The village of Alderson was originally known as the North Corner. Although Hollenback and Urquhart had a company house at the North Corner in the mid-nineteenth century, the area did not spring into prominence until the timber reserves in the region were exploited in the late 1880’s by Albert Lewis, the “Lumber King” of Wyoming Valley.
Albert Lewis was born in 1862 in Montreal, Canada. The Lewis family moved to Beaumont in Bucks Township where the father, Abijah Lewis, acquired large timbering tracts. As a young man Albert Lewis timbered at Lehigh Tannery and at Bear Creek. The Bear Creek timbering tracts were being cleared, and Lewis, a paternal entrepreneur, sought new timbering lands for his men. The North Mountain along Bowman’s Creek and the wilderness of Wyoming and Sullivan Counties were attracting lumbering firms and railroad systems to serve them. During the 1880’s Lewis began his acquisition of thirteen thousand acres along Bowman’s Creek. He also purchased 450 acres at the North Corner of the Lake to headquarter his expansion. In 1883 the Lehigh Valley Railroad surveyed several routes through the Bowman’s Creek area in anticipation of opening of the area to timbering. In 1885, a local transportation pioneer, Albert S. Orr, planned a rail line from the Wyoming Valley to Harvey’s Lake. The Wilkes-Barre and Harvey’s Lake Railroad Company was chartered in September 1855, and grading from Luzerne began on October 1, 1885. Orr’s plans caught the attention of Lewis who sought control of the railroad to assure that its route met the needs of the Lewis lumbering industry. In June 1886 Lewis purchased the controlling interest in the railroad. Lewis employed three hundred men, many of whom were Hungarian immigrants, to complete the line, and on December 6, 1886, the first locomotive reached Dallas. Although he denied it at the time, Lewis was acting in league with the Lehigh Valley Railroad when he acquired the Harvey’s Lake rail line. The Lehigh Valley Railroad undoubtedly provided Lewis supporting capital for improvement and completion of the original Orr railroad. Officials of the Lehigh Valley Railroad were also partners with Lewis a decade earlier in timbering along the Lehigh River.
As the railroad line was extended from Dallas to the Lake, Lewis built an imposing log cottage on a hill overlooking the Lake at the North Corner. The Lewis log cottage, designed and built by Miles Shepard of Kingston, was a showpiece. The hemlock logs were eight to twelve inches in diameter. The cottage was trimmed in red and olive with a red shingled roof. Each of the two floors had four rooms; the second floor was reserved for servants. Each room on the first floor had a fireplace that was glazed in a different color. The estate had a three-acre lawn overlooking the Lake, and estate roads were covered with red shale from Bear Creek. The Lake road around the Alderson shoreline, in front of the Lewis home, was taken by the Lewis company to run a log railroad to a sawmill which would be built along the Lake shore, and the public road was re-routed behind the Lewis home to the Kunkle road where, in a few years, the Alderson train station would be built. On May 26, 1887, Lewis had a flatcar improvised for passenger use, and he ran a special excursion to the Lake for friends to enjoy a party at his new Lake estate. Lewis had ambitious plans at the Lake and even offered to buy the Rhoads Hotels for $20,000.00. When Rhoads declined the offer, Lewis planned to capitalize the construction of a new $100,000.00 hotel to be built at the Lake along the rail line near the Barnum farm. However, the hotel was never constructed.
On June 16, 1887, the first regular passenger coach, pulled by Engine 83, arrived at the Lake. Events were moving fast, and on August 5, 1887, Lewis sold the twelve-mile Harvey’s Lake railroad to the Pennsylvania and New York Canal and Railroad Company, a division of the Lehigh Valley Railroad. The line was later known as the Bowman’s Creek Branch of the Lehigh Valley Railroad. By August 16, 1887, two trains each way began a daily run to the Lake. In October 1887 the Alderson post office was created for the growing North Corner. The post office was named after William C. Alderson, the Treasurer of the Lehigh Valley Railroad. Edward Bush, the first postmaster at Alderson, was the freight agent for the Lewis lumber company at the Lake.
