Harveys Lake History

The Lake's Lost Park:
The Traction Company Pavilion

Harvey's Lake Trolley Station
FCP Collection

By June 1887 the Lehigh Valley Railroad had constructed a passenger and freight line to Alderson at Harvey's Lake. The railroad also created and opened the Picnic Grounds, later Hanson's Amusement Park, in June 1891. By July 1893, the Lehigh Valley Railroad had rail service operating from Wilkes-Barre to the Lake to Towanda.

A decade later the Wyoming Valley's trolley system, the Wilkes-Barre and Wyoming Valley Traction Company, sought to build a competing trolley line from Wilkes-Barre to the Inlet at Harvey's Lake. Inlet was the early name for Sunset at the Lake. A new corporation was formed, the Luzerne, Dallas and Harvey's Lake Railway, and construction began in late 1893. Construction halted in November 1895 when Albert Lewis, a property owner in Dallas, associated with the LVRR, refused to sell critical Dallas property he owned to permit the traction company to proceed to the Lake.

Under Pennsylvania law at the time, a traction company could not condemn private property for a traction company right-of-way, but a railroad had condemnation rights under state law. In January 1896, the trolley investors chartered the Wilkes-Barre and Northern Railroad, condemned and acquired the necessary right-of-way, and proceeded with construction of its railroad to the Lake by late June 1897. A special excursion over the line for newspaper reporters was held on Sunday, June 27, 1897. A special run on the line occurred on Tuesday, June 29, 1897, with a six-car excursion for prominent guests from the Wyoming Valley. The line was open to the public on June 30, 1897.

The Harvey's Lake line was an awkward arrangement. Regular trolley service was available between Public Square and Luzerne. Wilkes-Barre and Northern steam locomotives completed the journey between Luzerne and the Lake.

In the meantime, the Wilkes-Barre and Northern built Fernbrook Park along its line in Dallas. It opened on June 5, 1897. The company had also acquired the Lake Grove House hotel at the Inlet to either enlarge it, or to replace it with a larger hotel. The railroad/later trolley line's terminus was on the top of a hill behind the Lake Grove House. In any event, another company would build the famed Oneonta Hotel (1898-1919) on the hill behind the site of the demolished Lake Grove House.

The Wilkes-Barre and Northern also constructed a dance pavilion and picnic grove near the terminus of the railroad, at the top of the newly named Oneonta Hill. The dance pavilion was never fully described in any news account. It opened on Saturday, July 3, 1897, with the Forty Fort Cornet Band playing a morning and afternoon concert program. On July 4, 1897, the Valley's most prestigious orchestra, Oppenheim's, played sacred and patriotic music with fireworks following in the evening. Samuel Oppenheim (1861-1938) was a violinist who led Wyoming Valley's "society orchestra." It performed at all area parks, public and private functions, and at numerous high-school graduations. Oppenheim was so in demand high-schools would schedule graduations around Oppenheim's available dates.

Samuel Oppenheim

The new picnic ground was simple: a dance pavilion, refreshment stands and 20 acres of virgin forest, perhaps with picnic tables, swings and similar basic amusements. The grounds did not adopt a formal name. In 1897-1898 it was sometimes called Lake Grove Park.

The combination trolley-railroad to the Lake had operational and financial difficulties. Its only significant passenger traffic was during the Lake's summer resort season, and it was plagued by accidents. In August 1898 the Wilkes-Barre and Northern Railroad was reorganized as a full trolley service from Luzerne to the Lake as the Wilkes-Barre, Dallas and Harvey's Lake Railway. By late 1898, its picnic grove was unimaginatively titled the Traction Company Pavilion.

While the Traction Company Pavilion did entice visitors, mainly for dance parties, the Lake trolley enabled reasonably priced access to other Lake attractions. Oneonta Hill led down to the majestic Oneonta Hotel for dining and accommodations and to steamboat landings for passenger rides across the Lake to the amusement park. The trolley accelerated the developments of the Inlet's lakefront. "Grandma Hill," matriarch of the Hill family, had a summer newspaper and candy stand on Oneonta Hill below the pavilion. But the Hill family also had a large refreshment, candy, café and souvenir shop at the Inlet bridge. The Hills served the summer Lake trade for twenty years. In 1905 a bowling alley was built at Inlet and a merry-go-round there was also available for a time. The old Rhoads Hotel was still operating, and it had bar services for the public. Intoxicants were not allowed at the Traction Company Pavilion.

