The tanner’s home: Canadensis, Pa.

image description

Gilbert E. Palen.

In 1856, Gilbert E. Palen (1832-1901) was a newly minted MD who decided to forego a career in medicine. Instead, he and a cousin (who also happened to be his brother-in-law), George W. Northrop (1812-1875), and brother Edward (1836-1924) opened a tannery along the banks of Brodhead Creek in rural Monroe County in the heart of Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains. The Palens and Northrop named their new tannery town Canadensis (from the Latin species name for the hemlock trees, Tsuga canadensis) and they built large Gothic Revival homes across the street from their industrial complex.

Gilbert, Edward, and Northrop tanned leather in Canadensis between 1856 and 1873, the year the family’s firms failed in the national depression. The Canadensis tannery was a stepping stone for Gilbert Palen. He was perhaps a fourth generation tanner who learned the trade in his family’s plants throughout Ulster and Greene counties in New York’s Catskill Mountains.  Between 1802 and 1873, the Palens had built and bought at least seventeen tanneries in New York and Pennsylvania . They were, as one nineteenth century trade journal remarked, “par excellence , a family of tanners.”

The Canadensis tannery was the family’s first Pennsylvania enterprise and their first beyond New York’s deforested mountainsides. The movement by New York tanners into Pennsylvania became a flood during and after the Civil War. Once a rich source for clean water and abundant hemlock bark from which tannin was extracted, New York’s Catksills and Southern Tier’s tannery towns yielded to new industrial uses while former bark lands were turned into dairy farms. “The hemlock forests which had attracted the industry to this section disappeared by 1860,” wrote trade journal the Shoe and Leather Reporter in 1898.

Canandensis tannery ruins, 1996.

Canadensis tannery ruins, 1996.

After the Canadensis tannery tanned its last hide for its final owners in the 1870s, the stone tannery fell into ruins like its sister sites in New York. While much of Canadensis’s surrounding landscape that was once covered by hemlock forest continued in agriculture, a tourist economy with resort hotels and later ski slopes sprouted up in Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains. The region had been a place for Philadelphians to find a rural retreat from the city since the first decades of the nineteenth century.

Pine Knob Inn advertisements published in New York and Pennsylvania Newspapers, c. 1910-1940.

Pine Knob Inn advertisements published in New York and Pennsylvania Newspapers, c. 1910-1940.

Gilbert Palen’s former house entered the tourist economy in the early twentieth nineteenth century when it was bought by English immigrant George W. Crane. In the 1930s it was owned by Anna Steffens. Early publicity touted the inn’s proximity to world-class fishing in Brodhead Creek just across the road (Pa. 447). The Palens loved to fish while they lived there. Edward Palen writing in 1911 recalled fishing with his brother. “Trout were plenty in the streams,” Edward wrote (in the third person).

They would go to some point up the stream at about eleven in the morning, and fish down, his brother going ahead a little way, and when he called out “one hundred,” the limit of the catch for each, would fish until he caught up in distance and in numbers, and then return home.


Broadhead Creek

Brodhead Creek

In 2004 a fire damaged the Pine Knob Inn. Costly repairs were not made and vandals and trespassers further damaged the property until it was completely destroyed by a second fire in May 2005.

View Gilbert Palen’s Canadensis in a larger map

The images below capture some views of Gilbert Palen’s former Canadensis home through time.

Canadensis c. 1873. Arrow points to Gilbert Palen's house (owned by then by his brother, Edward) which was later converted into the Pine Knob Inn.

Canadensis c. 1874. Arrow points to Gilbert Palen’s house (owned by then by his brother, Edward) which was later converted into the Pine Knob Inn. The map was made shortly after the Palen family firms failed and the Canadensis tannery (along with the Palens’ Tunkhannock tannery) had been bought by New York City tanners Lapham and Bulkley. Read more about H.G. Lapham in this earlier post.

First Palen home built at Canadensis. Gilbert Palen, George Northrop, and his wife, Sarah Gould Northrop together lived in this home until Gilbert built the home that later became the Pine Knob Inn. 1996 photo.

