Harveys Lake History

The Lake With No Bottom


III. Life and Death at the Bottom

A. The Little Life

Professor Charles B. Reit,
Wilkes College, late in career.

Reif wrote numerous "letters to the editor" to the Times-Leader offering insights to the water-life at the bottom of Harvey's Lake and observations on the environmental crises challenging the Lake and the world.

In March 1989 he wrote a letter about the tiny creatures of the bottom of the Lake:

Despite the "unwintry" winter Luzerne County has been experiencing, life on the bottom of Harveys Lake has gone on as usual. Living in the ooze at the bottom of the lake are many creatures which go about their lives there throughout the year.
Most of those bottom-dwellers are insect larvae which are adapted to an aquatic life, even if the adult forms must rise to the surface and fly free in the air for their mating processes.
The adults live only a day or two. They lay eggs which settle to the bottom, if they are not eaten by small organisms before they reach the ooze.
Most conspicuous are the larvae of billions of midges. Those larvae contain hemoglobin so that they are blood red and so are called blood worms. In lakes which have much less oxygen than does Harveys Lake, at the bottom during summer months, the blood worms can survive a month or more without oxygen.
Two kinds of fingernail clams, the largest of which is only a quarter of an inch long, live in the deepest bottoms of Harveys Lake. They keep company with thread-like cousins of angleworms.
In the shallower bottoms are the immature forms of damsel flies and dragon flies. Voracious creatures, they compete for food and space with the caddis fly larvae which live in little cases they construct for their protection. They also share the bottom with the fresh water mussel with the beautiful green and yellow striped shells.
Whether the ice be thick or thin, the bottom-dwelling creatures, collectively called benthon, go about their existences undisturbed by what is happening outside of the lake, summer or winter.

He would also gently correct news accounts of the biosphere of the Lake causing the "algae scare" or pollution at the Lake in summer of 1991. Here, Reif is responding to a Times-Leader article by reporter Leanora Minai who used the commonly accepted term "algae bloom" describing the Lake which turned green, with Reif supporting the assertion by Lake resident David Abod that people significantly stressed the Lake. The article noted a proposed $70,000 environmental grant to study the pollution issue:

The recent article about Harveys Lake by Leanora Minai required much effort. She is brave to have undertaken that assignment but she did not have all the information necessary for a complete treatment of what to do about Harveys Lake.
Certainly, I do not have all the information, despite the research my colleagues and I have been doing since 1943. Limnological research is time consuming and expensive.
The Office of Naval Research gave me $5,000 to study the diurnal migration of waterfleas in Harveys Lake. The Harveys Lake Protective Association provided more than $1,000 so that my colleague, Alene Case, could analyze the water of Harveys Lake chemically. I have personally spent thousands of dollars of my own money in observing the plankton, and in publishing our findings. How nice it would be to have $70,000 to mount a comprehensive study of Harveys Lake, a project for which I am not fully qualified.
Permit me to make a few comments on certain points made in Minai's article. The organisms which cause the lake to turn green are not algae. They are cyanobacteria, commonly called blue-green bacteria. Cyanobacteria produce toxins which are harmful to people and other animals.
Populations of cyanobacteria are tremendous when the right kind of fertilizer is present in a lake in the summer when the temperature is suitable.
The true algae, most of which are beneficial and necessary in a healthy lake community, are no longer common in Harveys Lake. Their absence is puzzling.
David Abod is correct in saying that people are the problem, or at least it is people who can make a difference.
I doubt that the borough council knows what to do with $7 million if that amount were available for an attempt to restore Harveys Lake. It would be nice if that amount were available and it would be more than nice if the council knew how to spend that much money properly.
Every lake, as soon as it is formed, begins to age. The accumulation of material, both organic and inorganic, on the bottom of the lake, is normal. Such accumulation gradually fills the lake's basin so when the basin is full the lake may be said to be dead. As long as water is present in the basin the lake is alive.
What frightens me is that many forms of aquatic plants and animals which were common in Harveys Lake during the 1940s, that is, constituents of the plankton, are no longer present at all or are poorly represented, whereas other kinds of organisms which were not formerly represented are now common. This suggests a basic change in the nature of Harveys Lake.
Unfortunately, organisms which live in the ooze at the bottom of Harveys Lake have rarely been studied. The kinds and numbers of bottom-dwelling organisms are also indications of the state of any lake. Also, our research has revealed the presence of lead in the bottom material of Harveys Lake, as well as in other lakes and ponds of Luzerne County. We attribute the lead's being there to the exhaust from leaded gasoline used in automobiles and motorboats during much of this century.
We also suspect that other heavy metals are present. And we abhor the use of copper sulfate to combat blue-green bacteria.
What is occurring in Harveys Lake is one publicized local aspect of the environmental deterioration which is happening generally in the United States, mainly because too many people are demanding too much. Harveys Lake cannot be all things to all people. Coming to some agreement as to what is best for Harveys Lake by democratic means may be a real test. It will not be easy. Hopefully a good sound scientific solution can be found. And then, even more hopefully, people will unselfishly cooperate to make the treatment successful.

