Perched upon the Broad mountain 2,190 feet above tidewater, sits as a jeweled crown the beautiful, thriving and bustling borough of Freeland - one of the most rapidly improving of any of the boroughs of southern Luzerne county. Here is a town built by employees-laborers mostly, who worked in the collieries near by on every hand, and while they worked in the valleys they concluded to make their homes on the hill, and the result is that in rather quick order they built here the queen town of all the surrounding country for miles and miles.
In 1842 Joseph Birkbeck purchased a part of the land on which the borough stands and immediately commenced to improve his farm, building his residence in short distance north of what is now the north borough limits. About the same time Aaron Howe (or Howey), commenced to open his farm to the west of Birkbeck, and most of the town is built upon a part of his tract. These two then, were the pioneer settlers in this part of Foster Township. They built their houses on the side of the hill and cleared and farmed the land along the hillside down into the valley. The first settler within the borough limits was William Johnson, laborer; then Thomas Morgan, a blacksmith from Jeddo; he sold to Patrick McGlynn; then came James Williamson, from Eckley, whose family still reside in the place. The first store was opened by Joseph Lindsey in 1875; then H.C. Koons started his place of business. Lindsey's store was on what is now the corner of Pine and Walnut streets, and Koons' was on the corner of Front and Center streets. The next store was that of Thomas Campbell, who is still one of the leading businessmen of the place. The first schoolhouse was put up in 1868, and in time, where it stood was mined under and a squeeze threatened. The house was moved on the Birkbeck land and in its new place was within what became the borough. In adjusting the affairs between the borough and township, the building and a small amount of money was awarded to the township, and it is still a township school. Then was erected the present borough school building, on Washington and Chestnut, a one-story frame, containing five rooms and all modern facilities. Belonging to the school property is 150 feet square of ground.
In 1868 A. Donop, who was a clerk for G.B. Markle, at Jeddo, with an eye to good investments and a keen appreciation of the natural location, purchased the land and laid out the village and offered lots on favorable terms to settlers. Backing his judgment, he at once built for himself the building known as the "Old Homestead," opposite the postoffice. He named it Freehold, and this name continued until they came to name their postoffice, when it was changed to Freeland. The "point" had already grown to such importance that a postoffice had been granted and considerable business was flowing in and out of the place. However, there was no rush of capital here, nor was there a marked inflow of people. But Mr. Donop was active in sounding the advantages of the place and he offered lots for $10 bills that now are held up in the thousand mark. There was a steady but slow growth for several years. The very modest business places that have been opened catered to the trade that was about the country at that time, when almost anything was more abundant than purchasers with hard cash.
However, before the end of the first decade, such had been the prosperity of Donop's village that necessity demanded that proper clothes be provided for the youngster, and a movement was set on foot to organize a borough. An election was held and the vote was largely in the affirmative, and on September 11, 1876-the great centennial year-Freeland became a borough and the village swaddling clothes were laid aside forever. As the garments had not been so long worn as to be out at the seat, it has been suggested by Mr. Thomas A. Buckley that they be generously given to Drifton, Jeddo, Upper Lehigh, Oakdale, Highland, Sandy Run, Eckley, Pond Creek, Buck Mountain, Drums, Honey Hole, or any of the other of the contributary places to their capital and business place; for their valuable contributions in the way of bringing here their trade, and for the other contributions in the way of thrifty residents.
The first officers were elected October 10, 1876, as follows: Burgess, Rudolph Ludwig; council, Henry Koons, president council, Manus Connaghan, John L. Jones, Patrick McGlynn, Hugh O'Donnell and Christopher Wiegand. High constable was appropriately enough William Johnson, who built the first house in the place. A. Donop, the village proprietor, was the first clerk. The borough was formed from Foster Township and is bounded by the township on all sides. The incorporators had no very exalted ideas of the future of the place, and did not cut clothes as is done for boys, "to allow for growing." The result is that to day the smallest part of the place is the borough proper. It is emphatically mostly an "overflow" town, like they have overflow meetings in a hot campaign; the big end of the place is "out of doors," and it makes it a powerfully deceiving village. Strangers turn to the census and find it reported with a population of 1,730, but when you come to see it, you find the borough boundary line is one of the main streets in the place. A witty Irishman worked out the puzzle and said it was a kangaroo town-all hind legs. This little oddity is in the course of rapid correction, and not much doubt that by the time this is in the book, the borough limits will be properly extended and then Freeland will have nearly 5,000 population, or thereabouts. A consummation the good patriots of the borough look forward to with great interest.
The burgesses and clerks in the succession are as follows: 1877, burgess, Randolph Ludwig; clerk, A. Donop; both re-elected. In 1888, Rudolph Ludwig and George C. Farrar; 1879, D.J. McCarthy and George C. Farrar; 1880, both re-elected; 1881, Peter Brown and L.T. Dodson; 1882, both re-elected; 1883, Rudolph Ludwig and L.T. Dodson; 1884, both re-elected; 1885, James Collins and L.T. Dodson; 1886, Rudolph Ludwig and L.T. Dodson, but Dodson did not qualify on account of sickness, when John M. Powell was appointed temporary clerk. July, 1886, Thomas A. Buckley was elected clerk and has continuously held the office to the present; 1887, burgess, James Collins; re-elected the next year; 1889, B.F. Davis; 1890, W.D. Cowen; 1891, John M. Powell. Present city officials (1892): Burgess, E.P. Gallagher; council, Patrick Dooris, president; Dr. E.W. Rutter, Henry Smith, Owen Fritzinger, James Williamson and Frank De Pierro; clerk, Thomas A. Buckley; treasurer, B.F. Davis; chief fire, Charles Shepley; chief police, J. Kenedy; solicitor, John D. Hays, who has filled the office with eminence since the borough was incorporated; street superintendent, Hugh Bagler. The prominent railroad is the Lehigh, now the Reading system, which leaves the main line at Drifton and joins it again on the way to White Haven. The New Jersey Central road runs nearly a mile north of the place and has its depot at the Upper Lehigh.
