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A History of Lacawac

An early steam boat on Wallenpaupack Creek

Ledgedale landing now the site of a PPL campground/marina

Congressman William Connell enjoys Lake Lacawac - circa 1908

Early fun on Lake Lacawac

Watres Lodge circa 1910

Col L.A. Watres

Workmen build the main Wallenpaupack dam

Walking Guide to the Lacawac Great Camp

History Of Lake Wallenpupack - Brochure

In The Beginning

    The family of William Penn held a number of private in-holdings within their grants of land from the British crown, the largest of which in Wayne County was called the Wallenpaupack Manor. Much of this was acquired by James Wilson, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, who, at his death in 1799, was the largest landowner in Wayne County.

    A large portion of this Wallenpaupack Manor was acquired in 1849 by Burton G. Morss, who built a sawmill and tannery on the Wallenpaupack River, at Ledgedale. Ledgedale was a considerable frontier town, boasting a post office, school and general store. The workers were largely Irish immigrants, whose generous consumption of whiskey was legendary.

    Burton Morss did the big harvest of virgin timber in the Wallenpaupack basin, utilizing the tannin in the bark of the hemlock for tanning leather. The tanning of leather was a major industry in Wayne County during Morss' years in business. The photographs of 1875 show that the harvest of timber left very little forest standing on the Pocono plateau.

    Regional roads were so primitive that Burton Morss operated a steamboat between his mill and the head of the Wallenpaupack Falls, at Wilsonville. There, he had access to markets by way of the Delaware and Hudson Canal and the railroads connecting to the Lackawanna Valley and to the Erie Railroad, at Lackawaxen. The Lacawac property was part of the Morss' land holdings, and he and his family used to fish at Lacawac, which early developed a reputation as an excellent bass lake. Their rough wagon road reached the lake at the present dock site.

    In 1895, the Tannery burned, and Morss closed down his business. At the turn of the century, William Connell bought the Lacawac property in order to build for himself and his family a summer estate.

Enter Congressman Connell

    William Connell was born in Nova Scotia in 1825, moved to the coal fields in his youth, and began his career driving a coal wagon. He married Annie Laurence, a woman of great character, who taught him to read and write. Their extreme frugality and industrious careers enabled them to buy the coal company he had worked for in the decade following the Civil War. From there, he branched into other activities, establishing a huge button manufacturing plant, and, finally serving in the U. S. House of Representatives, and seeking, unsuccessfully, the Republican nomination as Governor of Pennsylvania, in 1902.

    The estate of Lacawac, which he called Connell Park, was typical of estates which wealthy Americans were building in the Berkshires and Adirondacks at the turn of the century. Establishing the first of the "second homes" in the Poconos, Connell set a standard of style and comfort unique in the neighborhood. The lodge boasted indoor plumbing, with hot and cold running water, central heating, and refrigeration from ice cut on the lake and stored in the ice house. The main lodge, with rustic trimmings and Mission Oak furnishings, was panelled throughout. The large living and dining rooms with fireplaces, kitchen, pantry, walk-in cooler, and screened dining porch provided a gracious setting for living and entertaining. Eight bedrooms, three bathrooms and a sleeping porch provided ample accommodation.

    At the lake's edge were a spring house, a boat house, a pump house with a one cylinder steam pump which was fired up once a week to fill a big water tank in the lodge with lake water, which was then supplied by gravity to the house. Behind the house was a coachman's house in which the carbide gas was also generated for the gas lighting in the lodge. Behind that was a woodshed, and a privy, without running water, for the help. The ice house and the big two story Carriage house stood at the end of the road.

    Finally, along the entrance drive stood the deer house, a unique feature in the neighborhood. Deer populations had been so decimated by market hunters that, by the turn of the century, it made headlines if someone saw a deer. Connell decided that Connell Park would be a deer park, and he installed a deer fence of wire mesh topped by barbed wire four miles around the property to contain a herd of deer which he imported from Virginia. The deer house was a building for feeding the deer in winter. Later, liberation of Connell's deer herd along with that of Charles Worthington near the Delaware Water Gap repopulated the nearly extinct deer herd accross the region.

    Numbers of local farmers were employed in building the estate, and, ultimately, some of the women from nearby farms served as domestic help, and the young farm lads did odd jobs and rowed boats for guests fishing on the lake. Barn dances became a memorable feature of life at "the Park". The family would hire an orchestra and spread the word in the community of an invitation. Buggies would come streaming in from all over the countryside for dancing in the Carriage House, all gaily decorated with American flags and bunting. In 1909, William Connell died, leaving eleven children, none of whom had an interest in retaining and using Lacawac.

