Harveys Lake History

LVRR Railroad Excursions To The Park


In 1885 a railroad was planned from Wilkes-Barre through the Back Mountain to Harvey's Lake and into the wilderness beyond to largely transport the harvest of vast virgin timberlands between the Lake and Lopez.

Albert Lewis
FCP Collection

Albert Lewis, the Lumber King of Wyoming Valley from Bear Creek, with marital and business ties to the Lehigh Valley Railroad upper echelon, began construction of the railroad in 1885-86.

Albert Lewis built the Harvey's Lake railroad with the intent to sell it to the Lehigh Valley Railroad. Lewis completed the railroad to the Lake in the early Spring of 1887 and freight traffic to Dallas and the Lake, which benefited Lewis' lumber mill interests, was operating by June 1887. But passenger service was not operating and news accounts speculated about the delay. Lewis was seeking more favorable terms from the LVRR for his lumber and freight shipments over the line before sale of the railroad to the LVRR.

On June 16, 1887, Lehigh Valley Railroad officials toured the Lake railroad in the first passenger car, together with a dining car. On July 30, 1887, it was announced that the Lehigh Valley Railroad purchased Lewis' railroad to the Lake. Lewis was now extending the railroad to Noxen and eventually to the Ricketts area, which would be completed in 1893. When the Lehigh Valley Railroad bought Lewis' extension to Ricketts-Bernice it would connect with the LVRR's State Line and Sullivan Railroad north to Towanda. The line would be named the Bowmans Creek Branch of the Lehigh Valley Railroad. From Noxen to Splash Dam, near Ricketts, the railroad paralleled Bowman's Creek. The mouth of the creek emptied into the Susquehanna River in Eaton Township near Tunkhannock. Jacob and Adam Bowman settled there in 1773. Native Americans allied with the British encamped there the evening before the Wyoming Massacre in the Wyoming Valley on July 3, 1778.

The LVRR would begin to run passenger service on the Bowmans Creek Branch on August 1, 1887. The park at the Lake was not built until four years later, but there were hotel and picnic facilities at Sunset. There is also limited evidence of a picnic area with a dance platform, perhaps furnished by the railroad, at Alderson and available to railroad guests. The first picnic train excursion on the new railroad was the Willow Grove Council, Jr., O.U.A.M. No 139, of Luzerne Borough, on August 8, 1887.

The Father Matthew Society, a decades-old temperance organization, followed with an excursion to the Lake on August 12. The round-trip fare was one dollar for adults and 75 cents for children. Three days later the Catholic churches of Kingston, led by Rev. Father John J. Bergan, first pastor of St. Ignatius, held a Lake railroad excursion.

Passengers and Lake freight would arrive at the Alderson train station. The area had been commonly known as the North Corner. Alderson was named for William C. Alderson, Treasurer of the Lehigh Valley Railroad. There is no evidence he ever visited the Lake.

Alderson Station, c. 1893
Photo Credit: C.F. Cook
FCP Collection

Alderson became a small boomtown with the advent of the railroad. Albert Lewis built a showcase home there with hemlock logs covered in natural bark. A once legendary figure, Dr. L.B. Avery opened his practice at Alderson in 1887. The pioneer Kitchen farm was partially developed into lots for cottages. Other guests could board at area farm houses. Lewis built a major sawmill at the Lake's edge. Small steamboats were based at Alderson to meet railroad passengers and to transport them across the Lake to Sunset, at that time the Lake's recreational center. An Alderson post office was also created on November 14, 1887.

From 1887 to 1891 regional organizations regularly leased excursion trains from the Lehigh Valley Railroad. Typically, the rate was one dollar for an adult and 75 cents for a child. Then in mid-March 1891, Lehigh Valley Railroad officials came to the Lake to inspect grounds for a formal "Picnic Grounds," purchasing a plot from Albert Lewis. The plan also envisioned a major hotel on the high ground behind the park, but it was never built.