Professor Emeritus Charles B. Reif, Wilkes College, finally retired to his home state Minnesota, the "Land of Lakes." In 2003 Reif published an autobiography titled "Lover of Lakes" which covers his early life in Minnesota, his initial years at Bucknell Junior College, and his WWII experiences. He died in Minnesota in mid-April 2006


B. Recovering the Drowned

Leo Emerick 1923,
FCP Collection

On Sunday, August 18, 1923, a speed boat caused Leo Emerick's canoe to upset. Emerick was 18, a good swimmer and was employed by the Sheldon Axle Works in Wilkes-Barre. Emerick was thrown overboard and drowned in the deepest part of the Lake midway between Warden Place and the Picnic Grounds. Dynamite was tried in an effort to raise the body with no success.

On August 22, 1923, two professional divers, Edward Davis and Gaylor Potts, from Little Falls, NY, were engaged to search for Emerick's body. Ordinarily, they worked for the shipping industry on the Great Lakes. They had a 400- pound diving suit which enabled the divers to safely reach a 120- foot depth. Potts reported that they found a mud bottom at the Lake and areas covered with underbrush and trees. Likely, these were remnants from the Lake's earlier lumbering industry when timber may have been floated along the Lake to the Alderson saw mill.

The body of Leo Emerick was never recovered - one of four drowning victims whose bodies were never recovered from the Lake. [For the others see the article Drownings on this website.]

On Saturday, July 23, 1927, John Ragunis, 26, Wilkes-Barre, drowned at the Lake. He boxed under the name Johnny Hardy. He was swimming from Sandy Beach to Sunset and was struck by a motor boat. He may have been killed instantly but is treated here as a drowning victim as his body was never recovered for examination as to the exact cause of death.

A professional diver made several attempts to recover Ragunis' body on July 27. He reached a 90- foot depth and reported that the water was so icy-cold he could only remain on the bottom 8 to 10 minutes with each dive. The diver stated the bottom "is composed of fine shifting mud, which is so oozy and sticky that it is like muck or quick-sand. Working while walking on the bottom is difficult and dangerous."

The description of the lake bottom in the Ragunis search matches other later accounts.

On Friday, August 9, 1929, John T. Zorzi, the Lake's premier speedboat racer, was operating a powerful speedboat he had built capable of a top speed of 45 miles an hour. Zorzi hit a wave, the boat went into the air and then it capsized. Zorzi was thrown clear and another boat rescued him. The boat sank in 85 feet of water opposite Warden Place. For several weeks Zorzi tried to find his craft with grappling hooks but eventually abandoned his recovery effort. An account of its recovery in 1955 follows later in this article.

Ten years later on Saturday, August 26, 1939, 17- year-old John E. Cule was in a rowboat with his two sisters when the rowboat was struck by a motor boat. The three in the rowboat were thrown into the Lake. Cule, who wore metal leg braces, sank to the Lake bottom out from the Picnic Grounds. The two sisters were saved. A diver, Roy Anderson, Shickshinny, made two attempts to recover Cule in 80 to 100 feet of water but the bottom silt was easily stirred by his movements and visibility poor. Anderson was seemingly diving in the wrong area and much deeper than needed.

After unsuccessful grappling efforts, a professional diver, George Hughes, Jr., from Chester, PA, was retained at the instance of Gov. Arthur H. James, Plymouth, who had a cottage at the Lake.

Diving from a raft on the Lake, Hughes made several unsuccessful recovery dives. He agreed to one final dive on September 1, 1939. An underwater lamp from the District Attorney's office spotted Cule's body in only 28 feet of water. In his descent Hughes' heavy weighted boot actually stepped on Cule's body. In this less deep area of the Lake, Hughes found the body entangled in a heavy growth of vegetation. Hughes stated the Lake's bottom's enormous growth of weeds was among the most treacherous he had encountered in his career. A subsequent autopsy concluded Cule died from fatal injuries suffered in the boat collision and not from drowning.

