The end of the Great War signaled a revival of the Lake as a summer resort. But a new time had emerged from the War. In the early 1920’s every American family was buying a radio, a new invention perfected during the War. The radio would bind farm and city with a shared vision of a powerful new nation. Popular entertainment filled the evening airwaves and local dance bands sought national fame through the regional and national radio networks. In nearly every American town a dance hall or pavilion was built. The radio audience flocked to see the touring musical heroes of the time. The local dance hall became as popular as the movie theatre, and fans wanted a racy automobile to get there. It was an awkward time – a time of enormous energy shackled by Prohibition.
At Harvey’s Lake a settled summer colony sought to retain a civilized community. But ever-increasing numbers of transient visitors invaded the narrow Lake roads with automobiles, as crowds jammed the amusement areas and dance halls seeking jazz-age excitement. For twenty years the Harvey’s Lake Protective Association governed a changing time and contending interests.
An organizational meeting of Lake cottagers was held on November 12, 1919. On January 20, 1920, four days after Prohibition began, the local court approved the charter of the Harvey’s Lake Protective Association with Arthur L. Stull, as President. Prior to this time there was no organized police force at the Lake although the state police had jurisdiction over the area. The post-war crowds and growing automobile nuisance demanded an organized police operation. In the spring of 1920 the Protective Association carefully planned for the season. For the summer two state policemen would be secured for the Lake by the Protective Association’s Law and Order Committee. The state policemen would board at the Lake. Additional officers were retained for holidays and weekends to enforce one-way traffic around the Lake. To support law enforcement at the Lake, three residents, Frank R. Jackson, Grover C. Anderson and George Casterline, were appointed as deputy sheriffs. Each earned fifty dollars a year. A used Ford was purchased by the Protective Association to support the officers, and soon a motorcycle was added. A “lung motor” for drowning accidents was also purchased, and it would be maintained at the Picnic Grounds.
An immediate problem was electrical service at the Lake, since the Hotel Oneonta electrical plant for a part of Sunset was not restored to operation after the hotel fire. For the 1920 season a committee of cottagers secured the Oneonta plant and restored it to operation for a few hours each evening. Another area of concern was the road problem. Two years earlier the state had awarded a contract to concrete the Old Lake Road from Dallas to the Lake, but the work was still not completed. Sections of the highway to the Lake were closed, and alternate routes through the back roads were necessary to reach the Lake. The Protective Association pressed the state for immediate action to complete the paving work.
As the 1920 season opened, the charitable Albert Lewis, who still owned considerable land at the Lake, donated 30,430 square feet of land near Point Pleasant to the Wilkes-Barre Y.W.C.A as a camping ground. The season was exceptional as Memorial Day crowds were the largest in the Lake’s history. The Noxen road and the Lake road a half-mile above the Picnic Grounds and one mile below the park were jammed on both sides with parked cars. The trolley line ran cars every twenty minutes until 4:00 P.M. in the late afternoon when there was a break before the dance crowds came at 7:00 P.M. At the Picnic Grounds the attraction was a band called Oh Boy Brotherhood. There were four state troopers to enforce the holiday one-way “go right only” regulation. Two of the troopers patrolled on motorcycle. There was also a crackdown on transient jitney operators who were checked for taxi permits.
On July 4, 1920, all the available cottages were rented and the Lakeside Inn had to turn down scores of families seeking lodgings. The forty cent Saturday evening dance drew a large crowd at the traction company pavilion, which featured Gilligan’s seven-piece orchestra. Henry’s jazz band played at the Picnic Grounds and the Sunset Pavilion held its grand opening. By September 1920 the Law and Order Committee was studying a plan to incorporate the Lake community as a separate borough, and in the fall the Fire Committee was organized with Robert A. Stull acting as “Chief” for the Committee.
In March 1921 the Harvey’s Lake Light Company, under the leadership of C. W. Laycock, was chartered to purchase the Oneonta electrical service. Power was acquired from the traction company, and twenty-four hour electrical service was planned for May 15, although service was still limited to the Inlet area. The Fire committee divided the Lake into the five districts of Alderson, Warden Place, Oneonta, Point Breeze and West Corner, each with a captain and ten volunteers. A Fairbanks fire-pump was acquired, but it later proved inoperable and was returned to the manufacturer. The only real protection from fire was to encourage cottagers to equip homes with buckets and axes.