The Lehigh Valley Railroad's Picnic Grounds had a soft, unadvertised opening in mid-August 1891. On August 13, 1891, the Forty Fort Band had the first railroad excursion to the new park. Additional passengers arrived by trolley from Wilkes-Barre to Luzerne to catch the train to the Lake. Others could take a D.L&W. train to Luzerne to link to the railroad excursion. Some were critical of the "primitive condition" of the picnic grounds, but the Forty Fort Band realized a $150 gain from the day.

Later, in September 1891 the Newell Clothing Company held a Saturday picnic for 200 employees at the park. They boarded four trolley cars in Wilkes-Barre for Luzerne and then on the Lake railroad to the railroad's park.

The 1892 season at the picnic grounds opened on June 9, 1892, with a railroad excursion by the St. Francis Pioneer Corps. It was advertised by St. Frances, but not the LVRR, as a "Grand Opening" of the park and threatening weather dampened the crowd size. Other excursions followed, but late in the season, in early September, further excursions were banned when five children of the janitor at the picnic grounds caught diphtheria.

Excursions to the Lake and elsewhere were routine for the next two decades. For example, between July 15, 1893, and August 21, 1893, seventeen excursions by area organizations were scheduled, primarily to the Lake, Mountain Park, Luzerne Grove and Farview. The last was a Delaware & Hudson Railroad picnic grove near Waymart in Wayne County.

On July 3, 1897, the Forty Fort Band opened a new picnic ground at the top of Oneonta Hill, built by the Wilkes-Barre and Northern Railroad, which became the Wilkes-Barre, Dallas and Harvey's Lake trolley line in 1898. This new park while it survived until 1921, was not a match for the Lehigh Valley Railroad park. Many trolley passengers took a steamboat from Sunset to the railroad park for the day and returned to the city by trolley.

Lake railroad excursions were not limited to residents of the Wyoming Valley. On June 23, 1897, the Royal Arcanum, a fraternal benefit society, drew passengers from throughout northeastern Pennsylvania to the Picnic Grounds. Forty passenger cars arrived from Honesdale, White Haven and Wilkes-Barre utilizing trains from LVRR and Delaware & Hudson connections (with bicycles carried free for guests to cycle around the Lake). There was all-day dancing, boating, bathing, fishing and boat races - including now a fat man's race along with the fat woman's race.

On July 27, 1897, four Pittston Sunday Schools joined in an excursion to the Lake park. In later years, additional Pittston area Sunday Schools joined in the annual park excursion as circumstances permitted during the next half-century.

Earliest Picnic Ground Pavilion
FCP Collection

The Lehigh Valley Picnic Grounds at the Lake would also see new management. In 1906 the LVRR leased the park to John A. Redington, an experienced hotel operator. He would purchase the park in 1923. Later in the same year, he leased it to the Wintersteen family. In 1930 the Wintersteen interests purchased the park. John E. Hanson became Wintersteens' park manager in 1929, and a co-partner with them in 1930. In 1935 Hanson purchased the Wintersteen interest in the park and became its sole owner.

There was a settled routine of excursions in the 1890s until WWI. Then, on May 10, 1917, the LVRR cancelled all excursions to conserve resources for the War effort.

In May 1917, the LVRR also cancelled the Coop & Lent Circus performance at the Coxton Yard (or Yards) on June 14. The railroad feared too many miners would "lay off" on June 14 to attend the circus and impede coal production carried on the LVRR.

While WWI ended on November 11, 1918, the LVRR did not resume general excursion service for some years. An exception occurred on Thursday, July 21, 1921, when the LVRR ran its first excursion since the War to the Lake for 100 WWI disabled veterans as guests of the company. Later in 1921 the railroad also authorized a Lake excursion on Sunday, September 11, 1921, for the Lehigh Valley Railroad Veteran Employees Association.

