I love old things. Not for their monetary value, but for the history they offer.
Recently, Sandra and Paul Morgan of South Abington were preparing to move. My husband was working at their residence and called me to stop over. Mrs. Morgan had some furniture that she wanted to get rid of. A mirrored top bureau caught my eye. It was full of character and oozed story.
“Where would we put it?” my husband cautioned.
“I’ll find a place.”
He knew I was a goner.
“That’s been in my family a long time,” Paul Morgan told me. He was surrounded by boxes, the remnants of more than 40 years in South Abington Township.
I asked “What can you tell me about the bureau?”
“Not much, I’m afraid. It was in the house my parents purchased on Providence Road in Scranton. My parents bought the house I grew up in from an old spinster named Finn. She said the dresser had been there as long as she could remember,” he said.
Mr. Morgan shared the bureau eventually found its way to his home in the Abingtons. Now, preparing to downsize and move to California, it was time to let it go.
I felt honored and grateful. I thanked the family and my husband carefully loaded up the Morgan-Finn bureau in the back of my SUV.
It didn’t take long before my curiosity drove me to find out the story behind it. My amateur efforts to date it based on construction and style left me convinced it was from the late 1800’s. There is no stamp or labeling of any kind, so I have been unable to find who manufactured the piece.
I turned my attention to the family who passed on the bureau to Paul Morgan’s parents. He told me the house they bought was on Providence Road. I went to work and found a deed dated 1953, in which Harriet Finn sold a home to David and Ann Morgan.
Given my guess on the age of the bureau, and the fact that Harriet’s parents, Wade and Electa Finn, purchased the home in 1898 and lived in Scranton since their marriage in 1873, I surmised that they were the original owners of the bureau.
An adventure through old newspapers, genealogy databases and census records revealed the story of Wade Finn. Born in New Jersey, the third son of a large family, he moved to New York as a child. His father was deceased before Finn reached adulthood. As a teenager, Finn came alone to Scranton and began working as a printer for The Scranton Republican newspaper. According to his obituary, published in the Scranton Republican on June 11, 1926, Finn was instrumental in establishing the Scranton Free Press in the 1870s. The Scranton Free Press was connected to many prominent people. One reporter for The Scranton Free Press was a man named E. J. Lynett. Lynett worked for the Free Press until 1895 when he bought The Scranton Times. The Times-Shamrock Communications group is owned by his descendants.
In 1873 Finn married Electa Snyder. Finn went on to leave his job as printer and opened up a grocery store in Scranton’s west side by 1875. The Finns had two children, Harriet and William.
Finn served as constable, tax collector and city councilman. He was respected in the community. In 1886 he managed a coal company. Soon his interest in the booming coal industry led him to invest. By 1901 he had organized Finn Coal Company and leased tracks of land in Carbondale.
During this time, he moved his family to Providence Road in Scranton and purchased a large home. The bureau found its place there, where it remained for 88 years. Not long after Finn Coal Company began operations in Carbondale, it was in peril. Almost as soon as Wade Finn began mining, fire was detected underground. Finn fought the fire but the cost was great. Eventually the Finn Coal Company went bankrupt.
Finn bounced back, finding a job in the profession that gave him his start. As manager of The Scrantonian Publishing Company, he worked overseeing newspaper operations until 1918 when he took over as president and treasurer, a position he held until his death in 1926.
When he passed, The Scranton Republican reported, “The vacant place among newspaper men creates among them a solemn sadness. Their sorrow is the more sincere in that their affection for him was strong. His work and his name and his sterling character shall not be forgotten… His family, his newspaper, his friends shall be proud of his memory.”
Finn’s wife Electa passed away in 1931. Harriet remained in the house until she sold it - and the bureau - to the Morgans, who kept the bureau for two generations.
The irony isn’t lost on me that I grew up in Scranton, playing with my childhood friend in her big house on Providence Road (less than a block from where Wade Finn lived). Now living in the Abingtons, I’ve followed the same journey as the bureau. I’m enjoying writing for The Abington Suburban, owned by Times-Shamrock Communications, which, incidentally, bought The Scrantonanian Tribune, a publication of the company that Finn had been president of.
The bureau has found a place in my dining room. It seems fitting to use one of the drawers as a place to keep my issues of The Abington Suburban.
We can learn a lot by looking at the history of the people and places around us.
Thanks, Wade M. Finn for the inspiration.