Harveys Lake History

The Lake With No Bottom


II. The Studies of Prof. Charles B. Reif

Professor Charles B. Reif,
Wilkes College 1958
FCP Collection

In 1933 Bucknell Junior College was founded in Wilkes-Barre. In 1947 the Junior College became Wilkes College (and in 1990 Wilkes University). In September 1942 Dr. Charles B. Reif, from Minnesota, joined the faculty of Wilkes College as a professor of biology at a salary of $2,600.00 annually. Reif received his undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Minnesota including his Ph.D in Zoology. He was a key member of a legendary pre and post- WWII first generation of beloved Wilkes College teachers and scholars.

Reif was intrigued by the myth that Harvey's Lake was bottomless. He conducted a preliminary review of Harvey's Lake within 15 months of his arrival at Wilkes College. He concluded the Lake's greatest depth was around 90 feet and he had already prepared an early contour map of the Lake. His work at Wilkes was interrupted when he joined the U. S. Navy in 1944-45 serving on the U.S.S. Sevier in the Pacific. The ship was a Personnel Attack Transport (PAT) which was on stand-by during the battles at Iwo Jima and Okinawa. Later in the decade at Wilkes Reif sought to conduct a more complete investigation of the Lake's depth. His research in the winter of early 1949, with the aid of Wilkes engineering students, was described in Scranton's Times-Tribune in October 1949:

For many years, stories have been heard that "there is no bottom in some places in Harvey's Lake," the largest natural lake in the state and located about 16 miles from Wilkes-Barre. That belief was shattered recently when Dr. Charles B. Reif, head of the biology department at Wilkes College, Wilkes-Barre, stated he and a group of student engineers from Wilkes had spent a goodly portion of last Winter and Spring in sounding the entire lake area. "Harveys Lake has a bottom despite the horrible tales of unexplained mystery attached to the depths of this famous body of water," the Professor said. "As a matter of fact the deepest place in the lake is only 90 feet and extends over approximately 100 water acres in the vicinity of the picnic grounds." The Wilkes educator has also sounded other lakes in this part of Pennsylvania. His expeditions, mostly on ice, have uncovered depths of 56 feet in Eagles Mere lake, 20 feet at Nuangola and 300 feet in Lake Wallenpaupak. He has told Wilkes-Barre friends the project to erase the Harveys Lake myth began early this year when he and his associates used most of their free time in carefully sounding the entire lake. Discussing his experiences, he said, "I have sounded and explored many lakes in the country and wanted to see just what was so unexplainable about the depth of Harveys Lake. The more I heard about it the most curious I became."

Another October 1949 article in Wilkes-Barre's Times-Leader describes in more detail Reif's method of measuring the Lake's depth:

Smash - and "splash" - goes another legend.
Harvey's Lake has a bottom despite stories that gain currency at times that the lake is fed by unplumbed springs.
Dr. Charles B. Reif, head of the Biology Department at Wilkes College, has spent a good deal of his time with a group of student engineers in sounding the entire lake area.
And, he asserts, "Harvey's Lake has a bottom. As a matter of fact, the deepest place in the entire lake is only 90 feet and that extends over approximately 100-acres in the vicinity of the picnic grounds."
Dr. Reif explained that since coming to this valley several years ago, [he heard] stories about Harvey's Lake having no bottom and the countless number of tales told by long-time residents about the 'monsters' which inhabit its depths.
"I had sounded and explored many lakes throughout the United States," the Wilkes professor pointed out, "and I was curious to find out just what was so mysterious about Harvey's Lake that it was thought to have no bottom."
The project to erase the myth began early this year, when Dr. Reif and a group of volunteer student engineers from the college used most of their free time in carefully sounding the entire lake.
The expedition began when the lake was frozen solid. This made coverage of the lake almost complete from the standpoint of accurately sounding spot checks in the second largest lake in Pennsylvania.
20-Pound Weights Dropped
Holes were bored into the ice and 20-pound weights, attached to strong cord, were dropped to the lake-bed. Throughout the entire operation, no point was found to exceed 90 feet in depth. The rest of the lake was of normal graduation.
For the purpose of double checking, the Wilkes College group returned after completing their first sounding of the lake and repeated the process - this time with a steel tape. Again, the results were approximately the same, with no error being more than six inches.
And about the "monster," Dr. Reif said the closest thing found to that category "were larvae of small flies that come to the surface during the Summer months, lay their eggs and die."
Dr. Reif has also sounded other lakes throughout this region. Expeditions have uncovered the depts of local lakes like Eagles Mere to be 56 feet; Nuangola, 20 feet; and Wallenpaupak, 300 feet.
Actually, Harvey's Lake is the largest natural lake in the State, since Wallenpaupak is man-made.

