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Local History

The History of Wayne County

The History of Wayne County

In August, 1749, about 300 Indians of the tribes of the Onondaga, Mohawk, Cayuga, Oneida, Tuscourara with the Seneca, Shawnee, Delaware and Mohican, realizing that the white race was gradually pushing them away from their ground, appended their respective seals to a deed, in consideration of the Proprietary Government paying them 500 pounds Sterling (about $2,500), and conveyed to the Government a strip of land containing what is now ten counties, Pike and Wayne, parts of Monroe, Luzerne, Carbon Northumberland, Lebanon and Dauphin Counties.

The tribe, which occupied eastern Pennsylvania, including Wayne County, was the Lenni Lenape, called the Delawares by the Europeans, after the river along which they lived.

A sub-tribe, Nini, meaning “people of stoney country” was the group, which occupied the upper Delaware Rive, including present Wayne County. Eventually, the Delawares moved west – mainly because of the white man’s encroaching society. Today, the Lenni Lenape are scattered from Ontario to Oklahoma.

Established in 1798, Wayne County was named for General “Mad” Anthony Wayne, a hero of the Revolutionary War.  He was famous for ending the Indian Resistance and destroying the Northwest Indian Confederation at the Battle of Fallen Timbers,Ohio.  General Wayne died at Preque Isle less than two years before the county was created.  The County seat has been at Wilsonville,Milford,Bethany, and now at Honesdale.

In 1828, the Delaware and Hudson Canal, a 108 mile waterway was completed to carry coal between Honesdale and New York, while another form of transportation was in the making.  Honesdale became known as the “Birthplace of the American Railroad” thanks to the Stourbridge Lion.

David Wilmot, born in Bethany in 1814 was a member of the House of Representatives from 1845 to 1851 and was author of the Wilmot Proviso which stipulated that in new United States territory slavery should be prohibited.  He was indirectly responsible for the establishment of the Republican Party.

Samuel  Meredith, was the first treasurer of the United States under the Constitution, appointed by President Washington in 1789.  During his service as US Treasurer, he lent the new government more than $100,000, which it could not repay when he retired.

New Englanders were the first settlers. Joseph Skinnner, one of 1,200 Yankees, came from Connecticut to Damascus Township in 1775.

Mohican, or Chushetunk Indians lived on the Delaware between Shehawken and the mouth of the Lackawaxen River.

People were generally poor, most of the old men had been soldiers of the Revolutionary War.

Wayne County was designated in old records a “Lacawa” settlement.

Wayne County was set off from the County of Northampton in the year 1798 and originally included Pike County. The boundaries were the northern line of the State on the North, the Delaware River on the East, Northampton (now Monroe) on the South, and Luzerne and Susquehanna counties on the West. The area covered was 1,492 square miles, and the population in 1800 only 2,562, which was an average of less than two persons to the square mile.

The courts for the new County were temporarily established in Milford. The location of the County seat must have greatly agitated the sparse population scattered along the valleys of the principal streams, for the next year, 1799, the Legislation removed the courts from Milford to Wilsonville, a small manufacturing village at the falls of the Wallenpaupack Creek, a few miles above the point at which it empties into the Lackawaxen River (this is now the location of the PP&L dam on Lake Wallenpaupack). This was to be the location of the County Courts until suitable land and buildings could be located within four miles of the Dyberry Forks of the Lackawaxen River (this is now Honesdale).

Wilsonville was named for James Wilson, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, and Judge of the United States Supreme Court. He came to that area following the close of the Revolutionary War and established a weaving mill on the banks of the Wallenpaupack River, for the manufacturing of linen from flax. The business flourished for a time, but raw material became scarce and Mr. Wilson was unable to receive a sufficient amount of flax to continue his business.

The Wilsonville location proved unsatisfactory, even temporarily, so the Courts were again moved in April 1802 back to Milford for three years and no longer. Meanwhile, the trustees, under the organization act of 1798, accepted from Henry Drinker, a large land owner of Philadelphia, a tract of 999 acres of land in trust for the County of Wayne, to be laid out in town and outlots, and to convey to the County Commissioners such of said lots as they shall fix on for the purpose of erecting a Court House, Jail and Offices for the safe-keeping of records. (This is now Bethany). This deed, made in August 1800, was a compliance with the act of 1799, for the land it conveyed was within four miles of the Dyberry Forks. The land was divided into lots and sold for from a few cents per lot to twenty-seven dollars. The totals proceed came to $4,260.63. Besides this sum was the land that forms the Public Square in Bethany and the site of the public buildings, and several lots given to the town for church and school purposes.

It was in this manner that Bethany became the County seat of Wayne. A frame CourtHouse and a log Jail were erected upon the square and the Court was moved there from Milford in 1805.

Great discontent among the people along the Delaware below Milford now flared up because of the great distance to be traveled to the County seat at Bethany. In 1810 legislation was sought to relocate the County seat at Blooming Grove (now in Pike County) but the lack of funds and tax burden already placed on the people prevented the building on that site and the County seat remained in Bethany. Pressure from the lower end of the County finally in 1814 caused the Legislature to set off this section as a new County to be called Pike, with the seat of Justice at Milford where it has remained to this day. Pike County thus had an area of 772 square miles and a 1820 population of 2,894. Wayne County then had 720 square miles and a population of 4,127.

May 4, 1841, the County Commissioners fixed Honesdale as the new county seat and Bethany lost that distinction.

Town Histories
HISTORICAL MARKERS - Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission
The History of Pike County
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