Lacawac Sanctuary was originally developed as a summer retreat for William Connell, a three-term Congressman, industrialist, and coal magnate. In 1912, the retreat was purchased by Colonel Louis A. Watres, a prominent Scranton businessman, to acquire a parcel along the Wallenpaupack River. This was part of the area that was flooded in 1926 for Lake Wallenpaupack’s hydroelectric dam construction. The lake is the largest in Eastern Pennsylvania and a major economic driver in the region. Lacawac Sanctuary owns 1 mile of shoreline on Lake Wallenpaupack, which is one of the only undeveloped stretches along the 52 mile perimeter.
CONNELL FAMILY and LACAWAC
Mr. William Connell, born in Nova Scotia in 1825, moved to the Pennsylvania coal fields in his youth and began his career driving a coal wagon. Illiterate, he married a woman of great character named Annie Laurence, who taught him to read and write. Their extreme frugality and industrious careers enabled them to purchase the coal company for which Connell had worked during the decade following the Civil War. From there, Connell branched into other activities, establishing a huge button manufacturing plant, and finally serving in the U.S. House of Representatives, and seeking, unsuccessfully, the Republican nomination for Governor of Pennsylvania in 1902.
By the turn of the century, deer populations had been almost destroyed by market hunters. In the early 1900's, the appearance of a deer made newspaper headlines. Connell decided to establish a deer park on his estate. He installed four miles of wire mesh fencing topped by barbed wire to contain a herd of deer he imported from Virginia. His deer house was designed to feed the deer in winter.
Numerous local farmers were employed in building the estate. Some women from nearby farms served as domestic help, young farm lads did odd jobs and towed boats for guests fishing on the lake.
William Connell died in 1909 leaving eleven children, none of whom had any interest in retaining Lacawac. The Connell's lived in Scranton, and Lacawac seemed a million miles away in the hinterlands. To reach Lacawac the family had to take a train from Scranton to Lake Ariel, where they were met by their coachman for the rough and dusty seven-mile ride to Connell Park. It was just too logistically difficult to maintain the estate, to be appealing to the Connell heirs.
Connell purchased the 400-acre Lacawac estate, which he called Connell Park, in 1902-1903. Establishing the first of the "second homes" in the Wallenpaupack basin, Connell set a standard of style and comfort unique to the neighborhood. It was typical of estates which wealthy Americans were building in the Berkshires and Adirondacks at the turn of the century. The lodge boasted indoor plumbing with hot and cold running water, central heating, and a walk-in cooler supplied with ice cut from Lake Lacawac in winter and stored in the ice house. The main lodge, with rustic trimmings and Mission oak furnishings, was paneled throughout with southern yellow pine. The large living- and dining rooms with fireplaces, kitchen, pantry, and screened dining porch provided a gracious setting for living and entertaining. Eight bedrooms, three bathrooms and sleeping porch provided ample accommodation. At the lake's edge were a spring house, a boat house, and a pump house containing a one-cylinder steam pump (which was fired up weekly to fill a big water tank in the lodge with lake water, in order to supply the house with water by gravity flow). Behind the house was a coachman's house in which carbide gas was generated for gas lighting in the lodge. In back of the coachman's house were a woodshed, and a privy (without running water) for the help. The ice house and the large two-story carriage house stood at the end of the road. Along the entrance drive stood a deer house, a unique feature in the neighborhood.