Harveys Lake History

Albert Lewis and
the Bear Creek
Ice Company:
An Abridgment

F. Charles Petrillo


I. Introduction

In his lifetime Albert Lewis (1840-1923) of Bear Creek, Pennsylvania, was known as "the lumber and ice king of Wyoming Valley." Lewis was the largest lumber manufacturer in the Wyoming Valley, and the greatest natural ice producer in Luzerne County. Between the mid-1870s and the early 1890s, Albert Lewis owned major lumber mills near Hickory Run and at White Haven along the Lehigh River as well as other lumber mills at Bear Creek, near Wilkes-Barre. Lewis also lumbered at Harvey's Lake and Noxen, and beyond Noxen he created the lumber town of Stull along Bowman's Creek.

Lewis also began to harvest ice at Bear Creek in the 1880s and at Mountain Springs, another town he built, near Ricketts Glen in the 1890s. He also had ice plants at White Haven and Penn Lake. The ice industry had peaked at the time of his death in 1923, but it was almost three decades before the ice industry itself closed at Mountain Springs and Bear Creek in the post-World War II era.

 

II. The Lumber Industry

Albert Lewis
FCP Collection

The American lumber industry began in Maine in 1634 and was centered there for two hundred years, but in the 1830s, New York State became the early nation's lumbering leader. In 1860, Pennsylvania, with over twenty-eight million acres of land, most of which were densely forested, became the industry leader. From 1870 to 1890, Michigan was the leading lumbering state. But between 1870 and 1890, Pennsylvania was among the nation's top three lumber producers and was still fourth in 1910.

In our region, major lumbering occurred along the upper Lehigh River in Carbon-Luzerne Counties, with the industry's headquarters at White Haven, and at other old lumbering sites including Hickory Run and Tannery, towns along the river below White Haven. From the 1860s to the early 1890s, the river trade drew a number of capitalists, including Albert Lewis, to exploit the timber lands of the river system and its canal-railroad links to Philadelphia and other markets.

 

III. Abijah and Isaac Lewis: Forebears of Albert Lewis

Albert Lewis was the fifth child of Abijah and Alzare R. Lewis. Lewis's father Abijah and uncle, Isaac Lewis, were lumbermen who generally followed the shift of the lumber trade from Maine to Pennsylvania. Abijah Albert Lewis (c.1800-1875) was born in Maine, but his wife Alzare (Eliza) Romaine Lewis was born in England. The family lived in the Montreal area from 1834 to 1847. Isaac Lewis (c. 1808-1887), a brother of Abijah Lewis, was also born in Maine. Eight years younger than Abijah, Isaac Lewis seemingly was the financial manager for the elder Lewis brother in the lumber trade.

By the early 1850s, Abijah and Isaac Lewis would settle in Buck Township in Luzerne County. During 1847-1848, Isaac Lewis was still living in Maine, but by 1850 he was in Bethlehem and then Allentown. His brother Abijah Lewis was in Buck Township in the late 1840s to manage the lumbering of Isaac Lewis's lands.

During the late 1840s through the mid-1850s, Isaac Lewis's speculative purchases of timber lands, particularly along the Lehigh River in Luzerne and Monroe Counties, were mortgaged heavily to the sellers of these lands, most of whom were absentee owners. In the mid-1850s, Isaac Lewis was engaged in stripping bark from hemlock trees over a 13,000- acre tract to sell to the Gouldsboro tannery of Pratt and Gould. The brothers Isaac and Abijah Lewis, during this time, seemingly settled into business as small lumbermen along the upper Lehigh River. In 1860, there were seven lumber operations in Buck Township and the Gouldsboro tannery. There were no significant lumber operations in Bear Creek Township, perhaps due to the lack of economical transportation links to a river system. Isaac Lewis generally financed the brothers' lumber operations, but increasingly he was unable to manage his extensive land investment. Isaac Lewis lost numerous properties to foreclosing creditors in Luzerne County in 1857-1861 and in Monroe County in 1856-1867.

Since settling in Buck Township in the late 1840s, Abijah Lewis had purchased far fewer lands in his own right. Abijah Lewis lived in the Beaumont-Stoddartsville area. Beaumont, between Shades Glen and the Lehigh River in Buck Township, was a small village recognized with its own post office in 1841 with Charles Terwilliger as postmaster. Stoddartsville was the principal village in Buck Township. When the Lewis brothers arrived, Stoddartsville was largely settled by the Stull family. Lewis Stull (1797-1867) settled in the town in 1817 as a young man. By the 1840s Stull was in the lumber business as would be several of his descendants in the Poconos-Lackawanna County area. Two of Lewis Stull's nine children married two of Abijah Lewis's daughters, and these two sons of Lewis Stull became brothers-in-law to Albert Lewis. Daniel Stull (1837-1899) married Eliza Lewis and Adam Stull (1833-1909) married Melvania or Malvina "Vinnie" Lewis (1836-1896). Both Daniel and Adam Stull would work for Albert Lewis at Bear Creek, and Adam Stull would later serve Lewis's Harvey's Lake-Bowmans Creek lumber interests in the 1890s. The town of Stull, near Noxen, was named for Adam Stull. In turn, a son Arthur L. Stull became, like his father Adam, Lewis's closest business associate.

Grave of Abijah Lewis.
Laurel Cemetery, White Haven

Abijah Lewis's major purchase of timber properties did not occur until July 1866, near the end of his career, when he purchased immense acreage in Bear Creek Township, and sold a half-share in it to Edwin Shortz, Sr. These lands were south of the old turnpike (Route 115) along lower Bear Creek. But Lewis and Shortz may not have timbered the lands in any significant way. The partners Abijah Lewis and Edwin Shortz, Sr., sold the Bear Creek lands to the Spring Mountain Coal Company in September 1869. This coal company was based in Jeansville and largely mined in Carbon County. These Bear Creek lands may have supplied timber to the mines, as there is no evidence they were lumbered after the early 1880s. (Spring Mountain Coal resold the property to Albert Lewis in September 1883.) By the late 1860s, an aging Abijah Lewis was now engaged in farming and living with Adam Stull, his son-in-law, in White Haven. Isaac Lewis was in Gouldsboro (now Thornhurst) in October 1872 when he made his last purchase of timber land in Buck Township. The following February 1873, Isaac Lewis declared bankruptcy. Abijah and Isaac Lewis slipped away from the historical record. Abijah Lewis died in White Haven in early March 1875 and Isaac Lewis died in 1887 at his Thornhurst farm.