First Palen home built at Canadensis. Gilbert Palen, George Northrop, and his wife, Sarah Gould Northrop together lived in this home until Gilbert built the home that later became the Pine Knob Inn.  After that point, the Northrops lived there until 1874. 1996 photo.

Gilbert Palen house (Pine Knob Inn) c. 1800s. Undated image reproduced in Bancroft, Peggy. Ringing Axes and Rocking Chairs; the Story of Barrett Township. [1st ed. Mountainhome, Pa: Barrett Friendly Library, 1974.

Gilbert Palen house (Pine Knob Inn) c. 1800s. The home was built in c. 1864. Prior to that time, Palen and Northrop shared the Gothic Revival home to the north. Undated image reproduced in Peggy Bancroft’s Ringing Axes and Rocking Chairs; the Story of Barrett Township. [1st ed. Mountainhome, Pa: Barrett Friendly Library, 1974.

Pine Knob Inn, c. 1920s. Postcard.

Pine Knob Inn, c. 1920s. Postcard.

Pine Knob Inn c. 1970s. Postcard.

Pine Knob Inn c. 1970s. Postcard.

Pine Knob Inn in 1996.

Pine Knob Inn in 1996.

Pine Knob Inn Fire

Pine Knob Inn after 2005 fire. Photo via Rob Cherry on Flickr.

The popular Gothic Revival style, which originated in Palen’s home region — the Hudson River valley — appealed to the tanner. After building a tannery in 1866 at Tunkhannock, some 60 miles northwest of Canadensis along the Susquehanna River, Gilbert Palen built another Gothic Revival home in the new town overlooking his new tannery complex.

Former Gilbert Palen house, Tunkhannock, Pennsylvania. 1999 photo.

Former Gilbert Palen house, Tunkhannock, Pennsylvania. 1999 photo.

© 2013 D.S. Rotenstein


27 thoughts on “The tanner’s home: Canadensis, Pa.

  1. Great pages!!!
    I was a 50 year guest at Pine Knob Inn from ’55, just before Thee Flood, till the October 2004 fire.
    I now haunt the nearby Brookview Manor dot com…
    By the way, the creek name is Brodhead, rather than Broadhead…

    • Thank you Richard. Spell check didn’t like “Brodhead” when I originally typed it … All fixed. Thanks for reading.

  2. David, I loved your article on Pine Knob and also Lapham. I did some research on this, but I never seem to get to finish it. I would like to know if we could include the information on both of these in our Barrett Township newsletter. Thanks for thinking about this subject. Leeanne Dyson, Barrett Township Historical Society

  3. I visit the area several times a year and was always drawn to the Tanner House. Still peaks my curiosity. Thank you for the info.

  4. Thank you for this information!! My grandmother Frances, is the daughter of George and Alice Crane. She was born an the Pine Knob Inn in 1923.

  5. I had my wedding there. I think we were the first couple to ever ask them to host all our wedding guests at the inn in 1981. We filled it to capacity and had our reception there. The chef even did our wedding cake. I think it may have been my idea of doing a wedding like that, that may have started them off on their business. Wonderful couple. I also think it is ironic that the original owner also had his first house in Tunkhannock. We lived in Tunkhannock at the time we were engaged and married at the Knob. My daughter was actually considering doing the same for her wedding this fall. I had started looking up info and read about the fire. It must have been heartbreaking for Cheryl and John. A piece of my life went up with it. So sad.

  6. Forgot to add that our marriage also dissolved as did the other commenters marriage. I was married under the name Williams. Since being married and divorced have become a born again Christian and still live in PA. Can’t help but think how difficult it would have been for the owners to deal with the new marriage laws and the choices they would have to be faced with being asked to have weddings and receptions there. So many businesses under such scrutiny these days.

  7. Interesting article, thank you. I believe the Laurel Grove Inn in Canadensis (now closed) was also originally a house owned by someone who owned a tannery? Any information on that would be much appreciated.

    • The Palen Home and the property where the Tannery was located is now owned by Grant Hilfiger in Canadensis. Any interest or questions feel free to give a call! 570-595-3440

  8. Somebody from out of state owns this. Was going to refurbish it, but never did. It keeps getting more run down.

  9. My parents had been going there since 1939 from Carteret, NJ. They would take me..back in the ’50s. I never forgot slipping on moss at the bottom of the Creek…and waiting in line to use to bathroom! And…the dinner bell!! My parents, just as the Inn, both were gone in 2004, 2005. There was also an “Indian trading post store” just up the road.

