Harveys Lake History

Mayer's Grove

The Pennsylvania Fish Commission’s boat access area at the Lake between former Sandy Beach and Old Sandy Bottom was once a picnic area known as Mayer’s Grove.

Albertina Mayer originally purchased Lake property in April 1897.  Over time the property descended to Anton (Tony) and Leila Mayer.  With over 200 feet of Lake frontage running 500 feet back to the Lake road, Mayer’s Grove, while not an amusement park, was a popular picnic area in the 1920s – 1940s.  West Corner Creek (also known at an earlier time as Lynch’s Creek) ran by the Grove into the Lake.

Mayer’s Grove also had rowboat rentals.  It was at this site that the famous American Tragedy murder occurred:

The American Tragedy murder occurred during the rainy night of July 30, 1934.  For years Robert Allen Edwards, a handsome thirty-two year old with a “jutting chin and deep set eyes” and coal black hair, had been dating his hometown neighbor, Freda McKechnie, a twenty-seven year old telephone operator.  But Edwards had also fallen in love with Margaret Lee Crain when he attended Mansfield State College.  Even though Edwards left Mansfield, and resumed a romance with Freda McKechnie, he wanted to marry Margaret Lee Crain, a talented music teacher who could provide social status to the Edwardsville coal surveyor.

Edwards panicked when Freda McKechnie became pregnant.  He took her for a late night swim at Sandy Beach.  The couple then went to the Mayer dock near the beach, and when the girl went for another swim, she was clubbed to death by Edwards.

The Mayer's Grove boat rentals. The dock is site of Freda McKechnie's murder in 1934.

She was then allowed to sink in the shallow water near the beach.  Edwards later claimed the girl fatally struck her head when she accidentally fell from a boat at the landing.  The discovery of the dead McKechnie girl catapulted the Lake into the national headlines because the circumstances of the murder had an uncanny similarity to the 1925 novel, An American Tragedy, by Theodore Dreiser.

In An American Tragedy, Dreiser’s fictional Clyde Griffiths murders the pregnant Roberta Alden on a July evening on Big Bittern Lake near Utica, New York.  Griffiths wanted to marry Sondra, a more prominent girl, but he could not break the relationship with Roberts, his hometown girlfriend.

Dreiser’s novel was based on a July 11, 1906, murder at Big Moose lake in the Adirondacks.  In 1906 Chester S. Gillette was a dropout from Oberlin College.  He dated Grace Brown, who became pregnant, but Gillette wanted to marry a more respectable girl.  He took the four month pregnant Grace Brown on a rowboat ride, and hit her with a tennis racket before pushing her into the Lake.

The similarities of the Harvey’s Lake and An American Tragedy murders were a national obsession for months.  Edwards came to trial on October 1, 1934.  The national press services covered the Wilkes-Barre trial, including Theodore Dreiser for the New York Post.  The District Attorney was Thomas M. Lewis, and his assistant was J. Harold Flannery; both later became local judges.Edwards was convicted of murder, but there was an unusual degree of sympathy for Edwards.  One thousand letters supporting clemency were sent to Gov. George H. Earle who declined to alter the jury’s death sentence.

On May 6, 1935, after a rainy evening, at 1:30 A.M., Edwards was electrocuted at Rockview Penitentiary.

In 1940 Mayer’s Grove was owned by family members Charles and Letha Mayer who sold the property to Joseph McCaffery (of Old Sandy Bottom beach) in 1961.  McCaffery used Mayer’s frontage for a new boating area.  In September 1966 the Fish Commission acquired 150 feet of frontage of the former Grove from McCaffery – the only public access to the Lake at this time.

The photographs in this section are courtesy of the late Graydon Mayer, a former art teacher at Kingston High (now Wyoming Valley West), a nephew of Tony Mayer.  Graydon Mayer was a legendary art teacher and incredible water colorist himself.  He influenced several renown artists including Back Mountain’s Jon Carsman (1944-1987), who had considerable fame in New York City in the 1970’s-80’s beginning with a series of Lake paintings. 

 

Copyright 2006-2007 F. Charles Petrillo

Copyright 2006-2008 F. Charles Petrillo