Ethel Anderson and "Grandma" Hill
(Mrs. W. J. Hill, Sr.), right
FCP Collection

In these early years the traction company was optimistic about the future viability of the line. There was an early plan to extend the trolley along the Lake to Outlet. Later, there were plans to encircle the Lake with a trolley, but Lake cottagers vocally opposed any form of trolley extension.

It was an era when private automobiles were a luxury and radios were unknown. Dances were a universal recreational outlet sponsored by social organizations, fraternal societies, religious groups, gentile womens' societies, labor unions, major stores and area companies. Newspapers frequently ran a list of weekly dances throughout the Wyoming Valley, not only on weekends, but as often on weekdays. They were held at area parks during the summer, and as often at Valley dance halls during the colder months.

To reach the Lake, the Wilkes-Barre and Northern in July 1897 had 13 round-trips daily leaving Public Square, from 6:50 AM to 8:30 PM. Cars left the Lake for Public Square 13 times daily from 6:55 AM to 10:00 PM. A trip from Public Square to Dallas was 45 minutes and 60 minutes to the Lake.

At the end of the century, dances were often formal by present circumstances and reflected an Edwardian period when much popular music was often based on operatic classics or patriotic themes. An early account of a dance program at the trolley pavilion appeared in the Evening News on July 14, 1897.


Dancing Program

There will be dancing at Lake Grove Park, Harvey's Lake - music by Oppenheim's large orchestra on Wednesday evening, July 14. Here is the program:



Waltz-Sweet Repose


Two-Step Seranade

Victor Herbert


I P Royle


Sydney Jones

Two-Step-Buffalo News

B. Lamp

Waltz-Sweet Rosie O'Grady

M. Nugent

Schottisches-Lit and Lou

R. B. Hall

Two-Step-Stars and Stripes Forever



Victor Herbert

Lanciers-Der Vogelhandler


Two-Step-Houston Club

Wm. J. Goeckel



Two-Step-Cubs Libre

Mark C. James

Waltz-Auf Wiedersehn


Dancing Free


The first decade of the Traction Company Pavilion is poorly documented. By 1904 "moonlight" dances were occurring at the trolley pavilion, combined with late-night steamboat rides with a small orchestra also on the boat. The pavilion was also attracting family reunions, but reunions did not take hold there with its limited facilities. Reunions were more attracted to the LVRR picnic grounds or Fernbrook Park.

By 1910 the Traction Company Pavilion seemed to have revived, perhaps because the staid dances of the previous century were changing. On July 2, 1910, the pavilion hosted Rowley's 9th Regiment Band, not likely to program the operatic waltzes of the past.

Rowley's Band 1906
FCP Collection

Thompson H. Rowley (1869-1929) had been a member of Oppenheim's Orchestra. In 1901, Rowley formed his own band which was often associated with the Ninth Regiment Band, Wilkes-Barre. His band played martial music and popular hits. Rowley later organized the Shrine Band for the Irem Temple.

The pavilion typically opened on Memorial Day with Oppenheim's full orchestra for afternoon and evening performances. But a "large crowd" at the pavilion had little comparison with a holiday crowd at the LVRR picnic grounds. Rowley's Band drew significant numbers on July 4, 1913, at the pavilion. But the C.T.A.U. regiment (A Catholic temperance organization) had 5,000 guests at the LVRR picnic grounds, brought to the Lake, in part, in 32 railroad coaches.

Few accounts of the Trolley Company Pavilion appear between 1910-1919. A July 4 holiday drew thousands to area parks. July 4, 1914, saw 6,000 at Sans Souci Park in Hanover. The C.T.A.U. outing at the LVRR picnic ground alone had 2,450 guests. The traction company had a quota of 6,200 hundred riders to the Lake where they could spill over on to the steamboats to the picnic ground or to other Lake sites. At the Traction Company Pavilion Rowley's Band was the attraction. The 1914 season at the pavilion closed on Labor Day with a moonlight dance with Bahny's Orchestra and the "latest dance music." Prof. Jacob R. Bahny (1880-1938) was a Chicago native who moved to Wilkes-Barre where he taught violin at his downtown studio. He created his orchestra around 1910.

Open-Sided Summer Lake Trolley
FCP Collection

In the earliest decades of the new century, trolley companies introduced open-sided trolley cars for summer runs, especially to area parks, including Fernbrook Park and to the Lake.

