Joseph Samuel Fryer worked for decades tapping out dots and dashes of Morse code, making sure the Erie railroad stations had the information they required.

HAWLEY -  Joseph Samuel Fryer worked for decades tapping out dots and dashes of Morse code, making sure the Erie railroad stations had the information they required. Fryer was a Hawley, Pennsylvania man for many years, later switching to a manager’s position at the Bellemonte Silk Mill.

Joseph S. Fryer was born in New Castle, Delaware, October 28, 1853, to George and Elizabeth (Wright) Fryer. Both his parents had emigrated from England. His father was a railroad machinist. The family moved about, living in Susquehanna, Pa. and Stonington, Ct., before settling in Port Jervis, NY in 1865. Joseph had two brothers and a sister. Joseph attended public schools in Port Jervis.

Learned telegraphy

In 1871, Joseph started to learn telegraphy at Port Jervis. The following year he accepted a position as night operator for the Erie Railroad at Hawley, where he stayed until 1875. The night office had been closed, so he returned to Port Jervis and worked as an extra telegraph operator in 1876.

The following year he was stationed at the Erie office at Mast Hope, Lackawaxen Township, Pike County, and at Lordville NY in 1878. In 1879-80 he was with the Erie office in Deposit, NY. He was working at Port Jervis when in February 1881 the Erie sent him up the line to the depot at Hancock, NY.

He was only there a little over a year.

His last assignment as an Erie telegraph operator came in 1882, when he was promoted to 1st telegraph operator at the Hawley depot. The Evening Gazette of Port Jervis, in a news brief dated April 12th, added, “By his industry he has merited this new position given by the Erie company.”

The Hancock Herald also reported of his transfer from the Hancock depot, in the April 13, 1882 edition. Fryer left Hancock that week.
(Another reference, however, said he returned to Hawley in December of 1884.)

He was working out of the Erie Depot in Hawley along Welwood Avenue, which was known as Erie Street at the time, at least in later years.

The depot was positioned at the corner with Paupack Street and is today a grassy lot. It was also called the East Hawley Depot, or the Eddy Depot. This is just down the hill from what we know today as the Hawley Silk Mill.

Evidently a very hard worker, Joseph, who was married at this time and had two small children, left on vacation in June 1886 (or 1885). The Hawley Times reported that this was his first vacation in over nine years. He and his family went to New York City, with a stopover at Port Jervis where his parents still lived.

Switched to silk

In 1887 he accepted a position with Dexter, Lambert & Co. as assistant superintendent of the Bellemonte Silk Mill in Hawley. Their massive factory on the falls, made of blue stone, was opened in 1881 and is today the Hawley Silk Mill. An 1889 news brief referred to him as a bookkeeper at the mill.

The Tri-States Union of Port Jervis reported in about 1890, “The career of Mr. Joseph S. Fryer, an old Port Jervis boy, is an illustration of the success which may be achieved by young men who possess the requisite pluck ambition and industry.” The newspaper stated that Fryer perceived that there was not sufficient opportunity for advancement with the railroad, so he accepted employment with the silk mill company.

The newspaper added that Fryer’s promotion with the Dexter, Lambert & Co. was rapid.
It’s not known if all the moving about was also a factor in his decision to switch occupations.

Raised a family

On November 24, 1876, in Hawley, Fryer was married to miss Hannah Annie Oldfield (she was known as Annie). The Baptist minster. Rev. I.N. Earle, performed the ceremony. This was a double ceremony. Also wed at that time and place was Annie’s sister Martha, to William C. Case of Middletown, NY.

Annie was a native of Hawley.

She and Joseph had two daughters, both born at Hawley: Elizabeth W., May 19, 1878 and Jennie M., January 15, 1886.
The Hawley Times made mention of the proud daddy, once Jennie was born. “J.S. Fryer, assistant station agent at the East Hawley Depot, seems to have grown several inches taller, and there is also a perceptible strut in his walk, since Wednesday morning. It’s a girl, and weighs eight pounds.”

Wife died of TB

Annie died three years later, on March 23, 1889. She died of consumption, an early term for tuberculosis. or TB. The Tri-States Union reported she had suffered from this disease a long time and her death was not unexpected. She was 34 years of age.
Her daughters were three and 12.

Joseph’s father died at Port Jervis, July 22, 1890. His mother then came to Hawley, where she died August 19 of that same summer, due to a fall that broke her hip.


On November 8, 1890, Joseph Fryer was married again, to Margaretta Holden. They were wed in Port Jervis, before a Methodist minister. The Fryer family lived in the company house, which was just below the factory on Erie Street (later called Welwood Avenue). This house was built of blue stone and had a castellated roofline, to match the landmark silk mill.

While in Hawley, Joseph Fryer was a member of the Masonic Lodge.

His wife Margaretta also gave him a daughter, Gertrude, born in about 1903.

He had been serving as superintendent at Bellemonte Silk Mill for a long time, when in January, 1906 the Hawley Times reported he was being transferred to the Florence silk mill in Honesdale. Dexter, Lambert & Co. operated this mill as well, located on Willow Avenue (current location of the Salvation Army store).

The newspaper stated that the transfer likely would happen in April, and at that time he would be moving to the county seat.
Farrington Suydam was to take his place as superintendent in Hawley.

“While we welcome Mr. Suydam as a citizen of Hawley,” the Times reported, “we deplore the loss of Mr. Fryer. Joe has been so long looked upon as one of us, that we are reluctant to part with him and members of his family, who secured a warm place in the hearts of so many friends in this place. They have our best wishes.”

Social circles

In their early years in Honesdale, they resided at 311-13th Street. Sometime in the teens, they moved to 1308 East Street.
Joseph’s daughter Elizabeth Fryer was married to Charles S. Houck in June 1890, at the Fryer’s home in Hawley next to the mill. Mr. Houck (1869-1952), for many years worked as cashier at the Hawley Bank. Newspaper accounts dutifully reported in the 1910’s, of the Houcks celebrating Christmas with the Fryers, one year at the Houck’s home in Hawley, and the next year at the Fryer’s place in Honesdale.

Jennette was married to Leon H. Ross in September, 1908, at the Presbyterian Chapel in Honesdale. Mr. Ross worked for the National Elevator Works.

Joseph and Margaretta Fryer enjoyed a wide circle of friends and had numerous organized socials, reported in the local newspapers.
In 1911, the Fryers threw a “lawn festival” at their home for the 4th of July for the “Knocker’s Club”. Eight couples were listed in attendance in what the paper called a “jolly social gathering.” “Dainty refreshments were served,” the newspaper added.
In May 1912, the Honesdale Citizen referred to Joseph as the “captain of Thirteenth Street Quoit Club.” This time the Fryers were at the home of Mr. and Mrs. C. P. Rose, with seven other couples that also attended. Fryer was reported to have been a good loser, who secured the ‘booby prize” in cards and also lost the first game of quoits.

The Knockers Club were back in March 1913 when Mrs. Fryer entertained them “and other friends at Five Hundred.” There were a dozen at the party, which was for the ladies.

The 1920 census listed Joseph Fryer as the silk mill superintendent in Honesdale. He was 62. He was still working at the mill in 1930 at the age of 76. He was listed as a clerk.

Margaretta Fryer died in 1941.

The Hancock Herald, in 1943, made mention of Joseph Fryer’s 90th birthday. Joseph was residing with his daughter Jennette and her husband, Leon, in Hillside, NJ.

Joseph S. Fryer died July 13, 1946, while a patient at the Masonic Hospital in Lancaster. He was laid to rest at the Walnut Grove cemetery in Hawley.