Reif's studies of the Lake in part prompted the sport of scuba-diving at the Lake as described in a Sunday Independent article on August 8, 1954:

Early Lake Scuba Divers:
Frank "Buck" Lewis, center, 1955
Courtesy, Frank Lewis

Until recently, the average guy couldn't afford to do anything to satisfy his curiosity [about scuba-diving.] Diving equipment just was not practical and only a few daredevils would venture into the deep - at a great expense, it might be added.
But when the armed services developed and used the aqua-lung, a light, completely portable and relatively inexpensive unit, Mr. Doe decided it was time he gave this thing a look-see.
A number of aqua-lung clubs have been organized along the coasts of the country - in California, Florida and New Jersey.
Recently a group of underwater explorers set up shop at Harvey's Lake. For years we've been hearing claims about the depths of the lake, in fact, a Wilkes College professor even charted the body by sonar. But these expert swimmers waited to get the facts for themselves.
The whole idea, which led to one of the first inland water aqua-lung groups, was conceived last winter by Bucky Kelly of Forty Fort and Jerry McGroarty, North Wilkes-Barre.
Began Diving
Kelly and McGroarty had been doing some diving with face masks and fins, but found that they were hampered in that they could only stay down for a matter of seconds before coming up for air.
Once they decided to buy some equipment, two friends, George Dombek, King's College football player from North Wilkes-Barre and Bill Foote of South Wilkes-Barre, former Wilkes wrestler, decided they wanted "in", too.
Last may the equipment arrived and was promptly tested in the Central YMCA pool by the eager group.
When the lake waters became warm enough for the anxiousgroup, around the end of May, they took their lung, air compressor, masks, fins, rubber suits, etc., in all costing about $625, and began experimenting in the depths of the lake.
These Wyoming Valley versions of "Frogmen" are veterans by now, and a host of others have joined them in their fascinating hobby. Recently the dock of Mal Lewis has been a bee-hive of activity every week-end with what passers-by described as "characters running around in "Man-from-Mars" costumes."
The Lewis dock, about a half mile from the picnic grounds, has become headquarters for a host of aqua-lung enthusiasts.
There is vegetation on the bottom, plus, of course, many man-made objects that have either been thrown away or have sunk. A Sunday Independent reporter who yesterday made a 15-minute trip to the bottom was amazed at the wonder of it all.
Sighted were a sunken boat of a by-gone era, sunken logs, and other debris, but mostly plants and weeds spreading as on a sloping field.
Three Layers
There are three layers of water in the lake, which the ordinary swimmer would never find. The top layer, in which surface bathers swim, is warm - at least in warm weather. A second layer, about 10 to 15 feet down is very cool, and the third, which ranges anywhere from 25 feet to the deepest bottom of the lake, is downright cold. This is the layer that is fed directly by the springs which fill the lake. When the human fish descend to this depth, they use their skin-tight suits, under which they fortify themselves well against the cold with several sets of flannel long johns.
The mask worn on the face enables razor-sharp vision and the waters act like a giant magnifying glass. The sun shines right to the bottom bringing illumination to even the deepest spots.
Fish, which ordinarily shy away from humans on the shores, completely ignore the men in the lungs. A foot-long bass swam by only several feet in front of the swimmers yesterday, causing Kelly to quip, "we have an answer for disgruntled fishermen now. They can't claim there aren't any fish in the lake anymore. We know better."
These ultra-modern swimmers are the talk of the lake. No longer does the commonplace motorboat draw the attention it used to. No sir. The cry is "watch for the 'frogman'." They do pop up in the darndest places.
Others Join In

Lake Divers, Don Hanson,
Malcom Lewis, c. 1955
Courtesy, Bruce Hanson

Others who purchased their own equipment include Lewis, a Forty Fort resident, Joe Augoway, city, and Don Hanson of the Lake. Adrian Pearsall, another "frogman," decided on different equipment, a hydra-pack, which works on the same general principal, for his jaunts into the deep.
The aqua-lungs, of which there are four in use at the lake, consist of a tank, a feeder device, which transmits air and exhales CO-2, and rubber tubing which fits comfortably in the mouth.
The tanks are refilled by the original group, which bought an air compressor. Breathing easily, one can stay submerged for as much as an hour on one tank, and up to three hours with a combination of three tanks hooked in series. The deeper you go, though, the more you use. They've been down 97 feet.
A new world opens under the lake. The first time you go down, you're a little scared, but then, it's a new experience.
After two or three -minutes swimming among the reflected rays of the sun, in crystal-clear water, the timidness leaves and you are lost in the sheer beauty of another existence.
You don't go right down to the bottom, though. You proceed at depths of 10 feet or so to enable your ears to get used to the pressure. Once you get on the bottom, say some 30 or 40 feet below the surface, Harvey's Lake looks like a tremendous valley, with mountains rising on all sides.