In May 1915 a news account reported the traction company planned to add a merry-go-round at the Lake pavilion and it was already at the site for assembly. Oddly, there was no further account of the carousel in any later year. On July 2, 1915, the Oppenheim Orchestra announced it was engaged at the pavilion for Saturday evening dances for the season.

In late May 1918 the Saxton Club, Wilkes-Barre, opened the Traction Company Pavilion season with a dance. The Saxon Club was formed around 1910 and sponsored weekly dances at Valley halls in colder months and at area parks during the summer.

On Tuesday, August 13, 1918, 1,300 delegates and guests from the International Typographical Union at a Scranton convention descended on the Lake for a day's outing. Most were at the Oneonta Hotel with several hundred at the Traction Company Pavilion. Tropical morning heat suddenly changed to torrential rain and lightning. Some guests retreated by trolley back to Wilkes-Barre and then to Scranton but were stranded in trolley cars when conditions caused a power failure and shut down the line. Others at the Lake took shelter in the Oneonta Hotel and took command of pianos and engaged in impromptu entertainment. At the Traction Company Pavilion the guests packed into the dance hall and the music of the Big Six Band from New York City. Pelting rain dripped over the edge of the roof spraying the backs of more unfortunate guests.

Oneonta Hill to Lake and rear of Oneonta Hotel
FCP Collection

The post-WWI years from 1919 to 1920 are well-documented and suggest a renewal for the traction company's park, but actually its viability was ending. After the War, prominent young men in the Wyoming Valley formed the Paramount Club. They initially held dances for only its members and invited guests. In 1919 the club began to sponsor public dances. On Memorial Day 1919, the Paramount Club engaged Harry MacDonald's 6-piece jazz orchestra at the Traction Company Pavilion, and continued dances there every Saturday evening. By August 1919, the Paramount Club was holding dances every Tuesday and Saturday evenings, at times with MacDonald's full orchestra. The popularity of the club's dances at the Lake prompted the club to also sponsor Friday evening dances at Croop's Glen, Hunlock's Creek. After the summer season at the Lake, the club continued its dances at various city venues until late in the year. In 1919 the Saxon Club also continued to have dances at the pavilion including a final moonlight dance on August 27 from 8 to 12 pm with the Scranton Serenaders.

The Paramount Club resumed its Lake dances on Memorial Day 1920 with a reformed MacDonald's orchestra, now renamed Gilligan's. Admission to a dance was 40 cents. The pavilion also was now serving in a unique way, as a site for Sunday morning mass with Father M.E. Lynott, pastor of the Saint Ignatius Church, Kingston. The first mass was on Sunday, July 4, 1920, and about 200 attended.

Other sponsors of dances at the pavilion in 1920 included the Nonparell Club and the Magnetic Club, but it was largely the Paramount Club which utilized the pavilion. The Magnetic Club was composed of young men who were employed by the Owen Magnetic Company which built early hybrid-electric automobiles at its Welles Street plant in Forty Fort. The building plant still stands.

In 1921 Rev. Lynott held another pavilion mass on May 28, 1921. Saturday, May 29, 1921, was the opening of L.C. Schwab's Sunset Pavilion, an open-air roofed dance hall built over the Lake, across from Carpenter Road. It was an immediate success opening with Gilligan's All Star Six band and Kleinkauf's Big Eight Band on Memorial Day.

Sunset Pavilion, 1921

The Sunset Pavilion, with its view of the lake from three sides, and the sunset to the west, doomed the Traction Company Pavilion. The Sunset Pavilion also lent its name to the gateway to the Lake and the Sunset name still resonates there a century later.

The last advertised dance at the Traction Company Pavilion was the Atlas Club hosting MacLuskie's Orchestra on Memorial Day 1921. There is no further notice of the pavilion's operation until August 1925 when the Fraternal Order of Police held an annual convention in Wilkes-Barre. On August 11, the FOP delegates took trolleys to the Lake where they used the pavilion as a base for lunch before boarding three steamboats for rides around the Lake.

Trolley traffic to the Lake had peaked in 1914 and in that year 65 per cent of passenger service was in the four months of June to September. In early July 1931 trolley service from Idetown to the Lake at Oneonta Hill was closed and a bus ran from Idetown to the Lake. After the summer of 1932 the trolley from Dallas to Idetown was closed as was the Public Square to Dallas run in April 1939. Thereafter, bus service operated to Dallas with a transfer bus service to the Lake.


Copyright April 2021 F. Charles Petrillo


Copyright 2006-2021 F. Charles Petrillo