The Wagner Family
The Wagner family is not only an important part of the history of Tobyhanna Township, but also had a significant impact on both Monroe County and the state of Pennsylvania.
George E.Wagner proved that growing Christmas trees in Pennsylvania was a feasible, profitable and beneficial business. He and his son, Sterling Wagner, pioneered the tree nursery and showed this success by their scientific methods.
The Wagner family history starts with Joseph Wagner, born in Austria about 1802, as one of the early settlers in Paradise Township. He was well educated and learned to be a goldsmith. Like many of the itinerant workmen of his day, he traveled from place to place in many different countries plying his trade. About 1820 he immigrated to the Philadelphia area and settled in Bucks County.
In 1826 Joseph Wagner moved on to Monroe County, where he squatted on 400 acres of wild land in Paradise Township, some of this land descending to his son George. He expected that 21 years of possession would give him a clear title, as he had no money to buy the land, which was full of wild game and forests. He made his living by making barrel staves and hauling this product 18 miles to a buyer.
Joseph died at an early age. His son George, as the eldest (age 14), had to become the mainstay and supporter of the family with nine younger children. He, with the help of his siblings, kept the family together.
In 1844 George built a log cabin on seven acres given to the family by Stroud Hollinshead, that was part of the farm they could not afford. This became the family home for many years. George, upon the death of his father, first worked whatever jobs he could find at 25 cents a day. With work hard to find, he got jobs on the Lehigh River preparing and floating rafts of lumber, being wet from breast to toe. He received $1.50 per raft of 10,000 feet of lumber and by working evenings could clear another dollar a day.
George also worked in lumbering in the Pocono forests for $6.50 a month. In his first two years he did not receive all of his wages, thus having to wear cotton jeans and low shoes while working in snow up to 18 inches deep. For seven years he labored winter and summer with this strenuous work. It is difficult today to realize those working conditions and the low pay.
In 1851 and 1852 George Wagner took a different job at getting out logs, and received $2.50 per thousand. With this he was able to get a start in life. He bought the land of four hundred plus acres on which his father squatted. The cost was $2.50 per acre and he paid $500 down payment. He built a house, barn and other buildings and cleared 100 acres. In the summer he worked the farm and in winters for a dozen years he continued working in the lumber industry.
In 1877 the first connection with Tobyhanna Township occurred. George entered into a contract to cut timber from forest land on 1700 acres of the Newhart tract. He moved his family to the tract, but returned to their Paradise Township home later. He also contracted to cut 10 million feet of lumber around Gouldsboro.
Among his children was George E., Wagner, born in 1868, who was the founder of the family Christmas tree nursery business. At first, like many others in this area, he imported evergreen saplings from Canada and the Far East as the local supply was exhausted. He then began his own plantation of trees and demonstrated that the business could be feasible and profitable in this area. He became a leading conservationist and many state and national conservationists visited his nursery.
The Wagner's stop was located to the west of Pocono Lake. A 1904 schedule shows that only one eastbound and one westbound train stopped there each day. The tracks continuted in a northwesterly direction to a station in the vicinity of Thornhurst.
The Wagner family home is located on Route 940 in the Pocono Lake area, where nursery trees are located on both sides of the road. George E. was also in the coal business. At this location was a small freight station of the Wilkes-Barre and Eastern Railroad called Wagner’s switch. A side spur facilitated the loading and unloading of train cars, of forestry products, coal for distribution and even blueberries. He took a prominent part in the civic and business affairs of the area.
George E. and his wife Eva, a descendant of one of the earliest resident of the Poconos, had two children, Sterling and Edna.
Sterling took over the family business and expanded it, a result of his education in forestry and managed the plantation in an efficient way. Born in 1904, he was educated as one of the early students of forestry in American universities. He graduated from Syracuse University with a degree in landscape engineering.
Sterling Wagner had a notable career. He was an instructor at Syracuse University and an assistant professor at New York State College in their forestry departments. He became manager of Wagner’s Tree Farm and then president of Wagner’s Forest Products, Inc. He developed Wagner’s Forest Park, a residential community.
Sterling was chairman of the Tobyhanna Township Planning Commission for 22 years, pioneering township planning. He was also a member of the Monroe County Planning Commission. He held offices in a financial institution and several forestry associations, and was also a school director for the Pocono Mountain School District.
As written in the Pocono Record on September 19, 1973, the Pennsylvania Forestry Association chose Sterling Wagner as its Tree Grower of the Year. His tree farm consisted of about 250 acres. At that time it was one of approximately 900 tree farms in the state, so one can see how the award process was competitive, selective and prestigious. The Pennsylvania Bureau of Forestry also participated in managing the multi-use nursery.
At one time Wagner’s forestry products were used to supply props for the coal mines. There was a small saw mill used to supply lumber to many summer cottages in the Poconos including some located on the tree farm property. Of course, it supplied about 1500 Christmas trees each year. It has also supplied logs and pulp wood as raw product for many purposes. Sterling Wagner practiced strict conservation and productivity measures in operations, making sure that thinning and other scientific methods were practiced.
According to the forestry association, the Wagner Tree Farm is one of multiple uses, meaning management of all resources – wood, water and wildlife – being workable, profitable and beneficial to the greatest number of people in the long term.