Harveys Lake History

The Alderson Saw Mill

Alderson Mill

During his life-time Albert Lewis (1840-1923) was known as the Lumber King of the Wyoming Valley. The son of a lumberman Lewis timbered vast tracts along the Lehigh River then later at Bear Creek where his 1895 Tudor-style mansion still dominates the Bear Creek Lake dam scene. In the 1880s he also began an immense ice-harvesting industry in the Bear Creek region.

Lewis had both family and business relationships with the corporate leadership of the Lehigh Valley Railroad. He would build both the Bear Creek and Harvey’s Lake railroads to serve his lumber and ice interests and sell both rail lines to the Lehigh Valley.

In the late 1880s Lewis was building the railroad from the Wilkes-Barre area to Harvey’s Lake to Noxen and on to Ricketts where the line would connect to the Lehigh Valley’s State Line and Sullivan Railroad to Lopez eventually connecting to Towanda. Lewis owned thousands of acres of forest lands from the Lake and along Bowmans Creek at Noxen, Stull, and on to Mountain Springs. He heavily lumbered in this region and also harvested ice at Mountain Springs.

Lewis’ biography and a history of the railroad and Lewis’ lumbering and ice industries is covered in more detail in Ghost Towns of North Mountain, a book-length treatment accessed on the home-page of this website.

By December 1886 Lewis’ new railroad had reached Dallas where Lewis would shortly have a lumber mill in operation. Here in late September 1887 a rail car at the Dallas mill jumped its track and struck W. Penn Kirkendall severely damaging two fingers of his right hand. As a young man Albert Lewis was working for the Lehigh Valley Railroad and one of his hands was caught between two rail cars permanently damaging the hand.

Albert Lewis

By June 1887 Lewis’ railroad reached the North Corner of the Lake. A post-office named Alderson, with Edward Bush as post-master, would open on November 14, 1887. William C. Alderson was a corporate executive and by 1889 the Philadelphia-based Treasurer of the Lehigh Valley Railroad. In August 1887 Lewis sold the 12 mile Wilkes-Barre to Lake rail line to the Lehigh Valley Railroad, although it would be another 5 years before Lewis could complete construction and agree to sell the balance of his railroad to Ricketts. In November 1887 Lewis began to erect the Alderson saw-mill.

It was a cold winter. In mid-February at the Dallas saw mill it was 30 degrees below zero on a Friday morning. At Alderson the frame of the new mill was in place. The main building was 40 by 125 feet. There were additions to be added. Under the supervision of M.D. Lewis of White Haven the mill would have six steam boilers to power it. Lewis also was adding office and residential structures essentially building a company town as he had at Bear Creek and would at Stull near Noxen. He also had initial plans for a Lake hotel at Alderson but it did not materialize. He did construct a large bark-covered showcase personal home at Alderson.

As early as June 16, 1887, the Lehigh Valley Railroad in league with Lewis was running passenger and freight service to the Lake. In May 1888 railroad cars at Alderson were used for Methodist Church services, including five Sunday School classes for infants to adults. On December 9, 1888, Alderson Church services relocated to the Alderson school in Dallas Township, within walking distance from the Alderson village.

By the end of April 1888 the Alderson mill was completed. Late in May 1888 Albert Lewis was inspecting the mill and had just walked past a revolving saw. Shortly thereafter, a plank accidentally hurled out of the saw and fractured the skull of the surveyor Victor Frantz who was taken by railroad car to the Wilkes-Barre Hospital. The assessment was poor for his recovery but news accounts do not report if he survived. On May 24, 1888, 30 year old S. B. Franks suffered a fatal skull fracture when a falling tree stuck him at a Lewis lumber camp.

Lewis had a North Corner school built to serve his employees’ children and residents of Alderson. He paid all the school expenses including the teacher’s expenses. It is not known how long the school survived. It may have evolved into or was replaced by the township’s Lakeside one-room school mid-point between Alderson and the Picnic Grounds. Lakeside was razed in 1908.

In April 1898 the engine room of the Alderson mill was lost to a fire. The employees formed a bucket brigade to save the rest of the mill and lumber yard.

In July 1889 it was reported that the Alderson mill was destroyed in fire, but it was only the boiler room. In May 1890 the Lewis lumber company added the D.B. Cope railroad engine to its line to serve the lumber camps and mill. It was named for David. B. Cope, a valued Lewis employee.

In August 1890 Lewis incorporated the Albert Lewis Lumber and Manufacturing Company issuing $400,000 in 4,000 shares of stock at $100 each. Lewis owned half of the stock and his fellow share-holders were the Stulls, to whom he was related by marriage, and members of his coterie of lumber and Lehigh Valley Railroad friends. The company was designed for his Lake, Noxen, and Stull lumber interests.

The Alderson mill was designed for cutting an average of 50,000 board feet of lumber on a daily basis – about half of the design for larger lumber mills than at Lopez and later at Ricketts. But in April 1891 the Alderson mill cut 97, 299 feet of lumber in ten hours. The mill manager, Arthur L. Stull, Lewis’ nephew through marriage, handed out two boxes of cigars to each mill employee. A week later Lewis’ Stull mill would open, the company town there named for Adam Stull, father of Arthur L. Stull. In November 1893 Harry Deiter, 40, was swept under a log jam on Bowman’s Creek while working for the Stull mill and he drowned.

