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.
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.
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.
View Gilbert Palen’s Canadensis in a larger map
The images below capture some views of Gilbert Palen’s former Canadensis home through time.
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.
© 2013 D.S. Rotenstein