 

IV. Albert Lewis: The Lumber King at Bear Creek and Lehigh Gorge

In 1860, at age twenty, Albert Lewis was living in Penn Forest Township in Carbon County working as a railroad clerk. He lived in the Thomas A. Bennet boarding house with laborers and sawyers (saw filers) from the area's lumber trade. In the 1860-1870 period, over a dozen lumber firms cut along the Lehigh River in this area, mostly lumbering hemlock, but at some point, too, one firm producing oil of wintergreen.

Late in the Civil War in 1864 Albert Lewis was drafted, but he engaged an area laborer, George Bryer, to take his place for a $300.00 fee under the "rich man's exemption." During the Civil War years, Lewis was working for the Lehigh Valley Railroad at White Haven. After the Civil War, Lewis entered the lumber business with the support of the Lehigh Valley Railroad. In 1866-67, Lewis created his first major lumbering operation at the village of Lehigh Tannery in Kidder Township in Carbon County. By 1872, Lewis also had a second lumber mill at Tannery, opposite Lehigh Tannery, on the Lehigh River below White Haven in Luzerne County. Here he operated as Albert Lewis and Co., Limited. In 1873, Albert Lewis and Edwin Shortz, Sr., were joined in the lumber trade with a third mill in White Haven as Shortz, Lewis and Company.

"Lizzie" Crellin Lewis
Courtesy, Asa Packer Mansion

After Lewis's partner Edwin Shortz, Sr. entered law, Albert Lewis and John R. Crellin formed a lumber partnership in 1883-1884. John R. Crellin (c. 1815-1885) was a pioneer lumberman in the Lehigh Valley and, at one time, he was a treasurer of the Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company. In White Haven, Crellin was the station agent for the Lehigh Valley Railroad. His wife, Eunice, was a half-sister of Sarah M. Blakeslee, the wife of Lehigh Valley Railroad magnate Asa Packer. Crellin was also the largest property owner in White Haven. On Christmas Eve, December 24, 1872, Lewis married Crellin's daughter Elizabeth "Lizzie" E. Crellin.

Albert and Lizzie Crellin Lewis lived in South Kidder Township near Hickory Run in the later 1870s and in 1880. Lewis had four lumber plants in 1880 in Luzerne-Carbon counties. Lewis's largest operation in Luzerne County was at Tannery. At White Haven, the firm of Lewis and Crellin was the smallest of four lumber manufacturers along the Lehigh River. In Hazle Township in lower Luzerne County, Albert Lewis and Company was the major manufacturer at 3.5 million feet annually. At another mill in Kidder Township, in Carbon County, Albert Lewis and Company employed eighty-one people, one-third of them fifteen or under, to produce lath and shingles. Here Lewis had a $35,000 investment and an $11,000 annual payroll.

But by 1880 it was time to exploit major new timber lands. During a mild winter in late January 1880, Albert Lewis and partner Calvin E. Brodhead met at Thornhurst with Thomas McKeen of Easton to negotiate a large purchase of Bear Creek lands. McKeen and Edward S. Fox were the executors of the estate of James McKeen who owned thirty-three tracts totaling 12,400 acres in Bear Creek Township. On February 4, 1880, the firm of Lewis and Brodhead purchased the McKeen tracts for $70,000.

The 1880 Bear Creek sale included most of the timberland north of the Easton and Wilkes-Barre Turnpike (Route 115) in the Bear Creek - Meadow Run area. With the McKeen tracts from Bear Creek to Meadow Run, Lewis held most of the timberlands in the township between the old turnpike and Lackawanna County. (In 1883, he would also purchase the lands south of the turnpike to Carbon County.)

The Lehigh Valley Railroad agreed to have Lewis construct a branch line from Bear Creek Junction near Moosehead, above White Haven, through the lower half of Bear Creek Township to Bear Creek Village on the Easton and Wilkes-Barre Turnpike. Any extension of the logging railroad to reach further into the timber lands was the responsibility of Lewis and Brodhead.

Bear Creek Dam, 1890
FCP Collection

By the close of 1880, Lewis and Brodhead had completed the 5.35- mile branch line from Bear Creek Junction outside White Haven through the timber lands of lower Bear Creek Township to Bear Creek Village. In early 1881, Albert Lewis built an extension of the railroad from the village along Bear Creek to Beaupland (named after the area's former owner) where Dams No. 2 and 3 were built. In time, the name Beaupland became Beauplant as ice plants were constructed by Lewis. The railroad then ran along the stream of Meadow Run to the lumber towns of California and Meadow Run. Immediately below Meadow Run pond, Lewis built a dam on the stream and utilized the artificial pond (Dam No. 4) and a reconstructed dam on the small natural lake of Meadow Run (Dam No. 5) for lumbering - and in later years for the ice-cutting industry. By 1881, Lewis had built three mills along the railroad above Bear Creek - at Beaupland, California, and Meadow Run.

Albert Lewis No. 2 Locomotive at Bear Creek
M. Katarsky Collection

Lewis sold the completed railroad from Bear Creek Junction to Beaupland for $20,000 to the Lehigh Valley Railroad in February 1882. On September 20, 1883, Brodhead retired from the partnership at Bear Creek and received a $62,000 settlement from Lewis. On March 3, 1884, the single-story, 30 x 90- foot frame saw mill at California, built in 1880, was destroyed when the boiler exploded a few minutes after 6:00 A.M., just after men had arrived to begin work. At California, the remains of the mill, wrecked by the March explosion, were destroyed in May 1884 by fire, along with twelve of the town's seventeen homes.

