The Wayne County Historical Society provides a platform from which people who are passionate about the history of this place can pursue their dreams of preserving it, says Society Executive Director Carol Dunn,
It is a fact that remains as true today as when the organization was founded 104 years ago.
In May 1917, a group of residents formed the Wayne County Historical Society to preserve the stories of those who had lived the experience of the Delaware & Hudson Canal, which dominated Wayne County for more than 70 years. It all started with some storage space in one half of the D&H Canal Co. Office, where you enter their Main Museum at 810 Main Street in Honesdale today.
Eventually taking over the entire building, the Wayne County Historical Society opened it as a museum in the early 1930s. Designated a National Historic Landmark, it has undergone several expansions, including one to house the replica of the famed Stourbridge Lion Steam Locomotive. In 1981, the Society added the historic Torrey Land Office to the campus after saving it from demolition elsewhere in town.
Although Dunn says the Historical Society has completely built out the Main Street property, they have expanded their footprint to include the JB Park Farm Museum at the Wayne County Fairgrounds. In this joint endeavor, the Fair Association maintains the recently expanded building and the Historical Society provides and curates the exhibits and artifacts devoted to the agricultural history of the county.
In addition, through an agreement with the Wayne County Commissioners, the Historical Society also provides seasonal programs at two county-owned historic sites: the Old Stone Jail on the Courthouse Campus in Honesdale and the Bethel One-Room School on the County Farm property in Berlin Township.
In 2001, the past and future began to come together when the Wayne County Historical Society acquired the 1820 Daniels Farm House, the adjacent Lock 31 and one mile of towpath along the old D&H Canal just west of Hawley.
Now known as the D&H Canal Park at Lock 31, the 16-acre tract along the Lackawaxen River continues to be developed by the Society. “Mostly powered by our volunteers,” Dunn said the project has received about $900,000 in grants that many of which required a local match. Those volunteers have done whatever it takes to clean up and restore the property as well as painstakingly follow an architectural plan designed to restore it to 1870.
The latest addition to the Canal Park has been a pavilion, which actually sits between the hand-laid stone walls of the former canal. Dunn noted it will eventually be topped by the replica of a canal boat from the era. “When you drive onto the property,” she explained, “it’s going to look like the boat is floating on the canal.”
A lot has changed in 20 years since the Wayne County Historical Society acquired Lock 31, including the visitors. “When you’re at Canal Park you are immersed in history. You’re walking on it,” Dunn said of the heavily used towpath trail, which stretches for a mile along the former canal and the Lackawaxen River.
Soon, likely 2023, the Canal Park will also be home to a small craft launch, where you can bring canoes, kayaks or paddleboards to gain access to the developing Lackawaxen River Trail (see page 1). Dunn said collaborating with the Wayne Pike Trails & Waterways Alliance and Wayne Tomorrow! to join the network of access points will make the D&H Canal Park at Lock 31 the perfect interface between the area’s rich local history and outdoor recreation.
“That’s what today’s tourists want. They don’t want to go to a museum. They want an experience,” Dunn explained.
Outdoor recreation attracts a lot of people to Wayne County, and Wayne Tomorrow! wants to capitalize on that exposure by introducing them to our fascinating history in the hopes of luring companies and entrepreneurs to help us cultivate a vibrant future with diverse opportunities for everyone.