Harveys Lake History

Don Hanson's Amusement Park

Don Hanson's Amusement Park
Artwork by Dorothy Ricci, Harvey's Lake
© 2019 Dorothy Ricci

I. Introduction

J.A. Redington, 1930
FCP Collection

The Lehigh Valley Picnic Grounds (1891-1905) was originally the creation of the Lehigh Valley Railroad. In 1906 the park was leased to hotelier John A. Redington. A late 1906 fire closed the park in 1907-1908. The Redington company opened and rebuilt the park during 1909-1910. Redington bought the park from the railroad in July 1923. In October 1923 Redington leased the grounds to Alfred and Netti Wintersteen. Alfred Wintersteen was a Philadelphia-orphan who was raised by a Lehman family. He became a successful dairyman at Bald Mountain, Plains Township. His wife Netti was born at Bald Mountain and became a music teacher in the Parsons and Miners Mills schools. Alfred and Netti Kresge Wintersteen married in late 1904. Netti Wintersteen purchased the park from Redington for $61,500 in May 1930 at a time when her husband, Alfred, was seriously ill. Alfred Wintersteen would pass away in November 1933 at age 59.

A. Wintersteen, c. 1925
FCP Collection

John E. Hanson was born in the Parsons section of Wilkes-Barre in 1894. During WWI he was a Sergeant in the 329th Motor Transportation Corps which was responsible for the design, production, maintenance and logistics of U.S. Army motorized vehicles. With a disabled husband, Netti Wintersteen required management support for the park and she retained John E. Hanson, then a Kingston building contractor, as manager of the park for the Wintersteens in 1929, and in 1930 he became a co-partner with Netti Wintersteen. In March 1935 Hanson purchased Nettie Wintersteen's half-interest in the park and he became the park's sole owner.

For decades the park was still known as the Picnic Grounds, and at times Harvey's Lake Park, but over time it was more commonly called Hanson's Amusement Park. The following Martin family film was taken at the park in 1960 during the John Hanson era:

Helen M. Martin Family Film
© 1960, 2020 Helen M. Martin Family

 

John E. Hanson, 1940
Courtesy, Bruce Hanson

John E. Hanson passed away on December 30, 1966, at his Florida winter home. His heirs were [Mary] Helen Hanson, his widow, and his two sons, Robert P. Hanson (1921-2009) and Donald J. E. Hanson (1923-1990).

In 1964 John Hanson had leased the park to Donald Hanson. With the death of John E. Hanson, the park continued to be managed by Donald Hanson on behalf of the Hanson Estate through 1969.

In 1970 Robert Hanson was the principal manager under a newly incorporated Hanson's Amusement Park, Inc. In this year the park added the Tilt-A-Whirl and Moonwalk attractions and a new arcade center. In 1971 the brothers, Robert and Donald, and Helen Hanson, jointly managed the park.

In 1972 the park was closed while the Hanson Estate was resolved.

Donald Hanson, Helen Hanson
and John E. Hanson, 1944
Courtesy, Bruce Hanson

John E. Hanson, Helen Hanson
and Robert Hanson
Courtesy, Bruce Hanson


II. Don Hanson's Amusement Park 1973-1988

Shirley and David Hanson,
October 1967
Courtesy, Bruce Hanson

In the Spring of 1973 Donald Hanson acquired ownership of the park from the family estate. His wife, Shirley Hanson, would actively manage the park with him. In the meantime, a January 2, 1973, fire damaged the restaurant's bar along the Lake Road, and the restaurant would be closed in 1973 for repairs.

The park would now be known as Don Hanson's Amusement Park. Don Hanson stated that all of the full-size and kiddie rides would resume operation. The Hanson's beach would also be reopened along with the two pontoon boat rides the park previously offered.