The September 1921 plans for the railroad veterans' excursion was reported in the Pittston Gazette on September 9, 1921:

The Lehigh Valley Railroad Veteran Employees Association has all plans to complete for the holding of the first annual outing and reunion in the Lehigh Valley picnic grounds at the company's new steel pavilion at Harvey's Lake on Sunday, September 11. There will be a large attendance of members judging from the present indications and many of them will be accompanied by their wives and families. A special train will be run out of Buffalo at 5 a.m., to gather up all of the members and other employees along the line to Harvey's Lake, especially from points between Tunkhannock and Pittston. A similar train will be started out of Jersey City at 5 a.m. and this train is also scheduled to reach the lake by 11 a.m. and is to make stops at all stations where there are passengers to get aboard, especially at White Haven, Mountain Top and Wilkes-Barre. These special trains will leave the lake at 5 p.m. for the return trips.

Otherwise, the freeze in LVRR excursions continued through 1922.

With the suspension of LVRR excursions to the Lake during WWI, area organizations continued group tours to the Lake by auto or trolley excursions to Sunset. Moonlight group auto rides in the early evening to the Lake were popular. There were venues at Sunset for late-night dancing and steamboat rides to the park for entertainment and a late trolley return to the Valley.

In late August 1920 the Young Men's Hebrew Association ran an auto excursion to the park as noted on August 26, 1920, in the Wilkes-Barre Record.

Ideal weather helped to make the Y.M.H.A. Hebrew School excursion to Harvey's Lake yesterday one of rare enjoyment. About seventy-five boys and girls made the trip by motor. They were in charge of their teachers, Eli Goldstein and Misses Bertha Cohen and Jeannette Groh of the Y.M.H.A. staff. The excursionists made their headquarters at the picnic grounds where they played and romped and enjoyed themselves to their hearts' delight. The party left the Y.M.H.A. building, South Washington Street, at 10 a.m. and returned at 7:30 in the evening.

In July 1921 the Luzerne Avenue Baptist Church continued its annual Lake excursions by trolley. A sample of its program included a candle-carrying contest, orange rolling, feather carrying, shoe-lacing contest, potato paring, men and women's racing and swimming, and heaviest woman. Prizes widely ranged from candy and fruit, to merry-go-round and roller-coaster tickets.

In Pittston, in early August 1921, the St. John's Lutheran Sunday School continued to lead the annual Pittston Sunday Schools excursion, but by trolley, to the Lake park.

By 1921 the Pennsylvania Railroad had renewed its railroad excursions to major cities in the mid-Atlantic. In April 1922 the Lehigh Valley Railroad ran its first general excursion from the valley since the War, from Pittston to New York City, attracting 700 passengers.

The LVRR made an exception to its ban on the excursions to the Lake in 1923 and 1924 and permitted St. John Church in Luzerne Borough and the St. Luke Lutheran Sunday School in Noxen to run an excursion group to the Lake park. But the congregations did not board a special train. They were carried in extra coaches attached to the regular Bowmans Creek rail line.

The LVRR ran another Lehigh Valley Railroad Veteran Employees Association excursion to the Lake park on Sunday, September 9, 1923. As reported in the Wilkes-Barre Record the following day:

Veterans Excursion at Wilkes-Barre
No. 2030 September 9, 1923
Courtesy, Anthracite Railroads Historical Society

Lehigh Valley Railroad Veterans Association held its second annual outing yesterday at Lehigh Valley picnic park, Harvey's Lake, and it proved most successful and enjoyable. The committees in charge were hard at work several months in arranging for the event and made it a success in every little detail.
Special trains were run from all parts of the system and the veteran employees and those on the pension roll, accompanied by their families, turned out about 1,500 strong, and hundreds of them also drove by automobiles from all parts of eastern Pennsylvania. It was one big, jolly family gathering. Many had not met since the last outing and there was no end of reminiscing, especially among the older, retired employees.

