Harveys Lake History

GHOST TOWNS OF NORTH MOUNTAIN:
RICKETTS, MOUNTAIN SPRINGS AND STULL
AN ABRIDGED VERSION

F. CHARLES PETRILLO

Ricketts Hard Wood Mill
FCP Collection

I. Introduction

The rural and mountainous area surrounding the intersection of Luzerne, Wyoming and Sullivan counties, and site of Ricketts Glen State Park, is known as North Mountain. Near Ricketts Glen, Bowmans Creek begins to flow generally eastward through the now-deserted ice-cutting town of Mountain Springs, through the former lumbering town of Stull, beyond the tannery town of Noxen, and onward to the Susquehanna River below Tunkhannock. North of the park at Ricketts Glen, Mehoopany Creek flows northeasterly through the ghost town of Ricketts and eventually to the Susquehanna River at Mehoopany.

In the two decades between 1890 and 1910 the North Mountain area was the scene of the last major lumbering era in our region. Lumbering was the economic basis for the towns of Lopez (1888-1905), Alderson (1887-1913) at Harveys Lake, and at Stull (1891-1906), and for an even larger operation at Ricketts (1890-1913). Ice-cutting was another industry at North Mountain during this era, with its major center at Mountain Springs (1891-1949) along Bowmans Creek, and to a smaller extent at Ganoga Lake (1897-1919). The ice industry continued to operate for more than three decades after the end of lumbering at North Mountain, closing as mechanical and electrical refrigeration came into nearly universal commercial and household use immediately after World War II.

This article reviews the history of three ghost towns of North Mountain: Ricketts, Mountain Springs and Stull. The story of Mountain Springs and Stull is the story of Albert Lewis (1840-1923), while the town of Ricketts is the story of Col. R. Bruce Ricketts (1839-1918).

 

II. Albert Lewis

Albert Lewis (1840-1923) was born in Montreal, Canada. His father, Abijah Lewis, relocated to Beaumont (beyond Bear Creek) in Buck Township where Abijah engaged in lumbering. Later, the family business relocated to the White Haven area. Albert Lewis, as a youth, worked for the Lehigh Valley Railroad which itself had interests in the canal, mining and lumbering prospects of the Lehigh River region. Lewis eventually purchased extensive lumbering lands along the Bear Creek and Lehigh River watersheds. In even later years, as the forests were stripped, he began a massive ice-cutting operation at artificial lakes built along Bear Creek.

Albert Lewis
FCP Collection

In 1874 Lewis, along with other investors associated with the Lehigh Valley Railroad, purchased 13,000 acres of North Mountain lands from Col. R. Bruce Ricketts, who owned most of the land in northwestern Luzerne County and beyond in Wyoming-Sullivan counties. However, Lewis was unable to develop the lands for lumbering until the 1880's when a railroad line began construction from the Wyoming Valley to Harvey's Lake followed by an extension through the North Mountain region.

The Wilkes-Barre and Harvey's Lake Railroad was constructed by Lewis from Luzerne to the Lake between 1885 and mid-1887, when Lewis sold it to the Lehigh Valley Railroad. Lewis continued construction of the railroad to Noxen and along Bowman's Creek and by July 1, 1893, it was operational to Ricketts and Bernice in the North Mountain region. This Lewis-built railroad extension was sold to the Lehigh Valley Railroad which named it the Bowmans Creek Branch. At the coal town of Bernice, the railroad linked to the State Line and Sullivan Railroad, another Lehigh Valley Railroad venture, with a reach to Towanda.

At the north end of Harvey's Lake the village of Alderson flowered between 1887 and 1913. A Lewis lumber mill constructed along the Lake shore milled timber from the Lake region.

Lewis' partner in the lumbering business in the Harveys Lake region was Adam Stull (1833-1909) who had married Lewis's oldest sister Malvina "Vinnie" Lewis. Stull, too, also descended from a lumbering family.

