Harveys Lake
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The Steamboat Era at Harvey's Lake


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The Steamboat Era

The Kingston was built at the Lake with its twin the Wilkes-Barre.

Chapter 3: THE BOOM YEARS 1900-1920

The two decades from 1900 to 1920 were the high water mark for the steamers at Harvey’s Lake. The boom began with the launching of the Natoma and ended with deceptively good seasons immediately after the Great War.

In the early 1900's the two steamboat companies enjoyed a rivalry that supported six steamers: Shawanese, Rosalind, Natoma, Wilkes-Barre, Kingston, and Acoma. The competition was also good for the summer tourists and residents, who were assured of transportation to the trolley or train and of timely trips to the summer dances and amusements.

During the early 1900s the crowds grew with each season. In addition to the usual community and church picnics, huge crowds were drawn to the lake by ethnic festivals, especially at the Picnic Grounds. For many seasons thousands of people would arrive on the train or trolley, almost on a daily basis, for special picnic excursions. The steamers would provide day-long service from the Oneonta landing to the Picnic Grounds and to the hotels and picnic points around the Lake. The picture postcard was in vogue, and over three hundred views of the lake were created to capture the Lake's Golden Era.

In June 1909 the Lake Transit Company purchased the assets of the Harvey's Lake Steamboat Company and enjoyed a monopoly on steamboat traffic at the Lake. After the Lake Transit Company acquired the Wilkes-Barre and Kingston, relatively new boats, the company retired the Shawanese, now nineteen years old, and offered it for sale.

By this time the Lake Transit Company had a full-time general manager, Clarence Shaver, who would continue in this capacity until the end of the steamboat days. Daily steamboat business began on May 15, 1910, and the Fourth of July that year set a record for the highest daily passenger service on the steamers. The Shawanese meanwhile did not attract a buyer; it rested at the West Corner dock until it was dismantled.

During the earlier years, when there were large daily picnics, each of the steamboats enjoyed a busy day. A couple of steamers would begin an early run to meet the trolley stops and then quit in the late afternoon. The remaining steamers would start later in the morning and run until 10:00 P.M. or even midnight if a special late excursion was ordered. If a boat had an especially long day, it might have to re-supply with coal in the late afternoon.

The most popular ride for the trolley passengers was the "direct run" from the Oneonta landing to the Picnic Grounds. With a trolley arriving every half-hour, a couple of steamers could keep busy on the direct run for much of the day.

There were other popular landings on the Lake. From the Oneonta a steamer could run a circuit around the lake stopping at Warden Place to leave guests for the Lakeside Inn, then cross to Boyd's above the firehouse, which was as close to Alderson as the steamers could approach.

Residents in an area near a steamer landing could flag down a steamer or launch for a ride. Red and white flags were at hand, with red to signal an "up-lake" boat and white for a "down-lake" boat. At night a lantern or match circling in the dark would get a passing steamer.

For use in shallow areas the Lake Transit Company operated a gasoline launch. Initially it ran the Wyoming, a crude launch with glass side windows. After a few years the Wyoming was used infrequently and it remained stored in the Lake Transit Company boathouse. About 1915 the Lcompany purchased a larger launch Emily, which was a popular three-cylinder, gasoline passenger boat.

The Emily was most often used for early morning and evening runs. Summer residents who worked in the Valley boarded the Emily to meet the early morning train at Alderson or the more popular trolley at Oneonta. At the Oneonta the Emily picked up laborers who came on the early trolley to work at the Lake for the day. The Emily also met the summer residents who returned from the Valley on the early evening trolley runs. On Sunday mornings the Emily carried lake residents to the Alderson Church, where steamboats could not land, or to Mass at the Oneonta Hotel. The Emily was also available for excursions during the day or evening.

By 1920 all of the steamers could not be kept busy for the entire season, as tourists increasingly owned their own automobiles. Within a few years, the Kingston was placed in reserve most of the time, as the years wore harder on her than on her twin. For the most part the Acoma and Wilkes-Barre were the workhorses of the fleet. Typically, the Emily handled the early morning trolley run; the Acoma, under "Cap" Anderson, ran a twelve-hour day from 10:00 A.M. until 10:00 P.M. The Wilkes-Barre ran until the early evening. On weekends and holidays the Natoma was also fired to handle the crowds.

"Cap" George M. Anderson was a colorful figure who was especially liked by the steamboat passengers. His ancestors were among the original lake settlers in 1840. He was born at Harvey's Lake and in his youth worked for the Farmer's Dairy in Wilkes-Barre; he then timbered near the Ice Lake Hotel above Luzerne. He and his brother, Charles, also cleared timber at the Outlet. The timber would be taken to the city, and the Andersons would return to the Lake with a load of coal that sold at the bin for three dollars a ton. In 1895 at age twenty-five, Anderson became a deckhand on the Shawanese. He learned the tricks of lake travel under Capt. E. J. Carpenter. When Reuben Shaver took over the Shawanese from Carpenter, Anderson became the engineer. When Shaver left to run a steamer at Lake Carey, Anderson advanced to captain. Anderson had a special sense for the night run as he personally piloted the Acoma and often the Emily around the blackened Lake.


Copyright 2006-2008 F. Charles Petrillo