Harveys Lake History

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The Sunset Area

Chapter 1: The Early Hotels

The Rhoads Hotel

The Rhoads Hotel was the first commercial development at the Lake, pioneering the tourism industry that bloomed at the Lake for a century.

The earliest public house at the Lake was the Rhoads Hotel.  Building of the hotel began in 1854 for owners Henry Hancock, Jonathon Husted and Almon Goss on land leased from Henry Worthington.   The hotel, originally named the Lake House, was opened in early July 1855 with Thomas Totten of Centermoreland as the manager.  The three-story structure, seventy-five feet in length and forty feet in depth, was located near the Lake’s front where Carpenter Road now enters the Lake Road.  The Lake House accommodated one hundred guests.

With the opening of the Lake House, a daily stage line to the Lake was also made available for the summer trade.  The ride from Wilkes-Barre took at least two hours.  Access to the Lake was severely hampered by poor roads that delayed the resort’s development.

In November 1873 the Lake House was acquired by Washington Lee who apparently engaged James W. Rhoads as the manager for 1874.  A Lake House post office was opened on July 29, 1874, with Rhoads as postmaster.  A year later the Lake House post office was discontinued.

Lee sold the Lake House to James W. Rhoads in March 1875 for $8,500.00.  Rhoads was a retired Sheriff of Luzerne County, and under his management, the Lake House had increasing success.  Rhoads renamed the hotel the Harvey’s Lake Hotel, but eventually the hotel was simply called Rhoads Hotel.

After the death of James W. Rhoads in August 1886, the hotel was managed by his widow, Caroline Rhoads, aided by his brother, Frank Rhoads, and she managed the property until 1902.  When the Shawanese post office opened at the hotel on January 12, 1892, Charles E. Rhoads was postmaster.  Frank Rhoads later managed the hotel from 1902 to 1908.

On January 4, 1908, the Rhoads Hotel completely burned to the ground.  A defective pipe in the furnace caused the fire, which spread rapidly due to a strong northerly wind.

After the fire, Frank Rhoads converted the Rhoads tavern, a separate facility built in 1883, into a small hotel.  However, Frank Rhoads died in the spring of 1909.  His daughter, Amy, managed the hotel and later married J.D. Carpenter.  The hotel was eventually expanded into a two story twenty-room facility known as Carpenter’s Hotel.

The Lake Grove House

Lake Grove House was built in 1881 by a Dallas merchant. It was demolished in 1898 to make way for the Hotel Oneonta.

The Lake Grove House was built by Col. Jacob Rice in the spring of 1881.  Rice, a Dallas merchant, was a Lieutenant-Colonel in the 115 th Pennsylvania Militia, and later he served in the 53 rd Pennsylvania Volunteers during the Civil War.  The hotel, built on land leased from James Park, was on the site where the Hotel Oneonta would later be erected.

Before the extension of the Lehigh Valley Railroad in 1887, the Lake Grove House, like the Rhoads Hotel, depended on the stage lines for guests to reach the hotel.  Because of the poor roads to the Lake, the stagecoach rides were unusually long. William L. Rice, a son of Col. Jacob Rice, served as the manager of the Lake Grove House.  He began a stage line on June 1, 1886.  A stage left the hotel at 7:00 A.M. and arrived in Wilkes-Barre three hours later; the stage left the city at 3:00 P.M. and arrived at the Lake four hours later.  Because of the long stage rides, it was often necessary to make overnight accommodations at the Rhoads or Lake Grove House to enjoy the Lake.

Samuel Gottfried purchased the Lake Grove House in 1891, and in April 1892 he made an addition to the hotel.  On July 4, 1892, two hundred people were entertained at the hotel.  Fireworks crowned the evening.  By August Gottfried was planning major renovations to the hotel, and eventually Gottfried was also responsible for securing country funds to help support the townships costs to replace the wooden Inlet bridge with an iron bridge for the 1893 season.

The Lake Grove House was sold to the Harvey’s Lake Hotel and Land Company in 1897, which wanted the site to build the Oneonta Hotel.  The Lake Grove House was used by construction workers while the Oneonta was built behind the older hotel.  In late May 1898, after the Oneonta Hotel was completed, the Lake Grove House was torn down.

The Hotel Oneonta

The lavish Hotel Oneonta was the high water mark of the Lake's tourist hotels.

