By Mrs. J.W. Bishop
There is no lovelier spot between the Atlantic Ocean and the Great Lakes than the triangular plain enclosed by the Susquehanna and Chemung rivers, which meet and join their beautiful streams a few miles south of the line which divides the states of New York and Pennsylvania. Few indeed are the localities in our broad land, in which more interesting events in our early history have occurred, for within this triangle the council fires of the Indian tribes have been lighted, long before the white men reached this Eden of the forest. Within this enclosure stands Spanish Hill, about which so many legends have been told. Through this triangle went the renowned General Sullivan as he marched northward to chastise the savages who so brutally massacred the white settlers. The early history is full of interest, but it is to the events of more recent years that these brief chronicles relate.
The dense forest of 100 years ago gave way to fine farms, with fields of rich harvests, and those in turn were claimed in the march of progress for the site of our town. This was made necessary by the railroads centering here and forming a junction. These roads were at that time the Southern Central, the Geneva, Ithaca and Athens and the Pennsylvania and New York Canal and Railroad Company.
Howard Elmer, the founder of Sayre, realized the demands of the times, and with large vision planned for the future. In 1870 a company was formed, consisting of James Fritcher of Waverly, R.A. Elmer of Waverly, and Charles Anthony of New York, with Howard Elmer, who was made general manager. They first purchased the Morley, Hopkins and William Thomas farms, consisting of 321 acres, lying southeast of the Pennsylvania and New York Railroad junction at Waverly. They first laid out Keystone Avenue 80 feet wide, through the farms mentioned, at a cost of $3,000. During the winter of 1870-71, Mr. Elmer changed the original plan, as he saw that the proposed town should be located nearer the terminus of the two roads, the Southern Central and the Geneva, Ithaca and Athens. In 1871 they purchased further land from Mr. Thomas, and also the Leggett, Harris and Hayden properties, making the former purchase of 738 acres, at a total cost of $140,000. These last farms comprised within their limits the two junctions and in July the railroad company purchased about 100 acres, which included the junction, and in 1872 began the erection of a large roundhouse at this point. The same year the Sayre Land Company began the making of streets, setting out trees and such other preliminary work as could be done. In the spring of 1873 Lehigh Avenue was located and graded and John Sheehan bought the first lot on North Lehigh Avenue and built a home there, others soon following. Packer and Thomas Avenues and Desmond, Hayden and Sayre streets were laid out, the latter thoroughfare being changed to Lockhart after the town was named.
There is this tradition as to the naming of Sayre:
Mr. Elmer took a party of railroad men to the hillside about where the reservoir now is to give them a view of the situation. All were greatly impressed by the beauty and extent of the plain and Robert H. Sayre, president of the Pennsylvania and New York Canal and Railroad Company and superintendent of the Lehigh Valley Railroad, exclaimed:
"What a magnificent location for a great city!"
Mr. Sayre’s judgment was considered valuable and Mr. Elmer said:
"If that is your opinion, Mr. Sayre, we will build a town and call it by your name," which was done at that time.
The land company in 1873 built a commodious passenger station having a lunch room for the public and living rooms above for the agent. This was burned in 1875 and a temporary one was erected. This was a small rough structure situated between the tracks and was used until the present one was built in 1881. The Cayuta Foundry began operations in 1873, but the business panic delayed the building of shops and offices which had been planned.
In April 1874, a post office was established in the depot with the agent, H.G. Spaulding, post master. The first hotel was built in 1874, at the corner of Thomas Avenue and Lockhart Street, and was kept by Samuel Briggs. It was burned in 1877 and Mr. Briggs rented the present Sayre House which was just being built. Up to this time most of the buildings were on the East Side, which was the more attractive part of Sayre.
A planing mill was built on the site of the present structure by Mr. Ross of Binghamton, who also built the house owned and occupied by Mrs. Weaver. Mr. Seward came with Mr. Ross and built the H.J. Price house. In course of time the railroad company decided the make Sayre the point of distribution for their northern traffic and being made the end of this division, the superintendent’s office was moved from Towanda to Sayre. Robert A. Packer, superintendent of the this division and president of the Southern Central, bought about twenty acres from the land company and began the erection of his beautiful house in 1876. A notable event was the "housewarming" given by Mr. and Mrs. Packer on the completion of their home in 1877. There were guests from Waverly, Sayre, Athens and Towanda, those from Towanda coming by special train provided by Mr. Packer. It was a delightful occasion and it is sad to think that our gracious host lived there but a few years.
The brick railroad office was built during 1876 and 1877 and in the spring of 1877 Mr. Bishop with others in the superintendent’s office moved from Towanda to Sayre. We rented the house, not quite completed, which is now owned by Mr. Piollet and the Beach House on the corner of Packer and Elmer Avenues was taken by R.T. Goodman, assistant superintendent. Of the ten or twelve men who came to Sayre when we did, not one remain here, and most of them are dead.