William C. Alderson began his career with the Lehigh Valley Railroad in the Fall of 1869 and in 1903 he also was named as Treasurer of the Lehigh Valley Coal Company. He had an estate named Wynndown at Overbrook in Lower Merion Township in Montgomery County outside of Philadelphia. After forty years of service to the railroad he retired in January 1909. He died on November 7, 1914.
The Harvey’s Lake railroad began in Luzerne. Prior to 1891 there was no direct line from Wilkes-Barre to the Lake. Another railroad line had to be taken from the city at 10:00 A.M. to Pittston Junction where the line crossed from the east to the west side of the river. The train then returned down river to Bennett’s Crossing at Luzerne before it connected with the Harvey’s Lake railroad. As an alternative, Wilkes-Barre passengers to the Lake initially could take a trolley from Public Square to Kingston, and then take a short ride on the Lackawanna and Bloomsburg railroad to Luzerne in order to connect to the Harvey’s Lake railroad. In either case, the connections were very cumbersome and time-consuming. To return on the railroad from the Lake, passengers had to leave the Alderson station at 3:00 P.M. This awkward schedule left only a few hours for tourists to enjoy the Lake, and service on the Harvey’s Lake railroad was not profitable. The railroad quickly planned a more economical route and the addition of a large park to attract additional passenger service.
A direct line from Wilkes-Barre to the Lake became available in 1891 when the Lehigh Valley Railroad constructed the Port Bowkley bridge across the river from Plains to Forty Fort. The direct line coincided with the construction of mills and tanneries at the “boom towns” of Noxen and Stull, and also with the opening of the Picnic Grounds at the Lake by the railroad. By July 1891 the track was carried an additional mile along the Lake shore from Alderson to the Picnic Grounds where a small Harvey’s Lake substation was located. By April 1892 the track was pushed to Bowman’s Creek at Noxen. Nearly seventeen miles to the west was Ricketts, another lumbering “boom town.” Ricketts was connected to Towanda for forty-three miles of track operated by the State Line and Sullivan Railroad Company, a subsidiary of the Lehigh Valley Railroad. Lewis then built a private railroad that joined Noxen and Ricketts. By September 1892 there was a direct rail line between Wilkes-Barre, Harvey’s Lake and Towanda. The Lehigh Valley Railroad had planned to purchase the connecting railroad built by Lewis, but there was a delay in constructing the necessary telegraph line along the route and also tough bargaining by Lewis for partial use of the line to haul timber. Finally, on July 1, 1893, the Lehigh Valley Railroad acquired the complete line and had direct rail service from the Wyoming Valley through the booming timbering fields of Luzerne and Sullivan Counties and on to Towanda. The new line to Towanda was quite profitable and more convenient than the earlier winding tract along the Susquehanna River between Wilkes-Barre and Towanda.
Alderson was an active lumbering and railroad village from 1887 to 1914. The railroad paralleled the Kunkle road as it approached the Lake. Near Alderson it crossed to the right over the Kunkle road in front of the Lewis farming fields. At the intersection of the road and rail line, an engine-house on the left side sheltered the small steam locomotive that pulled the Lewis log train, and to the right side a coal dump signaled the intersection of Lewis’ private logging railroad to the west. Immediately beyond the intersection of the railroad and logging lines, a large company store stood on the right side of the road. On the opposite side of the road, the company offices and boarding house were located. A little further down on the right, in sight of the Lake, stood the freight house and the Alderson depot, with a water tower behind it. Dallas Township had a large schoolhouse on a hill behind the Alderson depot. Only steps away began the Lake Township line at the Lake. In 1898 additional buildings in the Alderson area included the new drug store of Dr. L. B. Avery, the Allen grist mill, and the Patriotic Order of Sons of America meeting hall. At the Alderson corner the main railroad line continued straight along the lakeshore to the Picnic Grounds. Lewis had a separate 4,612 foot log line that swing to the left along the lakeshore from the North Corner to the sawmill; today the Lake road runs along this course.