The Harvey’s Lake Hotel and Land Company was incorporated on April 20, 1897.  The President of the company was Chris Stegmaier; other major stockholders were Peter Forve, John Graham, P.R. Raife, John B. Reynolds, Pierce Butler, Edward Gunster and A.A. Holbrook.  The company purchased three parcels of land, including the site of the Lake Grove House.  P.R. Raife, a well-known builder in Wilkes-Barre, was the general contractor for the new hotel, and McCormick and French were the architects.  Construction of the hotel began in October 1897.

The hotel was built on a hill behind the site of the Lake Grove House.  It was two hundred feet from the edge of the Lake and occupied a plot 196 feet wide and 105 feet deep.

A formal inspection by the owners of the new hotel was held on April 14, 1898.  At this time it was called the Hotel Graham, after one of the principal stockholders.

In the center of the hotel, a six foot wide main stairway reached from the basement to the fourth floor.  The basement contained a barroom, café, barber shop, pastry kitchen, wine cellar, laundry room, lavatories, billiard room and bicycle room.

The main entrance led to a hall thirteen feet wide and forty-four feet long.  The hall passed through the center of the building.  To the left, a large lobby, with paneled wainscoting and an open six and one-half foot fireplace, held the registration and office area.  To the left of the office area, an archway led to a large parlor with another fireplace.  At the end of the parlor a ten foot wide hall led to a thirty by fifty-five foot dance hall with two sets of large double doors opening to the side porch, a glorious promenade for evening dancing guests.

To the right of the main lobby a thirty-three by sixty foot dining room lined with plate glass windows overlooked the Lake.  An adjoining area served as the nurses and children’s dining room.

Seventy rooms filled the second and third floors with two sets of public baths and fireplaces.  The fourth story was used for storage.  The porch was sixteen feet wide and 343 feet long.  The building was wired for electric lights and a fire alarm system.  A power house, one hundred feet to the left of the hotel, was built to serve the hotel and the surrounding area.  In March 1898 the owners of the hotel also incorporated the Harvey’s Lake Light, Heat and Power Company to supply the hotel’s power system.  Electric current was sold to cottagers in a two mile area near the hotel.  An electrical system to serve the rest of the Lake was twenty years away.  Steam heating and a sewage treatment system were additional features of the new hotel.

In June 1898 the hotel was renamed the Oneonta, an Indian name meaning a “place of rest.”  On July 7, 1898, the Hotel Oneonta was opened for guests.

A line of sailboats was available for guests.  A twenty foot flag was raised in front of the hotel and red shale paths were laid around the hotel grounds.  The trolley brought crowds to the Oneonta, and its landing became the principal stop for the steamboats.  Masses were held at the Oneonta on Sundays drawing summer guests, as well as servants and maids from the summer homes.

The Oneonta was a benchmark of the Lake’s Golden Era.  The hotel was open from late May to late September.  Days in advance of the annual July 4 holiday, preparations began in Valley homes for the annual “basket picnic” at the Lake.  Crowds would assemble on Public Square to catch the trolleys that ran to the Lake from 4:00 A.M. until 11:00 P.M.

The Oneonta’s most famous guest was the former President, Theodore Roosevelt, who had dinner therel on August 22, 1912, while on a visit to the Valley.  As the Lake’s most celebrated time was ending, the manager at the time, James Poland, died on Christmas Eve 1918, and in six weeks the Oneonta would be lost to fire.

On Sunday, February 2, 1919, Mrs. James Poland and a few friends were visiting the Oneonta.  In the early evening, at about 6:00 P.M. she left the hotel and was about to drive home when her party saw a blaze in the basement area.  Within minutes the entire hotel was in flames.  Farmers were aroused from the area to respond to the fire.  Holes were cut in the ice, and a bucket brigade was formed to save neighboring buildings.  The illuminated sky began to draw crowds from miles around, and the roads were filled with cars as the hotel became a destructive furnace.  A high wind showered sparks that ignited trees and cottage roofs.  The fire burned for more than three hours with no injuries to anyone, but nothing remained of the landmark hotel after the fire except a brick chimney, fireplace, vault and foundation.  For some time, the Oneonta company had been in default on the mortgage to the hotel.  The cause of the fire was never determined, and the $45,000.00 in fire insurance was inadequate to rebuild it.  In August 1919 the Wyoming Valley Trust Company, which held the mortgage, foreclosed on the estate and sold it to John P. Schmitt, Peter Forve and P.R. Raife, who laid out the area in building lots.

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Copyright 2006-2007 F. Charles Petrillo

Copyright 2006-2017 F. Charles Petrillo