A Century of Drownings at Harvey’s Lake (1863-1963)



A Century of Drownings at Harvey's Lake 1863 - 1963


Report of Study and Findings of Thirty-Six Drownings in Harvey’s Lake and Susquehanna River
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2. The Early Drownings: 1863-1900

An early report of drownings in Harvey's Lake concluded that eight persons had drowned there by 1897. (Wilkes-Barre Record, December 21, 1897.)

According to the newspaper report, the earliest drowning was John M. Clayton, a young son of James I. Clatyon, manager of the Lake House Hotel in 1859-1864 (later renamed the Rhoads Hotel). However, this report is in error. James Clayton, age 3, died in a fall at his father's Lake home on October 21, 1860. He is buried at the Idetown Cemetery. The earliest documented drowning occurred on June 13, 1863, while David Westover of Dallas was presumably fishing. His body was found early the next morning, a Sunday. The report is found in the Luzerne Union, a Wilkes-Barre newspaper, for Wednesday, June 17, 1863:

David Westover, Esq., of Dallas Township, aged about 50 years, was found drowned in Harvey's Lake, on Sunday morning last. He was in a standing position, the water being but a very little over his head, and is said to be the first person ever known to have been drowned in the lake - a singular circumstance when we consider the great number of persons that have been at times around and upon it, either for fishing or pleasuring.

The next drowning occurred on September 18, 1881, when 16 year old Agnes Kitchen fell from a boat at the North Corner (later known as Alderson). Her father, John Kitchen, was descended from among the earliest families at the lake.

Ten years later on September 30, 1891, a Kingston boy, Gomer Rosser, drowned in unclear circumstances. His brother, Richard, discovered his younger brother under the water while he was fishing from an early steamboat dock. Gomer Rosser was only one day short of his tenth birthday.

As darkness fell on October 24, 1894, 73 year old Jacob Johnson, a farmer who also repaired Lake docks and cottages, had boarded a steamboat at Alderson. When he arrived at the Lake Grove House dock at the Inlet (Sunset) he became confused in the dark and fell into the water. His fall was unheard and he was not discovered until it was too late.

Two friends, Gowen C. Herdman, age 19, and Lewis A. McCarty, age 20, were riding horses on June 23, 1895. They sought to cool off the horses by riding into the Lake shallows when McCarty's horse stumbled and panicked and McCarty fell into the Lake. The horse had McCarty pinned under the water. Herdman tried to aid his friend but McCarty seized him and both drowned. The bodies were raised when Capt. Bond (owner of the Big Boat - later Shawanese) threw lighted dynamite into the search area. McCarty was from Dallas. Herdman's father was the Kunkle postmaster.

The Picnic Grounds beach about 1930. Annie Smith drowned near here before the area became a popular tourist attraction.

Less than two weeks later on July 12, 1895, Annie Smith, age 14, of Alderson, drowned while swimming 50 feet out in the lake in front of her home near the Picnic Grounds. The funeral was held at the North Corner school house (presumably at a one-room school which once existed there).


© 2002 F. Charles Petrillo (Revised 2018)

Copyright 2006-2007 F. Charles Petrillo