1920 - 1940

Between the Wars

Officer Fred Swanson (left) of the Harvey's Lake Protective Association at the scene of a Prohibition-era still raid.

Harvey's Lake peaked as a family resort before World War I. In its Golden Age, with the Hotel Oneonta and the steamboats as its prized symbols, families were drawn to the Lake as a popular spot for institutional gatherings.

Crowded together on the trolley or train, thousands came to the Lake each year for church and company picnics, family gatherings and reunions, social and fraternal meetings. Rural lumber towns, like Ricketts and Stull, would shut down once a year for a family holiday at the Picnic Grounds.

By the end of the Great War, radio and the automobile had begun to strain family bonds, but crowds still filled the Lake amusement areas. The Lake roads were now choked with automobile traffic. Prohibition also shackled the energy of the "jazz age" and people flooded the resort to release the energy of a new era.

The period between the Wars was defined by the Harvey's Lake Protective Association, a quasi-governmental body created in 1920 to police summer crowds at the Lake. The Association retained its own private police force and also trained rescue and safety personnel.

As new enterprises located around the Lake, the Protective Association helped finance township police protection in addition to the private police it engaged on weekends. Weekend traffic enforcement was a major issue as were illegal stills and speakeasies and raucous crowds. But increased crowds also brought new institutions, including the Lady of Victory Catholic Church in 1923, a Lutheran Church at West Corner in 1926, and a new Laketon High School in 1925.

To meet the growing needs of the Lake community roads had to be improved and paved; electrical service needed to be made widely available; a fire company had to be formed. In 1921 an electric light company was created which later was purchased and expanded by State Senator A.J. Sordoni. A Fire Committee was also created, which in 1934, again with the aid of A.J. Sordoni, became the Daniel C. Roberts Fire Company.

In July 1930 Harry D. Sordoni, brother of State Senator A.J. Sordoni, was murdered by farmhand Paul Skopa. Harvey's Lake Police Chief John T. Ruth was investigating the crime when he, too, was ambushed and killed by Skopa who then committed suicide.

Between World War I and 1940 there were an average of three seasonal drownings at the Lake. Fred Swanson, a member of the police force since 1932, and Chief of Police from 1942 to 1952, participated in the recovery of seventeen victims. In 1939 a special hard-helmeted diver was unable to recover a drowning victim in eighty feet of water off Warden Place. The Lake bottom was too treacherous. Chief of Police Ira Stevenson and Fred Swanson recovered the victim with dragging equipment.

In 1934 the "American Tragedy" murder occurred. Freda McKecknie was found in the water at Sandy Beach in July 1934. Bobby Edwards of Edwardsville was arrested and convicted of her murder in October 1934. In May 1935 he was electrocuted at Rockview Penitentiary. The murder circumstances were similar to Theodore Dreiser's famous 1925 novel An American Tragedy which in turn was based on a 1906 murder at Big Moose Lake in New York State.

New attractions and services were added in these years. Tony Javers opened a store at Alderson in 1931. In 1937 Ted Frantz, Jr., created Stonehurst Cabins. The Avon Inn was remodeled and reopened as the Pine Grove Lodge. In 1939 a summer playhouse, the Manhattan Stock Company, was opened at Alderson.

In 1939 the trolley line from Dallas to the Valley ended. Bus service was extended to the Lake. During this period the residential community was growing.

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© 2006-2007 F. Charles Petrillo