Hughes would have a different experience a few days later. On Sunday, September 2, 1939, Millard "Slim" Haefele fell during a sharp turn from a motorboat into deep Lake water opposite Warden Place. The speedboat was operated by John Hanson. Hughes was recalled to the Lake by Governor James. Hughes made numerous dives over several days without success.

Hughes again described the Lake bottom as treacherous but not due to underwater growth this time. Instead, it was blinding mud - as most divers have described it in a September 18, 1939, account in the Sunday Independent:

"'Mud, mud, mud,' was the way Hughes described the bottom," Chief Stevenson said. "Hughes told me the mud is more than four feet deep at the bottom - probably a lot more - because Hughes on his dives carried a 'gaffe,' which is only four feet long. Hughes told me he pushed this into the mud its entire length and it could have been pushed still deeper.
"Hughes told me how he 'worked blind' at the bottom because the mud raised a deep cloud as soon as the diving boots touched the bottom. He told me he had absolutely no vision."
[Of] Interest was Chief Stevenson's disclosure that Hughes did most of his search on his hands and knees.
"Hills and dales" at the bottom of the lake were described to Stevenson by Hughes, who said he started on a decline at one point and walked downward for a distance of 30 feet, but at that point was 80 feet below the surface of the water and did not go any further because of his equipment.

Hughes withdrew from the search after his considerable efforts. The search continued for Haefele with grappling hooks. Haefele's body was finally recovered on September 10, 1939, by a crew in John Hanson's speedboat, the same boat from which Haefele fell the previous Saturday. He was recovered exactly one week from the time he was lost, less one hour.

In the early 1950s the scuba-diving sport was popularized. Among the early scuba enthusiasts were Malcolm Lewis and Don Hanson. In 1954 a group of friends created an informal scuba-diving club at the Lake which included Frank "Bucky" Kelly of Forty Fort. In June 1955 four of the group discovered the Zorzi speedboat at an 85 -foot depth opposite Warden Place. It had sunk 31 years earlier. The Zorzi boat was raised and refurbished. It later was transferred to Lake Hopatcong, New Jersey, but additional damage occurred there in later years and the craft abandoned.

In 2004 Bucky Kelly was interviewed by www.harveyslake.org and he described his experience at the bottom of the Lake. He noted grey circles on the bottom which were underground springs feeding the Lake. His friends captured a 44 -pound carp in the Lake and released it in the Irem Temple swimming pool. Kelly and his friends experienced 10 feet of silt at the bottom of the deepest parts of the Lake which Kelly called "mud in suspension."

Kelly was joined by Adrian Pearsall, Sr., in a search for the "lost horses," a Lake legend detailed elsewhere on this website.


C. Lake Trout

Rail Car "Susquehanna"

The most prized of the fish which lived in Harvey's Lake were lake trout which once thrived in the deepest waters of the lake. Lake trout are actually not a trout species but a member of the char family. They are not native to Harvey's Lake.

In 1882 or 1883 the Pennsylvania Fish Commission introduced lake trout spawn into the Lake but apparently they failed to survive. In December 1884 the commission sent 75 one to two-pound lake trout, 12 to 15 inches long, on the commission's specially-designed railroad car named the Susquehanna over the D. L. & W railroad to Kingston in 10 large cans. Five of the lake trout were dead upon arrival. The fish came from Corry, Pennsylvania, where the state had a fishery. At Kingston about 21 of the lake trout were forwarded to Moosic Lake; another likely 21 were stocked at Bear Lake near Bear Creek. Three cans or likely 28 lake trout were provided to George R. Wright for Harvey's Lake. G.R. Wright, a lawyer-banker from Wilkes-Barre, was the son of former congressman Hendrick B. Wright, who built a large cottage at Sunset on a hill overlooking the Lake in 1881. The cottage still stands. The son founded the Dallas bank and a decade later a Lake steamboat company. The lake trout may have been stocked at the lake near the Rhodes Hotel as Wright and Rhodes were close friends.

Lake Trout

In subsequent years news accounts reported when larger lake trout were caught at the Lake. In July 1906 M.R. Williams caught a 34- inch 14 -pound lake trout, the largest lake trout to date at any northeastern Pennsylvania lake.

In the meantime, the State continued to stock the Lake with lake trout. In October 1915 90 cans of yearling lake trout were stocked.

In 1918 2.5 million fish were placed in Luzerne County waters by the State with the help of 75 members of the Wilkes-Barre chapter of United Sportsman. The 1918 stocking included 15,959 lake trout for Harvey's Lake. In May 1921 35,000 lake trout were placed in the Lake. They arrived on the Lehigh Valley Railroad train at Alderson.