In August 1885, Lizzie Evelyn Lewis, Albert Lewis's wife, died after a long bout with tuberculosis. Her funeral services were held at Grace Chapel, a church built by Lewis a year earlier at Bear Creek.

In the late 1880s, the timberlands were declining in worth, and mills in White Haven, center of the immense Lehigh River lumber industry, were closing. Lewis's mill at Tannery was totally destroyed by fire on February 20, 1887, and after initial thoughts to rebuild, Lewis elected to abandon it. He was already building a new mill at Dallas, which was along the line of the Wilkes-Barre and Harvey's Lake Railroad he was constructing to reach new timberlands at the Lake and the 13,000 acres of Ricketts lands he purchased in 1876 along Bowman's Creek. Soon he would also have new mills at Harvey's Lake, Noxen (originally called Lewis), and Stull. In 1892, the great lumber industry of the upper Lehigh River ended at White Haven.

In March 1893, the Bear Creek Branch of the railroad from Bear Creek village to Meadow Run was declared unsafe and passenger traffic was halted on March 31st. The lumber business at Bear Creek was at an end and its mills closed.

The end of commercial lumber operations at Bear Creek, however, did not end Lewis's role as a major lumberman. He had not even peaked as yet at Harvey's Lake, Noxen and Stull where he had mills.

 

V. The American Ice Industry

The early ice industry was localized. Farmers cut small harvests from local ponds, and only better homes, taverns and hotels purchased ice from local dealers. Ice was a luxury not commonly available to the general public except for cooling drinks. Urbanization, improved ice-box technology, and consumer demand, including the popularity of mineral waters, fruit juices, and ice cream, stimulated the creation of an American ice industry. Farmers increased their use of ice for meat and dairy products. Food cooled with ice could be shipped by railroad to more distant places. During the last half of the nineteenth century, ice became a necessity for home and business, and by the 1870s there were substantial ice dealers in medium-sized communities like Wilkes-Barre and Scranton. By 1880, an estimated five million tons of ice was consumed by the American public. Pennsylvania was the nation's third largest producer of ice, following Maine and New York.

Two major ice companies in Luzerne County from the 1890s to the World War II era were at Mountain Springs near Ricketts Glen and at Bear Creek near Wilkes-Barre. Both were originally formed by Albert Lewis.

 

VI. The Bear Creek Ice Industry

Loading Ice at No. 1 Plant
FCP Collection

Beginning in January 1881, Lewis and Brodhead began to harvest ice at Bear Creek. There were a series of ice plants over time at Bear Creek Dam No. 1. In 1895, Lewis formed the Bear Creek Ice Company. At Bear Creek Dam No. 1, he built two large ice plants (Plants 1 and 2), and he built Plants 3 and 4 at two dams at Beaupland (later called Beauplant) further along Bear Creek. In the 1910 period, he also had a facility to load ice on the railroad at Meadow Run pond No. 1 (Plant 5), and a sixth plant at Meadow Run pond No. 2. From 1911 to 1915 he cut ice at Penn Lake. (He was also the founder of the ice operations at Mountain Springs near Ricketts Glen in the 1890s - selling the Mountain Springs plants to his nephew Arthur L. Stull in the early 1910s.)

Meadow Run Ponds No. 1 and 2
FCP Collection

Ice from the ponds in the winter were initially cut and shipped on the railroad to fill winter orders. Then ice was cut and stored in the ice houses for shipment on the railroad from about March to December.

Bear Creek was a company town fully controlled by the ice company. The ice business required large numbers of temporary laborers during the winter harvest. Otherwise, the industry required fewer men during the balance of the year to unload the ice from the plants on the railroad cars. The 1880s to the 1910s coincided with substantial immigration to the United States of people from the Ukraine and southern and eastern Europe. Employment agencies in New York provided new immigrants with employment in the ice fields and coal mines of northeastern Pennsylvania. The Bear Creek Ice Company paid a fee to labor agencies in New York to send immigrants to Lewis's White Haven and Bear Creek industries at a day rate of $4.50, the men having their train fare of $6.00 deducted from their pay. The men also paid a $1.05 daily fee to board in their shanties or at the Hungarian Village, two boarding houses at Bear Creek.

Ice Operations and Boaring House
Meadow Run Plant No. 5
M. Katarsky Collection

Ice ten inches thick could be cut, but thirteen to fourteen inches was preferred, and in later years twelve inches was generally the desired thickness to meet a growing uniform standard in domestic ice boxes. An ice auger was used to drill test holes. Ice thickness was measured with a gauge dropped through a hole drilled through the ice.

Snow and slush on the ice pond had to be cleared. A team of horses pulled a large scoop which scraped and cleared a pond's surface. The snow and slush would be pushed over to the shore where it was piled.

Next, a channel of water had to be cleared to the "water box" at an ice plant. Once a channel of open water to a plant was cleared, actual work on the ice field could begin. An initial, long straight line had to be cut on the frozen surface using a plank board as a sighting line, although in later years a standard carpenter's blue chalk line was adopted. The initial line was cut with a small saw - about twelve to eighteen inches long with a long-handle. A man pushed it along to scratch along the initial line a hundred feet or more along the ice. Then a horse-drawn marking saw was set into the line. This saw had a series of teeth which cut into the ice about three inches deep along the line. It had an arm which was extended ninety degrees from it and scratched a parallel 32-inch line along the ice's surface. The marking plow was then moved over to the parallel line, cut it three inches deep, and also drew another 32-inch parallel line. The process continued until there were a series of parallel rows cut three inches deep. The marking plow, or a second one in use, could similarly mark out and cut the field cross-ways but at 22-inch intervals, until the field had a checkerboard pattern but with a 32 x 22-inch rectangular appearance.