    The Connells' homes were in Scranton, and Lacawac seemed a million miles away in the hinterlands. To reach it, they had taken the train to Lake Ariel, where they were met by their coachman for the rough and dusty seven-miles ride to Lacawac. It was just too logistically difficult running such a place, to be appealing to the Connell heirs.

Col. Louis Watres - Visionary of Wallenpuapck

    At this point, another remarkable man entered the picture: Col. Louis A. Watres, a major figure in Scranton for 50 years, was obliged to go to work after completing fourth grade in school. He continued educating himself, however, for the rest of his life. He clerked for Judge John Handley, read law at home and at an early age became an influential member of the bar with a flourishing law practice. His business career began with the organizing of the network of trolley lines providing public transportation in the Lackawanna valley. At the same time, he was pursuing a successful political career as County Solicitor, State Senator, Lieutenant Governor of Pennsylvania and a two-time Republican nominee for Governor. He organized the County Savings Bank, and was president of the Scranton-Lackawanna Trust Co. He owned and operated two daily newspapers, the Scranton Truth and The Scranton Republican. He also found time and joined the National Guard as a private and quickly rose through the ranks to become colonel of the 11th Regiment during the Spanish American War. He organized the Spring Brook Water Company, now one of the major components of the Pennsylvania Gas and Water Company. Ultimately, his business interests included the manufacturing of chemicals, railroads, lumbering, coal and the organization of the Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey Power Company which built the Wallenpaupack power project.

The Wallenpuapack Project

    It was this Wallenpaupack project which connected him and his family to Lacawac. The Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey Power Company did not have the power of eminent domain, and had to bargain for every inch of the land needed to flood the basin. It was necessary to acquire 15,000 acres of land in order to flood 5,700 acres by the Wallenpaupack dam. The Connell property was a typical example: Col. Watres only needed the 40 acres down along the river, but had to buy the entire property, to acquire the needed parcel. The farms along the river were not prosperous ones, but in spite of some shrewd hold-outs, the entire acquisition by today's standards was not expensive, it came to about $250,000 William Connell had invested about $50,000 in building the infrastructure at Lacawac. The Watres Family picked it up for $15,000.

    Comparisons of this sort have little meaning, however, over long periods of time. When the Scranton family came to the Lackawanna Valley in 1840, the dollar had forty times its present purchasing power. In any case, the Wallenpaupack assemblage of land was completed in 1913, seven years before the Pennsylvania Power and Light Company was formed. The Guaranty Trusts Company loaned the Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey Power Company $25,000,000, secured in part by the land, for clearing the basin and constructing the dam and power plant. At the outset, there were discussions between the company and the Delaware, Lackawanna and West Railroad about selling the Wallenpaupack Power project to the Railroad to electrify their line across the Pocono plateau, but that deal fell through.

    The basin was cleared after World War I. The Pennsylvania Power and Light Company, formed in 1920, acquired the Wallenpaupack Project in 1923. In 1924 construction of the dam began and Lake Wallenpaupack was full and operating by spring of 1926.

The Formation of Lacawac Sanctuary

    For many years the Watres family had a summer compound on Nantucket Island. Lacawac was not a high priority for Col. Watres or his children. A nephew, Lewis Healy, and a niece, Mrs. Cole Price and their families used Lacawac until the beginning of the Great Depression. Throughout the depression and World War II, Lacawac was leased, pending its sale. Throughout those years, it seemed, the natural aspect of Lacawac became more beautiful every year. However, the buildings and entrance road suffered from almost total neglect.

    Col. Watres had two grandchildren. Though they had only visited Lacawac for an occasional picnic or weekend over the years, the beauty and appeal of the place were such that his grandson, Arthur and Arthur's mother, Mrs. Reyburn Watres, wanted to call it home after the death of Reyburn Watres in 1946.

    In 1948, they moved to Lacawac. The entrance road was almost impassable. The dock had collapsed into the lake. The roof of every building leaked. The screening was gone. The staining of shingles and painting of trim had been neglected for two decades. Porches and sills were riddled with termites and timber ants. Concurrently with restoration, the Watreses undertook a selective harvest of timber under the direction of the state forester.

    The Watreses spent the long winter evenings reading. Two books by Fairfield Osborne, "This Plundered Planet" and "The Limits of the Earth" propelled them into the question of what would ultimately become of Lacawac. On a trip to the American Museum of Natural History in New York in search of Fairfield Osborne, they were befriended by Dr. Richard Pough. He was the first president of the Nature Conservancy, an organization which was in its first year (1952). Having joined the Conservancy, the Watreses, at Pough's suggestion, went to talk to Dr. Radclyffe Roberts, the Director of the Academy of Natural Sciences, in Philadelphia. Under the guidance of the dynamic scientist, Dr. Ruth Patrick, the Academy was becoming an important research center for aquatic ecology.