The place is surrounded by colleries; the first was the Woodside, and for a time this was the name of the place. The incentive to the growth of Freeland was when Coxe Bros. & Co., or rather when Eckley B. Coxe gave it his kind encouragement. He presented the town with ten acres of ground that is the park on the south, and in various other ways, as the old settlers will tell you, gave Freeland the "boom" that has carried it forward in such fine style.
One of the best public institutions of Freeland being the water works. It was incorporated July 20, 1883, the incorporators being the following officials: President, Joseph Birkbeck; treasurer, Thomas Birkbeck; secretary, F. Schilcher. The works were commenced and completed in 1883, and the water was turned on in November of that year. The main supply is from two artesian wells, one on the north. These furnish the finest granite-water, cool, and the freest from animal matter of any attainable waters. From the engines the water is pumped to the top of the hill west of town, where is one of the finest arranged reservoirs in the State, all under roof, and the building surrounded by a ten-foot fence quite a distance from the building, making it impossible for anything to be put in the reservoir from the outside. This water in the lower town has a fifty-pound pressure, sufficient to throw a large stream to the top of the highest building; capacity of reservoir, 470,000 gallons. This is, in addition to a third well, that can be used in an emergency, a reserve of water as the pumping is done direct to the pipes. The entire capacity of the pumps is sufficient for a population, in any emergency, of 50,000. The elegance of the Freeland water is another great inducement added to the place for making it a great summer resort. In many respects the altitude, the fresh, bracing winds, the cool and delightful nights, the health and its fine water will some day attract wide attention from those seeking the world's most delightful nooks as summer resorts.
At the second meeting of the council in 1876, steps were taken to grade and fix the streets and provide a "lockup." Chris Wiegand was made street supervisor and intelligently proceeded about the business. The lockup was built at the intersection of Pine and Johnson streets and became "Fort McNellis," in honor of its first occupant. This served its purpose until 1884, when the present town building was erected, containing a room and lockup. In 1885, 750 feet of hose was purchased; two carriages and a hook and ladder outfit provided. Bonds were issued for these improvements, that are paid off except a small amount not yet due. In 1885 a hose house was built at a cost of $1,200, and the same year the streets were re-graded. In 1890, such had been the growth of the place, that a prime system of sewers became a strong necessity; an election was held, and a hot campaign on the subject ensued, and, by a majority of one, it was decided to push this work. Bonds to the amount of seven per cent of the assessed value, making $5,965 were issued and placed on the market, and two and a half miles of main sewers are being rapidly put down. There is no call on the taxpayers to pay the interest on the public debt, as it is expressly provided that saloon licenses shall pay it all; about $2,000 annually is paid by the saloons, and this defrays the total expense of the borough. So in the matter of taxation there is no place of its size less burdened with taxes. The salaries of officials are not "bloated" sinecures, but are noted for considerable labor and nominal pay therefor.
The present remarkable spurt in the growth of Freeland is largely due to the enterprise and foresight of the borough officials of 1891. They boldly faced the unreasoning opposition of the old fogies and the happy results are visible on every hand-the permanent and valuable improvements are being added.
The large and commodious opera house was built and opened to the public in 1889 by John Jannes. His building that had formerly occupied the same ground was destroyed by fire in 1887. The building is a two-story, with a fine auditorium on the ground floor, and in this, on the main floor, are business rooms, with offices on the second floor. The planing-mill was built in 1885. In the place and adjoining are 2 hardware stores and 1 in the township; 2 drug stores; 2 leading hotels; 2 merchant tailors and 2 in township; 4 clothing; 4 shoe and boot; 2 livery; 2 black-smiths; 3 wheelwrights; 2 furniture; 2 lawyers; 5 doctors; 1 baker, 2 in township; 2 watchmakers, 2 in township; 3 milliners, 2 in township; 1 cigar factory and 1 in township; 4 bottlers; 6 general dry goods and grocery stores, and 6 in township, and 40 small notion stores in different lines; 2 very bright and progressive newspapers. The particulars of the lawyers, doctors and newspapers will be found in their respective chapters as well as a mention of the societies of which Freeland could, if inducements were offered, count up about a hundred.
Citizens Bank of Freeland was incorporated January 30, 1890; capital stock, $50,000. Officials: president, Joseph Birkbeck; vice-president, H.C. Koons; cashier, B.R. Davis; directors; Joseph Birkbeck, H.C. Koons, John M. Powell, Mathias Schwabe, Charles Dusheck. Antony Rudewick, John Smith, William Kemp, John Burthon and John Wagner; secretary of board, John Smith.Back to Town Histories
This Town History was donated by Jeanne M. Robertson .
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