Harveys Lake History

The Winter Lake

Hotel Oneonta. Artwork by Dorothy Ricci

This article reviews winter activities and incidents at the Lake generally between 1874 and 1968 when recreational pursuits on the ice were a common feature. The weather was generally colder and the Lake offered fun and danger to both guests and the settled Lake residents.

The Luzerne Union, December 8, 1869

The Lake House Hotel (later renamed the Rhodes Hotel) was built in 1855 at the Inlet (Sunset). It was the only hotel at the Lake until the Lake Grove Hotel at Inlet was built in 1881. The Lake House was open all year. In the Winter of 1861 the L. Meyers livery service near Steel's Hotel on Public Square, Wilkes-Barre, offered service to Harvey's Lake and other Valley destinations. A new livery service with rental sleighs was later offered near Public Square in January 1969 by L.P. Harvey with services to the Lake. By December 1869 P.M. Conniff also offered a stagecoach service to the Lake. It picked up train passengers arriving in Wilkes-Barre from Philadelphia and New York City and delivered them to city hotels. For guests who wished to stay at the Lake House the line left the Lake at 8:00 AM and arrived in the city for the 1:45 PM train to Philadelphia and New York City.

A traveling, anonymous news reporter visited the Lake House in late 1867 and published his comments (with errors) in the Bedford Gazette, in Bedford, Pennsylvania, later in the month:



In my last [letter] I left the reader upon the rocky summit of Campbell's Ledge. Let them now accompany me to Harvey's Lake. This bay of water is 500 feet above the level of the Susquehanna River, and lies twelve miles east of Wilkes Barre. The ride from the latter place is over a beautiful country and must be seen to be appreciated. The Lake is an immense spring of pure cold water, with a beautiful clean sand and gravel bottom, and varies in depth from five to two hundred feet. [Editor: 96-100 feet.] It was first discovered by Benjamin Harvey, who settled upon its outlet [Editor: West Nanticoke] prior to the Revolutionary war. It was surveyed when covered with ice, and found to extend over an area of 1285 acres, [Editor: 658 acres] a little more than two square miles. It is the largest body of fresh water in Pennsylvania, and furnishes an abundant supply of fish. Here and there surrounding this Lake are cultivated fields, with woodland interspersed, and frowning mountains beyond, forming beautiful scenery, and sheltering the fisherman from the rays of the burning sun, and he rows gently along the shore, or casts his line beneath the trees or in the mountain shadow. Deer are frequently shot at night, as they approach this Lake for water, by hunters in boats with torch-lights. The Lake House, on an elevated spot, near the Lake, is a large, commodious and well-furnished building. The fare is venison, fish, wild fowls, &c., taken from the surrounding forests and from the crystal water. Parties from Wilkes Barre who wish a freezing sleigh-ride, usually visit the Lake House, dance all night, and return home in the morning, sleepy and half frozen.


Winter accounts of the Lake were not common in the Lake House years. But after the Lehigh Valley Railroad reached Alderson at the Lake in 1891 and the Wilkes-Barre, Dallas and Harvey's Lake trolley reached Sunset in 1897, news accounts about the Lake were regularly reported all year long.

Incidents and Accidents ' I

Wilkes-Barre Record, March 5, 1915

Frank Rhodes, a member of the Rhodes Hotel family at Sunset, nearly drowned in mid-January 1874 when he fell through the ice while fishing two hundred yards out on the Lake ice. Luckily, another ice fisherman was able to rescue him. In January 1876 an ice-boat was noted at the Lake. The account stated that 'if properly made and managed, it could outrun a locomotive.'

When there was a sustained winter snow season as the Valley experienced in late December 1876, intrepid young people could celebrate the New Year with a sleigh ride to Dallas or to the Lake. Sleighing also occurred on the Lake as late as mid-April 1881 when there was a long winter season. Three years later, in late January 1884, the Lake temperature was 16 below zero and even 27 below at Huntsville. In December 1886 as the Lehigh Valley Railroad was under construction from Wilkes-Barre to the Lake, a host of ice-fishermen were at the Lake, and one had a daily catch estimated at 40 to 50 pounds of fish. In January 1888 Charles E. Rhodes, owner of the Rhodes Hotel, and his sister were on the Lake road and were thrown from a horse-sleigh when it collided with a snow drift. The team ran for a mile from the scene before they were stopped by others. In this hard winter the hotel was buried in 15-foot snow drifts.

On January 31, 1891, the nearly seven-year old Henry Faust was sledding on the Lake ice when he sought to hitch himself and his sled to a team of Albert Lewis horses working on the ice. But the team suddenly reared and the boy was crushed against a shoreline tree in the accident. Rushed to the hospital in Wilkes-Barre, the boy could not be saved.

Winter news reports over the years periodically noted sleigh and skating parties at the Lake. On December 29, 1897, over 500 young people enjoyed skating and the Sunset hotels planned a prize for the fastest skater.

In early February 1899 a Wilkes-Barre reporter visited the Lake and noted a young boy returning to home from school on skates over the Lake ice; a young woman managing several 'ice tips' while ice-fishing; horse teams pulling wagons of logs to the Alderson saw mill; several groups of men cutting ice for storage; and others building a steamboat landing at the Picnic Ground.

On New Years' Day 1900, the Oneonta Hotel was jammed with a large party from Wilkes-Barre who spent the day on skates and sleds and a new feature, ice-boats. There was an evening dinner and dance and a midnight return ride on the trolley to the city.

