Historical Society
John J. Jermyn was born on October 27, 1825 in Rendham, Suffolk, England. At the age of 22, he immigrated to the United States and came to Slocum Hollow in 1847. His first job there was unloading coal at the Lackawanna Iron Furnaces owned by the Scranton’s for $1.00 a day. By 1855, John was given the contract for sinking the shaft for the Diamond Mine by the DL&W Railroad Co. at the west end of Linden Street in Hyde Park. It is said that he turned the first shovel of earth for Scranton’s first mine. After opening a mine in Providence and one at the Notch leading to Clarks Summit, he moved to Gibsonburg in 1865 and took over the mine that had been abandoned by Winton & Chittenden as being unprofitable. In a short time with his engineering skills, he had the Breaker #1 built in 1860 producing 600 tons of coal a day. There were three engines and four pumps operating and 300 men and boys employed in the breaker. When he built breaker #2 in 1867, it produced 800 tons a day. Near the breaker, on what is now Chestnut St.; he built a four story steam operated four mill with five runs of stones. In a day it turned out 100 barrels of Valley Star Flour and 20 tons of feed.
On the west side of the Lackawanna at the corner of what is now Bridge St. and Washington Ave. was the Jermyn Company Store and next to it, his office. Next came the home he built for his wife Susan and their children. The home had sixteen rooms with fourteen foot ceilings and four fireplaces. Four of John and Susan’s children (Edmund, Emma, Susan and Rollo) were born in this house. Behind the house there was a spring, garden and many fruit trees. My father grew up across the street from the Jermyn house and would tell about raiding their fruit trees, when he was a boy.
In September of 1874, John paid his Northern Coal and Iron Co., $1.00 for land across Bridge St. from his company store, for the erection of a church for the congregation of Episcopalians that were holding services in Rymers Hall on Gibson St. since 1872. John had been acting as superintendent of their Sunday school. The new church was built with locally hewn timber and the pews were made of local chestnut wood. John gave $5,000 toward its construction and decoration. The completed church was consecrated by Bishop Potter of New York on September 23, 1876. John became its first Senior Warden. Over the years many things were added to the church to enhance its beauty and worship services, but I am sure John J. would still feel right at home there.
When Gibsonburg was incorporated in 1870, John J. Jermyn became its first Mayor. I don’t know if it is true but I read the story that when the D&H Railroad built their station here, they hung a sign on it “JERMYN”. When Lackawanna County was formed in 1878, it was decided to formally change the town’s name from Gibsonburg to Jermyn in honor of John J.
John J. sold his mine to the D&H Coal Co. and moved to Scranton in 1882. As he did in Jermyn, he continued to take over other mines in the valley, make them profitable and sell them. He also invested in other real estate as well, and got into banking. One of his great projects in Scranton was the building of the Jermyn Hotel in 1895. It was completely fire proof. His home was at the corner of Jefferson Ave. and Vine St. It was torn down to build The Catholic Youth Center. In early 1902, John’s health was failing. Hoping a change of climate might help, he went to California but it didn’t improve so he decided to come home. On the train ride back his family though he might not survive past St. Louis. He managed to get back to Scranton where he died on May 29, 1902.
After his death, a memorial window was placed behind the alter in his memory in St. James Church in Jermyn and his family built the beautiful marble work in the chancel of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Scranton.
Because of our geography with Rushbrook Creek cutting its way through the mountain on its way to the Lackawanna, there would most likely be a town here. But with out John J. would it be as important a place in history?
Jermyn’s Memorable 4th of Julys
by Walter Avery
Jermyn Historical Society
My mother often remembered her father, A.F.A. Battenberg, setting off a fire work display for all the kids in the neighborhood in back of his store on 4th of July. I once was shown a letter to the editor of the Jermyn Press from around 1902 complaining about all the fire works that were causing a fire hazard over the 4th. Well at 2:00 a.m. July 5, 1916 the house recently bought by James Allen next to the Methodist Church, burnt down while they were out of town. It was believed to have started from the sparks from a skyrocket. In 1925 another fire occurred on the 4th of July. John Mumford’s livery stable at the east end of Franklin St. burnt down destroying cars and killing three of the five horses they were unable to get out in time. This fire was caused by an exploding gas tank not fire works. For many years the American Legion had a picnic and firework display at the Legion Field, later known as Fowler’s Field, facing the 600 block of Garfield Avenue, on the 4th of July. This all ended in 1939 when a boy named Paddy Powers went under the rope barrier and picked up what was thought to be a dud. It exploded and took off several of his fingers.