North Mountain House
FCP Collection

The Bowmans Creek Branch of the Lehigh Valley Railroad served the Lewis and Ricketts timber and ice-harvesting holdings, and with a Ganoga Branch spur it served Ricketts' North Mountain House hotel (1873-1903) and an ice company at Ganoga Lake. The hotel closed in November 1903. The last Ganoga ice freight was in 1919 and the Ganoga Branch closed in 1922 (although there is evidence ice harvesting continued on a sporadic local basis at Ganoga until 1951). The Bowmans Creek Branch removed its tracks between Lopez and Mountain Springs in 1938, closed the line from Mountain Springs to Noxen in 1948, closed Noxen to Dallas in July 1963, and finally closed its last link of rail line from Dallas to Luzerne in December 1963.

 

III. The Ganoga Lake Branch

Ganoga Lake Station
FCP Collection

On July 10, 1893, the Lehigh Valley Railroad began construction of the 3.6-mile Ganoga Lake Branch railroad from Rickets to the log-built Ganoga station near Ganoga Lake. Built over an 1892 Trexler and Turrell logging railroad bed, and finished with culm ballast from Wyoming Valley mining waste, it was operational two weeks later on July 24, 1893.

Ganoga Lake was originally called Robinson's Lake, after an early hunter who camped there. Ricketts renamed the lake Highland Lake. At an elevation of 2.260 feet above sea level, it has the highest elevation of any natural lake in Pennsylvania. By 1881 it was commonly known as Ganoga Lake, supposedly a Senaca Native American name for "on the mountain."

Ganoga Ice House
FCP Collection

The Ganoga Lake Ice Company built an ice house at Ganoga in the late winter of 1894-95. While accounts vary, the ice house was likely 300 feet long, 100 feet deep, and 50 feet high. It had 10 rooms to store ice with a total capacity of 20,000 tons. A short railroad spur ran from the Ganoga station to the ice house at Ganoga Lake. Additional tonnage, however, was cut and shipped directly on LVRR railroad cars before storage of ice at Ganoga for shipment to purchasers during the balance of the year. In December 1895 the Ricketts and Trexler interests formally incorporated the company.

In April 1901 principals of the ice company formed the Ganoga Ice Company to continue its sales to the LVRR but also to retail ice sales at an office and warehouse near downtown Wilkes-Barre. It was estimated in 1902 that the Bowmans Creek Branch railroad carried 4,582 railroad cars of lumber and ice from North Mountain. If joined, the train would be 33 miles long.

A few years later the Ganoga company was leasing its actual ice-harvesting on the lake to other companies. In late 1909 a second ice house, 100 x 200 x 50 feet, was built to the rear of the original ice house to expand capacity.

The North Mountain House hotel closed in early November 1903 and would later be razed. The LVRR claimed it last carried passengers on the Ganoga Branch in 1900, but it still had a passenger run advertised as late as early 1906. The last freight on the branch, likely ice stored from the 1918-1919 winter harvest, was shipped in October 1919 and the LVRR formally closed the Ganoga Branch in February 1922. Local ice-harvesting on Ganoga Lake was continued by farmers, the Ricketts Estate, and the North Mountain Fishing Club as late as 1951.

In the meantime, the Ganoga Ice Company was acquired by R. A. Davis (1890-1956) in 1924. Davis would consolidate regional natural ice harvesting companies into the 1940s. Davis did not harvest ice at Ganoga. Rather, Davis wanted the attractive tradename and its sales operation in Wilkes-Barre. Davis harvested ice from other lake operations he owned and he also acquired ice from other operators. His company both wholesaled and retailed ice into the mid-1950s.

 

IV. Stull

First Stull Mill
FCP Collection

As the railroad reached through the North Mountain area, it opened the virgin wilderness to lumbering, ice-cutting and tanning firms. The bark from hemlock trees held tannin, a chemical used to transform animal hides into leather. Noxen, on Bowmans Creek near Harvey's Lake, became a center for the tanning industry in the early 1890's. Indeed, the tannery operation at Noxen only closed in 1961. Further up the creek, about two miles, there was a small settlement known as Stonetown, after Ben Stone, a local millwright and postmaster. Immediately above Stonetown, Lewis and Stull built a dam on Bowmans Creek to pond timber. A small lumber mill was built, and the town named Stull grew rapidly. Similar to Alderson, the town of Stull had a company store, church, school, railroad depot, company houses, farms and, of course, the mill.