The Rhodes Hotel and the Oneonta Hotel were open year-round and both hotels encouraged winter visitors to the Lake particularly for ice-skating. Skating was a welcome winter diversion for visitors and rural- bound young people. As noted in a January 1900 account in the Stull-Noxen area:


Some young men and boys continue to skate on Sunday instead of attending church. These things look bad in a community.


In early February 1900, on a Saturday, the Oneonta Hotel hosted an ice-hockey match between the Wyoming Valley Country Club and the Scranton Country Club. The game continued into overtime until the Scranton Club scored a goal, ending the game at 1-0. After dinner at the Oneonta the party took a night trolley to Wilkes-Barre.

The earliest drowning through the ice at the Lake occurred on January 9, 1901, when 12-year-old Fred Puterbaugh fell through the ice while skating. He was on an errand for his grandmother to shop at the A.R. Good grocery store at the West Corner. A search party with grappling hooks looked for the body for two hours before A.R. Good found the victim.

The Ice-Cloud

Sturdeuant's Ice Cloud 1901

The earliest ice-boat in America is attributed to Oliver Booth in Poughkeepsie, NY, in 1790. An ice-boat is most simply the adaptation of a sail-boat with metal blades to sail on ice. Ice boating was widely adopted for recreational winter use including racing clubs, in the northern United States in the nineteenth-century.

An early record of ice-boats at Harvey's Lake was in July 1898 when the Oneonta Hotel announced it would offer ice-boats to guests in the coming winter. In March 1899 the Stull family, partners of Albert Lewis in lumbering and ice-harvesting in the Lake region, launched a particularly fast ice-boat on the 20-inch ice on the Lake.

Robert Sturdevant, scion of a lumbering company in the Valley, launched the Ice Cloud, the Lake's largest ice-boat, on January 12, 1901.

Sturdevant's partners in the ice-boat were P.R. Raife, James Schmidt and C.E. Stegmaier.

The Ice Cloud was 48 feet long with 641 square feet of sail, a runner of 26 feet and weighed 2,600 pounds. Built by the Wilkes-Barre Iron Manufactory, the Ice Cloud was designed to speed at 60 miles an hour.

Sturdevant organized the Harvey's Lake Ice Yacht Club and planned to hold ice-races at the Lake with competing clubs from New York State and New England ' but the inter-club races were seemingly never held.

On January 20, 1901, the Ice Cloud, shortly after its launch at the Lake, sailed two and one-half miles in two minutes. The following winter on January 31, 1902, the Ice Cloud was sailing down the Lake from Alderson when it lost control, threw out its occupants, and sailed in an uncontrolled erratic course over the Lake's surface before it crashed into a stone wall fronting the William G. Eno estate. There is no record of the Ice Cloud or Sturdevant's Yacht Club after the accident.

Incidents and Accidents ' II

Early lake ice-side, c. 1920

There were heavy 15- inch snows at the Lake and in the Valley in late February and early March 1902, one of the deepest in several years ' the greatest flood in the Valley since 1865 would quickly follow. Trolley and train traffic to the Lake was disrupted. A new rotary plow built by the trolley company broke down on its first run trying to clear the Lake line. Guests were trapped at the Oneonta Hotel as the trolley could not get past Luzerne to reach the Lake. Another heavy snow fell in December 1902 with skating and ice-boat parties crowding the Rhodes and Oneonta hotels. The Rhodes Hotel reported it had to refurbish skates so old that the blades were originally old files hammered on to shoes.

In mid-February 1903 it was 7 below zero at the Lake, the coldest yet for the 1902-03 winter. The Harvey's Lake railroad and trolley lines had modified Winter schedules. At the end of November 1903, for example, the Lehigh Valley Railroad only ran twice daily leaving Wilkes-Barre at 7:05 AM and 3:05 PM except Sunday. In January 1904 the trolley offered eleven runs from between 6:40 AM and 10:20 PM and eleven runs from the Lake to the city between 7:50 AM and 11:30 PM.

On January 4, 1904, it was 13 below at the Lake and a severe winter caused Valley flooding nearby as severe as 1903. A year later the winter season was more mild with skating on the Lake in mid-December on only 2.5 inches of ice. In early February 1908 the Lake had 15 inches of ice and the temperature was 7 below zero.

Two young boys were nearly lost in late January 1911 while ice-skating. Clark Oliver, 9, and his brother Joseph, 12, fell through the ice. They cried for help and Marion Avery and Theodore Hale, who were on an ice-boat, sped to the broken ice. They managed to grab both boys by the hair as they were sinking and recovered both of them.

Several other ice related accidents and drownings would follow. On December 27, 1916, one of the Valley's most famous men, Prof. James I. Alexander, retired band master and composer, fell through the Lake ice while ice-fishing. He was submerged for a time prior to his rescue. He never regained consciousness and died on December 30, 1916, at the General Hospital. For decades Alexander's Band was the most prominent band in the region.

The second ice-skating drowning victim at the Lake was World War I veteran Roland Gross, 22, of Wilkes-Barre. He fell through the ice on January 8, 1922. A companion, Claude MacDougal, dove into the icy water and recovered Gross on his third attempt, but numbed by the cold he lost hold of Gross. George Bennett, sailing an ice-boat, was able to recover both Gross and MacDougal but Gross was beyond recovery.

A member of Battery E, 109th Field Artillery, Gross and a group of men were in the Argonne when a shell exploded over them. Four were killed and six wounded. Gross was severely wounded and ribs and a knee cap were replaced with silver plates.


Copyright 2018 F. Charles Petrillo