When I was a youngster it was illegal for people to buy exploding fireworks. Of course each July you could hear or see a few of these go off around town. The night before the big day I made sure that all my cap guns were in good working order. From about 7:00 a.m. the next morning until dark there were three kids on our front porch seeing who could shoot off the most number of caps before bed time, (me, Vincent Connors, who lived next door, and my Dad). Once in a while we would rest our trigger fingers by stopping to eat some watermelon, baked beans and ham that Mother had prepared. If you tore off a strip of caps from the role and folded them back and forth on top of one another, then hit them with a rock on the sidewalk it made a louder bang and sent sparks flying.
The two biggest 4th of Julys in Jermyn, were in 1946 and 1970. 1946 was the welcome celebration for the Boys coming home from WWII. I was only ten years old at the time, but still remember all the excited preparation for the big event. Homes and stores were decorated and banners hung across Main St. The big parade on the 4th was led off with a Military band, followed by the returning G I’s, next came floats, more bands and all the organizations in town. It was the greatest parade I ever saw in my ten years. Mother watched it all from our front porch. My sister was born two days later.
Jermyn’s Centennial began at midnight New Years Eve 1970, with fire works shot off in unison from the bank parking lot on Washington Avenue, Crawford’s Field, behind the 400 block of Jefferson Avenue and St. Michael’s Youth Center field on Delaware St. People in Peckville heard them. From about April, groups of “Brothers of the Brush” and “Bells” were meeting regularly, having parties and baseball games on weekends (often dressed in old fashioned or comic outfits). By mid June the town was festooned from one end to the other. Makeshift jails sprung up outside most bars and meeting places, for the “Brothers” and “Bells” that couldn’t obey the rules. And if you were arrested by the Keystone Cops, you came before the kangaroo court at the foot of Franklin St. Who knew what the judge would sentence you to? For two weeks before the official start there were motorcades of people in centennial dress going up and down the valley to advertize the event. The biggest one was a block and a half long that went to Scranton’s Firework Display at the stadium the week before the 4th.
Carnival rides and food stands were set up in the field behind the 600 block of Washington Avenue. The real celebration started on July 4th. That day was reserved for family get togethers; a kind of home coming. On the 5th there was a community vesper service outside St. Michael’s Youth Center. The rest of the week was filled with special events and parades. Music of the turn of the century was heard in front of the centennial head quarters in the 500 block of Washington Ave. during the day and at night the 600 block was closed to traffic for square dancing and entertainment. Then on July 11th came the Grand Finale. The roads into Jermyn were blocked with cars. People lined the curbs from where the parade began in the 600 block of Lackawanna Avenue in Mayfield, to the end of Jermyn. It was the biggest parade Jermyn ever had. That night the awards were given out at St. Michael’s Field, followed by a concert and a spectacular fire works display. The carnival and food stands over town stayed open late that night. Nobody wanted it to end. So you see the 4th of July that year lasted about three months. It was our best ever.
Today is tomorrow’s history
by Walter Avery
Jermyn Historical Society
As we reflect on history, we are reading about or remembering people and events that shaped the present. Unless we are considering a natural disaster, the event was most likely caused by a person or group of people that changed history for the good or bad. The Jermyn Historical Society has collected obituaries of people who once lived in our community from 1902 to the present. They tell a wonderful story of the people that made Jermyn what it is today. Some of them are stories of ordinary home town folks that gave the town its personality. Others are about those who were active in its government, organizations and our churches, the towns “movers and shakers”.
At the end of May we added a new obituary to our collection, that of Mark Coons. He was one of the “movers and shakers” in his own unobtrusive way. He was mostly seen at the Crystal Fire Company events and fighting fires through out the county. He loved being a fireman in all its aspects and was a leader in all fire organizations right up to The North East Volunteer Fireman’s Federation. His second passion was sports of every kind, and at every level: local, college and pro. It was his collection of sport statistics that landed him a job as a sports writer for The Scranton Times.