  10. My first B&B experience as a new bride and for our 1st and 2nd anniversaries. I was expecting our first child the last time we stayed in 1992. I have since moved to Missouri and now own my own B&B. Sadly my 1st husband has passed away and I was looking ro a trip down memory lane this fall. Alas, It will not be to revisit the Pine Knob Inn.

  11. Loved it there! My brother and sister in law own a home in Poconos farms since 1986. When we visited would go for a great dinner there. It’s funny,the last time we were there having dinner. There was a crowd a the “little bar room”… I noticed a few fellows I know from the Philadelphia area celebrating one them getting married. It was Bobby Rydell and disc jockey Don Cannon and their
    company. I stepped up to the bar to say hello, and what are you guys doing here? I had a short cocktail to celebrate and returned to my party in the dining room. A few minutes later both of them came over to the table were I introduced them to my family. All of a sudden the whole dining room and bar area were lead by Bobby Rydell in singing his hit song…”Wildwood Days”
    Really miss the place …

  12. Anybody have any information on the property located at the intersection of PA Route 447 and Old Canadensis Hill Road (now a body shop)? I hear it was once a Chevy Dealership. Was it ever a gas station? Any photos?

  13. Why is the Palen home slowly being torn down. It should be restored to the original condition and listed on the Monroe Historical Society Museum. I also was drawn to the house when I moved up here 40 years ago an when I looked up its history, I was well informed of the house and its history. Who owns it now and where can I get this information? Thank you.

    • I am the current owner as of November 15′. Unfortunately it is in disrepair and was never listed on the historical list.
      Grant Hilfiger

  14. I was conceived in the late winter at the Pine Knob Inn. How I know this must remain a mystery, but it is true. Judging by the stories of folks who were married there and their marriages dissolved with the fire, I count myself lucky to be alive…
    My folks took us on many vacations throughout the 50s and 60s to the Inn and I have lots of fond memories of the place and the people.
    Thanks for this page though it saddens me to know that the Inn is gone.

    • Patrick, I feel the same way. My parents never took “vacations”. We were from Carteret, NJ. Pine Knob is the closest I ever got to going on a weekend vacation. They went since the late 40s, then with me in the 50s. It was always a special place to me.

  15. My Great Aunts would vacation there often. I went with them one year in the early 60’s.I remember taking painting lessons nearby. My aunts painted many pictures from that area. We also all went there one Easter. I remember it snowed and some deer came up close to the inn. Memories.

  16. I had wonderful times there in the 70s. THe innkeepers then were a couple from Germantown, Philadelphia. I have stayed in many inns since then and none compare. THe food was excellent, classical music on the piano, winderful books and games in the main room with a fire going. THe owners were the perfect blend of warmth, hospitality, sophistication, and unpretentiousness. it was incredibly welcoming. I am so sad that I can’t remember their names. DOes anyone know?

  17. My mother (Blanche) and my Aunt Harriett waited table at Pine Knob in the early spring and late fall in the 1950’s (before the college kids started after Memorial Day and after they left at Labor Day). I spent many late afternoons and evenings waiting in the kitchen and help dining area for mom to be finished her shift – my parent’s 25th wedding anniversary was celebrated in the dining room after lunch one October Saturday in 1959. I also remember the raisin bread that Miss Steffens and Mrs. Wilburs would bake for the bake sales at the Canadensis United Methodist Church bazars that were held 3 times each summer – people would actually reserve loaves of this bread – and it would arrive several times a day whenever they had 20 or so loaves done – they baked it in the big wood-burning stove in the kitchen – this stove was used for all the meals served from that kitchen. Their signature meal was Prime Rib cooked in that wood stove. We also housed Pine Knob guests in our home during the summer – the guests would stay at our house but eat all their meals at Pine Knob and use all the resort facilities

  18. Alma Lynne Gravel: What a wonderful memory addition to this Pine Knob page. I remember the prime rib as we never, ever had it at home in Jersey. Thank you for sharing!

Leave a Reply