Little is known about the daily activities of Stull since company records of the Stull family do not exist, nor do Lewis records of his Lake region enterprises. The few remaining photographs of Stull were preserved by the late Albert (Bert) Stitzer of Shavertown. Stitzer had worked at Stull in his youth. The original mill at Stull burned in 1902. A larger mill was constructed but it, too, burned in 1906. After the fire in 1906 Lewis and Stull did not rebuild the mill. Lumbering in the Lake region, at best, only had a few years left before the forests were depleted. Consequently, Lewis and Stull shifted their remaining lumbering activities to the Alderson mill, which itself closed in 1913 with the mill razed in 1916.

With the loss of the mill in 1906, the town of Stull lost any substantial basis to continue; it was a one-industry town. Farming continued in the general area, and undoubtedly many of the workmen found employment at Alderson, or in the winter with the local ice industry, or they found odd jobs in the area.

Arthur L. Stull
Courtesy, Arthur A. Stull

The management of the Lewis and Stull operations also changed. Arthur Lewis Stull (1862-1942), the son of Adam Stull and nephew of Albert Lewis, had acquired his father's interest in the enterprises along Bowmans Creek. In 1911-1912 Arthur L. Stull and Albert Lewis split up the operations. Stull received about one-quarter of the lumber lands along upper Bowmans Creek, the ice operations at Mountain Springs, and the Alderson operations. Lewis retained 15,000 acres in the Lake region (which the Lewis Estate sold to the Stull interests in early 1927). After the 1911-12 sale, Lewis turned his interest to his massive ice plants in the Bear Creek area; he was variously known as the Lumber or Ice King of the Wyoming Valley.

 

V. Mountain Springs

In 1891 the Albert Lewis lumber company built a dam on Bowmans Creek a few miles above Stull to "splash" logs down the creek to the mill. Water released from the 40-acre lake behind the dam was designed to carry logs down the stream to the mill pond at Stull. But the splash dam did not work well due to the winding character of the creek to Stull. The lake became Ice Dam No. 1 and was converted by Lewis and Stull to ice-cutting purposes. In 1909 Ice Dam No. 2 was built about one mile further up Bowmans Creek. It, too, was a 40-acre lake.

Mountain Springs No. 2
FCP Collection

During the winter months, the Lewis and Stull company (and after 1911-1912 the Stull family only) employed about 150 men to cut ice, initially at Beech Lake, a small natural pond above the ice dams, and then at the two larger ice dams. The men generally worked six days each week and ten-hour days. At Dam No. 1 there was a small village with a depot, boarding house, and post office. There was no village or services, other than the ice house, at Dam No. 2. Some men lived in railroad cars at the site; others hiked in daily.

Crews had to plow the snow off the ice to clear the surface. The "ice field" was marked into sections, and cut by horse-drawn ice plows (and later by mechanical gas-driven saws) into "floats" 55 feet by 80 feet. The floats were drawn into a channel of water to two sets of gang saws which cut the floats into thirty ice cakes 22 inches by 32 inches each. The thickness of the ice varied with the severity of the season. About 40,000 tons of cakes were loaded into railroad cars for shipment; then the men filled the ice houses at Dam 1 and 2. The two ice houses were 300-400 feet long, 100-150 feet wide, and each 32 feet high. Each held about 65,000 tons of ice. During the summer about 20 men were employed to load railroad cars with ice from the ice houses.

Ice Float at No. 2
FCP Collection

The major buyer of Mountain Springs ice was the Lehigh Valley Railroad to serve its refrigerated railroad cars. Otherwise, the ice appears to have been sent to Wilkes-Barre and to northward retailers and to New York City. However, the common ice-box was rapidly replaced by the refrigerator immediately after World War II, and the ice business drew to a close. The ice house at No. 1 Dam was closed earlier during the February 1936 harvest when three rooms collapsed after a heavy snow. Harvesting on No. 1 continued later but only to cut and ship ice on the railroad. In late 1945 R. A. Davis and John White purchased the Stull interests at Mountain Springs. The R. A. Davis Company would also purchase the Lewis Estate ice operations at Bear Creek, and other ice companies in the Poconos. Mountain Springs closed as an ice operation after the February 1949 harvest. The No. 2 ice house burned in December 1949, and the last family left the town in 1954.

