Harveys Lake History

The Lake With No Bottom

Charles B. Reif, Ph.D Candidate, University of Minnesota, c. 1938

I. The Myth and the Reality

For generations it was widely believed that Harvey's Lake had no bottom. Despite evidence to the contrary, this myth continued into the mid-twentieth century.

The Lake was discovered by Benjamin Harvey in 1781. Significant settlement at the Lake did not occur until the 1840s when the Lake's Outlet region was subject to major lumbering and early farming families moved to the Lake area.

The earliest printed comment about the depth of Harvey's Lake appeared in an 1858 history of the Wyoming Valley by minister-author Dr. George Peck. In this work, Peck quoted Harriet Meyers, a descendant of Andrew Bennett, who launched the first canoe on the Lake in 1800:

The white, pebbly bottom of the Lake is distinctly visible for quite a distance from the shore; but as we near the center it gradually disappears, the water becoming very deep, and assuming a look of inky blackness. We were told that a line ninety feet in length had been sunk here without reaching bottom.

Harvey's Lake 1858.
Peck's History of Wyoming

Peck's history also reproduced an early sketch of the Lake which was drawn by an unnamed guest at the Lake House, the Lake's earliest hotel built in 1855 at Sunset.

The next earliest source about the Lake was Stewart Pearce's Annals of Luzerne County, published in 1860. It described the Lake as fed by springs and 200 feet deep.

After Pearce's work the earliest note regarding the Lake's depth was an October 1877 newspaper description of the Lake which echoed Peck's work in 1858:

The depth of Harvey's Lake is variously stated. It averages, perhaps, sixty feet, and has spots like most of the inland lakes, where 'tis said the oldest inhabitant upon its shores, with the longest line ever tied together, has failed to find bottom. However this may be, one thing is certain - its waters are pure and clear, and its fish large and gamesome. Plenty of boats and lines make the latter assertion an easy thing to test. One of the finest aquaria I ever saw stands in the bar-room of the Lake House. It contains some twenty of the biggest and plumpest brook trout that ever haunted the brain of a wielder of the fly. Living like a happy family with these are several fine pickerel, bass and fish of other varieties.

A decade later a November 1887 news account stated that J.C. Morgan, an early Lake postmaster, had, some years earlier, measured the Lake's depth at nearly 100 feet with an average depth of 45 feet.

A Report of the State Commission of Fisheries which covered Pennsylvania's waterways, published in 1897, stated Harvey's Lake had a maximum depth of 130 feet.

Then in 1899 Oscar Jewell Harvey published a massive 1057- page, limited edition, genealogy of his family. "The Harvey Book" recounted in full for the first time Benjamin Harvey's discovery of the Lake. In the 1899 text O. J. Harvey stated that the Lake's maximum depth was 110 feet, at the junction of the Lake's two arms - but offering no source for his conclusion.

In mid-1914 the Pennsylvania State Water Commission sounded the depth of the Lake. It found the greatest depth of the Lake was 102 feet off Willow Point, a short distance north of Warden Place. It was the deepest fresh water lake found to date in Pennsylvania. The Water Commission was surveying all the streams, rivers and lakes in the state which would result in a state-wide inventory of state waters published in 1921.

These early findings did not seep into the public mind or dispel the myth that the Lake had no bottom.


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Copyright October 2019 F. Charles Petrillo