Stull Family: Saw Mill in Background. Left to right: Albert Stull; Adam Stull (with beard); Fred Glasby; Carol Harvey; Robert A. Stull

In August 1895 the managers at the Alderson mill were W.H. Rauch, foreman; Joseph Tritchler, saw boss; Grant Sebring and Frank Higgins, log pond sorters. Other significant figures in the lumber operation over time were Peter Bush, company treasurer, and Cornelius Fish, a 20 year veteran foreman of the lumbering operations. There was a boom on the Lake, a catchment area, which held thousands of logs which were sorted and carried up a ramp into the mill for sawing into lumber.

Albert Lewis built churches for his company towns, usually Methodist or Lutheran. In March 1896 Adam and Arthur Stull were among the incorporators of the Alderson Methodist Church which was dedicated on August 23, 1896. Lewis donated the lot and the community raised $3,000 to build the church. The new pastor was Rev. Clinton B. Henry. In November 1897 construction began for the church parsonage. The Christmas tradition was for Lewis to give each married man at the mill a turkey and money gift to each unmarried man. Railroad crews serving the Lake railroad also received a turkey.

There were periodic accidents at the mill. In mid-February 1899 Todd Miller was injured in the mill and his left foot was amputated at the Wilkes-Barre Hospital (also a charity supported by Albert Lewis). In the same month Thomas Kitchen was rendered unconscious when he was struck by a flying plank which broke loose from the saw.

In May 1901 Ralph Davis, a mill employee, fell against a saw and badly injured his left arm. Taken by train to Wilkes-Barre his arm was amputated. Davis became a well-known figure at the Lake, operating a boarding house and a lakeside store next to the Picnic Grounds. He also became an expert rifle man and noted hunter. His son, Elwood Davis, was a championship-level swimmer at the Lake in the late 1930s.

In early 1902 Lewis’ Stull mill was destroyed in a fire but Lewis rebuilt it. In early 1904 Thomas E. Garrahan had his third accident in a Lewis mill. He had two earlier accidents which essentially ended the use of his left hand. The 1904 Alderson accident severely damaged his right hand. In 1905 Chester Clark suffered a skull fracture in an accident at the Alderson mill.

In 1906 the Stull mill was again destroyed by fire. The lumbering era was ending and the mill was not rebuilt. Any lumbering was now sent to Alderson. By April 1907 there were only 16 families still in Stull and by March 1908 only a few were left.

In January 1909 William C. Anderson, Treasurer of the Lehigh Valley Railroad, retired after 40 years of service with the railroad. He died on November 7, 1914, in Lower Merion Township, Pennsylvania.

Lewis Lumber Railroad. Left to Right: Adam Bill, Engineer; Harvey Miller, Assistant; Erwin Franks and Jack Hartley, Brakemen

In early September 1909 a body was found floating in the Lake near the Alderson mill. The body could not be identified and was buried. Shortly, other evidence emerged and the buried body was identified as the missing John H. Williams of Warrior Run. Circumstantial evidence would conclude Williams committed suicide at the Lake.

In late May 1910 a Lewis lumber foreman, Jonathan Adams, who still lived in Stull, was injured in a railroad wreck at Stull which killed two passengers, Alfred Epuey, age 8, and Edward Pollock, age 24.

By 1912 Lewis was divesting himself of nearly all his land holdings west of the Susquehanna River and selling his interests to Arthur L. Stull. Stull and his son Robert would continue the Mountain Springs ice harvesting industry there for nearly four more decades. Lewis would spend the next two decades as lord of Bear Creek and his huge ice-harvesting holdings there. By July 1912 the only remaining tract of land to be timbered at the Lake was Willow Point, roughly between Warden Place and Alderson. Cottagers near Willow Point were upset as Willow Point was the Lake’s last reserve of virgin forest. Ordinarily, Lewis, unlike many lumberers, did not clear-cut his tracts. He was honored by the Pennsylvania Forestry Association as a responsible lumberman, and was believed to have constructed the nation’s first fire-tower at Bear Creek. However, the Willow Point tracts were infected by a wood disease and it was likely the Lewis firm did severely cut the area to control the disease.

In the Summer of 1913 the Lewis company cut hemlock at Willow Point and other hard-wood trees during the coming Winter. In the meantime Albert Lewis Lumber and Manufacturing Company would be dissolved.

The formal date for closing the mill is not known but any significant remaining lumbering likely was concluded by the end of 1913. Although lumbering to clear-up Willow Point may have continued into 1914 any evidence is unclear. By July 1914 Lewis was considering repairing the Lake road near Willow Point at his expense in compensation for road damages caused by his lumbering operations during the previous winter An even larger lumber operation at Ricketts closed in mid-1913. The Alderson mill would remain idle until sold in mid-April 1916 to M.D. Adelson of Wilkes-Barre for its scrap value. Albert Lewis would donate land he held at Willow Point to the Y.W.C.A. in Wilkes-Barre for its April 1921 Blue Triangle girls’ camp. Adelson would dismantle the Alderson mill in mid-April 1917 for its estimated 7,000 tons of junk from boilers, engines and other ironwork.

During the years the mill was in operation the mill fronted the Lake and the the public road re-routed behind the mill. With the mill dismantled the public road was again re-routed along the present lake side.

Copyright July 2018 F. Charles Petrillo