The State eventually acquired the two ice dams, which were managed by the Fish Commission, and Dam No. 1 was drained in 1957. Dam No. 2 was rebuilt as a concrete dam and enlarged in 1964. Fishing at the dam was sometimes limited by acid-rain damage to the water and fish population. No. 2 Dam was drained in late 2012 and in 2017 the State implemented a plan to breach the dam due to concerns over the integrity of the concrete dam.

 

VI. Col. R. Bruce Ricketts

Ricketts Stone House - Ganoga
FCP Collection

Col. R. Bruce Ricketts' father was Elijah Ricketts who settled in Orangeville, Columbia County, in the early quarter of the 1800's. Elijah and his brother, Clemuel, held commercial interests and were sportsmen attracted to Long Pond, now Ganoga Lake. They built a large stone house at Ganoga in 1852 which still stands. The house was the Ricketts' personal lodge, but they also operated it as the Long Pond Hotel. When Col. R. Bruce Ricketts opened the wood-framed North Mountain House hotel in 1873, the Stone House was reserved exclusively as the Ricketts summer home.

R. Bruce Ricketts was one of two sons of Elijah Ricketts affected by the Civil War. The son, William W. Ricketts, entered the Civil War and died of disease, likely typhoid fever. Accounts that he died of battle wounds are in error. The plan of R. Bruce Ricketts to become a lawyer was interrupted by the War. He commanded an artillery unit which participated in several major battles. He gained fame on July 2, 1863, the day before Picketts charge and the defeat of the Confederate forces, when Ricketts' forces withstood a Confederate night-attack against Ricketts' artillery battery which was defending Cemetery Hill, which if lost would have offered a decided advantage of high ground to Confederate forces at Gettysburg.

Elizabeth R. And Col. R. B. Ricketts
FCP Collection

After the War, Ricketts systematically acquired about 65-000-80,000 acres of virgin timberlands in Luzerne, Sullivan and Wyoming counties. Accounts vary as to Ricketts' actual holdings because at varying times he had options, joint ventures and partnerships with other North Mountain speculators. His acquisitions capitalized on his father and uncle's holdings, and on his extensive purchases of new lands from tax sales. His was a highly speculative venture by which Ricketts had hoped to become rich in the 1870's. Ricketts fortunes were clearly aided by his marriage to Elizabeth Reynolds whose family held considerable wealth from banking and other enterprises in the Wyoming Valley. But the vast timberlands were useless without a railroad to serve the area. A couple of early railroad ventures in the 1870s failed.

By the late 1880's Ricketts still owned about 45,000 acres of land, having sold considerable acreage in 1874 to Albert Lewis along Bowmans Creek. Ricketts almost became a millionaire in the early 1890's when a British-based firm agreed to purchase Ricketts' holdings for a major lumbering operation. But a depression occurred, and the British plan failed.

 

VII. The Town of Ricketts

In 1891 Ricketts settled for a business arrangement with Trexler and Turrell, a large lumbering firm based in Allentown which was already in the lumbering business in Lopez, north of the Ricketts Glen area.

Uptown Ricketts
FCP Collection

Trexler and Turrell built a small dam on Mehoopany Creek 3.4 miles north of the present entrance to Lake Jean at Ricketts Glen State Park on Route 487. Here, "downtown" Ricketts bloomed, a commercial center with a railroad station, hotel, company store, school, company houses, and a mill to produce finished wooden products such as heads and staves for barrels.

Further up Mehoopany Creek at "uptown" the lumber company built a larger dam, the mill site for a major hard wood lumber mill. There was another school and additional housing and auxiliary buildings. The Sullivan-Wyoming counties line split Ricketts. The site known as "uptown" was located in Davidson Township, Sullivan County, but "downtown" was in Forkston Township, Wyoming County.

The Stone House at Ganoga Lake, which R. B. Ricketts had acquired from his father and uncle's estate, served as the Ricketts summer mansion, as the family had a baronial home at 80 South River Street in Wilkes-Barre, now Rifkin Hall, a Wilkes University women's dormitory.

Mill Street, Ricketts
FCP Collection

Ricketts did not participate in the actual operation of the lumbering business. He leased his vast holdings to Trexler and Turrell who paid a "stumpage fee" to Ricketts for the felled timber. Business records of the Ricketts operation are not available, but during the life of the Ricketts lumbering operation, Ricketts received an estimated $720,000.00 from the operation in stumpage fees plus an interest in profits from the lumber company.