Mark’s parents and I were very close friends all through school. We were always together. But I first got to know Mark when I went to one of the first meetings of the newly formed Jermyn Historical Society. Although Mark was only in his late 30’s at the time, he was already the president of the society. When he got the job with the newspaper, Mark could not make most of the meetings so I inherited the presidency. (The job also interfered with him getting to all the Jermyn Lions Club’s meetings, but he was still president of it for the past four years). Mark always loved history and often he would come in to see me and hand me a paper saying, is this-what you wanted?” It might be an article about somebody from the turn of the century or about a fire in 1930. A lot of what we have in our archives came from his research. Mark was a vital part of our society and a lot of his information would end up in my articles each month. In fact he was going to find out the answers to some questions I had about my subject for this month’s article. Therefore you will read about 4th of Julys in Jermyn at the end of July.
I told Mark at his viewing that, “I still need those questions answered and I will keep in touch with him”. In the past week, he has let several of us know that he is not far from us. In his forty two years, Mark has left a lasting mark on Jermyn’s history.
Before it was Jermyn
by Walter Avery
Jermyn Historical Society
The part of the Lackawanna Valley we now call Jermyn was first referred to as Four Mile Point because it was four miles down stream from Carbondale. In the book “A Half Century in Scranton by Benjamin H. Throop published in 1859, we read, where half a century ago, there came gurgling down into the Lackawanna one of the prettiest trout brooks in all this section, and alive with trout, there now stands a thriving village. The brook was nameless then. Subsequently one or two settlers built near it, and the name of one of them was taken as a designation of the location they had chosen. As the defile and the mountain side adjacent began to be cleared, and others came to join the first settlers, a straggling village sprung up. To this the name of Rushdale was given.
In the early years there were more homes on the east side of the river. A lot of the west side was farm land. A family be the name of Bacon, had a farm an acre from what is now just west of Washington Ave. to Lincoln Ave. and from half way down Madison Ave. to Gibson St. Soon the town became known as Baconville. Although the 1859 account I quoted above says the name was first Rushdale then Baconville, most histories tell it the other way around. As the town grew and prospered, a man by the name of John Gibson of Philadelphia owned most of the southern end of town. By now John J. Jermyn had come to town, taken over the failing coal mine and with new technology turned it into a prosperous business. To supply the mines in the area with black powder, the Moosic Powder Co. was established at the lower end of town. Mr. Jermyn built a steam powered gris mill just over the bridge on the east side of town. Soon First Avenue ( as Washington Ave. was then named) was lined with stores. There was Mr. Jermyn’s Company store as you turned to go to the east side. Up on First Ave. were meat markets, boot shops, general stores, harness makers, tin smiths, drug stores, blacksmiths, etc. to supply all the needs of the people in town and those living beyond the Rushbrook cut through the mountain. It was time to become an official place on the map.
On January 31, 1870 Luzerne County granted incorporation thereby separating the community from Blakely Township. The name given to the new town was “Gibsonburg” after the one who owned most of the coal lands within the borough. By 1874 the D&H Canal Co. had acquired the coal lands and put the name “Jermyn” on their railway station at this stop. Therefore the town council decided to change the name of the town to Jermyn in honor of its primary citizen and benefactor. Two years later Jermyn became part of the newly formed Lackawanna County.
Mealtime in the 1940’s and 50’s
by Walter Avery
Jermyn Historical Society
Last June and July I wrote about the bars in the past. Well the miners expected a good meal when they got home from washing down the coal dust at the saloon. Jermyn had about as many grocery stores as bars where the women could shop for food to feed their men. As you reminisce with me you may say “But that store was here” or “You didn’t tell about them”. Many stores changed locations and owners and I am only concerned with the years between 1940 and 1960 that I remember. As in my article about the bars in Jermyn I will start at the north end of town and travel south.
When I was young Frank LaRosa had a store on the north side of the 200 block of Rushbrook St. When I thought my mother wasn’t watching I would sneak up there to buy penny candy, hoping that his wife Josephine was not behind the counter. I could never understand her broken English. Later he built a larger store across the street. On the corner of Madison and Rushbrook was Langman’s Store. Besides Dawson and his brother Charlie Langman; seven people worked there. They did a good business in fresh cut meat as well as general groceries. Like most of the larger stores in town, you could call in your order and have them deliver it. On Washington Ave. next to Rushbrook Creek, the building now occupied by Brenzel’s Insurance, Hank Hockady started a store. With the out break of World War II he sold the business to Jim Connor. His wife Rosella and his sons Jim Jr. and Gerard were part of the business. Often Jim would have his police dog with him behind the meat counter. Imagine that today! Once when he was in the refrigerator getting meat, someone put a trick doggy stool in the sawdust under the chopping block. When he came out and saw it he sheepishly tried to kick some of the sawdust over it. At the Franklin Street corner of Washington Ave., The Acme Store, our super market, was on the east side of the street. On the north side was Dave Seltzer’s “Banner Food Store”. I still say he had the best Swiss cheese I ever ate. As his wife Tillie checked people out she would call back to Dave at the meat counter, “how much are carrots dear?” And he would call back “Twenty five cents love.”