Tommy O'Brien would open his Sunset diving school a year later in 1955. His business boomed with Sea Hunt, the 1958-1961 TV series starring Lloyd Bridges as Mike Nelson in his scuba-diving adventures.

Later in the decade, Dr. Reif and another Wilkes College student team again explored the depths of Harvey's Lake, using more modern sounding equipment and double checking their findings. The account of Reif's more recent findings was covered in a Sunday Independent article on January 5, 1958:

Professor Charles B. Reif,
Wilkes College, 1966
FCP Collection

The wild and woolie tales that almost every resident of this region has heard at one time or another about Harvey's Lake being bottomless will never again be told without someone telling the narrator of such untruths to go and get lost.
Put on the local market just recently was a map showing the lake and it not only has a bottom, but it's approximately 93 feet - give or take a foot - at its deepest point.
Behind the unveiling of what used to be the mystery of the so-called bottomless Harvey's Lake is Dr. Charles B. Reif, head of the biology department at Wilkes College.
Dr. Reif and a group of fellow instructors and students have been working at the task of completely checking the depth of the lake since 1943, when the Wilkes department head became interested in what was being called a bottomless lake.
"It just didn't sound right," he explained during the week. "Spooky stories are all fine and dandy, but looked at from the practical standpoint it seemed quite safe to assume that there had to be some kind of a bottom to the lake."
In his spare time Dr. Reif and his associates began to investigate. They planned their project with scientific approaches that would provide answers beyond question when they had completed it.
The entire lake was sounded and the information recorded by position from a small craft. Months later when a foot of ice had frozen across the lake, the group returned and checked their information. They found it to be correct.
"From a boat it was possible that our soundings would be off several feet because of drifting," Dr. Reif said, "but our recheck of the original soundings from the ice supported our early figures."
The college professor indicated that it wasn't exactly an easy job trying to take soundings from the ice.
"We had to use a hand auger and bore through about 12 inches of ice," he explained. "Then we had to drop a heavy weight and a steel line through the small opening."
He shivered as he recalled on experience on the ice. The thaw had set in and the ice along the edges of the lake had begun to melt. Dr. Reif and an associate, Cromwell Thomas, edged their way to the solid ice by using a plank from the shore.
"When we got ourselves about 50 feet from the shore," he said, "we heard the ice breaking beneath us and for a while it was not a comfortable thought that we might be dumped into the freezing water."
The local educator estimated that about 1,000 man-hours had been spent on the project. "But we're firmly convinced," he said, "that Harvey's Lake has a very real bottom and that it is not more than 93 feet at its deepest point."

Reif's Harvey's Lake Map 1958.
Copyright 1975, Luzerne County Historical Society.


Dr. Reif did point out that a slight variation might be possible in this figure depending upon the season of the year but he again emphasized that at best it would not reach 100 feet.

He called attention to the fact that every inch of the lake could not be sounded, but soundings were taken in distances and in grid fashion that would provide an extremely accurate picture of the lake's entire bottom.
"If there is a spot deeper than we found," he said, "it has to be less than 100 feet in diameter."
This was not the first water project undertaken by Dr. Reif. He participated in the sounding of several large bodies of water in Minnesota, which was his home state prior to coming to his post at the city college.
As to his next project. He claims he is not sure.
"You might say," he chuckled, "that I'll probably wait for another mystery to come along and then we'll get our crew together and try to solve it."

Dr. Reif also studied the claim that Lake Conneaut, near Erie, Pennsylvania, with a surface area of 947 acres, is the largest natural lake in the State rather than the 658 -acre Harvey's Lake. Conneaut Lake has a maximum depth of 85 feet but its average depth is 29 feet compared to an average depth of 36 feet at Harvey's Lake. His study prompted an editorial in the Times-Leader on March 31, 1958:

Now and then somebody inquires whether Harveys Lake is the largest natural body of water in Pennsylvania. A sign at Sunset describes the lake as the largest, but it is listed as the second largest by many sources of information. On the basis of acreage, the usual type of measurement, this appraisal is correct because the area of Lake Conneaut in Crawford County is 928 acres, and the area of Harveys Lake is 658 acres.
Charles B. Reif, biologist, member of Wilkes College faculty, who has made a special study of Harveys Lake reports that, on the basis of his map of Harveys Lake and the Pennsylvania's Fish Commission's map of Lake Conneaut, the volumes are respectively 7,733,000,000 gallons and 5,591,000,000 gallons.
On this basis, he said, Harveys Lake is the largest natural lake in Pennsylvania and Lake Conneaut is the second.
Granted that volume is not the usual criterion, Dr. Reif's reasoning is interesting and gives our community a toe-hold on our claim to possession of the bulkiest lake.