On Friday, May 25, 1973, Don Hanson's Amusement Park opened with its nine major rides and ten kiddie rides. The park was also booking church and school picnics, family outings and reunions. The park continued its free parking, free picnic grove, free tables and free admission, including the beach. The park was closed on Thursdays, but was open other weekdays from 6 PM to 11 PM, and weekends from 1 to 11 PM. On Sunday, August 5, 1973 the Harvey's Lake Lions Club renewed its annual chicken bar-b-cue dinner and planned on serving several hundred dinners at the park. For the past decade the Lions bar-b-cue was a tradition at the park. The August 1973 dinner included music by Al Shadie's country and western band from Philadelphia and fireworks at dusk. Funds from the event supported programs for the eye-impaired and blind. Fireworks were offered again on Sunday, August 26, at 10 PM. To encourage late season visitation Don Hanson offered a Family Day on Sunday, September 9, when all rides were ten cents with fireworks at 9 PM. This was followed by an Appreciation Day the next Sunday with ten cent rides and another fireworks display.

The 1974 Bingo parties season opened with a Sadie Hawkins Day on Sunday, March 16, and again on May 13-20. Sadie Hawkins was a character created by famed cartoonist Al Capp on November 15, 1937, for his comic strip Li'l Abner. Contrary to popular social convention, Sadie Hawkins asked men for a date or to dance in her comic search for a husband. Her antics inspired an American folk tradition and a pseudo- holiday.

The 1974 season was open for rides on weekdays at 2 PM and on 1 PM on Sundays and Holidays, and was closed on Tuesdays. The annual Northeastern Pennsylvania Irish Day picnic was held in mid-July. On Sunday, July 21, a nineteen-year old young man fell from the roller-coaster and had to be rushed to a hospital for his recovery. For the Labor Day 1974 weekend a Friday night dance was held with T.N.T (for Trials and Tribulations) and the Fuzzy Bunny bands. The season closed with the usual lower priced rides and fireworks.

These early years of Don Hanson's Amusement Park typically opened with Bingo parties in mid-March and continuing as late as December. In 1976 the parties were opened on Monday, Wednesday and Saturday evenings at 6:45 PM.

An unexpected challenge throughout the 1970s was unfavorable Summer weather. August 1975 was deemed a "total waste." In 1975, too, construction of the Lake's sewage system and laying a new road around the Lake seemingly discouraged Lake visitors. July 1976 was also unseasonably cool and Sunday visitation at the park was down. Day visitation was discouraging although evening crowds appeared.

Hanson's Park sought to counter the unfavorable conditions in 1976 with the return of Eddie Day and T.N.T. In the 1960s Eddie Day and the Starfires had rocked the park for a generation who still crowd Starfires reunions a half-century later. In 1976 Eddie Day and T.N.T. appeared during the summer on Friday nights from 8:30 to 11:30 PM for a two-dollar admission charge. At the usual end-of-season Appreciation Day on Sunday 24, 1976, a ride was ten cents, a hot dog twenty-five cents, and a soda was ten cents.

In 1977 Eddie Day and T.N.T. appeared on Friday nights. Country and Western music was offered in the park every Sunday at 3, 5 and 7 PM. The cost for rides were increased but Bargain Days every Tuesday and Wednesday had a reduced ticket for any ride at fifteen cents. The following Kocher family film captures the park in 1977:

Kocher Family Film, 1977
© 1977 C. Don and Alice Kocher

 

In 1978 the Lake-Lehman school board failed to renew the "amusement tax" which raised about seven-hundred dollars annually from Hanson's Park. The controversial ten-percent amusement tax by the Lake Township School Board was adopted in 1948. John Hanson refused to raise the park's ticket prices to cover the tax. Instead, he vowed to pay the tax himself on all rides on behalf of his patrons.

The park opened on Sunday, May 14, 1978, for another season again with Friday evening dances starting in June with Eddie Day and T.N.T. On August 5, 1978, a pioneer Lake family, the Kochers, held their 69th reunion at the park. Their first reunion was at the park on September 4, 1909. The first Kochers settled near the Lake in 1834. Another Lake attraction at the time was weekend concerts at Watahunee Park along West Point Road, near the Sandy Beach area. Late in the season, Hanson's Park offered free country-western music on Sunday evenings, and would extend the concerts to Monday evenings.