Going up Franklin to Jefferson Ave., McLaughlin’s had a store on the south east side of the corner and Emmett Dempsey had moved his store from Lincoln Ave. to the northwest side of the corner. If I thought I could get away with it as a youngster, I would venture up to Dempsey’s for candy and trinkets. Much later I found out that older boys could buy three cigarettes and the men could get a beer in the back room. When McLaughlin’s closed Alvin Young started his store there. Then when Emmett went out of business he moved over there. Before the out break of World War II one of Jermyn’s main stores was Baker Bros. in the 500 block of Washington Ave. The Washington Ave. Apartments now occupy the building. It was a complete department store with grocery department in the back on the main floor. At the corner of Bacon St. and Madison Ave. was Joe Shea’s “Big Chief Market”, what a handy place for all the kids to stock up on candy before going to school across the street.
Across Washington Ave. across from the Episcopal Church, Richard Marian had a store where Kennedy’s Beer Distributer is now located. Further down on Washington Ave. and Lackawanna was a very popular place for mom and pops, serving the people of that part of town. The locations on the east side of the corner and the owners kept changing. To name a few there was Kennedy’s, McGovern’s, Horswell, Yurgosky’s and Tizzoni’s. If we cross the river to the east side of town across from the old D&H station on Chestnut St. was Lapata’s General Store. A little ways up Deleware St. was Kuzma Leschak’s store and over at 321 Hudson St. was Rudolph’s Market.
So you see the people didn’t have to go far to buy a can of corn, fresh tomatoes, wheaties, sharp cheese, pork chops, good and plenties, and some times even a bottle of Gibbons beer. Of all the nieborhood stores I told about, LaRosa’s and Rudolph’s were the last to close, ending the good old days of running next door to get something to fix for supper.
A pre-baby boomer remembers
by Walter Avery
Jermyn Historical Society
I was born in November 1936. My sister was born two days after the 4th of July Welcome Home Celebration in 1946. A few years ago as I was recording my Dad telling family history, I thought I should record what I remembered of the war for my sister. See how much of it sounds familiar to you.
Dad was in St. Joseph’s Hospital with blood poisoning in his finger when Pearl Harbor was attacked. They didn’t tell him until he got out several days later. I just remember the long cold walk up the hill from the bus stop each night with Mother to see him. Dad had the flower shop in Jermyn at that time, but because he had a degree from Johnson School in Tool & Die Making he had to get a job in a defense plant. He first worked at Hendricks and would come home filthy dirty. He hated that job. Then he got a job as final inspector of airplane wings at the Murray plant.
When I started first grade in 1941 our school day began with the reading of a Psalm and the Pledge of Allegiance followed by several patriotic songs such as “Anchors Away”, “The Marine Hymn” or “Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition”. If the siren blew “Air Raid” we were taken to the basement until the “All Clear”. We school children did our part to help out in the war effort by purchasing 25cent savings stamps. When the book was filled with 75 of them we could turn it in for a war bond. We also took to school, flattened tin cans, coffee cans full of saved bacon grease, and milkweed pods that were used to fill life jackets. Once in a while we would be taken through the hall to a classroom in the old high school building next door so the teachers could listen to radio news of important reports of the war, like V-D Day. I also saw these in the headlines. Each night we were joined at the supper table by Lowell Thomas and the news. I saw my parent’s interest and concern but at my age I didn’t really understand how grave a time it was. Then there was the day an Air Force pilot from Jermyn buzzed the town. We ran to the classroom windows to see what all the noise was. It seemed he would knock the belfry off the building. Years later I learned that he never returned from the war.