"Marking" Plow - Early Scene with Horses
Ken Hawk Collection

As the marking plow was doing its work, another team of horses pulled an "ice plow" similar to the marking plow. But the ice plow had a series of larger teeth from 4 to 12 inches (front to back) in size. This plow, like the marking plow, had a man to guide the horse by the reins and a second man to work the plow. This plow was fitted into the cuts made by the marking plow. It passed through the earlier cuts a few times deepening the cuts from three inches to eight to twelve inches depending on the thickness of the ice. But the horse-drawn plows did not completely cut the ice free. Large rectangular sections of the ice containing perhaps fifty pre-scored cakes were cut free with the handsaws by the workmen, and the sections floated in open water to the water-box near an ice plant. Here, the floats of ice were chopped apart into strips of ice and finally into individual cakes of ice which were a uniform 32 x 22 inches. Cakes were 8 to 18 inches thick, sometimes thicker depending on the severity of the winter.

"Grasshopper" Saw Cutting Floats
Ken Hawk Collection

In the World War I era, the horse-drawn ice plow was replaced by the gasoline-powered rotary ice plow. The initial line on the ice was sighted by a chalk line and scored by a workman who pushed a long-handled small marking saw along it. The rotary saw also had an extended arm which could be set at 32 inches. The end of the arm fit into the initial scored line. As the rotary saw was pushed or pulled along, the extended bar in the earlier line guided the rotary saw which cut a parallel line along the ice 32 inches away from the bar. After a line was cut several hundred feet, the rotary saw was moved over, the bar fitted into the prior cut, and the rotary saw moved along to cut another 32- inch line. The rotary saw could be adjusted as to the depth it sawed, and it usually needed only one pass over the ice to cut the desired depth, for example, eight inches for twelve-inch ice. Once a field of parallel lines 32 inches apart were cut, the arm was adjusted to 22 inches and the field cross-cut with a series of lines 22 inches apart. Or, a second circular plow was used for the cross-cuts to speed cutting the field. As with the horse-drawn plows, the circular saw cut a 32 x 22-inch pattern to within the last few inches of the depth of the ice.

The men could saw off of "float" of pre-scored cakes, ten cakes wide and up to twenty cakes long. The float was split in half creating a float five cakes wide by no more than twenty cakes long (100 cakes). The floats and half-floats were cut from the ice field with a gasoline powered jig-saw device. The floats were pulled by the men towards the water box. Here, from the floats, men would use an ice bar to chop off separate strips containing five cakes, then individual cakes were spiked off from each strip with a needle bar, and the cakes were swept up by the conveyer chain on to the ice plant conveyer for loading into railroad cars or the ice houses.

Workmen near Water Box
No. 2 Plant in background
M. Katarsky Collection

Although individual ice cakes were a uniform 32 by 22 inches (larger than the years of the 1890s), their thickness varied according to ice conditions on the lake. In early years, typical thickness was fourteen to sixteen inches. Ten to twelve-inch ice occurred in a warm winter, but was considered poor ice; seventeen to eighteen- inch ice could occur in severe winters, but it was very heavy and undesirable. In later years, twelve -inch ice was the standard and the cakes were planed down to this thickness. Once the ice cakes were separated, they were carried up onto a conveyor and the cakes passed under an overhead planing mill which was a series of graduated knives which planed or scraped off the top of each cake to a uniform thickness. The cakes then passed under a heavy bristled brush which slightly scored or corrugated the top of the ice cakes which helped prevent their sticking together while in storage. There was a considerable amount of slush ice on the cakes from the planing and brushing process. Slush fell into a water-driven channel to the ground below. Men continually worked to clear away the tons of waste into a field below (the "snipe pile").

CNo. 1 Plant and Swipe Pile
Ken Hawk Collection

The conveyor was powered by old belt-driven sawmill engines which burned coal in boilers. A flywheel and pulley arrangement connected the engines to the conveyor system. In the head house, forty feet above the boiler and engine room, the gallery operator engaged the conveyor with a simple clutch lever. One man was placed on the conveyor for each room in the ice house. Each man was responsible to push the ice cakes from the conveyor down a wooden chute into his assigned room in the icehouse or into a rail car on the opposite side of the railroad track. At the end of the conveyor, any broken or unusable cakes passed up by men were pushed off to fall to the ground. Too, broken cakes or cakes with broken corners could not be sold. Broken corners on ice cakes acted as holes in the ice floors and were treacherous to the men who layered the ice in the plant rooms.

Plant No. 6
FCP Collection

The ice cakes from the gallery ran down wooden chutes to the open ice house doors. Each chute pitched downward from the gallery to the ice house room. To slow the cakes descent down the chutes, a board could be placed into the chute. Nails were driven partly through the extra board and the nail heads were bent over. The series of bent nail heads, call scratchers, caught the bottom of ice cakes, and slowed their speed down the chute.

In the beginning of the season, the conveyor or gallery, which was manually raised and lowered by winches, was at its lowest level near the bottom of the ice house. Usually, each of the ice plant rooms were filled daily to uniform levels during the ice harvest. The conveyor was winched upward as the rooms in a plant were filled with ice during the season.

At the end of the chute inside each room were two men called switchers who alternated in catching the ice cakes with switching hooks as the cakes fell down the chute and entered the room. Each switcher worked to fill his half-side of the room. He grabbed a corner of an ice cake with his hook and shot the cake behind him by swinging it around to his side of the room to another worker. Each switcher worked with two other men called placers and one man called a spacer who lined up the cakes inside the room until a full level of ice or layer was completed. The rooms were filled from rear to the front. The ice cakes were lined up in parallel rows from back to front with four inches of space between them to prevent their freezing into a solid mass. A total of eight men worked inside each room.

This process during the winter harvest continued until all the rooms were filled. The filled ice house was topped with six inches of hay to insulate the ice. From March to late in the year, a reduced work force was employed to unload the ice houses and fill railroad cars for shipment to the company's eastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York customers.

Charles E. Hawk
Courtesy, Ken Hawk Collection

Charles E. Hawk (1882-1969), a native of Long Pond, moved to Bear Creek at age sixteen. He was the outside superintendent of the ice field under Lewis, and company superintendent for Bryant and Lauderbaugh and R.A. Davis when these firms harvested ice at Bear Creek. He was a school director from 1910 to 1950 for Bear Creek Township, probably the longest continuous school directorship in state history.

