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.” Continue reading