Veterans Excursion at Wilkes-Barre
No. 1673 September 9, 1923
Courtesy, Anthracite Railroads Historical Society

The first train to arrive was a special of twelve cars that left Jersey City at 5 a.m. At Perth Amboy another train was combined with it, and all across New Jersey guests were picked up. At Easton engine No. 2030 was attached, and at Lehighton engine No. 1673. When it pulled into the Valley's picnic grounds it carried veterans from New Jersey, New York, Lehigh, Mahanoy and Hazleton, and parts of the Wyoming Division, east of Wilkes-Barre.
On reaching here the above engines were detached and engines 1151 and 562 were coupled to the train and 651 and 582 acted as pushers over the steep grade on the Bowman's Creek branch. It arrived at the lake shortly after 11 o'clock, and was followed shortly after by a two-car special bringing Pittston, Coxton and Wilkes-Barre veterans to the number of 200, and at 1 o'clock the five car special that started from Buffalo at 5 a.m., bringing about 400 members from the Buffalo, Seneca and Auburn divisions, pulled in. On this train were men and their families between Suspension Bridge and Coxton.

LVRR Engine No. 1151
Veterans Excursion
Later taken at Canastota, NY (1939)
Courtesy, Harry D. Owens

Engine 2030, in the charge of Engineer John Geisenhelmer, with Fireman Edward James of Easton, was elaborately decorated. The big drivers were painted a brilliant red, and the rims of the wheels in silver, while the boiler was also striped in silver, as well as the cab and body of the tank with a handsome banner on the front of the engine.
Engine No. 1673 had Frank Moody as engineer and J. Sauers fireman, both of Lehighton. This engine was also attractively decorated with silver and gold stripes and banners, telling what delegation the train carried. The rest of the train crew, all Easton men, consisted of F. George Paul, conductor; Glora H. Yetter, William Reilly, trainmen; James Miller, conductor; J. George, J. Gary, trainmen; traveling foremen of engines, Hanlon, of Lehighton. This entire crew volunteered its services one year ago, when the outing was first talked of.
The decorated engines proved a great attraction all along the route. The Wilkes-Barre crews that handled the Jersey City special from here to the lake and back consisted of Grant Hudson, Verne Hunter, Arthur Alspaugh and Frank Connell, engineers. The Wilkes-Barre special crew was Patrick Kane, engineer; Conductor Davis; the Buffalo and Sayre special train crew was Leo Jackson and John Sheridan and John Saphar. Henry Donlin of Sayre came through from that place.
An elaborate dinner of fried chicken and many side dishes was served by Caterers Brown and Rasper of Wilkes-Barre. Although the crowd was large all were served in less than one hour and thirty minutes. The service was of the best and could not have been improved upon. And eight-piece orchestra composed of employees of the South Easton Shops, rendered a classy jazz program in the dancing pavilion, where many of the younger and quite a few of the older ones enjoyed it several hours. All of the concessions were liberally patronized and several hundred went in bathing.
The lake steamers and the automobile touring cars around the lake were crowded all afternoon. All in all it was a banner outing and the weather was ideal for just such an event. The return trip from the lake was started at 5 p.m. and all of the trains were run through on schedule time, without the least accident or mishap. The members of the committee came in for no end of praise for making the event such a complete success.

In 1924 there were no LVRR excursions to the Lake.

In mid-1925 the Coxton Welfare Association was formed by employees of the Wyoming Division of the Lehigh Valley Railroad. The core of the CWA were employees of the railroad at the round house and machine shop at the Coxton Yard, a massive LVRR complex along the Susquehanna River just north of Pittston. The yard is still operating, on a much smaller scale, for the area's surviving railroad system. But the area may be more widely known now as the site of a significant archaeological excavation of its Native American history by the Frances Dorrance Chapter 11 of the Pennsylvania Archaeological Society.

The Coxton Welfare Association soon added to its roles disadvantaged and other employed railroad workers and Pittston area residents. It operated a small cooperative store at Coxton with any profit used to aid needy families. During Christmas 1925 the CWA donated baskets to poor families in Pittston.