Once a month, Mother and I would go to sign up for ration coupons. Some of the items we didn’t use as much as other people, so she would swap them for things we used. Because we had a business and had to make deliveries, Dad was allotted more gas than those who just used their car for pleasure. Half way through the war our car wore out. After some red tape, because of the business, he was permitted to get a new car but had to go to Tunkhannock to get it. Dad was a member of the civil defense so when the siren blew “Black out” and all the lights in town were turned off, he would get his flashlight with the red lens and go out on patrol. Quite frequently Mother would be in the middle of making jam or chili sauce and would have to finish it in the light of one small red votive candle.
Now we did have fun during the war. We kids in the neighborhood had war games fighting the “Nazis and Dirty Japs” and had battles with toy iron soldiers in the dirt. When we went to the Irving to see a movie, we first stood and sang “God Bless America” with Kate Smith, then watched the Pathe news, a cartoon, and coming attractions, then the feature film.
The first big headlines I remember, was the D-Day invasion and Germany’s surrender with its gleam of hope that this war might end soon. Next came FDR’s death, the entire town fell silent. Mother and Dad sat at the kitchen table in silence. He was the only President in my life time. Now what? But I was mad Sam Solomon’s ice cream parlor was closed along with all the other stores, and I wanted ice cream. Then, what was that new devastating weapon used on Japan? We knew it was just a matter of time now.
About 6:30 p.m. on August 14, 1945, the news broke over the radio Japan surrendered! All hell broke loose, church bells rang, sirens and car horns blew – everyone was outside cheering – there were impromptu parades of cars, musicians and people in the streets. One group of women carried umbrellas and wore bathrobes mocking Japanese women. A woman down the street sat on a flag draped hood of an old car beating a base drum with a wooden spoon. The next day we heard she was burned when the car over heated. I don’t know where Dad got all the hot dogs but by 9:00 p.m. he was cooking them on the fireplace in our backyard for all the people who came to party with us.
It was well after midnight when the celebrating wound down. The next day the streets were littered with reveler’s debris and many trees were festooned with toilet paper. People had let go of all their anxieties, there was a bright tomorrow. It was the greatest celebration of my life.
The best time of the year
by Walter Avery
Jermyn Historical Society
When we reminisce about the “good old days” we often glamorize them. This is particularly true when we are visited by “the ghost of Christmas past”. Bearing this in mind; come with me, back to my Christmas’ in the 1940’s and 1950’s. It seems like Christmas was colder and snowier then. The other day a friend of mine pointed out that they used chains on their tires and cinders on the roads, not salt and chemicals to melt the snow in twenty four hours. The back streets were for sleigh riding. Christmas in our house started the day after Thanksgiving when Mother “God bless her”, would take me by bus to Scranton. Our first stop was the Globe Store to see Santa, then across the street to the Scranton Dry and up the last and rickety wooden escalator to the sixth floor and Toy Land with its throng of kids, smelly pony rides and hot dogs. By late after noon we would be watching the big train display in the Household window while waiting for the bus home. The Sunday after Thanksgiving, Mother baked her fruit cakes from a family recipe of the late 1800’s, with its ten eggs and pound of butter, it was before cholesterol. After they cooled Mother would wrap them in linen napkins drenched in Dad’s Old Grand-Dad 100 proof and store them in a tin in the attic until Christmas Eve. I still go through this ritual each year.
In the 1940’s you could do most of your Christmas shopping right in Jermyn. Leo Moskovitz or John Danyo at his Variety Store always had just what would please mom. Miller’s 5 & 10 cent store sold ornaments and aluminum foil icicles to trim the tree. I remember as a child buying a large ornament there with my own money. It still hangs on my tree. The broken side toward the back. They also sold toys, books, candy canes, and candy clear toys. By mid December LaRosa’s food store stocked popcorn balls, coconut pink, white and brown bonbons and fresh pomegranates. About two weeks before Christmas, Dad would play Christmas records of organ music and chimes through speakers from above his flower shop. In the crisp December air you could hear it a block away. And nobody yelled “noise pollution”. The scent of pine and balsam filled the air from the lots where Christmas trees were being sold. Most people didn’t put their tree up until just a few days before Christmas. I never saw the tree until after Santa brought it Christmas Eve while I was asleep, and in my childhood Mother insisted that it be taken down on New Years. Often in the 1940’s children from the east side of town would knock at your door and ask if they could have it to use for their Christmas on January 7th. By the mid 1940’s we were putting the tree up a few days before Christmas, and I got to help.
