Landmark Welles Mill Complex Vanishing Forever
It would have been seen as a far-fetched rumor just a few years ago, but it’s actually taking place this week: Welles Mill, Wyalusing’s oldest business, is not only out of business and closed, any sign that it ever existed is being obliterated.
Starting Monday morning, buildings that made up the mill complex were ripped apart by an excavator. It took less than three hours to wipe out 191 years of history.
A line of wooden warehouses connected to the main mill building were the first to go. Among them was a structure that dated back to the days of the North Branch Canal in the 1840’s, when canal boats tied up at the thriving mill.
Before the old building was razed, Chip Welles, whose predecessors built Wyalusing’s first mill in 1820, removed an iron ring where the canal boats tied up and gave it to the Wyalusing Valley Museum.
It took about an hour to tear down the old wood frame warehouses. They had withstood major floods, some were spared by a fire that destroyed the main mill building in May of 1981, but none were a match for the powerful excavator that slammed and ripped the buildings to shreds.
Then the focus shifted to what has been the residence of Clayton Welles, Sr. and his wife, Julia, who as fate would have it, were the last members of the Welles family to live in the once-lovely home.
“My grandmother’s rolling over in her grave,” Chip said as the home was ripped apart. Chip’s father Clayton “Cappy” Welles, spent the latter part of his childhood in the home and later ran the family’s Mobil petroleum operation. A remnant from the mill’s petroleum business was uncovered when workers recently removed an underground storage tank and a small spill occurred. The Environmental Protection Agency notified Wyalusing Township of the mishap and damage was apparently minimal.
Pat Welles Hoffman, Cappy Welles’s sister, had difficulty holding back tears as she watched what was also her childhood home vanish forever.
“We have lots of wonderful memories from here,” Debbie Stethers said. Debbie and her husband, Lanny, were among those watching the demolition. “When we were kids we used to play broom tag in the basement.” Debbie’s dad, Lincoln Welles, brother of Cappy and Pat (and Cappy’s twin) spent his childhood years in the house, too. He was the last family member to manage milling operations.
Chip Welles wondered aloud how “the ghost of Aunt Maggie would survive the demolition. We used to hear a noise made by a piece of metal blowing in the wind and we always teased how it was ‘the ghost of Aunt Maggie,’” Pat Hoffman said. The ghost story was repeated from generation to generation.
Harry Mader, an employee of Welles Mill, and his family were the last residents of the old home. After they moved out, the home stood vacant for a number of years and fell into disrepair.
Pat Hoffman said there’s a date on the concrete steps leading to the basement indicating when the house was built, but nobody watching the demolition could recall when that was.
Chris Welles, Chip’s brother, the last member of his family to own the mill complex, confirmed in March that the property had been sold to Wilkes-Barre businessman Judd Shoval.
Bill Lezinski, who is managing the demolition of the mill complex for Shoval Enterprises, was at the mill Monday and said there are no definite plans for the future of the property. He said an attempt was made to sell the milling equipment, but no buyer was found. Speculation is that the mill property will be used by a business connected with the gas industry but that has not been confirmed.
After the house was flattened, the excavator moved on to what had been the mill office that was built following the 1972 flood, which inundated the mill.
“It’s too bad to see it go,” Allan “Sarge” Wilbur said as he watched from across Route 6 as the mill’s office shuddered and groaned with each battering blow from the excavator. “Remember when Jackie Turner worked here?” Wilbur asked. “He was a good guy.” In a matter of minutes, the former mill office was transformed into a pile of splintered wood and rubble.
Charles DeNaples, owner of Dunmore based SRI, the company contracted to raze the mill complex, said he’ll be back later this week with a machine that will dismantle the actual mill, which went into operation in 1983, replacing the former mill destroyed in the fire, and has been idle since the mid 1990’s. He said that machine would snip away metal sections of the structure and lower them to the ground. “It’s quite a machine,” DeNaples said. “Most people have never seen anything like it.”
Editor’s Note: A look back at Welles Mill over the years including photos and family histories will be published in next week’s Rocket-Courier.