The following summer the CWA organized its first LVRR train excursion to Harvey's Lake. On Wednesday, August 17, 1926, one train left Pittston at 8:45 a.m., and a second train left Wilkes-Barre for the Lake. Guests age 16 and older paid 50 cents for the trip and return home.

LVRR Gas-Electric Engine #30
Bowman's Creek Railroad - Likely Towanda
Photo Credit: Herb Trice
Courtesy, Anthracite Railroads Historical Society

In early December 1926 the LVRR introduced gas-electric engines on the Bowmans Creek Branch. They would shortly follow on the main line of the LVRR along the Susquehanna River between Wilkes-Barre and Towanda.

The introduction of gas-electric engines in 1926 is an appropriate opportunity to review certain aspects of geography and technology over time on the Bowmans Creek Branch. Harry D. Owens, a Shavertown native, is the premier historian of the Bowmans Creek Branch and offered his observations for this article:

When one looks at a map of the Lehigh Valley Railroad before 1940, it appears that the Bowmans Creek Branch provided an alternative route to the LVRR mainline from Wilkes-Barre to Towanda. In reality, the two routes could not be more different. Both were approximately 79 miles in length, but the LVRR mainline followed a level route along the Susquehanna River, while the Bowmans Creek Branch tackled the mountains to the west. The mainline was built to the highest standards in terms of rail, bridges, curves and signals so that the heaviest locomotives could pull long freight trains and the railroad's premier passenger trains at high speed.
The Bowmans Creek Branch meandered through very mountainous terrain on light rail, around sharp curves, over wooden trestles and light bridges. The maximum speed for passenger trains was 30 mph while freight could not exceed 20 mph. Most importantly, the highest point on the entire Lehigh Valley Railroad was on the Bowmans Creek Branch. Opperman's Pass, between Mountain Springs and Ricketts, was 2200 feet above sea level and provided the most seasoned trains crews with an operational challenge in both directions.
For these reasons, the LVRR restricted the size of locomotives and the length of trains on the branch. In the steam era, this meant that only medium class (4-6-2 and 2-8-2) and light class (4-6-0) locomotives could move between Wilkes-Barre, Coxton and Noxen. West of Noxen, only the light class (4-6-0) locomotives could traverse the rest of the trackage to Towanda. In addition, many freight trains required locomotives on the front and rear to keep the train moving.
In December 1926, daily passenger service was transferred from steam trains to new gas-electric rail cars, affectionately known as "Doodlebugs." These cars could deliver small freight loads, mail, passengers and pull milk cars. They were much cheaper to operate than steam engines and would roam the branch until passenger service was discontinued in 1934. The Bowmans Creek Railroad reverted to all steam locomotives until 1948.
In 1948, the Lehigh Valley Railroad received new diesel switchers that were lighter, more efficient than steam engines and better able to handle the track conditions on the Bowmans Creek Branch. They soon took over all freight service and pulled the occasional Harvey's Lake excursion trains. From that time until the abandonment of the branch in 1963, they could be seen working their trains.

On August 2, 1927, the CWA ran three 12-car trains from Pittston to the Lake for its annual excursion. A 4-car train would also leave Wilkes-Barre. A special train service was arranged for Tunkhannock area residents to connect at Pittston. A ticket for a person 14 years or older was 50 cents. Those 13 and younger rode free.

Lindbergh and Police Escort
Coxton Yard, June 22,1928
FCP Collection

During the evening of June 22, 1928, famed aviator Charles Lindbergh was flying a Ryan B-1 monoplane from Detroit to Long Island when fog forced him to land at Coxton Yard. Public madness enveloped the celebrated flyer during his 19- hour stop in the Wyoming Valley. The Coxton Welfare Association made him an honorary member.

The CWA's third annual excursion to the Lake's Picnic Grounds was held on Saturday, July 28, 1928. The President of the CWA at this time was, T. R. Davis. The annual picnic included athletic contests with prizes donated by Pittston and Wilkes-Barre merchants.