Ricketts was a company town, and "dry." The workmen had to travel to Lopez to purchase liquor. In other respects, Ricketts was a typical lumbering town, one of many which dotted the forests of northeastern and central Pennsylvania at the turn of the century. Ricketts had a fairly stable population of about 800 people. The social structure included woodsmen who lived in temporary boarding houses in the woods, semi-skilled men who worked in the two major mills in the town, a few supervisory personnel who directed the operations, and a service class, such as a local barber, storekeeper, blacksmith, physician and hotel keeper. The workmen had their pay docked at one dollar a month to support a doctor, a form of socialized medicine.

Numerous families lived at Ricketts, and the town supported two schools, and a Lutheran Church. There was also a club house, dance hall and baseball team. In every respect, Ricketts was a full community, served by a train which passed between Towanda and Wilkes-Barre four times daily. However, there was no cemetery in the community, and apparently, if deaths occurred, the deceased were sent to home towns, usually nearby, for burial.

The Ricketts estate and Ganoga Lake were reserved for the Ricketts family and its social network from the Wyoming Valley. A branch line of the railroad ran from the town of Ricketts to Ganoga, and Col. R. B. Ricketts protected the Ricketts estate and the famous waterfalls from lumbering.

Ricketts Log Train No. 5
FCP Collection

In the spring the hemlock forests were stripped of bark, which was sent to area tanneries including Noxen. The felled timber was later loaded on railroad cars and sent to the large mill at Ricketts which produced huge quantities of lumber. Other timber was used at the smaller mills in downtown Ricketts to produce barrels, barrel heads, excelsior (a wood packing product), and other rough soft-wood products. The lumbering operations in the woods was served by temporary railroad lines built by the Trexler company. Over time six locomotives were used in the woods to reach the virgin timber on North Mountain.

In 1905-06 Ricketts sought to develop hydro-electric power and water supply dams on top of North Mountain. These reservoirs could potentially provide water to Wilkes-Barre. Ricketts rebuilt an older log dam on the west branch of Kitchen's Creek to create Lake Rose. He replaced an old log dam on the Sickler Branch of Kitchen's Creek with a concrete dam called Lake Leigh. He reinforced another log dam near Mud Pond to create Lake Jean. After the famous Austin Flood in 1911 due to a dam failure in Potter County, the state compelled the closure of the Ricketts dam projects.

In April 1958 the Lake Leigh dam burst after a severe storm and 2,000 visitors at the park had to flee. This break was repaired but eventually the Lake Rose and Lake Leigh dams were fully breached by the state and the two lakes drained.

Major areas of Col. Ricketts' vast properties were systematically timbered through 1912 with limited operations into June 1913, although the Ganoga and central waterfall areas were never timbered. When the Ricketts operations closed in late June 1913, the town ceased to function. There was no other industry in the area to support the town, and lumbering elsewhere in the region was also declining. After closure of Ricketts in 1913, the Ricketts Estate lumbered as the Big Run Manufacturing Company, manufacturing barrel heads and staves at a new operation in Sonestown, Sullivan County, until 1922. In 1916-1917 Ricketts leased the logging roads and buildings at the town of Ricketts to the Central Pennsylvania Lumber Company which was timbering in the Mehoopany Creek watershed. This company had scattered lumbering operations in northcentral Pennsylvania and closed its Laquin operations in 1925, its Masten mills in 1930, and its last lumbering mill at Sheffield in 1941.

 

VIII. The Ricketts Legacy

Following the decline of the lumber industry in Pennsylvania in the pre-WWI era, immense tracts of acreage in the state were abandoned by lumber companies. In several instances these lands came into state ownership as state forest and game lands - or evolved into state parks.

Elizabeth R. Ricketts, left; R. Bruce Ricketts, right.
Ganoga Cemetery
FCP Collection

R. Bruce Ricketts died on November 13, 1918, two days after the end of World War I. His wife, Elizabeth, died six days later. They are buried in a private cemetery at Ganoga Lake.

Ricketts was survived by a son, William R. Ricketts (1869-1956), and two daughters, Jean H. Ricketts (1873-1929) and Francis Leigh Ricketts (1881-1970). The son William Reynolds Ricketts managed the Ricketts Estate.