With Memorial Day 1921 a crowd larger than the 1920 holiday group arrived to start the summer season. Three steamboats and the Emily shuttled the crowds from the Oneonta landing to the Picnic Grounds. The Blue Triangle Lodge of the Wilkes-Barre Y.W.C.A. was providing girls’ camping at its new grounds. The Belvedere Tea Room was a new restaurant on West Corner Hill. For Independence Day a new restaurant, with a second-floor dance hall, was open at the Picnic Grounds. Kleinkauf’s Orchestra played at the Sunset Pavilion while the Harmony Kings played the fifty-five cent dance at the new Oneonta Pavilion. For the holiday over five thousand people arrived on the trolley between 9:00 A.M. and 3:00 P.M., and there was a long wait for an open seat at the new Picnic Grounds restaurant. Two young men entered the swimming area at the West Corner in B.V.D.s , and all the women stopped swimming and left the water. B.V.D.s were a brand of men’s swim wear which were more form-fitting with a detachable top – men’s swim suits were still two-piece outfits – and top wear covering a man’s chest would soon be out of fashion. The Tarzan actor Johnny Weissmuller was the ad model for the B.V.D. brand. The local regulation that banned riding in cars in bathing suits was increasingly ignored while speeding, often with defective lights, was rampant. The older generation complained about girls speeding along the Lake road with young men who had “indecent attitudes.”
For Memorial Day 1922 Wilkes-Barre offered Rudolph Valentino in The Conquering Hero at the Savoy Theatre, and a Tom Mix movie was the attraction at the Capital. Despite the theatre attractions in town, crowds stormed the Lake for the holiday. The light company was unable to meet the demand for services as new customers were being added to the system. But A. J. Sordoni soon acquired a controlling interest in the company and would add additional capital to improve services. At the Picnic Grounds, now sometimes called Harvey’s Lake Park, continuous dancing was offered from 2:00 P.M. to 5:00 P.M. and again from 8:00 P.M. to 11:30 P.M., ending in time for the midnight trolley to Wilkes-Barre. The Roamers Orchestra played at the Sunset Pavilion, while Duffy’s College Eight highlighted the Oneonta Pavilion. The Protective Association approved the appointment of Frank Stutz and Benjamin Jones as police officers for the Lake; the Lakeside Inn served as “headquarters” for the patrolmen. Their principal problems were reckless driving, theft from automobiles and drunkenness. In the evenings hours, the patrolmen directed traffic near the dance pavilions. Common occurrences were “one-eyed” automobiles speeding along the night highway around the Lake. To control the situation the Law and Order Committee also wrestled with the application of the “blue laws.” Whether merry-go-rounds should be closed on Sundays was a heated issue. In a more advanced vein, the Protective Association voted approval of a plan to incorporate the Lake as a separate borough, which proved to be an elusive goal. In August the Harvey’s Lake Hose Company No. 1 was organized. The initial officers for the volunteer company were George Jenkins as President, George Casterline as Vice-President, E. Steven Honeywell as Secretary and Myron R. Williams as Treasurer.
The Lake’s earliest substantial water pollution scare occurred in August 1923. There was pollution from over-flowing cesspools and contaminated wells. Some inns and boarding houses were drawing water directly from the Lake. Rumors abounded regarding the Lake’s recreational safety but the State Health Department declared bathing was safe but Lake water was not cleared for drinking, washing dishes or vegetables or for domestic purposes. In the meantime the department was testing wells and restaurants for the balance of the season.
Although the Lake Township Commissioners were the elected officials who governed the Lake, they generally deferred to the Protective Association and its Law and Order Committee to control seasonal activities. In 1923 Lake and Lehman Townships formed a jointure for police services, and the Protective Association supplemented the annual contribution of the two townships to maintain the local police. Frank Stutz became the Acting Chief of Police for the Lake. Summer guests welcomed the new Sordoni power plant and improved electrical service. At Harvey’s Lake Park the bathing beach was enclosed by a fence, and a new arcade building was constructed in the center of the park. In June the Lake police confiscated slot machines and punch cards at area restaurants, and gambling wheels were seized at the Picnic Grounds. To control the situation the Protective Association considered a plan to close bowling alleys, pool rooms, barber shops, dance pavilions, amusement parks, merry-go-rounds and the Roller Coaster on Sundays. In the meantime, signs were posted: “Go Slow and See the Lake – Go Fast and See the Squire.” The police generally confined their activities to minor criminal and traffic violations, but violations for illegal liquor and disorderly houses were an increasing problem, as it seemed the Lake was a haven from the Prohibition Era.
While considerable attention was directed toward the control of visiting crowds, the cottage community also sought the improvement of summer family life. The Catholic community at the Lake for some time had sought a permanent home. The problem became acute after the loss of the Hotel Oneonta, which had held Mass services for years. Finally, on September 3, 1923, after a local drive, the Lake’s Catholic congregation dedicated the Lady of Victory Chapel at Warden Place. It was erected as a memorial to the Catholic servicemen who had died in World War I.
Despite religious and secular objections, Frank Devlin publicly defied the community leaders with Sunday dances at the Casino when the 1924 season opened. A conservative community was also concerned with rumors of a new amusement center called Sandy Beach, which was planned for the West Corner. Stutz was ordered to enforce the Sunday ban against nickel pianos while counsel for the Protective Association considered whether an injunction should be sought to close the Sunday dances at the Casino. Since the county grand jury seemed too lenient about liquor violations, lawyers for the Protective Association planned to file “padlock” proceedings to close speakeasies at the Lake.
