HONESDALE — One of the enduring stories of Wayne County, Pennsylvania’s claim to fame is a reported secret meeting that took place in 1859 in Honesdale.

The purpose was to recommend the nomination of Abraham Lincoln as the Republican candidate for the 16th President of the United States of America.

In Honesdale, we have a Pennsylvania State Historical Marker standing in front of the 115-9th Street and the same small building where the meeting is said to have occurred.

This sign, which has been in place since 1968, declares with all authority,

“In May, 1859, Horace Greeley with notable political leaders to create a boom to nominate Abraham Lincoln for President.

“The events that ensued at the Republican National Convention in Chicago paralleled the strategy planned at the parley held in this building.”

Some historians have been skeptical, while others point out that it is plausible.

To the average passerby, the authenticity presented by the sign would seem to leave no reason to doubt.

For that, Honesdale and Wayne County has been able to include yet one more fascinating point about the local heritage and contribution to American history.

No evidence, after all, has been found that it didn't happen.

…Until now.

 

A daughter’s account

Edwin B. Calloway (1878-1973) was City Editor at The Wayne Independent and Secretary of the Wayne County Historical Society, when in 1938 he was told the story of Honesdale’s connection to Lincoln’s nomination.

He heard this from one of the daughters of the late Samuel E. Dimmick, Esq., who was included in the 1859 meeting.

The little building on 9th Street was Dimmick’s law office.

Which daughter it was has not been learned; Martha D. Townsend turned 69, and Maude Dimmick turned 68, in 1938.

The parley included three nationally known statesmen, Simon Cameron, United States Senator from Pennsylvania; Andrew G. Curtin, who was a candidate for Pennsylvania governor, elected in 1861; Attorney Samuel Dimmick, who was later elected state Attorney General and Horace Greeley, owner and editor of the largest circulation newspaper in America at that time, the New York Tribune.

Greeley (1811-1872) was well known in the area.

In 1843 he had helped begin an experimental commune, the Sylvania Association, in Lackawaxen Township, Pike County.

Although it ended two years later, the locality was eventually named Greeley, in his honor.

Samuel Dimmick was practicing law in Honesdale with his first cousin, William H. Dimmick, who had served in Congress.

In 1854, they established Melodian Hall in Honesdale, for the purpose of hosting speakers on the lecture circuit.

The hall, which could seat 700, had standing room only when Greeley was the speaker.

Greeley was active in political affairs, helping to organize the Republican Party in 1854. He served in Congress, and in 1872 was a presidential candidate.

The National Convention was scheduled in 1860 where the Republicans would choose their candidate.

Leaders of the party in New York State believed that William Seward would likely be nominated.

New York, the largest state, would give Seward an advantage in delegates.

He was not favored in Pennsylvania due to policies he held as Governor of New York.

Sorting their options, Abraham Lincoln appeared to be their best choice.

The story that the meeting to decide on their candidate was held in Honesdale carried the details that Greeley had arrived in Honesdale aboard a packet boat on the D&H Canal.

The others were said to have taken a Pioneer passenger coach on the Pennsylvania Coal Company Gravity Railroad, from Dunmore to Hawley. From there they came by stagecoach to meet Dimmick at Honesdale.

 

The plaque

After Calloway heard the story in 1938, he wanted an appropriate plaque to be mounted to indicate the historic connection to Dimmick’s former law office.

It was not until September 1968 that the state Historical Marker was set up, remaining there to this day.

The Pennsylvania Historical Marker Program, run by the Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission, has strict standards.

The place or event must be historically significant either to the state or nation, and must be backed by documentation.

In a 2009 interview by Wayne Independent reporter Steve McConnell, program director Karen Gale stated little information on about as many as half the markers placed up to the 1980s is found in their files.

Unfortunately, in the case of the Lincoln Nomination marker, no letter from Calloway or other written information was found. All they had on file was an old photograph of the marker and a maintenance sheet from the 1990s.

Nothing more was found until researching old newspapers for this present account.

A look back at the Wayne County Herald from May and June 1859 found no reference, but that was not surprising given the parley was said to have been a “secret” meeting, and local papers in that day carried little local reporting.

The late Wayne County Historian Richard Eldred had also searched the 1859 issues of the Herald and Honesdale Democrat, without success.

Samuel E. Dimmick, we should add, died in 1875. His cousin William died in 1861. William’s nephew, by the same name, was also a lawyer and continued in the same Honesdale law firm.

 

The discovery

A further perusal of Honesdale newspapers came across what appears to have been missed since Calloway’s announcement in 1938.

The Citizen contained a front page story in the February 8, 1911 on the occasion of the centennial of the birth of the late Horace Greeley.

It was a report on an assembly hosted by the senior class at Honesdale High School, on Church Street.

The keynote speaker, whose remarks were reported at length, was the second William H. Dimmick Esq., who was 70 at the time and remembered Greeley and his cousin Samuel.

The long eulogy about Greeley contained the following paragraph:

“Mr. Dimmick then described the famous meeting in Horace Greeley’s New York Tribune office, when William Brosh, of Pike County, who had gone to Chicago, and there started the Chicago Tribune, David Wilmot, “Wilmot Proviso” fame, and Galusha A. Grow, author of the Homestead Act, and Samuel E. Dimmick, delegate from Wayne, men famous in Northeastern Pennsylvania’s history, foregathered and determined upon the nomination of Lincoln.”

 

Is this proof?

Here we have an account by Samuel Dimmick’s cousin and law partner from 1911, 27 years before the 1938 version given to Calloway.

Is this proof nthat the parley did not happen at 115-9th St., Honesdale, despite the sign outside?

Further confirmation has since been found in a February 11, 1914 article in The Wayne Independent.

Published in time for Lincoln’s birthday, local historian R. M. Stocker described (the second) William Dimmock’s personal connections with the late President Lincoln.

He remarks Lincoln spoke highly of Samuel Dimmick for helping to nominate him for the presidency the first time around.

Stocker wrote that Lincoln owed much to Samuel Dimmick, Horace Greeley and others “who met it Greeley’s office in New York prior to the Chicago convention.”

Stocker went on to recount how this meeting resulted in choosing Lincoln as the Republican nominee.

It is clear in the 1910s it was common knowledge locally that the meeting happened in New York, while proudly crediting the contribution of Honesdale’s Samuel Dimmick.

By the time 1939 came around, no one seemed to have remembered that it didn’t occur here, or was still alive that was aware of the facts.

It is possible that the daughter had only part of the story right and assumed that the meeting occurred in her father’s law office.

The daughters were both young children (six and five) when their father had died; their mother died five years later.

While it is possible there was more than one meeting, Samuel’s cousin William, however, did not mention this in his account in 1911.

If there was a meeting in Honesdale as well, it is remarkable that it was not reported in the Citizen. Stocker also did not make any such mention, in 1914.

Aileen Salmon Freeman, in her book, Lincoln: The Northeastern Pennsylvania Connection (2000) raised an important point.

She noted that in May 1859, when the parley was said to have happened in Honesdale, it was nearly impossible for Greeley to have been there.

On May 12, Greeley was resting in Chicago, Illinois, having already traveled the first 1,000 miles on his four-month tour of the West, taking him to California and Oregon.

In the 1911 and 1914 articles, no date was provided of the parley held in New York City, to decide on nominating Lincoln.

Having been familiar with Samuel Dimmick and a frequent visitor, he may well have been in Samuel’s law office on 9th Street on numerous occasions.

It is not unreasonable to assume that Abraham Lincoln for 16th President may have been among the topics that came up, ahead of the formal parley.