After World War I Kitchen's Creek and the waterfalls trail (the Glens) were open to the public by the Ricketts Estate for sightseeing and hiking. The estate did charge a parking fee off Route 118 for access to the Glens. The state promoted the site as a day-trip for Depression-era families. The Ricketts heirs periodically sold portions of its considerable holdings to both private interests and to the State for State forest and game land reservations, but carefully preserved Ganoga and the Glens.

William R. Ricketts
FCP Collection

In 1924 Pennsylvania purchased 12,500 acres of former timberlands from the Central Pennsylvania Lumber Company to create State Game Land No. 13 near Ricketts Glen. Additional acreage over the next two decades was also acquired by the State to expand No. 13 and to create State Game Lands No. 57. No. 13 is the State's largest holding of Game Land and adjoins No. 57. Acreage within these purchases include holdings once held by the Ricketts Estate or the Stull interests. Uptown Ricketts in Forkston Township is within Game Land No. 57 and downtown Ricketts in Davidson Township is in Game Land No. 13.

In 1935 the Roosevelt Administration announced the creation of Recreational Demonstration Area Projects - a plan to develop new National Parks. Area Congressman C. Murray Turpin (1878-1946) supported acquisition of Ricketts Glen as a Federal park at nearly twice the size of the present 13,050-acre State park. The Federal park included creation of a three-mile long lake. A Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) forestry camp at Kitchen Creek was also planned in May 1935 to open on June 1, 1935. Designated CCC Camp SP.9.PA, the camp was never opened since the Federal project faltered. The Ricketts Estate could not come to financial terms with the Roosevelt Administration and the federal project was abandoned in February 1936.

In the fall of 1936 State forestry and area advocates began plans to acquire Ricketts Glen as a State park. Five years later in March 1941 State legislation was adopted to appropriate funds to purchase Ricketts Glen. Gov. Arthur James, from Plymouth, signed the legislation on August 1, 1941. Negotiations with the Ricketts Estate lingered through the balance of 1941 and 1942. In early January 1943 the State reached an agreement to purchase only 1,261 acres encompassing the Glens or waterfalls. The Glens trail opened as a State park on August 1, 1943.

In 1946 and 1950 the State acquired a combined additional 16,000 acres of Ricketts lands to expand the park and adjacent Game Lands. In 1949 the Lake Jean dam was rebuilt and the lake expanded to 245 acres and encompassed Mud Pond, a small natural lake once next to Lake Jean. Lake Rose was breached by the state in 1957 followed by Lake Leigh in 1969.

The State purchase of Ricketts lands did not include Ganoga Lake nor the Ricketts stone mansion. In October 1957 the 3,100- acre Ganoga estate was auctioned by the Ricketts Estate and a private development group, the Ganoga Lake Association, outbid the State for last remaining Ricketts Estate holdings on North Mountain. At the time it was reported that the State ceased bidding at $125,000 and the Association bid $130,000. The sale did reserve a 13- acre plot for the Ricketts family cemetery not far from Ganoga Lake.

 

IX. Afterword

There were 39 State parks before Ricketts Glen State Park was opened in 1943. In 2016 Pennsylvania had 121 State parks covering 295,000 acres. Only Alaska and California have more park land. The park system has over 39 million visitors annually. In 2010 Ricketts Glen had 324,507 visitors. In 2009 the Pennsylvania State Park system received national recognition as the best managed State park system in the nation.

In 1969 the Glens received Federal status as a registered National Natural Landmark. In 1993 it also received recognition as a Pennsylvania State Park Natural Area. One outdoor writer has called the Glens "the most magnificent hike in the State" and one of "the top hikes in the East."

 

This material is adapted from the author's work, "Ghost Towns of North Mountain: Ricketts, Mountain Springs and Stull (WHGS: Wilkes-Barre 1991)." The full text and a slide presentation for the 1991 work may be downloaded on the home page of the author's website: www.harveyslake.org. Since 1991, corrections are necessary to the original book and will be made on the website edition. This abridgment is updated with any needed corrections in this adaptation.

All material: Copyright © 1991, 2016, 2020 F. Charles Petrillo. All Rights Reserved.

 

© Copyright October 2020 F. Charles Petrillo