Harveys Lake History

Watahunee Park

FCP Collection

For four decades Watahunee Park was a popular gathering place for reunions, musical events, and church, union, and business picnics.

The park is located on Sgarlat Road near the present-day Lake-Noxen Elementary School. At an earlier time, it was usually identified as behind the Laketon High School (which was destroyed in an arson fire in February 1979).

The earliest notice of the park in area newspapers was in an article about the Zavada family reunion on August 3, 1947, "...at the Frank B. Sgarlat Estate, Watahunee Park, Harvey's Lake." The family reunion president was Joseph B. Zavada, chief of police of Exeter Borough.

Frank B. Sgarlat (1881-1937) was a highly-respected contractor who was a native of Sicily and arrived in the United States in 1903 and became a U.S. citizen in 1912. He initially worked in New York and in Philadelphia-area construction work until he relocated in 1904 to the Wyoming Valley where he built 200 homes and operated a large sand and gravel pit near his Forty Fort home. In later years, the business he founded became the Frank B. Sgarlat Sand and Gravel Company. He also served as a bank director and was known for his community activities.

The Sgarlat family had other substantial and historical impact in the Lake region. A brother of Frank B. Sgarlat, World War II veteran Harry E. Sgarlat, married Helen M. Kochan who would own Scarlet's Inn, Sunset, and later Sandy Beach. Joseph C. Sgarlat (1885-1969) founded his own gravel and sand enterprise in 1939 which became the Airport Sand and Gravel Co., Inc., and he developed Sgarlat Lake, Carpenter Road, in Lehman Township, in 1933 as a picnic grove.

The unusual name Watahunee was explained in a Times-Leader article on June 11, 1968:

What-a-Honey, Wautahaunee, Whatahoney, Wat-A-Hunee, or Watahunee? Is it a breakfast cereal or the name of an Indian princess who once lived in Wyoming Valley?
No! These are some of the many ways local residents spell a Harvey's Lake picnic area in sending in announcements to the Times-Leader Evening News concerning outings and picnics.
A Back Mountain police chief began spelling the name of the park to a reporter this morning. Following the first few letters, he gave up in disgust and ended the conversation with "(Bleep, Bleep)."
"I don't know how to (Bleep) spell it."
Other officials wouldn't even give it a try.
Well, if any one cares, the correct spelling of the park owned by Joseph F. Sgarlat, Forty Fort, is "Watahunee." The owner said the park, opened in 1947, got its name after saying to his wife, "What a honey of a park this old farm will make."
From then it was known as What-a-Honey, Wautahaunee, Watahoney, Wat-A-Hunee and, oh yes, Watahunee.

Watahunee Park was operated by Joseph F. Sgarlat, president of the Frank B. Sgarlat Sand and Gravel Company, Forty Fort. The groups and organizations which utilized the park were a clear reflection of an earlier era of Wyoming Valley's business, union and religious life.

In mid-August 1948 the employees of Wyoming Textile Company, Local 956, Wilkes-Barre, held its annual outing at Watahunee, and featured a soft ball match with employees of Armours Packing Company. Wyoming Textile would return to the park in August 1949.

Silk mills and textile factories were once substantial industries in northeastern Pennsylvania. In 1934, during the Depression, silk mills employed 15,000 women in Luzerne County. The Wyoming Textile Company, at Blackman and High Streets, Wilkes-Barre, employed 150.

In August 1949. Lodge 1207, Loyal Order or Moose, West Pittston, held its annual clambake at the park. The following August 150 employees of Gort Girls' Frocks, Inc., Local 1120, CIO, held its annual outing. Gort Girls, Hudson, was another silk mill.

In July 1952, the annual picnic of St. John's Slovak Lutheran Church, Nanticoke, was held at Watahunee, one example of the religious diversity of the region. The annual Mahrajan, sponsored by the Kassab-Joseph Post 1487, Catholic War Veterans was at the park in July 1953. Mahrajan was a traditional summer festival featuring Lebanese food. The Lake's Lady of Victory Chapel, Warden Place, held its annual festival at Watahunee in mid-July 1955. Guests had a chance to win a Westinghouse clothes dryer.

In February of 1956, the Back Mountain Horsemen's Club sponsored a farmer dance at the park's pavilion.

On June 20, 1958, Watahunee Park opened with new features. The 30-acre grounds now sported a 9-hole chip and putt course, dance hall, swimming pool, and cottages to rent.

In the summer of 1958, the park hosted St. John's Russian Orthodox Church, Edwardsville. An early food store chain in the Valley, Economy Stores, held its annual picnic at Watahunne in July 1959. In a soft ball game, store employees beat a team of representatives of food manufacturers, by a score of 7-6. In 1960 the Economy Stores' picnic at the park drew 800 people.

Churches continued to hold annual picnics at Watahunne in the early 1960s. Examples are the Back Mountain's Prince of Peace Episcopal Church in June 1963; SS Peter and Paul's Greek Catholic Church, Plymouth, in June 1964; and St. Mary's Syrian Orthodox Church, Wilkes-Barre, in July 1964.

The Back Mountain Horsemen's Club returned with Farmer and Modern dances in the fall 1965, on Saturday evenings. The following July, the Homebuilders Association of Northeastern Pennsylvania held a park outing with a nail-driving contest. In September 1966 an outing for the new freshman class of men at Kings College had to be cancelled due to heavy rain.

In August 1969, 400 employees of the Kinder Manufacturing Company had its annual picnic and clambake at the park. Kinder manufactured upholstered furniture for mobile homes. It is an example of small industry drawn to the Valley in response to the death-knell of the anthracite coal and clothing industries.

In June 1970 Joseph F. Sgarlat, 55, passed away. Operation of the park would be continued by his son Joseph F. Sgarlat, Jr.

In 1970-1971 Farmer and Modern dances were periodically held, now sponsored by the Wyoming Valley Pony Club. The region's ethnic diversity was evident by an August 1974 Basket Picnic sponsored by the Northeastern Pennsylvania Association of Arab-Americans. In 1976 there were weekend flea markets.

On July 2, 1978, Watahunee Park hosted a concert with performances by the Scarlet Rivera Band, Pat Billy Stove and the Northeast Extension Band.

On July 29, 1979, the host Horizon Jazz and Bluegrass Festival debuted at the park. Performances were by John Coates, Jr., Asparagus Sunshine, the Mark Kirk Quartet, the Alan Guamer Quartet, and the River Street and Blues Mountain bands. The festival was sponsored by the Honky Tonk Saloon, Wilkes-Barre.

In August 1979, the park was the venue for a Country and Bluegrass Jamboree. September 1, 1979 was a concert date with the So River Street, Side Street and Small Ax bands.

In mid-summer 1980, WBAX Radio 1240 attracted 1,000 guests to Watahunee for a "Day of Country Sunshine." The crowd consumed 5,000 Hatfield hotdogs and 2,500 pounds of bar-b-cue.

The last significant event at the park noted in news accounts was the July 19, 1981, Big "O" Family Roundup in honor of State Senator Frank O'Connell, Kingston, an event supporting the very popular Republican state legislator.

The park continued to advertise its availability through 1984. The last news account was a wedding reception at the park in July 2008.


Copyright August 2021 F. Charles Petrillo