Amos Kitchen was a well-known fisherman at the Lake in the early decades of the twentieth century. Citizens Voice reporter, Stan Sowa, interviewed Kitchen's son, Glenn Kitchen, in 1989 regarding his father's fishing days in an October 31, 1989 article:

Amos Kitchen 1938

According to Glenn Kitchen, this lake was a great fishery during the middle of the last century. Glenn now lives in Weatherly but he was born and raised at Harvey's Lake and for him, Pennsylvania's largest natural lake (658 acres) brings back many fond memories.
Glenn says Harvey's Lake was a favorite fishery for many anglers, including his father, the late Amos M. Kitchen. Amos was born at the lake on Nov. 18, 1867, and spent his entire life there until he passed away in 1951 at the age of 84 years and 11 months. He was an ardent fisherman and, as Glenn puts it, "My dad knew the bottom of the lake like a book." Not so surprising, since he fished the lake on and off for more than 80 years.
According to Glenn, Amos operated his own business as a building contractor and constructed numerous summer homes, boat houses and docks at the lake during his lifetime. He was considered by those who knew him well to be the most experienced lake trout angler that ever fished the lake.
When Glenn reflects on days past, he recalls his dad telling him about the countless experiences he had while fishing for big lake trout.
It seems Amos used to row a boat to work at different locations at the lake before he bought his first Model "T" Ford. During one of his trips to work across the lake he took his lake trout rig along to try his luck while one of his carpenters rowed the boat. The fish were hitting so well he never did get to work that day, but he did manage to catch 17 lake trout.
The two trout in the accompanying photo were caught by Amos in July of 1938. They weighed six pounds, two ounces and six pounds and 14 ounces, and were 26 and 28 inches in length, respectively. These were the last lake trout caught by Amos because at that age he was slowly losing his eye sight to glaucoma. He continued to enjoy still-fishing until he was 84 years of age, although he was totally blind by then.
Amos was also an avid walleye and smallmouth bass angler during the years he fished the waters of Harvey's Lake, but he was particularly fond of lake trout. Most of the lakers were caught in deep water (50 to 110 feet in depth) with a copper line and a large spoon with a large single hook. The line had swivels at 20-foot intervals to prevent tangling. His home-made reel was built from a spool of round stock about 8-inches long and 4-inches in diameter with a crank on one end, and it was suspended between two uprights on a small base of wood about 16-inches long. No fancy outfit, but just the ticket for catching the big lake trout that lurked beneath the waters of Harveys Lake back then.
If Amos Kitchen's angling days were any indication of what fishing was like a century ago, it's a good bet Harveys Lake was as popular to dedicated anglers then as it is today.

The State continued to stock lake trout over the years. In March 1955 a combined 11,000 brook and lake trout were stocked. In November 1957 Torn West, Dallas, caught a 17 pound, 36 ¼ inch lake trout, the largest for local waters. Apparently, West did not submit the catch for record recognition to the fish commission. Then in May 1966 Frances Keen, Wilkes-Barre, caught a 34 ½ inch, 17- pound lake trout which was recognized by the Pennsylvania Fish Commission as a local record. In late June 1966 Casimer Matus caught a 30- inch, 15- pound lake trout at the Lake. The following year in mid-June 1967 John Demko, Wilkes-Barre, caught two 15 -pound lake trout.

Lake Trout Catch
Caddie Labar's 1957

In 1952 the Pennsylvania Fish Commission introduced rainbow smelt in the Lake as a forage fish for larger fish especially lake trout. An adult rainbow smelt can average 7-10 inches with a 3- ounce weight. Smelt are an anadromous fish which normally live in salt water but ascend to fresh water to spawn but they can adapt exclusively to fresh water. There was a "smelt boom" at the Lake for several years during the ice-fishing season which is covered elsewhere on this website. The smelt population was so large the State stocked landlocked Atlantic salmon in 1981-1984 to control the smelt.

Around 1979, alewife, a form of herring and also an anadromous fish, which average 10-11 inches as an adult, were illegally placed in the Lake. Likely, a fisherman had used small alewife as live bait and dumped unused bait into the Lake and they rapidly multiplied. The alewife population boomed too and outcompeted the smelt for zooplankton, the principal food base at the Lake bottom for smaller creatures. By 1985 smelt had virtually disappeared from the Lake. The stocking of rainbow trout--and increased stocking of brown trout to prey on alewife--also competed with lake trout for available food. In the summer of 1966, an unusually hot weather produced a "kill" of lake trout. The continuing reduction of zooplankton due to pollution also occurred. Then too trout who ate smaller alewife could contract a vitamin B-1 deficiency which lessens the viability of trout spawn. These multiple factors weighed against the survival of lake trout at the Lake.