There is no record of any Bear Creek workmen who drowned during the winter harvest by falling through the ice. Horse teams could fall through the ice, and each horse had a choke rope around its neck. By pulling the choke rope, the animals wind was cut off which lessened their panic in the water. If an animal fell through the ice, the men first unhitched the animal from the snow or ice plow. Planks were kept on the ice for these emergencies. A plank was slid under the chest of the animal who was pulled out by the ropes around him. The animal was covered with blankets and walked until he dried out. The animals were not deterred after a fall, but would resume work on the ice.

After the War, the plants had losses in 1919 and 1920. In 1919, at Plant No. 1, three of the six rooms were leaning - a common problem in the ice industry - and were torn down. Two of the remaining three rooms were in poor condition. At Plant No. 3, two of its six rooms were blown down in a 1919 windstorm. In 1920, Plant No. 1 was rebuilt to its six room capacity, but No. 3 Plant at Beaupland with its remaining four rooms and conveyor were beyond repair and the plant was closed. During this period, particularly with the War's labor difficulties, tax issues, and Lewis's own declining health, Lewis nearly despaired and considered selling the ice company. Nathaniel Drake and Arthur L. Stull agreed they would purchase the Bear Creek business if Lewis was adamant, but they prevailed on Lewis to retain it.

In the early 1920s, the ice company served forty customers in Pennsylvania and New Jersey with the Drake Company of Jersey City the largest purchaser followed by the Lehigh Valley Railroad with its ice depots at Mahoning and Jersey City. Other large purchasers were the Clinton Ice Company in Irvington, New Jersey; the Bound Brook Ice Company in Bound Brook, New Jersey; and E.J. Dorsey and Sons, another wholesaler from Perth Amboy, New Jersey. Local customers were Armour and Company in Hazleton; Home Brewing in Sheppton; Sunnyrest Sanitorium in White Haven; Wilkes-Barre and Hazleton Ice Company in Wilkes-Barre; and Yeungling and Sons, the brewer in Pottsville.

 

VII. Albert Lewis and Bear Creek Village

Lily W. Lewis
M. Katarsky Collection

From the 1880s to the 1920s several areas in our region were resort areas - usually for the affluent members of the mining, banking, business and professional class. Harvey's Lake, North Mountain (Ganoga Lake), Bear Lake, Bear Creek, Nuangola, and Glen Summit, in the early years of their development, were quite exclusive. The construction of a railroad to Harvey's Lake (built by Albert Lewis) in 1887, followed by a trolley to Sunset at the Lake in 1897-1898, opened the Lake to its fuller development as a public resort - and drove certain moneyed interests to more private resort areas. Bear Creek was considered the most exclusive, and perhaps most beautiful, of these summer retreats, followed by Bear Lake. Albert Lewis permitted a limited number of sites at his village to be sold or leased as summer retreats. At Bear Creek Lewis built and gifted Twig Cottage to George Bryer, Lewis's Civil War substitute. Lewis also provided Bryer lifetime work. Twig Cottage still stands along the Bear Creek-White Haven road. Bear Lake was controlled by a private association with limited membership and site development.

In the mid- 1880s, Lewis was instrumental, along with J.E. Patterson, a business friend, in the formation of the Glen Summit Hotel. The latter founded the J.E. Patterson and Company lumber business, and much earlier he built a saw mill and lumber yard along the Susquehanna River at the present site of the Luzerne County Court House where lumber was shipped on the North Branch Canal. The Glen Summit Hotel at Mountain Top was a Lehigh Valley Railroad venture. Patterson superintended its construction, and Lewis promoted it, and for a time, Lewis was president of its board of directors. Lewis's Bear Creek estate was nicely sandwiched between Glen Summit and Bear Lake. Lewis built and maintained roads to the hotel and to Bear Lake.

Albert Lewis, Jr.
Courtesy, Ann R. Lewis

By the late 1880s, Lewis generally wintered outside of Bear Creek. When his two sons were at St. George's School in Rhode Island, Lewis built a home in Newport in 1908 for his visits to the boys. The Newport home was at the corner of Wolcott Avenue and Purgatory Road in the Easton Point section of Middletown. It seems Lewis mostly leased out the Newport property in other years and it was sold in 1919. In the spring of 1899, Lewis purchased a winter place at 6 Valencia Street (known as Casa Amarylla) in St. Augustine, Florida, and Lewis wintered there (or in Bermuda) in his remaining years.

In the summer of 1890, Lewis travelled to England and France. Lewis was in England to meet R.B. Ricketts, who was trying to sell his North Mountain (Ricketts Glen) lands to an English syndicate for one million dollars. But Ricketts decided to lease the lands to an Allentown lumber company. While in England, Lewis also travelled to Paris where, on a train, he saw an English lady, Lily C. Westendert, twenty-eight years younger than Lewis. He said to Sallie Lewis Stull, his sister, who was accompanying him, that he would marry her. In August 1892, Lewis boarded the steamship Magestic for London and his marriage to Lily on September 7 at St. Peter's Church, Kensington Park, London, was followed by a trip to Paris.

Hugh Romaine Lewis
Courtesy, Ann R. Lewis

By 1895 at age fifty-five, Lewis had a two- year old son, Albert "Bert" Lewis, Jr., and a new-born son, Hugh "Dick" Romaine Lewis, with his only daughter, Lily "Wiffy" A. Lewis following in late 1896. Another Lewis child, a son George, died as an infant. In 1895, Miles Shepard, a Kingston architect, constructed a large new home for Lewis at the east end of the dam with wide porches and siding the home with hemlock bark. It was called Mokawa Inn, and with its several large fireplaces it was designed to entertain a widening circle of business associates, family gatherings, and the grounds housing large picnics.

Lily A. Lewis
M. Katarsky Collection

The village had facilities to house the workmen, including the two boarding houses known as the Hungarian village on grounds on the opposite side of the Bear Creek highway. In 1911, Lewis constructed a Catholic church for the ice workers. St. Elizabeth's Catholic Chapel was dedicated on September 7, 1911, by Rt. Rev. Bishop Hoban of the Scranton Diocese. The mission chapel was in charge of Rev. Father J.V. Hussie of St. Leo's parish in Ashley. The new church was located one hundred feet behind Grace Chapel which Lewis built at Bear Creek in 1884. Adjacent to Grace Chapel is the private cemetery for the Lewis family.

