Harveys Lake History

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The Sunset Area

Hill's Pavilion was a popular stop for trolley passengers. The family store sold postcard views of the Lake that are now prized by collectors.

Chapter 3: The Rise of Sunset

Until the end of the nineteenth century, the Inlet was known primarily for the Rhoads Hotel and Lake Grove House.  The area began to bloom after the advent of both the Hotel Oneonta and the trolley line in 1898.  By this time the Picnic Grounds had already received a decade’s jump on the tourist trade with the construction of a Lehigh Valley Railroad branch line to Alderson in 1887.

The Hotel Oneonta and the trolley line stimulated the growth of the entire Inlet area.  The trolley company’s grounds became Oneonta Park, where dances were held at the pavilion for two decades.  In its later years the park was accented by a Merry-Go-Round.  A well-known personality at Inlet was Martha “Grandma” Hill who maintained a rough wooden stand below the trolley station at the crest of Oneonta Hill.

She shared the business with a son, Harry E. Hill.  About 1914 the Hills constructed a more substantial home and store near the station.  Trolley riders frequently stopped at Hill’s for candy or newspapers before the walk down the hill to the Hotel Oneonta or to the steamboat landing.

The 1915 season saw the dedication of a beautiful 315 foot long concrete bridge.  The new bridge, resting on eleven piers, had been open for use since early December 1914.  In 1915 the Shawanese post office moved from Hill’s Pavillion to Gosart’s store on Old Lake Road.

In November 1919 a shore plot in front of the old bowling alley was purchased by L.S. Schwab who built a dance hall known as the Sunset Pavillion, giving Sunset its present name.  The Sunset Pavillion had its grand opening on Decoration Day 1920 with the Temple Sextet Orchestra.  A Sunset institution at the time was Art Templeton’s photograph studio at the steamboat landing.

The massive development of Sunset occurred after George W. Bennethum created the Lake Improvement Company in January 1922.  His partners were George H. Kline and George B. Martin.  Bennethum purchased numerous lots at Sunset, and within a short time, he erected several other structures at Sunset while also improving the Lake’s shoreline for swimming.  He purchased fifteen World War I barracks from Cape May, New Jersey.  He reassembled them along Hillside Avenue behind the Grotto area.  They were named after the states and were popularly called the “state cottages,” although Bennethum advertised the area as Bungalow City. A cottage rented for fifty dollars weekly or $175.00 monthly.

The Lake Improvement Company stimulated the rapid development of Sunset.  In 1922 a new restaurant, the Grotto Cot D’Azur, owned by Josephine Gwiazdowska, opened by the Bennethum bowling alley.  Nearby, Carpenter’s Hotel was a popular dinner site that provided chicken dinners for one dollar.  The Bon Air restaurant, at the steamboat landing, was completely remodeled in 1922 by new managers, Charles Groh and William Reiger.  To encourage summer traffic, Thomas Pugh ran a private bus line every afternoon from Wilkes-Barre to the Lake.

With the emerging jazz-age, the historic site of the Hotel Oneonta would become one of the region’s most popular dance halls.  Following the loss of the Hotel Oneonta, lots were laid out on the Oneonta plot.  Two lots at the bottom of the Oneonta Hill at the intersection with the Lake road were purchased in 1921 by Ted Pringos, who had a restaurant at Sunset.  At the same time, a group of business men in Wilkes-Barre saw the site as ideal for a new dance pavilion.

The cabaret dance hall on the second floor of the Oneonta Pavillion was originally one hundred feet long and twenty feet wide.  Seating areas were on the front extension at both ends of the dance floor.  On the left side of the ground floor of the pavilion was a restaurant, and on the right was a beauty salon behind which a soda fountain faced the Oneonta Hill road. Opening night was May 27, 1922, with Kilgore’s Orchestra.  Dances were usually held five evenings a week with Wednesday and Saturday nights the largest draws.

Frank Devlin, owner of the Family Theatre in Wilkes-Barre, bought Wright’s Lakeside cottage in 1919.  He then purchased shoreline lots near the Sunset bridge where he built the Casino in the spring of 1924.  The Casino, featuring the largest bowling ally in Northeastern Pennsylvania, opened Memorial Day 1924.  Billiards and whirl o’ball provided entertainment, and a dining room and refreshment parlor accommodated 250 people.  On the first floor there were a gift shop and grocery store; on the second floor of the Casino was a large dance hall.

In the same 1924 season the Grotto Cote D’Azur became the White Birch Inn, which was then owned by Ed Ambrose and Stanley Stogosky.  A double-block boarding house, on Hillside Avenue, owned by D.R. Williams, was converted into a new Grotto restaurant by Stella E. Starr and Sophie Osko.  The Grotto was later extended over the site of the old Williams store on the Lake front.  Bennethum purchased the Lakeview restaurant and the revitalized landmark now offered French pastry under the management of Ted Pringos.

By 1926 the long concrete bridge was deteriorating rapidly due to winter ice damage.  The county decided to build a short concrete bridge at Sunset.  Additional filing of the Inlet basin occurred to build the present bridge at Sunset, which was opened in 1928.


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Copyright 2006-2007 F. Charles Petrillo

Copyright 2006-2017 F. Charles Petrillo