Elmer Avenue was first called Anthony Avenue, but Mr. Anthony soon died and as his interest had been sold to other members, it was thought more suitable to name it for Mr. Elmer. Some of you remember the row of elms which was set through the middle and along the full length of the avenue, as Mr. Elmer desired to make it a beautiful residential street. He did not wish to have a street railroad on Elmer Avenue, but had secured a charter for a street railroad on Keystone Avenue. At this time in 1877 there were dwellings on North and South Lehigh Avenue and a row of small wooden business places on Desmond Street. On the site of Teed’s store was a building 25 by 25 feet occupied as a grocery store and dwelling by C.H. Wheelock, brother of our townsman, Joseph Wheelock. In 1884, this store was bought by the firm of W.I. and A.D. Teed. The latter retired after a few years and Mr. Teed’s two sons were taken into the business. They still continue at the old stand, although in a new large store. This has been the longest established of any of our grocery firms, although the Follett and the Williams stores soon followed. The hardware business carried on by Albert Bolich, father of Bolich Brothers, began in 1890, making that the oldest firm here which is continued under the original name.
In the spring of 1877 the Episcopal Church was organized, Bishop Howe, then head of the diocese, naming it the Church of the Redeemer. During the summer afternoon services were held in a vacant store building on the corner where Jump’s store is now located, the Rev. Mr. Brown of Waverly officiating. By September 1, 1888, a building was ready for use, being a neat little chapel on the lot now occupied by the town hall. Rev. G.F. Rosenmiller was the first rector. Afterwards the chapel was called the parish house and was used for Sunday School and social gatherings, until a few years ago when it was sold and moved. The Methodists held occasional services in the school house until 1881 when their church was built. It was enlarged and re-dedicated in 1891.
Building of repair shops was begun in 1878 and in 1881 J.N. Weaver came here from Waverly as master mechanic. An Arbor Association was formed in 1879 with Sidney Hayden as president, R.M. Hovey as secretary and J.W. Bishop as treasurer. This had for its object the planting and care of trees which would beautify and adorn our streets. This effort was heartily seconded by all prominent citizens and during 1879 one thousand trees were planted and 800 the next year. A tree was planted by Bishop Howe in the park directly in front of our house. An unique occasion was the planting of a tree and a memorial service for President Garfield in September 1881. This was planned by Mr. Hayden and carried out by the Association. A prominent part in the ceremonies was that taken by 94 children, the boys throwing earth about the roots of the tree and the girls scattering flowers about it. A neatly printed program giving also the names of all the children taking part was presented to each child and enclosed with it in an envelope was a silver medal made at the U.S. Mint, having on one side a likeness of Garfield and on the other one of Lincoln, our two martyred presidents. The Arbor Association also planted trees in honor of our two oldest citizens, Mr. Thomas and Mr. Hayden, in the same park.
The row of wooden buildings on Desmond Street was burned in 1880 and Mr. Packer purchased land and erected the Wilbur House.
The first fire company was the Wilbur Hook and Ladder No. 1 and the R.A. Packer Hose No. 2 soon followed. There was also the R.H. Sayre Hose Company, which did not have a long existence, and the Howard Elmer and J. H. Wheelock companies, of which the last two are the only remaining ones of the old organizations. The R.A. Packer Band was one of the earliest efforts of the new town and under Mr. Daly became a famous organization. With its fine instruments and musicians, it easily took rank with bands in surrounding cities. We all remember with regret how it disbanded a few years ago.
In the fall of 1877 Mr. Angier came to Sayre as superintendent of the Ross planing mill. It was burned the following December, but was at once rebuilt, better than before. Twice after that it was injured by fire and in 1895 it was destroyed. Then it was finally rebuilt by a new firm. One of the first buildings erected by the Sayre Land Company was a school house on the site of the present high school building. There was a country school house on Keystone Avenue, built in 1857, the land for which was given by Jacob Riehl. Another school was located in the vicinity of Milltown, which is a much older settlement than Sayre. These buildings were soon found to be inadequate for the needs of the growing town and were merely township schools. A few men, earnestly desiring to better these conditions, worked hard to bring about a change in the school system and in February, 1882, Sayre was incorporated as an independent school district. The schools were then graded and a course arranged that led to a regular graduation. The first class was graduated in 1887. Before all this was done, it had been necessary to add to the original building, making it of four rooms. A building was erected on the East Side, one of two rooms in West Sayre and one on Elmer Avenue. In 1891 the high school building was moved to the rear of the Beach House and fitted over as an apartment house, but not renting well was taken for the Park Hotel. The present brick building was built in 1891 and since that time has been greatly enlarged. Sayre became a borough in 1891 and when Milltown was taken into the borough that building that building became a part of the Sayre school system, although built by the township. The Fourth Ward school is the latest building put up, but the Elmer Avenue and East Side buildings have been greatly enlarged. In 1879 a new land company was organized with several additional members. The same company organized a water company in August, 1881, and built a reservoir on a bench of what was in old times called Pock Mountain. I cannot tell how it got the name.