The village had its own electric plant. The plant supplied power to the ice plants and for limited hours to the village. Electric power was free to village residents. To supply water to the residents of the village, employees, and the few summer residents, the Bear Creek Water Company was incorporated on November 19, 1903.

Mohawk Inn
M. Katarsky Collection

Lewis had an aversion to the early automobile and refused to allow automobile traffic on his private roads. But in May 1907 Lewis relented and opened his private five-mile toll-road from the city to the top of the mountain to automobile traffic for visitors to have easier access to Wilkes-Barre and the Automobile Club's Giant's Despair Hill Climb. Lewis agreed to keep his teams off the road for the three-day event in late May, but with a chuckle, he said one horse team would be on stand-by to haul away stalled automobiles.

St. Elizabeth's Catholic Chapel
FCP Collection

Lewis was also the "road king" of Bear Creek Township, building or rebuilding roads to White Haven, Glen Summit and Pittston. In 1894, Albert Lewis constructed the forerunner of the Bear Creek Boulevard from Wilkes-Barre to Bear Creek. Before this time, the only true road to Bear Creek from Wilkes-Barre was the Giant's Despair-Laurel Run road. The 1894 Laurel Run Turnpike Company began at a toll house near the present VA hospital with other toll gates at Pittston Boulevard and Azalia Road. In 1910, Lewis abandoned the turnpike company and gave it to the Wilkes-Barre General Hospital which sold it to the county. The hospital netted $8,200.00 from the sale and the boulevard became a public road. In 1910, Lewis, too, became an auto fan and had a Matheson automobile "in his stable."

In early 1917 Lewis and the Lehigh Valley Railroad agreed to have the Bear Creek Branch rebuilt through the lower end of the township to lessen the steep grade of the old 5.35 mile line. The railroad was rerouted from the village along Bear Creek to Knorr's Bridge where it struck westerly and connected to the main line one mile below the old Bear Creek Junction.

LVRR Station - Bear Creek
FCP Collection

The new line, completed in November 1917 and now 9.2 miles long, continued passenger service to Bear Creek until June 1932, with ice freight service abandoned late in the decade. The Bear Creek Ice Company and the N. Drake Company helped finance the new line's construction, and Lewis provided the right-of-way for the road bed. The new line also served a small ice operation near Moosehead outside of White Haven.

A number of area charities were supported by Lewis but always in a quiet fashion. In 1912, as Lewis was selling his Harvey's Lake interests to his nephew Arthur Stull, Lewis gifted Lake property for the creation of a YWCA campground. He supported the Pocono Lake Preserve, and aided the Pennsylvania forestry preservation movement. He made gifts to several World War I relief organizations, the YMCA, and responded to unsolicited requests for private relief. One particularly hot summer, Lewis donated twenty-seven rail cars of ice to the Salvation Army's relief efforts in New York City.

Wilkes-Barre began to build a series of parks in 1907, part of the national "playground movement." George S. Bennett was a descendent of Francis Slocum, a child who was taken captive by Native Americans from the valley in 1778. Slocum eventually was settled among the Miami tribe in Indiana. Bennett donated a plot at the corner of North Pennsylvania Avenue and Scott Streets as a playground - the site of Slocum's capture. Albert Lewis had his crews construct the shelters for the sandboxes and playground equipment.

Albert Lewis Jr. and Albert Lewis

Albert Lewis was in declining health when his namesake, Albert Lewis, Jr., tragically died in a rail accident at the age of twenty-two at Bear Creek. On September 4, 1916, at 4:00 P.M., Albert Lewis, Jr., and two companions, Richard Hand of Wilkes-Barre and Arthur Drake of Newark, hopped aboard a gasoline motor truck designed to run on the railroad. It was used by young Lewis and the plant manager to travel around the ice plants. Lewis planned to take his friends to the "Beau" plant which Lewis managed. The truck left the engine house near Plant No. 2, but after a short distance, the truck struck an obstruction on the track, jumped the rails and threw Hand and Drake into a ditch. But Lewis fell head long into some stacked rail ties and fractured his skull. He was carried to his home and Wilkes-Barre physicians rushed to the scene. An ambulance arrived and took Lewis to the Wilkes-Barre City (later General) Hospital. A Philadelphia neurosurgeon was called and boarded a train to Wilkes-Barre. But Lewis, who never regained consciousness, died shortly and the Philadelphia train was telegraphed that it was too late. Quiet and likeable, Bert Lewis was trained to be the business heir of his father. The shock of his loss to the Bear Creek community was immense. The mantle of the ice business fell to Dick Lewis as Albert Lewis increasingly had health problems.

Dick Lewis was at Princeton when World War I erupted. He left to join the U.S. Army rising to lieutenant in the motor service overseas in 1918. When he returned, he became a township supervisor and entered the family business. Albert Lewis received numerous county contracts to build or improve roads, bridges and culverts in the township. In effect, the large township was controlled by the Lewis ice company.

Albert Lewis Grave
FCP Collection

At 8:00 A.M. on November 7, 1922, a defective chimney flue started a roof fire at the Mokawa Inn. Lewis was under the care of a nurse by this time. The flames quickly burst out into the third floor. Lewis watched the fire from a chair a few hundred feet from his home and expressed relief no one was injured. The central portion of the home and its south wing were gutted. Lewis retained local architects, Donald F. Innes and Charles L. Levy, to reconstruct the home, which still dominates the Bear Creek scene. Reconstruction was completed on Lewis's Tudor-style home at Bear Creek six months before his death in the early morning hours of December 18, 1923. Only Dick Lewis was at the home, as Lewis's wife Lily and daughter "Wiffy" were visiting in England. The loss of Albert Lewis was a front- page feature in the local newspapers. His services were held at Grace Chapel and were attended by many friends from the Lehigh Valley Railroad.