It was tradition in our family to have oyster stew for supper on Christmas Eve. I didn’t like it but it was a tradition so I ate it. Years later I wished we were Italian or Polish after I learned about the banquet feast meal with all the sea food they ate on Christmas Eve. I was delighted and felt grown up when I was able to go to the midnight service with Mother and Dad. Having only oyster stew at 6:00, by 11:30 our stomachs were rumbling in time for communion. Once we were home, the fruit cake came out of the attic, ham and kielbasa were sliced, cookies and candy were put out and wine was poured. It was our time to celebrate.
Although we got to bed in the wee hours of the morning, we were up early to see what Santa brought and open other gifts. Mother never allowed me to eat candy until the after noon except on Christmas and Easter. I still have some on those mornings, it makes them special days. The aunts and uncles not joining us for Christmas dinner; would stop in later that night. Tired as we were, Dad insisted that we stay up until after midnight to enjoy the entire Christmas. In the past Christmas week was spent visiting family and friends. In the 1950’s the Lions Club had a house decorating contest. People tried to out do each other to win the prize. How beautiful it was walking (yes walking) to their homes, it was the 1950’s. After New Years when I was in high school, I thought – why stop the celebration? Orthodox Christmas was six days away, then their New Year. We had to party with them.
May these memories and traditions never die!
by Walter Avery
Jermyn Historical Society
In my December article I told about my memories of Christmas in the 1940’s and 50’s. Well it’s time for Easter memories. When I was in elementary school I knew it was lent when I could sit in class and smell Mrs. Green down the street making doughnuts on Wednesdays to sell for St. James Church.
For many years Floyd Battenberg would put nursery furniture in one of his store windows before Easter. The center of attraction was the playpen with live animals in it. The children in town couldn’t wait to see what was there each year. It started with Baby Chicks then the next year it was rabbits. Before long it worked its way to a pair of monkeys, then finally a lamb. When large ticks were found it its wool it went back to the farm and that was the end of animals in the furniture store, but it was fun while it lasted.
Once again because my family was in the floral business, most of my memories center around that. One third of our yearly business was done Holy Week, but before that Mother had spent many hours making bows and maline puffs for corsages as I put the boxes they went in together. Back then, most every woman had to have a corsage to go with her new Easter hat and outfit. Our Easter plants would arrive the week before Palm Sunday. We all went to church on Palm Sunday. During the offertory Cecelia Gibbs would sing “The Palms” and later in the service Frank Green would bellow “Were You There”? Although the choir stalls were full, they were the only ones you could hear.
On Holy Thursday, the children who went to Sacred Heart of Mary came to school about 10:00 because they had to take part in the moving of the sacrament procession. At noon we were all dismissed until Tuesday for Easter vacation (not spring break). My vacation was spent helping in the shop wrapping and watering the pots of flowers, stemming roses and carnations for Mother to use in corsages, and when I was able to drive, making deliveries. At noon Good Friday all the stores closed (including ours) until 3:00 p.m. A hush came over the town. There was very little traffic. Most people were in church. Although we were closed for the three hours, we were in the back trying to get caught up with orders. When we opened at 3:00 p.m. it seemed that everyone that was in church came straight to our store. There was no Saturday night mass at that time so we would still be delivering last minute corsage orders at 10:00 p.m. so they would have them for early mass.
Dad used to tell us that when he was young, people would bring their caged canaries to 7:00a.m. Easter service at St. James Episcopal Church and they would sing all through the service. Well by 1950 I was the only member of our family in church Easter. Mother was most likely in bed with what she called a sick headache from all the stress of the past week. If I was in church it was because they scheduled me as alter boy for the 11:00 a.m. service. More than once Frank Green dragged me over the alter rail and into the sacristy to revive me from exhaustion.
Easter was not all work. There were eggs to color. That was fun, but then we had all those blasted hard boiled eggs I hated to eat, all week. When I was small in the midst of the store rush one year Uncle John brought me three colored baby peeps and another year a baby duck. Who do you think took care of them along with everything else; Mother. On Easter morning there was always an Easter basket with a solid chocolate rabbit and a chocolate butter cream filled egg that had a yoke and white when you sliced it. What was Easter with out jelly beans? Dad loved them. We went out for Easter dinner on Monday. Yes Easter was hectic when I was growing up but I wouldn’t change it. As busy as it was, it was a special holy season.
by Walter Avery
Jermyn Historical Society
In the 141 years since Jermyn’s incorporation, there have been many fires in the borough. All of them, except two were single structures. There was one in 1915 on the east side of town that destroyed two buildings. Then there was THE BIG ONE on the night of March 24, 1904 in the 600 block of Washington Ave. It began in a livery stable built over Rushbrook Creek and spread north to the Windsor Hotel and south to the original brick bank that occupied where the addition to the “new” 1924 bank building. From here on most of this article is quoted from the next days Scranton Times.