The Alderson depot was apparently built in 1891. It served as the ticket and freight office and as the office for the Western Union telegraph. The Alderson post office was also located at the depot for many years. When originally built, the depot had hemlock siding; the interior, including the ceiling, was covered with hardwood wainscoting. Inside, there were separate waiting rooms for men and women and a center office. For old men with time to spare, the Alderson depot was the right place to spend the day waiting for the four daily trains. Corncob pipes with the strongest tobacco of the time usually filled the waiting room with their own special aroma. Merchants from the neighboring villages—Noxen, Kunkle, Pikes Creek, Mooretown, and Slabtown, now called Beaumont near Noxen—relied on Alderson for freight service that was expertly handled for years by George M. Young, the slender and popular station master. By 1936 freight and passenger service had dwindled, and the separate freight house was torn down. The men’s waiting room then served for freight storage.
Lewis had his own ten-mile logging track from Alderson that ran separate from the main line of the Lehigh Valley Railroad. The Lehigh Valley line ran along the lakeshore and cut through the Picnic Grounds for a straight westerly run to Noxen. The Lewis log train ran west directly from Alderson. It turned southwest at the Casebere Run trestle where it crossed under the Lehigh Valley line after which it again turned west and ran parallel to the Lehigh Valley before linking to the main Lehigh Valley line at the Beaver Run junction below Noxen. Between Casebere Run and Beaver Run, another log train spur ran over to Ruggles where Lewis had purchased the J. J. Shonk mill in 1889. Apparently, the Lewis log train roads were the original tracks for an extension of the Wilkes-Barre and Harvey’s Lake Railroad Company from Alderson to the Bowman’s Creek timbering fields. But the grades for the log roads were too difficult for the heavier trains of the Lehigh Valley Railroad, and the line along the lakeshore west to Noxen was built by the railroad on a new route more suitable for passenger and freight service. Lewis was then able to maintain his original line for his log train to tap the timbering tracts along Bowman’s Creek.
The Albert Lewis Lumber and Manufacturing Company was incorporated in August 1890. Operations began in May 1891 when a large sawmill was built at Stull, three miles above Noxen, to serve the Bowman’s Creek region. Stull was named after Adam Stull, a brother-in-law and partner of Albert Lewis. Adam Stull managed the Bowman’s Creek mill, which had a daily capacity of 100,000 board feet. At the same time, a smaller sawmill was built on the shore of Harvey’s Lake at Alderson. In the same year Mosser and Company was building its huge tannery at Noxen. Hemlock bark, stripped from the trees during the timbering operation, was a prime element needed to tan leather. With the exception of Trexler and Turrell, a massive lumbering operation in the Ricketts area, the Lewis firm was the largest timbering operation in Luzerne and Wyoming Counties.
Dr. Lorenzo B. Avery settled at Alderson in 1898. With the assistance of Amos Kitchen, Avery built a three-story structure for his home and business. Avery had previously practiced at Centermoreland and Noxen, but he was drawn to the Lake to serve the workers at the sawmill. Although a trained physician, he did not engage in an extensive practice. Instead, he maintained a thriving pharmacy and general store until his death in February 1926. He was remembered for his civic and humanitarian services to the Alderson community and as the Alderson correspondent to the Dallas Post.
In October 1899 Albert Lewis purchased from Ephraim Troxell the timbering rights to the huge Withy and Fell tracts that ran from behind the Inlet area around the Lake to Sandy Beach. All trees in excess of eight inches in diameter were included in the transaction. The agreement, however, protected trees under twenty inches in diameter which grew within two hundred feet of the lakeshore or along Harvey’s Creek.
Logs cut on the Troxell tracts were hauled by wagon on the Lake road to the Alderson mill. Log rafts would also be strung together with saplings and rowed to the Lewis mill. At times a steamer may have been used to haul the log rafts. During the winter, if ice conditions on the Lake were appropriate, logs would be sledded over to Alderson from the Outlet.
Accidents in the woods or at the mills were common, sometimes resulting in deaths, and the hearty timber men often suffered amputation of injured limbs. After Charles Miller lost a leg in an accident at the Alderson mill in mid-February 1899, the men at the mill collected seventy-five dollars to buy Miller an artificial leg. In addition to the sawmill, Lewis developed a large farming operation by clearing a section of the old Kitchen estate. The timbering and farming industries at the Lake stimulated the development of allied business firms. At Kunkle the Marsh Tannery provided work for men from the Lake until the tannery closed in the late 1890’s. At Alderson, Otis T. Allen erected a large flour and feed mill in 1894, after an earlier mill burned down in December 1893. The Allen mill was located next to where the fire station was later built.