 

VIII. The Final Years 1925-1951

Albert Lewis was survived by his widow Lily C. Lewis (1968-1950), a son Hugh (Dick) Romaine Lewis (1895-1948), and a daughter Lily (Wiffie) Lewis (Kilner) Seneff (1896-1971). The Bear Creek Ice Company was operated for the balance of the 1920s by the Estate of Albert Lewis on behalf of Lewis's three heirs.

By 1925 the natural ice industry had lost substantial market share to ice manufacturing plants. By 1920, the natural ice industry was declining quickly, and by 1925 the nation's major natural ice firms were closing. Too, the electric refrigerator was introduced in 1913-14 and would grow in popularity over the next two decades. Mechanical refrigeration techniques developed for cooling railroad cars to haul meat and perishables lessened demand for ice by railroad companies and also contributed to the decline of the natural ice industry.

The Bear Creek Ice Company only shipped 14,540 tons of ice in the winter of 1924-25 which was nearly 50 percent less than pre-WWI harvests. No. 4 Plant at Beauplant was not in use and would later be torn down. A fire in March 1925 cut Plant No 1's capacity by 50 percent.

Later, in March 1928, Plant No. 4 at Beauplant was removed. With Plant No. 3 lost to storm damages in 1919-20, ice harvesting at Beauplant now closed. By the late 1920s, the Bear Creek Ice Company was in decline. In 1928, the Bear Creek Ice Company only shipped 858 cars during the entire year, and the Lehigh Valley took 321 of them. The 1927-28 season also saw the near end of ice-harvesting at Meadow Run. The company had old ice from a year earlier still in storage at No. 6 Plant and only planned to cut and ship--not store--ice in the 1927-28 winter, but a January 1928 storm nearly destroyed the Meadow Run operations. During the following 1928-29 season, the company used the remaining No. 6 Plant rooms to load rail cars and to store ice from Meadow Run. This may have been the last year ice was cut at the Meadow Run plants, although ice stored in the surviving rooms at the No. 6 Plant was sold as late as September 1930.

A warm 1930-31 season was the last ice-harvesting conducted by the Albert Lewis Estate. The company cut ice, probably only from Bear Creek pond, in early January, for shipment on rail cars, and from January 15 to January 30, 1931, the company only stored ice at its No. 2 Plant at Bear Creek. This was a limited season, and during the following spring men tore up the railroad track between Bear Creek and Meadow Run. Thereafter, the Lewis Estate would lease ice rights to Bear Creek lake.

In January 1927, the Lewis Estate sold its remaining holdings in the Harvey's Lake and Noxen area to Arthur Stull, disposing of all Lewis's interests west of the Susquehanna River. In late December 1930, the real estate holdings of the Lewis Estate east of the river were formally distributed among Lewis's three heirs: his widow, Lily C. Lewis; son, Hugh R. Lewis; and daughter, Lily Lewis Seneff. Two-thirds of the holdings were in Bear Creek Township. The Lewis heirs would also share in the proceeds from future leasing of the Bear Creek Ice Company.

On November 10, 1931, the Lewis estate sold the ice plants and related business to Burt B. Bryant, who was also in the ice business at several ponds in the area. The Meadow Run plants were not in operation at this time. Bryant incorporated another Bear Creek Ice Company in December 1931 with D.S. Lauderbaugh and John T. Williams. But the venture with Bryant faltered and the following December 1932, the business was resold to the Lewis Estate. For several years the business was then leased to Lauderbaugh. Charles Hawk became Lauderbaugh's general manager of the ice operations.

The last passenger service on the Bear Creek Branch ran in early 1930 using Lehigh Valley train Nos. 497 and 498, and passenger runs were discontinued by April 1930. In these last years a passenger car had been merely hooked on to a freight train for the run to Bear Creek. The Lehigh Valley Railroad station at Bear Creek, officially closed on June 1, 1932, had been relocated by the railroad on September 15, 1935, although the freight station was left. The railroad station was converted to a private residence. The Lehigh Valley Railroad was eager to close the Bear Creek Branch line along with other less productive branch railroads. The Interstate Commerce Commission in June 1936 permitted the Lehigh Valley Railroad to formally abandon the Bear Creek Branch.

Following the ICC action, the railroad had partially removed its tracks between Bear Creek and Meadow Run by mid-1937. Action to close the line between Bear Creek to White Haven was delayed. This section remained active in 1937 because sand, gravel and concrete rail shipments to Bear Creek were necessary for reconstruction of Route 315 from Bear Creek to Stoddartsville, after which the railroad was fully removed by late 1937.

The 1937-38 ice harvest began in earnest in January 1938. Dayton Lauderbaugh had to truck ice from Bear Creek to market due to the dismantlement of the railroad. There is no information on the area's 1938-39 ice harvests.

R.A. Davis
FCP Collection

R.A. Davis leased the ice-harvesting rights to Bear Creek by mid-1939. R.A. Davis (1890-1956), an ice and coal dealer in Wilkes-Barre and Scranton, would buy Mountain Springs in 1945. It is uncertain when the No. 2 Plant at Bear Creek ceased operation. It may have closed with the railroad. If Davis continued to operate No. 2, it may have been for only a couple seasons, but the plant was clearly closed and seemingly dismantled by 1941-42. Davis also bought the Lackawanna Mountain Ice Company in Gouldsboro. In 1945, he was President of the regional Ice Producers Association. In the late-1940s, R.A. Davis was the largest natural ice producer in the Eastern United States. Total capacity of the Davis plants at Mountain Springs, Bear Creek and at the Gouldsboro plants was 130,000 tons. He distributed ice to New England, as far south as the Carolinas, and westward to Cleveland.

R.A. Davis continued to cut ice through the World War II era. During the 1944-45 ice season, German prisoners-of-war were billeted at Gouldsboro and assigned to ice work at Gouldsboro and Bear Creek. Trucks were now used to plow snow off the ice pond. By the 1940s, the only plant in operation was the No. 1 Plant at Bear Creek with only three rooms on the pond side of the old rail bed in use. Without a railroad, the R.A. Davis company used trucks to haul ice to its Wilkes-Barre and Scranton customers.