In July 1929 the Lehigh Valley Railroad announced the resumption of general excursions to the Lake, 12 years after their 1917 WWI suspension. The LVRR authorized leave points from Wilkes-Barre, Pittston, Avoca, and Old Forge. A booking required a minimum of 250 passengers at one dollar each. The fare would decrease a nickel for every additional 50 passengers, with 500 or more passengers at seventy-five cents each. But except for the CWA's annual excursion, the era for large-scale Lake excursions was over.

The fourth CWA excursion, led by President Alex Mitchell, was held at the Lake park on Thursday, August 1, 1929. The extended crowd was 3,000. The excursions were the principal fund-raiser for the CWA which now offered sick and death benefits to its members.

The late July 1930 CWA excursion to the Picnic Grounds drew "several thousand persons." The crowd was largely from Pittston with three separate trains needed to carry passengers. A rare non-CWA railroad excursion at this time occurred on Memorial Day 1930 when Odd Fellows Day was celebrated at the Harvey's Lake Picnic Grounds. It was a record crowd for the I.O.O.F. with the Wilkes-Barre train stopping at Pittston, Wyoming, Luzerne and Dallas to pick up passengers. An early August 1931 CWA excursion had two trains leaving from Pittston and a train each from Wilkes-Barre and Duryea. Athletic events at the Lake were planned for men, women and children.

Since the end of WWI improved roads and the growing popularity of the private automobile drew traffic away from local sites and railroads. The railroads countered with more adventuresome excursion enticements.

In early August 1931 the LVRR offered a Sunday day-trip to New York City for $3.60, when the New York Giants had a baseball match with the St. Louis Cardinals. A LVRR round-trip excursion from Pittston to Atlantic City in August 1931 was $4.25. A LVRR Sunday excursion for $2.20 would drop passengers at Mauch Chunk, Allentown, Bethlehem or Easton. The Pennsylvania Railroad had day excursions for Saturdays to Philadelphia for $3.75, or to Atlantic City for an additional 50 cents.

Another rare example of a non-CWA train excursion to the Lake occurred on Thursday, August 29, 1931, when the Scranton Council of the Knights of Columbus rode to the Picnic Grounds. They were joined by members from Pittston and Wilkes-Barre.

In early July 1932 the LVRR closed the Port Bowley bridge which carried the railroad across the Susquehanna River from Plains Township to the west side at Forty Fort/Luzerne. A central pier had settled 19 inches and shifted 5 inches downstream, likely due to mine settlement beneath the river. In November 1937 the LVRR would begin dismantling the bridge leaving its piers in the river for decades. Traffic to the Bowmans Creek Branch from Wilkes-Barre now had to run upstream along the river to Pittston and cross the Coxton railroad bridge to the west side, and then down to Luzerne to connect to the Lake branch. The Port Bowkley piers were not removed from the river until 2010-2011.

The 1932 CWA excursion to the Lake in mid-August had trains leaving Pittston, Avoca and Wilkes-Barre, with LVRR veterans as special guests. At the Lake park new features were fancy diving and swimming exhibitions.

The Coxton excursion on Thursday, August 3, 1933, featured a food basket distribution to guests, and a drawing for a free LVRR trip to Chicago for the Century of Progress Exhibition. There was another drawing for a Frigidaire refrigerator, rather odd for the rail carrier for the Mountain Springs natural-ice industry on the Bowman's Creek Branch near Ricketts Glen.

Picnic Grounds Lake Front, 1935
Photo Credit: Curt Teich Postcard Collection

The following year four CWA trains with ten cars each made the mid-August excursion. Despite morning rain many others arrived by automobiles and a huge crowd attended. In 1935 a similar set of four trains with ten cars each drew a record crowd.

The 1936 CWA excursion drew an unexplained smaller crowd - but it was in the heart of the Depression. The event was also marked by the arrest of an attendee from Pittston for disorderly conduct. He was lodged in the Harvey's Lake jail overnight, and later found guilty but he received a suspended sentence.