    Shortly thereafter, on a cold winter day, Dr. Roberts and Dr. Patrick paid a visit to Lacawac. Dr. Patrick observed that Lacawac was probably the southernmost unpolluted glacial lake in the United States, and that it would be invaluable as a baseline lake for research and education. Having essential control of the watershed, it would be possible to protect the integrity of the lake and give security to research projects and scientific apparatus.

    To that point, the Watreses had felt that the beauty of Lacawac alone justified the effort to protect it from developmental excesses. Now, however, they had a serious, humanistic basis for protecting Lacawac--a basis that might attract support over time. The Watreses spent the next fourteen years endeavoring to find an institutional partner to provide strength, stability and significant programs at Lacawac.

    Having failed to find an institutional partner of recognized strength and stature, the Watreses formed the Lacawac Sanctuary Foundation in 1966, and turned over the lake, most of the infrastructure and much of the land to it.

    A new element entered the picture in 1988, the emergence of Lehigh University as major user. Their Earth and Environmental Sciences Department brought to the region a group of field biologists as teachers and researchers. With help from the Mellon and Dodge Foundations, a dynamic program known as the Pocono Comparative Lakes Program (PCLP) was instituted, doing serious research in three area lakes, and recruiting small groups of highly motivated students for training in research methods. Again, with Mellon and Dodge assistance, mini-grants lured researchers from other institutions to the PCLP program. Programs at Lacawac over the years have changed the lives of many people, opening their eyes and their minds to scientific professional responsibilities enhanced and influenced by their experience at Lacawac. Some of the classes and conferences demonstrate that a critical mass of human numbers exists which vastly intensifies the intellectual ferment and productivity of a group.

    One of the challenges of Lacawac's planning effort is to achieve this critical mass, seeking quality, while limiting the wear and tear of excessive numbers which have destroyed so many valuable and fragile environments. Lacawac lies within 100 miles of 140 institutions of higher learning. It is our intention to build a strong and significant community, and to create a facility so beautiful and so useful that scientists, teachers and their families will thrive at Lacawac and do great and creative work for the benefit of mankind.

Lacawac's historic Deagan Chimes still sound!

   When you visit Lacawac you may notice a set of large very round metallic objects hanging from a tower looking like giant bats hanging from a belfry.  These are our historic Deegan Chimes!   At one time they rang out a glorious melody each holiday that echoed from one mountainside to the next over the city of Scranton. 

    The chimes were originally purchased by Col. Louis A.  Watres and installed in his hilltop mansion “Pen-y-Bryn."  Watres was well known in Scranton as he was involved in banking, manufacturing, utilities, owned the newspapers and had been Lt. Governor.  He was also a highly respected philanthropist. The people of Scranton liked and respected Watres – and it was a two way street.  Therefore they welcomed the sounding of the chimes each hour and on special days as one of the happier footnotes of life in the big city .

    Watres purchased the chimes in 1928 for $10,000. They are one of only seven sets of custom chimes cast by the Deagan Company of Chicago – that were installed in a private home. Most were shipped worldwide where they have come to hang in many great cathedrals.   Today, only a handful of the 438 sets cast are still in operation.  In 1937 when Pen-y-Bryn was lost in a fire, the Watres chimes were rescued from the wreckage by concerned neighbors.  They were eventually brought to Lacawac and stored here by the Colonel’s grandson, Arthur Watres.

    In 1995, a group of volunteers, led by D.J. Roberts and Jon Tandy, erected a new tower in the Connell Park historic building complex here and hung the 16 bronze alloy chimes from it. This was no small task as the set ranged in weight from 130-390 lbs.  Initially they could be played by hand – but in 2000, the volunteers devised an electronic system based on powerful magnets and a laptop computer to allow them to play pre-programmed tunes automatically.  Subsequently the magnet system burned out and after repeated try’s – today the chimes can only be played manually.

    Visitors and tour guests are invited to take up the anvil and play a tune when here.  Musicians who would like to experiment with playing a full size chime set are invited to also visit.  And while we are at it – any electrical engineers out there who think they might be able to diagnose why the electronic system keeps burning out – please visit and we would love to hear your ideas for restoring it.

    It was the vision of Col. Watres’s daughter Isabelle that someday the chimes be moved to a tower high on the hilltop here at Lacawac. This was so that they can be played on high and the sound will ring out over Lake Wallenpaupack, resuming a NEPA tradition that has been silenced since 1937.  

Scranton Times story - more about the chimes!

Historic photo of Deagan Chimes installed in a tower