While the loss by the Jermyn fire of yesterday morning will fall heavily upon those who owned buildings which were destroyed, yet in the town there is a general feeling of thankfulness that the entire business section was not wiped out as well as a part of the residential section. From the beginning the local fire companies were handicapped by frozen water plugs and low water pressure, but in the face of every difficulty they fought long and earnestly to confine the fire to a limited area and succeeded with the aid of the Mayfield companies.
As the situation is at present, Jermyn is cut off from all telephonic communication either up or down the valley. Several families are homeless and the largest and finest buildings in the town are a heap of smoldering debris. When the fire was first discovered, shortly before eleven o’clock Thursday night, it had secured a firm hold on the livery stable, which was doomed from the very first.
A number of men attracted by the blaze went into the burning structure and borough out twelve badly scared horses and also the wagons. No harness was saved. The hay and straw stored on the first floor produced such volumes of smoke that the firemen were unable to approach it with buckets of water and by the time the plugs were thawed out the barn and the next building to it were almost in ashes, with the flames enveloping the next two buildings.
Eight streams were soon at work on the fire, but low pressure made the fire fighting very difficult. At midnight Fire Chief Hocking telegraphed to Carbondale, Mayfield and Scranton for assistance. Carbondale failed to respond and although Chief H. F. Ferber worked his hardest it was found impossible to get the Scranton companies there in time to be of service. Mayfield was soon on the scene and did excellent service.
When Jones’ drug store caught fire there was a series of explosions which lent “added fury” to the flames, and at twelve thirty o’clock the beautiful three-story Assembly Hall, in which the last district C.T.A.U. convention was held, was burning, the walls collapsing with a terrible crash at five minutes past one o’clock.
When the hall fell a wall of sparks hid the Windsor Hotel from view and for an instant it was feared that it would also fall a prey to the flames, but Chief Hocking and his band of fighters stuck to the hotel and succeeded in putting out the small fires which started in different places.
The fire reached the telephone and other wires on the street and soon electric lights, street cars and telephones were a thing of the past. The blaze ran along one of the wires to the exchange of the Consolidated Telephone Company and caused a slight fire, Miss Waters, the night operator having a narrow escape. Patrick Meehan was the only one injured during the progress of the fire. Mr. Meehan was a pipe man for the Crystal Company.
The large two-story livery stable was owned by Thomas Bray and occupied by Liveryman Staples and Henry Laymon as a restaurant and pool room; C.L. Bell’s building was one story and a half and was occupied by Thomas Griffiths, hatter, and John R. Jones druggist; Assembly hall, owned by George Edmonds was occupied on the first floor by Edward Mellow, furniture, and Edmund Mason, grocer. The second floor was a dance hall, also being used by the local societies. The double dwelling of John Marion was occupied by George Robinson and Alden Benjamin. Dr. Shields occupied the building owned by him.
During the progress of the fire, the sky became a bright red which attracted the attention of many in this city and Carbondale and a large number went up from this city on the last train. Many drove from Carbondale and surrounding towns to Jermyn.
Edmonds Hall ……………………..$10,000 $6,000
C.L. Bell Building…………………. 3,000 2,000
John Marion Building……………… 1,000 600
Dr. Shields, house & contents……… 3,600 2,000
Thomas Bray, Barn………………… 600 400
Thomas Griffiths…………………… 2,000 None
John R. Jones………………………. 2,500 Partial
Edwin Mollow……………………… 2,500 Partial
Edward Mason……………………… 2,500 1,500
William Staples……………………… 650 300
Secret Societies……………………… 650 None
Alden Benjamin……………………… 500 300
George Robinson…………………….. 500 None
Telephone Exchange………………… 500 ——
Total $30,500 $13,100
At the end of the account of the fire, the paper reported that while fighting the fire David Moon from the Artisan Fire Co. apprehended two Hungarians (I won’t give their names as the 1904 article did) from the east side of town stealing the dining room silverware in the Windsor Hotel. They were arrested. The next morning one of them was let go for lack of evidence. The other one was held on $600.00 bail.