In late July 1937, a lodge organization from Taylor, Modoc Tribe, No. 410 I.O.R.M., had a LVRR excursion to the Lake. It was followed by the CWA excursion on Tuesday, August 3, 1937. There was a train with ten cars each leaving Pittston, Duryea and Wilkes-Barre. The thirty cars could each carry 70 adults for a total of 2,100 people by train alone. It was estimated that 3,000 of Pittston's 18,000 population was at the park.

Tuesday, August 3, 1937, was the death knell for continuing LVRR excursions to the Lake. As reported in the Wilkes-Barre Times Leader on August 4, 1937:

Lehigh Valley Railroad police today sought the identity of several persons alleged to have been responsible for fights on a train last night that climaxed a day's outing at Harvey's Lake of the Coxton Welfare Association.
Captain W.S. Henning checked the reports today of three policemen who accompanied the 3,000 members, their families and friends on three special trains to the picnic and promised the arrest and prosecution of disturbers on charges of disorderly conduct and malicious mischief.
Although disturbances were reported to have been common throughout the entire day, the most serious melee occurred about 8 o'clock last night on the third section train as it was returning to this city through Shavertown.
Officer Harold Mitten, of the Lehigh Valley police, was unable to control the disturbances with the train in motion and ordered it stopped. He summoned the firemen of Shavertown and Pennsylvania motor police, but neither organization was in position to help quell the fights.
According to Officer Mitten, who was struck several times by the passengers and suffered a slight leg injury in rolling down an embankment with another man, the men who prompted the fights had disappeared from the train when the stop was made to summon aid.
Scores of women and children sought relief from the coach by filing out of the cars into the open when the train stopped. As they rested upon the bank persons were of the opinion that they fell out of the train as it stopped quickly.
On the first train leaving Pittston station yesterday morning, one of the male passengers was reported to have forced his hand through a window in a test of "strength." Several women were also said to have been engaged in a hair-pulling contest during an argument.
Despite the disturbances made by persons, alleged to have been inebriated, none of the passengers were reported to have been injured although many are said to have been upset by the continued arguing and fighting among several "gangs" that congregated in sections of every coach.

Two men, Chuck Bianco and John Swift, were arrested later in August 1937 and charged with disorderly conduct for the CWA riot. There is no account of the outcome of the charges.

In mid-August Taylor's Redman Lodge also held a LVRR train excursion to the Lake.

Television Day Excursion, September 1, 1948
Photo Credit: John Endler
Courtesy, Anthracite Railroads Historical Society

The LVRR's decision to end the Coxton Welfare Association's excursions to the Lake apparently doomed the organization. There are no accounts of the CWA after 1937.

On August 15, 1938, St. John's Church, Luzerne, under the direction of Rev. George A. Bendick, ran its annual train excursion to the Lake park.The St. John's excursion was the last railroad excursion to the Lake until the late summer of 1948.

On Wednesday, September 1, 1948, WILK, a local radio station, ran an excursion as Television Preview Day at Hanson's Amusement Park. The excursion was designed to test a television program from the park. At this time few area residents had a television. There were no local TV stations. At best, those with a TV could at times receive TV broadcasts from New York City.

Rita Drexinger
1961, New York City
FCP Collection

The September 1 program at the Lake was organized by Albert J. Loquasto who had a half-hour daily radio show on WILK called Moments of Melody. For the park event there was a beauty contest for Miss Television of Wyoming Valley. Entertainment was provided by the Russ Andaloro Orchestra and the Laing Sisters. Leed's Clothing in Pittston offered a fur and dress fashion show. Miss Rita Drexinger (1929-2013), Exeter, known in local musical circles as Rita Dee, won the title as Miss Television of Wyoming Valley. She was awarded a trip to New York City and a radio-television audition. As Rita Dee, the local artist became a vocalist with the Victor Lombardo and Russ Andaloro orchestras, and under the name Rita Hayes she sang with the Ralph Flanagan band. She became a TV personality and had a role in the 1961 Jerry Lewis movie The Errand Boy.