The Stull mill was destroyed by fire in 1903. The rebuilt mill at Stull was destroyed by another fire in 1906. After the last Stull fire, all Bowman’s Creek logs were sent to the Alderson mill. A log train left the Alderson shed in the morning, and during the day about ten cars of logs would be brought to the mill. The average daily production at the Alderson mill was about 45,000 feet of lumber. A boom in the water contained the logs that were dumped in the Lake from a railroad track that extended over the water near the mill.
Alderson has always been intimately identified with the church at the Alderson corner. In 1888 Harvey’s Lake and Kunkle congregations were merged by the Methodist Conference with R. P. Christopher as the supply minister. On April 22, 1888, the first worship service was held at a picnic ground behind the Stull home at Alderson. Lehigh Valley passenger cars, which generally lay over at Alderson on Sundays, were secured for worship services. On Sunday, May 13, 1888, a thirteen-member church was organized in Lehigh Valley Car 94. Services were held in the train cars until December 9, 1888. A local schoolhouse was then used by the congregation until the Methodist Episcopal Church of Alderson was organized on May 28, 1896. The Alderson church was dedicated on August 23, 1896. Steam from the Alderson sawmill ran the electric dynamo to furnish light to the church, depot and company houses. Power usually ran from dusk to 10:00 P.M. There was a shed next to the church to shelter the horses that the congregation drove to church. In 1897 the Lehigh Valley Railroad donated two lots along the Lake shore between Alderson and the Picnic grounds for the erection of the one-room Lakeside schoolhouse, which served Alderson until June 1908.
In 1914 the Alderson sawmill ended its operations at the Lake. The Lewis firm was harvesting the last of its Lake tracts at Willow Point and in mid-1914 the remaining trees were attacked by a parasitic blight. Lewis’ veteran foreman at the Alderson sawmill, Cornelius Fish also died in late July 1914. The larger timbering firms in the region had completed stripping the hills along Bowman’s Creek, the Lake and at Ricketts. In 1917 the Alderson mill was dismantled. Albert Lewis moved from Alderson to develop his famous Bear Creek ice-cutting operations. A son of Adam Stull, Albert Stull, continued the Alderson store, known as the Harvey’s Lake Supply Store and Lumber Company. Stull also continued the large farm that Albert Lewis had owned.
The closure of the Alderson mill brought other changes to Alderson. The three-room Alderson school, which had primary, intermediate, and high school grades, was located in Dallas Township next to the Lake Township line. Pupils from both townships attended the school, but when the mill closed, the Alderson school was also closed. Dallas Township children attended the Kunkle school, and Alderson children attended the Laketon school at West Corner. The post office also moved. George Young, the freight agent, had succeeded Edward Bush, the original postmaster, but after the mill closed, the post office was transferred from the train station to a structure next to the Avery store, with George Armitage as postmaster for the next twenty-five years.