When the old depot was abandoned the post office was moved to Desmond Street and on the election of a Democratic president in 1884 Sidney Hayden was appointed postmaster. The Eighmey Block was erected in 1882. We now come to the year 1883 when a great blow fell upon our town in the death of R.A. Packer. Mr. Packer had planned great improvements for Sayre and no doubt, with his great energy and wealth, he would have accomplished all and our bright visions for the future would have been realized. He was greatly beloved by all and we who knew him well, have always mourned what seemed to us his untimely death. When Mr. Packer’s estate was settled his income became the property of his sister, Mrs. Cummings. At that time the Rev. W.B. Morrow was rector of the Church of the Redeemer and seeing the need of a hospital here, he formulated plans and appealed to Mrs. Cummings to give the place for that purpose. She generously consented and in 1885 a charter was granted to the Robert Packer Hospital. It was immediately opened for the reception of patients with Dr. F. M. Stevens as superintendent.
The Sayre Building and Loan Association was organized in 1885 and has been a great benefit to our people, as has also the Star Building and Loan which was started some years later.
The Roman Catholic Church was built about 1882 and the Baptist in 1887. The latter was enlarged and improved in 1915. St. John’s Lutheran Church was organized in March 1890 in Eighmey Hall. The congregation afterwards held services in the Episcopal parish house until their new church was built in the spring of 1891. A library numbering 800 volumes was presented to the Church of the Redeemer in 1891. The vestry were trustees and they appointed a board of directors to consist of the rector, the Rev. C.M. Carr, the accounting warden and the secretary of the vestry to have actual control. A membership fee of one dollar per year was required. W.A. Stevenson solicited members in the superintendent’s office, C.C. Wood in the shops and W.R. Fulford on the road. The library was open Tuesday and Saturday evenings and Thursday afternoon from 4 until 5 o’clock with J.A Swartwood as librarian. There was at that time a young men’s literary society which held its meetings in the Parish House. I have an account of an annual meeting of this society, in which there is a record of "a vote of thanks to the vestry for use of the building, and aid given in many ways, besides free membership and full privileges of the library."
The first council of the Borough of Sayre was convened on March 2, 1891. The post important business which came before them was an application for franchise and rights of way through the borough for a street railway. The usual discussion followed and as there was great difference of opinion the matter was under consideration for several months, being finally granted on July 6, 1891. The matter of street lighting was the next problem for the council to solve and in December a contract was signed for a certain number of arc lights.
The Sayre Times began publication in 1891 and is still a daily visitor.
A great loss to Sayre was the death of Howard Elmer which occurred in September 1892. Although a resident of Waverly he seemed to belong to Sayre, so closely was he identified with its beginning, its growth and progress. Most of his time was spent here, where he drove about looking always for the best interests of the town. Houses must be placed 30 feet from the center of the street to give uniformity, he decreed, a wide forethought on the part of the general manager. It was the desire of his heart to make this town a model of regularity and beauty. He had faith in the future of the town and to his planning and indefatigable efforts we are indebted for much of our present posterity, and the impetus he gave has resulted in a steady and continuous growth. Mr. Elmer was succeeded as manager of the Sayre Land Company by W. T. Goodnow, who had come to Sayre two years previous to act as Mr. Elmer’s assistant.
Sayre has passed through many business changes which have materially retarded its progress. In December 1892, Mr. Hayden, Division Freight Agent, with his office force moved to Rochester, but we gladly welcomed their return in a year or little more. The superintendent’s office was moved to Buffalo and some of the people who went away at that time never returned to Sayre. The community was startled in 1892 by the Lehigh Valley passing into the hands of the Reading Company, causing a general change in office and force. But this change lasted less than a year and we were glad when the Lehigh Valley resumed the management. Two strikes of trainmen made more changes, the last being in 1893.
The Presbyterians built a small church in 1892 and a few years ago built a large audience room in front and made other improvements. The Church of Christ was built in 1896 and in 1915 was rebuilt and greatly enlarged. Another church was built in 1914 by the Seven Day Adventists.
The Sayre Banking Company was organized in 1894 as a private bank. The First National Bank opened for business in January 1901, and the other institution soon became a national bank.
Through the generosity of Mrs. Cummings a fine parish house for the Church of the Redeemer was built in 1905. The People’s Hospital opened in 1910. The Sayre Opera House opened in January 1915. The machine shops, always our chief industry, have increased from time to time and in 1904 a number of large new buildings were erected, with the finest machinery and everything that was needed for the greatest efficiency. They are now among the largest railroad machine shops in the east. To get room for them a number of buildings had to be removed from the land, among them being a row of good brick houses. The Franshonian Musical Club and the Monday Club have prospered for about ten years and are valuable factors in giving taste and culture to our people, and the various churches have organizations which are helpful to the young men and women attending them.
Through many changes and upheavals Sayre, if not always gaining, has still held her own fairly well. Business depressions all over the country have been felt here, as a matter of course, and there have been disappointments discouragements, but we have reason to be thankful that conditions are as favorable here as they are:
"Like leaves on trees the race of man is found,
Now green in youth, now withering on the ground,
Another race the following spring supplies,
They fall successive, - and successive rise."