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The Notch

I live in a beautiful pocket of Northeastern Pennsylvania. As I drive down my road, the elevation allows for a breathtaking view of the mountain once known as 'Leggett's Mountain'. I've often wondered what the area I lived in looked like before highways and businesses came. When there were just a few residents, some winding dirt roads, fields and forest for as far as the eye could see.

A creek cut through the mountains and along it an old warrior path, once used by the Lackawaxen and Iroquois. This gap through the mountains became known as Leggett's Gap. Later, locals called it 'The Notch' and today, PA highway routes 6 & 11 wind their way through the narrow passage between mountains.

I enjoyed studying the history of a beautiful roadway near my home and hope you will enjoy reading the article I wrote about it.

"S. Abington Twp. – The view Abington residents have as they drive through the Notch is one of majestic beauty. And it is never more glorious than in autumn when a colorful tapestry covers the mountains and hills, the gateway to home.

Rock cliffs border roads that wind through mountains. Train tracks above still carry locomotives pulling cars laden with freight on their way to northern destinations. A sign introduces the creek that runs alongside the Notch as “Leggett’s Creek.”

Though many may have walked past the beautiful rock strewn creek at South Abington Park, most would not know who Leggett was. And all, at one time or another have driven on the winding road we call “The Notch” and not realized that long ago, it was a narrowfootpathh following the creek and a gap through the mountains. This path became known as Leggett’s gap.

James Leggett emigrated from New York in 1777. He built a crude bark cabin at the mouth of the creek which flowed through the deep notch in the mountains, two miles north of Scranton. He operated a mine at the opening of Leggett’s gap. The creek and the mountain to the west would later bear his name.

Coming through the Notch, over Leggett’s mountain before modern roads were put in, was no small feat.

Hollister’s History of the Lackawanna Valley describes the journey through the Notch: “In 1791 encroachments were made upon the warrior’s path through the notch for the passage of a wagon, when the mountain road relapsed again into forest.”

The wagon path was narrow and treacherous. The History of Luzerne, Lackawanna and Wyoming counties, reads, “Thomas Smith and Ephraim Leach came from Connecticut. They crossed the Leggett mountain, at a gap westerly from where the road now passes, their team being one poor horse, and their conveyance a drag made of poles fastened at the back of the horse. On this drag were placed a sap kettle, their axes, and a few clothes and provisions. During the summer and fall, they made clearings in several places and opened a path through Leggett’s gap.”

Ephriam Leach was one of the original settlers of the Abingtons. His testimony of the perilous journey through the Notch was documented in Hollister’s History.

“The utter solitude of Leggett’s gap, interrupted only by the screech of the panther or the cry of the wolf, as they sprang along its sides with prodigious leaps, made even the trip to mill perilous in the cold season of the year. ‘Many a time,’ said Leach, ‘have I passed through the notch, with my little grist on my shoulder, holding in my hand a large club, which I kept swinging fiercely, to keep away the wolves growling around me, and to my faithful club, often bitten and broken when I reached home, have I apparently been indebted for my life.”

As land was cleared for farms in the Abingtons, the narrow passage was opened to accommodate the railroad. The first railroad was chartered in 1851 connecting Scranton to Great Bend with a distance of 48 miles.

In September of 1851, the Republican Farmer and Democrat Journal published news on a proposed road: “The Engineers in the employ of the Leggett’s Gap Rail Road, are exploring a route for a connecting road from Scranton to this place. The ground for the construction of such a road to the point proposed, is undoubtedly highly favorable, but it is beyond that point that the difficulties really begin. The elevation to be overcome beyond Scranton is very great – We hope the improvement will go on as it can do not hurt, and may, if properly located, do much good.”

Leggett’s Gap Road, as it was then called, wound its way through the Notch and was, at first, a toll road owned by the railroad. It was sold to the Pennsylvania Highway Department in 1936.

The Notch, which began as a gap cut by Leggett’s Creek through the Lackawanna Mountain range, grew to accommodate wagons for early settlers coming to the Abingtons, and later the railroad. Leggett’s mine is gone and the mountinas no longer bear his name. West Mountain and Bell Mountain are the names of the summits that flank either side. Still called the Notch over 200 years later, what once was a footpath taken by early settlers so long ago has become a major thoroughfare to and from the Abingtons.

As we dash through the Notch on Rts 6 & 11, we might appreciate that two centuries ago, such a trip would be long and treacherous. We can appreciate the brave men and women, like James Leggett and Ephriam Leach and their families, who first made that precarious journey, finding the gap in the mountains and those who opened up a gateway to the Abingtons we now call home.

*Originally published on November 8th, 2018 in The Abington Suburban, p10.

Corrections from my friend and fellow historian, Dennis Martin:

"1. While Ephraim Leach and Thomas Smith did much to improve the Notch, John Miller mentions William Clark as part of that group of pioneers and the three of them worked about 30 days apiece on the work. 2. The first toll road through the notch was the Philadelphia and Great Bend Turnpike and predated the railroad by decades. I have seen one reference to the railroad buying the right of way but only one. The Factoryville and Abington Turnpike that went through the Notch was bought by the Northern Electric Street Railway Company over 50 years later for its right of way and sold to the state by them when the trolley line was finished. 3. While not mentioned, the railroad was rerouted from Clarks Green/Waverly to Clarks Summit to save about $125,000 (about an eighth of the estimated cost). In fact, they named Clarks Summit as they needed to have a depot where extra locomotives could be removed (that hill was the highest elevation on the entire line from Scranton to Great Bend)."

I continue to work with Dennis Martin and others to preserve the history of our area.

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