Television for the Wyoming Valley was not imminent in 1948. The first local television station was WBRE which began operations on January 1, 1953, followed by WGBI (now WYOU) on June 7, 1953, with WILK (now WNEP) on September 16, 1953.

In the meantime, in March 1948 the LVRR adopted its first 4,000 horse-power diesel locomotive at Coxton for freight service to Buffalo. By May 1949 diesel locomotives were also operating on the Bowmans Creek Branch during the night to carry freight to lessen noise issues for Back Mountain residents. It would be a diesel locomotive which carried the last LVRR railroad excursion to Hanson's Amusement Park.

Nearly three years after Television Day in 1948, the Protestant Sunday Schools of Greater Pittston, which began Lake excursions in 1897, had a 600-700 passenger excursion on a 10-car train to the park on Saturday, July 7, 1951. It would be the last railroad excursion to the park.

LVRR Excursion - Hanson's Park
July 7, 1951
Photo Credit: Shirley Hanson

The July 1951 event was billed as an Old- Fashioned Excursion Train. Members of nine Pittston and West Pittston Sunday Schools boarded the two-unit diesel locomotive train at 9 AM at the Pittston LVRR station. It headed north to cross the Coxton railroad bridge, then down along the west side of the Susquehanna River to Luzerne to the Bowmans Creek line to the Lake at Hanson's park. The excursion train was captured in photographs by park owner Shirley Hanson.

Oddly, there was no post-excursion coverage of the unique 1951 trip by area news outlets. But five days later an editorial in Hazelton's Standard-Speaker lamented the passing of public interest in railroad excursions to Niagara Falls, New York City and Atlantic City. Charter busses now dominated tourist travel. They covered more diverse routes and were cheaper than railroad fare. The paper declared that "railroad excursions have become passe."

LVRR Excursion - Hanson's Park
July 7, 1951
Photo Credit: Shirley Hanson

For several decades Bowmans Creek Branch train traffic had declined. In November 1928 twice daily passenger round- trip runs on the Bowman's Creek Branch were reduced to a single daily round trip. In April 1934 separate passenger and freight services to Alderson ended and passenger-freight services were combined. In March 1936 passenger service on the Bowmans Creek Branch was entirely ended except for the special picnic excursions. On February 4, 1961, during a snow blizzard, the LVRR carried passengers on a trip from Buffalo to Allentown, which was delayed at Coxton by snowdrifts. It was the last LVRR passenger train to operate on the once mighty Lehigh Valley Railroad system.

Over time freight traffic on the Bowmans Creek Brach also declined. The Ricketts lumber industry closed in late June 1913. The Ganoga Lake Branch which linked to the Bowmans Creek Branch, shipped its last freight load, likely left -over stored ice from Ganoga Lake, in late 1919. LVRR had carried natural-ice from Mountain Springs near Ricketts until the ice industry ended there in February 1949. The railroad also served the Noxen tannery but the tannery peaked in 1941 and closed in 1961. The Alderson station was razed earlier in May 1958.

Over time the LVRR abandoned sections of the Bowmans Creek Branch. The branch from Ricketts to Ganoga Lake was abandoned in February 1922. The Lopez to Ricketts link ended service in May 1939 followed by the Mountain Springs to Noxen section in May 1950. Noxen to Dallas was abandoned in July 1963. On Sunday, December 22, 1963, at 12:01 a.m., the Lehigh Valley Railroad formally abandoned the last operating vestige of the line from Luzerne to Dallas.


Thanks are extended to Harry D. Owens, Boiling Springs, PA., the Bowmans Creek Branch historian, for his contributions to this article, and to the Anthracite Railroads Historical Society for permission to publish photographs from its collection.


© Copyright September 2020 F. Charles Petrillo