It is curious that the Lake was never developed for major commercial ice-cutting. Usually, a large lake with access to rail service would be an ideal prospect for a major ice industry. Moreover, Albert Lewis was widely experienced in the ice business. Lewis, of course, contemplated the extension of his ice business to the Lake along with his lumbering interests. But circumstances would eventually turn Lewis away from the Lake as an ice-cutting center. The principal obstacle to Lewis was the Wright and Barnum patents to the Lake. In January 1888 the heirs of H. B. Wright and C. T. Barnum granted George R. Wright and Benjamin F. Barnum, sons of the original patent owners, a license to cut ice on the Lake. The license, however, was then leased to Albert Lewis who planned to cut at least six thousand tons of ice annually at the Lake, with a royalty to the heirs of Wright and Barnum. But the arrangement with Lewis only lasted a few years. Barnum and Wright had a dispute with Lewis over business methods, and the ice business at the Lake did not prosper. The royalty for 1893 only amounted to $60.75. On November 12, 1893, the lease with Lewis was cancelled. On behalf of the Lake patent owners, George R. Wright entered into a new ice-cutting lease with Theodore Renshaw, who was well-known in the Wyoming Valley as the captain of Susquehanna River steamboats. Renshaw also owned property at Alderson. Renshaw cut ice on the Lake for a short time. On January 3, 1895, however, Wright, Barnum, and Renshaw visited the Lake to witness a strange phenomenon. The water and ice in the ice field from Alderson to the Picnic Grounds was full of algae. The unsightly ice could not be harvested, and the ice season was a disaster. Wright and Barnum did not take a serious interest in ice-cutting at the Lake after the 1895 season. In fact, in October 1895 Wright and Barnum offered the Lake patents to Judge Henry W. Palmer for the price of $50,000.00. Palmer, however, did not accept the offer. A few years later, on February 14, 1900, the uninsured ice houses of Wright and Barnum at Alderson were completely destroyed by fire.
Perhaps Renshaw rebuilt the ice houses or constructed his own at the Lake. The Harvey’s Lake Ice Company merged with the Pittston Ice Company in April 1901 under the latter’s name. In early February 1908 Albert Lewis bought the Pittston Ice Company and re-sold it to the Old Forge Ice Company later in the month. Likely, ice harvesting by the company ceased in these early years.
While Barnum and Wright struggled to profit from their Lake patents in the early 1890’s, Albert Lewis decided to develop an ice-cutting industry elsewhere in the North Mountain range. Lewis built two dams on Bowman’s Creek at Mountain Springs, and soon he developed a large ice operation. The ice from Mountain Springs, and an allied operation at Beach Lake, was conveniently shipped on the Lehigh Valley Railroad through Alderson to the Wyoming Valley. When Lewis returned to Bear Creek after the Alderson sawmill closed, the Mountain Springs and Beech Lake ice operations were acquired by Arthur L. Stull, a son of Adam Stull, and brother-in-law of Albert Lewis.
The special days of Alderson passed with the closing of the mill. At the height of the lumbering days, four daily passenger trains passed through Alderson. The early train ran from Towanda to Wilkes-Barre with a return train in mid-morning. In the afternoon and early evening the trains ran again, and each of the four trains carried mail. In the boom years, separate freight trains had served the farmers and millers in the Lake region. As traffic dwindled in later years the passenger train, sometimes with only one light coach, was drawn by a gas electric engine, while a diesel hauled the freight. With the decline of lumbering operations before World War I, freight service was largely dependent on the ice industry at Mountain Springs and the tannery at Noxen, and passenger service dropped sharply after World War I with the popularity of the automobile. The old logging track along the Lake shore to the site of the Alderson mill again became a public road when an improved highway around the Lake was built in 1925. At the same time the old public road through the Stull property was vacated.
Another Alderson manufacturing firm was begin in 1922 when Myron Williams established the Harvey’s Lake Bottling Company. He was assisted by two sons, Fayette A. Williams and Lyman Williams, and by a son-in-law, Pat Garrity. Soft drinks were bottled in a variety of flavors. The bottles carried the company name and were impressed with an Indian head that was the firm’s insignia. The company also served as distributor of Orange Crush, Cheerup and Moxie. The company bottles—clear, blue and green—would later become collectors’ items. Later, children of Lyman Williams would manage the firm. Four generations of the Williams family, descendants of Jonathan Williams, the mid-nineteenth century school teacher, would eventually operate the Alderson bottling company, until its closure.
On December 19, 1928, the two round trip passenger train runs between the Wyoming Valley and Towanda were reduced to a single daily round trip. The automobile was choking Lake train service as it would the trolley and steamboat service. On April 2, 1934, the Lehigh Valley Railroad discontinued separate passenger and freight service lines through Alderson and substituted a combination passenger and freight service from Wilkes-Barre. In contrast to the glorious days before the Great War, when weekend picnic trains to the Lake were packed, regular Sunday train service to the Lake was no longer offered. The last advertised passenger service to the Lake appeared in March 1936. After that time, only special picnic excursions were run to the Lake.