In early 1979 the Harveys Lake Borough council began a debate whether the borough should purchase and operate a public beach. In the past, all Lake beaches were actually privately owned including the only two beaches then open to the public, Hanson's and Sandy Bottom. One faction wanted to continue the Lake's attraction as a tourist and recreation center and proposed acquisition of a section of Sandy Bottom for a public beach. Another faction believed any purchase for beach purposes should be for the exclusive use of Lake residents. They argued that borough residents bore the cost of the new $9 million dollar sewer system, not the general public, and the borough could not afford the cost of running a public beach. Moreover, the public had access to other recreation areas, for example, Moon Lake and Francis Slocum State Park. The issue was not resolved for nearly another decade.

There are few accounts of Hanson's park in 1980. The Eddie Day and T.N.T dances in 1978 were the last sustained dance band to appear at Hanson's dance hall until 1988, although a single dance was advertised for Sunday, June 10, 1979, with Museum, who had a recent national record release.

The most significant event in 1980 occurred during the Labor Day weekend in September. A main support beam at the top of the roller-coaster broke and the roller coaster was forced to close.

The following 1981 also had few news accounts of Hanson's. Irish Day was held on Sunday, August 3. Irish Day now honored teachers from Ireland who were annual guests at Kings College, Wilkes-Barre.

In early July 1981 Don Hanson informed a reporter that the roller coaster was likely too costly to repair. Don Hanson spoke to Times Leader reporter Fred G. Phillips whose article appeared in the newspaper on July 8, 1981:

 

HARVEYS LAKE - It's quiet now at Hanson's Park. The heavy stillness of summer is only occasionally broken by a passing motor boat and the distant laughter of children on rides deep in Hanson's Park. The 46-year-old roller coaster stands in the sun, unused, like the bones of some sea monster.
It has been idle almost a year now, ever since a main support beam broke last Labor Day. The surprised screams of children and adults and the thunder of coaster may be a thing of the past.
Donald J. Hanson said the ride which has almost become a landmark at Harveys Lake, may be torn down. But he quickly adds he may elect to fix the ride if he can find an economical way of doing it.
"Right now, I have a friend looking into a plan by MGM to make a movie about a roller coaster," Hanson said. "In one scene they blow up a roller coaster. That may be one way of bringing it down."
But Hanson is uncertain what he will do.
He also said he is looking for the right contractor with a crane who could lift 4-by 12-foot support beams to the top of the structure and make repairs.
His uncertainness stems from people who still come out to the park expecting to find the roller coaster working.
"A lot of people talk about the roller coaster," he said. "There are not many of the old, wood coasters left."
Hanson hasn't made the repairs himself because he has been busy making plans and developing a camp site on some of the 45-acres around the park.
...
But little parks, like Hanson's, are running into hard times.
"Little parks are not used like they once were," Mrs. Hanson said.
"People come mostly at night and depending on the weather."
She said radio and television weather reports have hurt the business.
"People may hear a bad or shaky weather report and not go out," she said. "We've had bad summer weather for the past ten years.
The whole business depends on the weather and it's such a short season."
She said by the time school lets out the park may have only two full months operation.
"We used to have a lot of school picnics, but not any longer," she said. "Now they go to Hershey Park or something like it."
"Even the churches don't come out like they used to."
The decline in business contributed to the demise of the roller coaster.
Mrs. Hanson said the coaster had to be walked every day and examined. "It takes a lot of maintenance."
With 750-foot of lake front, the Hanson's are banking on the additional traffic from campers.
...
Hanson's explained there are no plans to close the park. The park currently employs about 60 local teenagers every summer and a few concessionaires.

 

Day attendance was down with visitors mostly in the evenings. Weather was unfavorable for the past decade and school groups were going to the new mega-parks like Dorney Park, Allentown. Hanson's priority was development of a new campground.

Hanson's Water Ski Show.
Ferris Wheel background.
FCP Collection

The 1981 season was also a disaster. In early July the Department of Environmental Resources discovered an algae bloom in the Lake. The DER advised that all beaches be closed and water-sports be halted. On August 4 DER's advisory became an order. The ban was not lifted until October 7. Don Hanson, chair of the Harvey's Lake Business Association, estimated Lake businesses lost 60 to 70 percent of their annual income.

