Wayne County, founded in 1798, was named for General Anthony Wayne, a hero of the Revolutionary War.
Railroads and canals have played a part in the county's development as well as the development of New York and Philadelphia. Even as early Wayne county settlers cleared thick forests for homesteads and farms, cities to the east were encountering a shortage of wood and fuel. Coal deposits over the mountains to the west in nearby Lackawanna County would relieve the shortage if an economical method of transporting the coal to market could be found. The solution seemed to be a combination of canal and railroad.
In 1823, the Erie Canal in New York was nearing completion. New York State gave its blessing to the construction of the Delaware and Hudson Canal on a 108-mile waterway to run between Honesdale and the Hudson River terminus near Kingston, New York. Work began in July 1825 and was completed in 1828.
Meanwhile, a Gravity rail system had been invented by Josiah White, founder of the Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company. White needed a more efficient system to get his coal from the mines to the canal docks. Tracks were built and Mr. White's wagons, filled with coal and powered only by gravity, would make their swift descent down the mountains. Many called this "switchback railroad, America's first Roller Coaster," as the ride was wild indeed. The only means of control was a brake attached to a cable. The mules that would pull the empty cars back up the hill rode in a separate car down the hill. The downhill trip took perhaps 35 minutes; the trip back up -- three hours.
Others soon duplicated Mr. White's system, and a rail system was laid out to haul coal from the Lackawanna Valley region to the mountain summit, engineering it to descend by gravity over a series of inclined planes to Honesdale. Huge coal piles were part of the Honesdale scenery, where the coal hauled by the Delaware and Hudson (D&H) gravity railroad was transferred to the Delaware and Hudson Canal Company Boats.
Over 900 tons of coal were delivered to Honesdale each day through this system. And, in fact, Waymart, where Keen Lake is located, derived its name from the town's former use as a place to stockpile coal and weigh it -- a "weigh mart" -- before transportation.
Nearby Honesdale, the county seat, was created specifically because of the Delaware and Hudson Canal's presence, and the town takes its name from Phillip Hone, the first president of the canal company. Coal, ice, and other goods were transported along the 108-mile canal. Hone brought many of his friends to the Wayne County area. Washington Irving, author of Rip Van Winkle, (The Legend of Sleepy Hollow) admired a nearby mountainside on one visit. The mountainside became known as Irving's Cliff because of his interest. Horace Greeley, editor of the New York Tribune, began the campaign to elect Abraham Lincoln, President in a little building at 115 Ninth Street in Honesdale.
The beloved holiday carol, Winter Wonderland was written, as the author Dick Smith, looked out from the windows of his family home and was inspired by the silvery expanse of Honesdale's snow-covered Central Park and Courthouse Square. Honesdale, known as the Maple City, for the hundreds of Maple trees which provide shade, is in a word, charming. Large Victorian style homes and store fronts line the Main Avenue. The Wayne County Visitor's center is located downtown, just off Main Street.
At Keen Lake
This unique railway system ran through the entire length of what is now Keen Lake Campground and Cottage Resort. Campsites are nestled along the rail system's former tracks in a cluster known as Gravity Lane, named in honor of this railroad. Other edifices that remain from this period of history include two large stone trestles, located in the Main Campground and the Waterfall Area.
These trestles once provided support for the railroad infrastructure. A stone dam, which was created in the 1800's to help push the canal boats along, still exists, although it has been structurally refurbished in recent years.
Keen Lake has been a part of the Keen family since 1814 when the family purchased land on what was then Elk Forest tract. Sixth generation members are active in the family business. The office to the resort is located on the site of the original family homestead, which was destroyed by fire in 1832.
In addition to celebrating its rail history, supplying ice was one of the Keen family's industries in the days of the Great Canal. Huge blocks of ice were carved out of the frozen lake and transported via the Gravity railroad to the Hudson canal in Honesdale and subsequently transported to Kingston, New York where they were marketed to homes as a way of preserving food. Ice blocks awaiting transportation were stored in the large wooden structure known as the Ice House. Many of the Pioneer Camping sites are nestled among the foundations of this building.
Other buildings of historical significance, located on the resort grounds include: The Island cottage located on Hermit Island, once the site of a great dance hall of the 1800's. The School House cottage, now restored and remodeled, was formerly a one-room school house, which served the children of Canaan Township in the mid-1800's. The Pre-Civil War Barn cottage was once home to a Blacksmith Shop, and has been designated as a historical landmark. The Cove, which houses the Hearth and Haven cottages, was built in 1887 and was home to gentlemen farmers. The outside structure has been restored. The unique pine woodwork and stone fireplace at the Hearth is original to the structure.