The history of Hiawatha

The resplendent Hiawatha

Story contributed by the Pike County Historical Society
Posted 9/27/23

MILFORD, PA — The first Abbot and Downing Concord Stage was designed in 1828. It was a new type of stagecoach and derived its name from its place of origin—Concord, NH. It exhibited the …

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The history of Hiawatha

The resplendent Hiawatha


MILFORD, PA — The first Abbot and Downing Concord Stage was designed in 1828. It was a new type of stagecoach and derived its name from its place of origin—Concord, NH.
It exhibited the skills and creativity of its originators and represented a major change, as well as a significant advance, in coaching history. The suspension system in use up to that time was improved by hanging the body of the coach on leather straps—”thorough braces.” This system provided a much smoother ride for passengers and an easier repair job for owner and driver.
The stagecoach is generally associated with transportation in the Old West, but its point of origin is here in the East.

The Concord Stage became the final word in coaches all over the world. If you had a stagecoach made by the Abbot and Downing Company, you had the very best.
Research has underscored the fact that today, there are only a few of these historic stages left in this country, and fewer still that are in actual operating condition.
In recent years the Hiawatha, which is in the possession of the Pike County Historical Society and Museum (PCHS), has fallen into disrepair due to the many years between services and from exposure to the sun.

The PCHS sent the Hiawatha off to Hansen Wheel and Wagon Shop in Lechter, SD for conservation and restoration and for touch-up, to ensure it is roadworthy for use in parades, fundraising and community events.
And now it’s restored and ready to go.
The story of a stagecoach

The Hiawatha was originally operated by the Honesdale and Erie Railroad. It provided passenger service between Honesdale and Susquehanna. This particular area in Pennsylvania was the first place in America to witness the operation of a steam locomotive, “The Stourbridge Lion,” back in 1829. It was only a matter of time before the steam-powered railroad in that area replaced horse-drawn conveyances as a means of travel. Because of this, the stagecoach route there was abandoned.

John W. Findlay Sr., a native of Scotland, had the honor of driving a coach for Queen Victoria when she visited Scotland on one occasion. He immigrated to America around 1861 and settled in Milford sometime during the Civil War.

Because of his experience with horses and carriages, his engagement in the livery business here was a natural one. He took over the existing stage line in Milford, which operated mainly between the borough and Port Jervis, NY, where there was a station for the Erie Railroad.
His first coach seems to have been a smaller one than the Hiawatha. Reportedly he traded his coach for the larger 12-passenger Hiawatha, which was no longer needed in the Honesdale area.
According to another version of the story, he bought the Hiawatha outright upon learning that the stage line in Honesdale was to be discontinued.

This transfer of ownership took place sometime during the Civil War. In addition to the normal livery business, Findlay’s stage line carried the U.S. Mail, and Findlay also operated the local Wells Fargo Express Agency. The Hiawatha became a familiar sight in the Milford vicinity. It operated along the banks of the Delaware, mainly as a commercial passenger vehicle, well into the 20th century. It provided service from the Erie station in Port Jervis, bringing visitors and guests to many of the hotels and cottages in the area.

Beginning in the late 1800s, Milford, because of its convenience and scenic location, attracted many prominent and talented visitors from the Philadelphia and New York areas. The influx of early tourism added to the town’s prestige and culture. In a sense, Milford had been “discovered” as a favored summer resort, which became a real factor in the prosperity it enjoyed during that period.

On occasion, the Hiawatha would be used for excursions and would carry happy vacationers on trips up and down the picturesque Upper Delaware River Valley.
And afterward

For a number of years after it ceased operation as a commercial vehicle, it was used in parades and celebrations. It gradually fell into complete disrepair, but was patched together sufficiently to be featured in a 1921 parade and later in historic tableaux.

It was stored in one of Findlay’s barns, and then later in other barns around the village of Milford.

The Hiawatha ended up at the Moon Valley Animal Farm in Milford, where it reposed through the kindness of the owners, to remind visitors of its past glories. It remained there until the spring of 1982, when, after a momentous decision by the PCHS, it was moved to Gap, PA for restoration.
Now, 37 years later, the coach is once again getting an overhaul.

Although the Hiawatha is fully restored, the PCHS will need a different place to keep the coach—or will need to make some changes to the enclosure that was built for it.

That will ensure the coach remains in good shape and roadworthy as a symbol of the past for the future, and as a nod to the days of old-time Milford and the “Cadillac of coaches”—our Hiawatha.

To contribute to the cause and to learn more about the PCHS, visit

Story contributed by the Pike County Historical Society


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