After the War, home refrigerators were in general use, and the ice industry limped along. At Mountain Springs, too, R.A. Davis and John H. White, joined to operate the former Lewis and Stull plants beginning with the 1945-46 season. The 1947-48 winter was the last season ice was cut at Harvey's Lake by the firm of George Casterline and Son. The Casterline family had a small commercial ice business at the Lake for nearly four decades.

During the next two ice seasons, the ice industry in the area drew to a close. In the winter of 1947-48 only 9,000 tons of ice were cut at Bear Creek as artificial refrigeration swept away the natural ice industry. This season was quite cold and the ice was twenty-two inches thick. Shaved to a more useful twelve to fourteen inches, each block weighed 250 pounds. Ice sold at three dollars a ton principally to hotels, meat markets and dairies. The 1947-48 winter was the last season ice was harvested at Bear Creek. Davis had 25 percent of his 1947-48 production still in storage at the end of the season to sell during 1948. There was a warm winter in 1948-49 and R.A. Davis could not cut ice until February 8, 1949, and only at Mountain Springs and at Gouldsboro and his other Pocono plants. The ice was only nine to ten and one-half inches thick. No ice was cut at Bear Creek in the 1948-49 winter.

There was a warm winter, mostly cold rain, in 1949-50. On January 4, 1950, the warm sixty-six- degree weather broke a record set in 1907. Then on February 14, 1950, eight to sixteen- inch snows and heavy sleet fell in the area. Ten inches of snow covered the roof of the No. 1 ice plant at Bear Creek and the roof and front of the building collapsed as strong winds whipped through the area during the night storm. No ice had been cut during the season due to the weather. The ice business truly closed at Bear Creek with this loss. The following year, on January 21, 1951, the Sunday Independent announced the "natural ice business is dead for all practical purposes. It has bowed to the refrigeration age."

Hugh (Dick) Lewis
Courtesy, Ann R. Lewis

Hugh (Dick) R. Lewis died on May 17, 1948. An avid sportsman, Dick Lewis was engaged in his real estate holdings at Bear Creek during his last years. In June 1950, Lily Lewis Seneff, acting for the Lewis Estate and her mother, Lily C. Lewis, sought to sell 2,500 acres of the Bear Creek lands for further development. The task to maintain the unique village had grown too cumbersome for the family and their resources. A national marketing agency did not produce an outside developer, but the expansion of Bear Creek for residential uses, begun in the late 1920s, was boosted in the post-World War II era. Albert Lewis's widow, Lily C. Lewis, died on September 24, 1950, at the age of 82. During the next two decades the Lewis holdings were increasingly developed for residential purposes, a pattern experienced in the Back Mountain and Mountaintop suburbs of Wyoming Valley. Lewis's daughter, Lily A. (Kilner) Seneff, a Red Cross volunteer during World War II, and a founder of the local SPCA, died on July 23, 1971. In August 1926, Lily A. Lewis had married Charles Mason Kilner, a London rubber broker. A major in the British Army in World War I, Kilner died at age forty-five in September 1932. Lily Lewis subsequently married George P. Seneff. While Lily always called Bear Creek her home, much of her life was spent travelling. She particularly enjoyed extended hunting trips to British Columbia and Alberta, Canada.

Grace Shapel, 2020
FCP Collection

In the late 1940s R. A. Davis owned the ice plants at Mountain Springs, Bear Creek, Maplewood at Lake Henry, and the West End and North Jersey plants at Gouldsboro. In the early 1950s, R. A. Davis continued to harvest ice at Gouldsboro, the last substantial ice-harvesting operation in the Poconos. In January 1955 the Davis firm cut 7,000 tons of ice for the Lackawanna Railroad at the North Jersey plant at Gouldsboro, closing the last significant ice operation in the region. Raymond A. Davis unexpectedly died in February 1956 at age 65 while on vacation in Florida. In his time, Davis was a significant business figure in the Wyoming Valley and was president of the Wilkes-Barre Chamber of Commerce.

Albert Lewis Home(Bischwind Villa) 2020
FCP Collection

The Bear Creek dam and lake, which once served the Lewis ice industry, and the Lewis country mansion adjacent to the Bear Creek dam on Route 115, are among the most striking images in the region. The surrounding woods quietly shelter other reminders of the Lewis era: the family cemetery, Grace Chapel, and the lovely trails and woods which still surround the old company village. But a long-vacant St. Elizabeth's Catholic Chapel, the workers church, was razed about a full century after its construction in 1911. The Lewis era is a biography of a remarkable entrepreneur, a portrait of a unique winter life now an industrial curiosity, and a glimpse of a special place in the history of the Wyoming Valley.

 

Lewis Cemetery, left to right:
Hugh R. Lewis; Albert Lewis;
Albert Lewis Jr.

This work is an abridgement of the author's earlier work: Albert Lewis: The Bear Creek Lumber and Ice King-The Bear Creek Ice Company (Morris Publishing 1998). The limited- edition work is now out-of-print. This abridgement is Copyright © F. Charles Petrillo 2016, 2020. All Rights Reserved.

 

Author's Note: This abridgment enlarges and corrects a 1937-38 discussion on page 183 of the author's 1998 history of the Bear Creek ice industry. It also clarifies 1998 statements on page 185 regarding the end of the industry at Bear Creek, and the 1947-1948 winter is now confirmed as the final ice-harvesting season at Bear Creek. - FCP

The author wishes to express continuing thanks to the late Bear Creek historian Ken Hawk, Bear Creek, son of Charles E. Hawk. Ken and his family inspired the 1998 history. The earlier work was also made possible with the support of Ann R. Lewis, in memory of her father, Hugh (Dick) R. Lewis. Photographs were provided by the Hawk and Lewis collections and Maureen Katarsky, whose family had an early association with the Albert Lewis household.

 

© Copyright November 2020 F. Charles Petrillo