Camping for "self-contained" vehicles was offered at Hanson's in July 1981. Creation of a full-service marina along the beach front occurred in 1981-82. The amusement park remained opened during the season with major rides at 20 cents and kiddie rides for 10 cents, and Bargain Days every Tuesday and Wednesday.

In 1982 Hanson's offered additional camp sites at $5.00 a night for "wilderness" sites with no "hook-ups" for electricity, or $8.00 a night with complete "hook-ups." In June 1982 the annual Irish Heritage Games 14K race was held. The games were sponsored by the Donegal Society of Wilkes-Barre and AOH (Ancient Order of Hibernians). The first Irish Heritage Games were held at Wilkes-Barre sites in June 1979. In 1980 and 1981 the Games began a 14K run from Sunset at the Lake with the awards ceremonies at Hanson's Park. The annual 14K starting point for the run was changed to Hanson's in 1982.

A 1982 local study concluded that the 11 counties of Northeastern Pennsylvania once supported 27 amusement parks at various times since the early twentieth century. In 1982 there were only six: Angela Park; Hanson's Park; Ghost Town in the Glen; Knoebel's Grove; Nay Aug Park; Poconos Magic Valley; and Winona's Five Falls.

The 1983 season at the park was hopeful. Local businesses sought to regain their summer status as an area attraction. Area parks were challenged by the expansion of mega-parks in the mid-Atlantic region. These new parks charged an admission fee to access rides all day, but long lines often limited actual entry to popular rides. Hanson's still maintained its "ticket system." Tickets were one dollar for seven tickets. The most expensive ride was the Tilt-A-Whirl for three tickets. The park opened at 1 PM on Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday and at 2 PM other days. A beach entry fee was now 50 cents (with a reduced family rate) and a 25- minute pontoon boat ride was $1.50 for adults and $1.00 for children.

The pontoon boat operator was Bruce Hanson, the only licensed public carrier on the Lake. He started working at the park in the arcade at age 10. Working with his father, Don Hanson, Bruce had plans for improving the Lake front attractions. For 1983 the beach was improved with new sand. The campground now had 65 full hook-up sites with sewers, electricity and water. An indoor facility had showers, toilets and sinks for campers. A family of six could stay at the camp from May 1 to September 30 for as little as $400.00. The Lake was also algae-free in 1983 and the water was excellent.

The Memorial Day weekend in 1984 was hampered by rain and visitation was down at Hanson's. A month later, Gov. Dick Thornburg signed new legislation which required all amusement parks and carnival operators to conduct monthly inspections of all rides at the owners' expense. Inspections were to be conducted by state-licensed inspectors, to be paid by the operators of parks and carnivals effective January 1, 1985. The law also required ride owners to obtain $1 million dollars in liability insurance. The legislation was prompted by deaths and fires at several of the newer major parks. One example occurred in May 1984 when eight teenagers were killed in a fire in the Haunted Castle at Great Adventure in Jackson, NJ.

A homecoming festival at the Lake was held on June 16-17 with a wide array of events. On June 16 the Irish Heritage Games Committee now sponsored an 8.5- mile run, a new 5K run and a one -mile fun run at the park. On June 17, a sky divers' air show with the Ripcords from Hazleton was also at the park.

Early July had two successive hot weekends which benefited the park. July 4 was the best day to date at the park, and Don Hanson estimated 1,200 visited on Sunday, July 15.

A new event at Hanson's park was the Wilkes-Barre YMCA Biathlon on July 28, 1984, sponsored by the Pepsi-Cola Bottling Company and Olin Jewelry, Inc. The biathlon began with a one -mile swim from Hanson's to Sandy Bottom followed by a 7.5 mile run around the Lake back to the park. The YMCA biathlon continued at Hanson's through 1987.

 

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Copyright May 2020 F. Charles Petrillo

 

Copyright 2006-2017 F. Charles Petrillo