Newspapers back then told every detail.
Sensory Memories of the Past
by Walter Avery
Jermyn Historical Society
In my article about Easter Tide, I told about smelling Mrs. Green’s Lenten donuts. Its little things like this that can trigger fond memories. Where are all the lilac and mock orange bushes that sent up a fragrance all over Jermyn in time for graduation, or the scent of dusty back streets in early summer, followed by the pungent odor of the sticky oil used to subdue that dust? Then came the smell of smoke from shot off cap guns and fire crackers filling the hot July air. The summer months were accentuated the sounds and smells of fire company and church picnics. They began on the 4th of July week with the sound of Frank Green calling out bingo numbers over the loud speaker at the Crystal Fire Co. picnic on their bandstand lot in the 500 block of Washington Ave. You had your beer and clams around the back and under the bandstand. In about a week we would hear the rattle of the wheel of chance at the Sacred Heart of Mary picnic and before the end of summer we were serenaded by polka music coming from St. Michaels’ and Sacred Heart of Jesus picnics. What about those mouth watering smells: boiling hot dogs, cotton candy and the hot oil cooking French fries and pierogies. Thank goodness we can still enjoy these pleasures, but most times we have to go out of Jermyn to do it. During the dog days of summer what a treat it was for kids to sneak into where the ice man stored his ice, lift up one end of the canvas and snitch a bit of ice to suck on. As the ice man made his rounds a card in a window let him know who wanted ice and how much. If a 10 was in the top position she wanted 10cents worth. A 25 on top meant 25 cents etc. Some time in the mid 1940’s a new delightful aroma wafted its way up the 600 block of Washington Ave. Sam Solomon was roasting peanuts at his ice cream parlor. Fall brought the incense of piles of burning leaves along curbs and the aroma of mothers cooking jams and chili sauce half a block away. The cooler weather also brought a new sound. The man who delivered ice was now making a racket shoveling coal out of his dump truck down a metal shoot into someone’s cellar coal bin. In December came the fragrance of fresh evergreens decorating front doors and porches to delight our cold noses. All winter there was the rhythmic sound of the cars going past with chains around their tires clanging as they went.
If you woke up early enough you would hear the clanking of bottles of milk being left at your door. In the winter by getting them before your mother came down stairs you could enjoy a taste of the frozen cream spooned off the column sticking above the top of the bottle. Most people awoke with the sound of the 6:00 a.m. angelus from Sacred Heart of Mary and St. Michael’s in Jermyn as well as St. John’s and Sacred Heart of Jesus in Mayfield. In our home the sound of the noon angelus meant lunch time and the 6:00 p.m. one supper. In later years we listened at 6:15 p.m. for the chimes playing hymns at Sacred Heart of Jesus. Before the D&H breaker shut down, its whistle blew at 7:00 p.m. Once if there was work the next day, twice if there wasn’t. When the fire siren blew curfew at 9:00 p.m. the children best have their hand on the doorknob or their parents would be out to get them. In between time the bank clock striking every quarter hour, let people within its sound know what time it was. At 9:00 a.m. on week days the bell in the school tower let the stragglers know they were late. Sunday mornings each church rang its bell when their service was about to start. For several years both the Primitive Methodist and the Methodist churches played hymns from their towers Sunday mornings.
In the era that I am telling about, most all properties were delineated by either a hedge or a picket fence or even one of the decorative iron ones. Today most homes don’t have a fence and if they do it’s a chain link or the new plastic ones. The other day I drove all over Jermyn and counted only five of the beautiful iron ones left in town. How many of you are old enough to remember hearing the sound of the rag man blowing his horn out the window of his truck or the man who repaired umbrellas and sharpened scissors coming down the street with his apparatus on his back ringing a hand bell to let people know he was in town? What about the huckster selling fruit and vegetables, eggs and live chickens out of the back of the pickup? In those years children would pick blackberries and huckleberries in the woods near town and sell them door to door. How wonderful the house smelled when mother added a pinch of this and dash of that to them, and used them in her baking. A common sight in those days was a group of boys walking through town with their air guns or twenty twos shooting bottles and rats. After dark what was frequently seen was a man staggering incoherently home from one of the neighborhood bars and you wondered if he would make it.
Most of these sights, sounds and smells have disappeared, to be replaced by new ones of the 21st century, but in a few years they will be what stimulate loving memories in our children and grandchildren.