In late January 1984 Robert Rustay, Wilkes-Barre, caught a 22-pound- two ounce, 35 I/2 -inch lake trout at Harvey's Lake, the largest from the Lake. Rustay was honored by the Pennsylvania Fish Commission at an Eastern Sports and Outdoor Show in February 1984 at the State Farm Show in Harrisburg.

In November 1984 the State stocked 4,000 adult lake trout at the Lake, followed by another 4,000 adult lake trout in November 1989, and 4,000 fingerling lake trout in October 1991. But fingerling are subject to prey by pickerel, walleye and even resident waterfowl. No news accounts appear of large lake trout caught at the Lake after the record catch in 1984. The last stocking of lake trout at the Lake occurred in 1993. The last local fishing article suggesting fishing at the Lake for lake trout occurred in April 1993. The PA Boat and Fish Commission in Sweet Valley informed www.harveyslake.org in October 2019 that there is no evidence that lake trout survive in the Lake, nor smelt unless in very small numbers. But alewife are "well-established" and are the principal food for the Lake's predatory fish.

On May 11, 2019, Keith Miller, 73, Vernango County, caught a 31-pound, 13-ounce, 40 -inch lake trout in the Pennsylvania waters of Lake Erie setting a new Pennsylvania state record for a lake trout.



Editor's Note: Prof. Charles B. Reif's bathymetric map of Harvey's Lake has been supplanted by a 1981 map of the Lake produced by Morris Kashuba, Peckville, PA. Kushuba is a WWII veteran, master fisherman, and noted fly-tier. He was especially adept at fishing for steelhead trout in New York State. In August 2019 he turned 100 years old. A Google search for Morris Kashuba should disclose both content and local TV coverage of Mr. Kashuba's 100th birthday celebration at the Gino Merli Veterans Center, Scranton.

After eight years of research of mapping Pocono area lakes Morris Kashuba in 1981 published 12 hydrographic maps of fishing lakes in the region. He surveyed the lakes with a Lawrence Sonic Depth Sounder followed by multiple checks of his findings. In 1982 he published additional maps including Harvey's Lake. His maps were sold in area sporting shops.

Kashuba's 1981 Harvey's Lake map is generally in accord with Reif's findings. But Kashuba has a finger-like strip of Lake bottom 110 deep in the same area as Reif's maximum 92-93 depth out from the Hanson's Park area. Reif himself surmised that a depth deeper than 92-93 feet might be possible in this area that Reif surveyed. Reif's map has only 4-5 gradations marking drops of at least 20 feet. Kashuba's more detailed research has 11 gradations of at least 10 feet each. Kashuba also has a small triangular patch with a 100 -foot depth out from Willow Point north of Warden Place - nearly matching the 1914 finding of 102 feet of the State Water Commission.

A variation of Kashuba's black and white 1981 Lake map was issued in 2007 in color with a maximum depth of 102 feet rather than 110 feet out from Hanson's, and 95 feet rather than 100 feet out from the Willow Point area. Kashuba had earlier sold his mapping interests and copyrights to Con Walton, who is now in Bethlehem. Walton combined the Lake gradations into one 10- foot gradient near the shoreline and Kashuba's other 10 -foot gradients into five 20 -foot gradients and seemingly averaged their depths.

Kashuba's 1981 version is more detailed and recommended. The 1981 version has the original eleven 10 -foot gradations and notes some underwater features. With very few exceptions submergent vegetation is absent in the Lake beyond the 40- foot depth - in accord with the accounts of underwater divers.

Kashuba's maps are available from Con Walton Pocono Lake Maps at www.poconolakemaps.com Of the original 41 maps produced by Kashuba/Walton, 39 are still available including Harvey's Lake.



Thanks! to Aaron Frey, Fisheries Biologist, and Walt Dietz, of the PA Boat and Fish Commission, for helpful information regarding the Lake's fish population. www.harveyslake.org must also acknowledge its appreciation to the late Prof. Charles B. Reif for discussions and support years ago when the book Harvey's Lake was originally published. Morris Kashuba met with www.harveyslake.org in October 2019 and provided clarification and information regarding his mapping of Harvey's Lake. Further appreciation is expressed to Aimee E. Powell, Ph.D., Executive Director of the Luzerne County Historical Society, for permission to reproduce Reif's Lake map. With the permission of the Society, Reif's 1975 previously unpublished studies of other area lakes will be presented on this site at a later date.


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Copyright October 2019 F. Charles Petrillo