By 1975 Prof. Charles B. Reif had charted the "bathymetric information" for 28 regional lakes. Chemical data for the lakes were also determined by Reif's colleagues at Wilkes College, Prof. Howard Swain and Associate Professor Frances J. Salley. The 28 -lake study was presented to the Wyoming Historical and Geological Society (now the Luzerne County Historical Society) but was not formally published. The following notes the maximum depths found by Reif for several lakes:


Bear Lake
Bear Creek Lake
Blytheburn Lake
Lake Carey
Cummings Pond
Grassy Pond
Harris Pond 9'


Harvey's Lake
Lily Lake
Lake Louise
Moon Lake
North Lake
Lake Nuangola
Lake Silkworth



Lakes of significant depth have two natural phenomena. First, a lake will stratify into three distinct layers. In the summer the surface layer (or epilimnion), a warm dense layer of water, perhaps 15 to 25 feet deep, will form at the Lake. This layer may support blue-gills, sunfish and catfish, but not most game fish.

Below the surface layer is the thermocline (or metalimnion) in which the waters decline more rapidly with depth. Temperatures may drop two degrees every three feet. Here, cool-water game fish like bass, pickerel and pike may thrive due to a mix of oxygen, temperature and food.

Underneath the thermocline is a sharply defined body of cold, inactive water outside the sun's reach. This bottom layer (or hypolimnion) will support cold-water fish including lake trout if traditional food sources are not disrupted by pollution, unusually hot summers, or introduction of foreign fish populations - all of which may have contributed to the loss of the lake trout population at Harvey's Lake.

Scuba-divers are very familiar with the stratification of the Lake. They readily experience the temperature stability of the surface layers (75 degrees plus), the declining temperature (roughly 70 to 50 degrees) of the thermocline, and the shock of breaching the bottom layer (roughly 39 to 50 degrees).

Pennsylvania Angler, May 1952


Second, a lake with true depth will "turn-over" with a change of season. This phenomenon was described by Charles B. Reif in a January 1988 letter to the editor of the Times Leader:

During January, in ice-covered Harvey's Lake, the water at the bottom of the lake is warmer than the water at the upper levels of the lake.
The temperature of the water just under the ice is only slightly above the freezing point of water. It is at about 32.1 degrees Fahrenheit (F) or 0.1 degrees Centigrade (C).
Having the warmer water at the bottom of the lake, with a temperature of about 38 degrees F or 3.5 degrees C, is just the reverse of the thermal patterns in June when the warmer water is in the upper part of the lake and the cooler water is in the lower part of the lake.
The maximum depth of Harveys Lake is slightly more than 90 feet.
During the spring and fall of each year the water in the upper levels of the lake attains a temperature of 4 degrees C or 39.5 F and thus is at its maximum density. That is, it is heavier than water which is warmer or cooler.
Thus, in the fall and spring, the heavier water tends to sink into the depths of the lake and tends to force the lighter water upward. Those phenomena are called the "fall and spring overturns."
An overturn results in the mixing of the water of Harveys Lake and generally assures that oxygen is dissolved in the water throughout the entire lake.
During especially warm summers in the lower water of Harveys Lake, the oxygen is greatly reduced by the demands of the fish, algae and bacteria which need oxygen to stay alive.
Fish such as lake trout prefer the cooler and deeper water during the summer months and may die if insufficient oxygen is present.
As more and more nutrients are introduced into Harveys Lake the demand for oxygen is increased.
To have a lake with clear water which can also support game fish requires a careful balance of nutrients and oxygen. Human beings at present are putting more stress on Harveys Lake than the lake can support.

Pennsylvania Angler, May 1952


From 1977 through 1993 Dr. Reif published several studies he conducted at Harvey's Lake and other area lakes, which were published in the Proceedings of the Pennsylvania Academy of Science in Philadelphia. These studies would include the Lake's plankton life, water quality, and the impact of the illegal introduction of alewife fish in the Lake in 1979.

Reif formally retired as chair of the biology department at the end of the 1981-82 academic year after 41 years on the faculty, but he continued to teach at the college and maintain an office there for several more years. He served on the Pennsylvania Environmental Council, as President of the Osterhout Library, and as an original member of the Lake's Environmental Advisory Council in 1985. He provided invaluable research on the Lake's water quality and causes of the Lake's pollution crises during the 1980s -early 1990s.


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Copyright October 2019 F. Charles Petrillo