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 narrow foot path 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 warriors’ 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 1832 and finally opened in June of 1851 connecting Scranton to Great Bend with a distance of 48 miles.
In September of 1851, the Republican Farmer and Democratic Journal published news on a proposed road: “The Engineers in the employ of the Legget’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 no 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 1916. A new state highway opened from Scranton to Chinchilla in 1936.
The Notch, which began as a gap cut by Leggett’s Creek though 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 mountain no longer bears 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 foot path 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.