John T. Ruth was appointed Chief of Police for 1925 at an annual salary of $1,800.00. There was plenty of action after his appointment. The problems began in April when Kingston announced it would no longer respond to fires at the Lake because payment for previous assistance by Kingston was not made, especially for assistance when five cottages at Sunset were lost to fire in November 1924. J. C. Gosart had called the Kingston Fire Department to fight the Sunset fire, but he was not a member of the Protective Association, and the Protective Association would not contribute towards payment of Kingston’s fire bill. For the first time a true hard road was under construction around the Lake, but disputes erupted over the width of its berm as rebuilding of the road around the Lake caused encroachments on property lines. Entertainment at the Lake also caused problems. Devlin proclaimed he would continue Sunday dances, and he publicly invited his arrest every Monday morning. An injunction to stop recreation at Sandy Beach resulted in a court order that allowed swimming but not dancing, an order that would be ignored. Ruth participated in a gambling raid at Lake Silkworth with the Lake-Lehman police, and the Luzerne County Sheriff was called to the scene. In a dispute over the raids, the Sheriff arrested Ruth but he was later acquitted. The newspapers in the area joyfully reported the Lake incidents while the Protective Association sought to have the newspapers refrain from adverse publicity about the resort.
In early September 1925 the murder of Joseph Nevil at his Lake cottage captured the news headlines. At first Nevil, who lived with his wife, two step-daughters, and a boarder, William D. Vandermark, was thought to have died from natural causes. A careful investigation by Lake police Chief John T. Ruth found Nevil was poisoned by his wife Emily. When the wife was arrested for murder she confessed but blamed Vandermark for the plot. Vandermark was arrested too for murder but he claimed the murder plan was solely Emily’s and he discouraged it.
A jury found Emily Nevil not guilty due to insanity. Due to her state of mind her confession implicating Vandermark could not be used to convict him and his murder charges were dismissed for lack of other evidence. But he was immediately arrested for an alleged sexual assault of one of the step-daughters. A judge later found him guilty of a lesser charge and he was fined. He had spent one-year in jail waiting the outcome of the two charges.
In better news, the Harvey’s Lake Hose Company No. 1 was formally chartered on November 16, 1925. After a local fundraiser, Fire Chief A. J. Sordoni ordered the company’s first pumper, a 350 gallon per minute Reo that would be stored in the garage of Otis A. Allen, Sr., who owned Allen’s mill near Alderson. John E. Redington donated a lot at Lakeview Terrace fronting the Lake near Alderson for the future fire and police station and community house but it would be nearly a decade before it was realized.
In the meantime, the Lake residents were improving their schools and religious institutions. By late 1925 the four-room Laketon school at the West Corner was dismantled and the new Laketon school, which later became a high school, was dedicated at a new site on the West Corner – Loyalville Road. Basketball was a popular sport of the time for both men and women. The local team was formed in 1921 and had practiced in the second floor of the Patriotic Order of Sons of America hall at Alderson until the new school was built. The Laketon girls’ team was outstanding, and in 1927 the boys’ team was considered the championship club of the area.
In the early 1920s the Laketon M.P. Church could not maintain its viability. In June 1923 a group of Lutheran residents began services at the church and in June 1926 the new congregation received a formal church charter from the county court. On August 15, 1926, the Lutheran Church of the Reformation was dedicated at the West Corner. The congregation was formally installed on October 1, 1923, and on Christmas 1923 the church group received from the venerable Albert Lewis the gift of a posthumous bell, which could now ring from the Reformation tower. Lewis had died on December 18, 1923.
In the winter, the Lake always served as an enjoyable retreat for area children to ice skate at Sandy Beach, Alderson and the Picnic Grounds. During the evening, bonfires provided landmarks and warmth for the skaters. At Sandy Beach the “official” fireman was Sherman “Pop” Davis, an engineer on the steamboats. He managed the winter bonfires for the children at the West Corner. In the mid- 1920s, iceboats enjoyed a brief popularity, reviving a winter feature that had been an attraction at the turn of the century. Usually, the iceboats were driven by sail. Four-passenger iceboats were sometimes constructed with an automobile motor driving a large propeller to catch the brisk winter wind. Iceboats were owned by Al Stull, Otto Biery and Ben Rood. On Sunday afternoons children took turns in races with the sail-driven iceboats. One especially gusty day, Ben Rood was clocked at ninety-two miles per hour in an iceboat run from the Picnic Grounds to Sunset. The iceboat was named The Spirit of West Corner.
Winter at the Lake also provided employment to the Lake men. During the 1920’s ice-cutting on the Lake was in its prime years. The Casterline family had three generations in the Lake’s ice-cutting industry. Nathanial Casterline was the original family pioneer at the Lake, settling at the Outlet from his original Connecticut home. He hauled lumber from the Lake to the Wyoming Valley coal companies, which used Lake timber for mining operations, but he also entered the ice-cutting business in the early years of the century. There were a number of other early ice-cutters after the ice company operations of Barnum and Wright closed at the Lake. Individual farmers and merchants frequently cut their own ice to stock their farms and stores at the Lake. Two ice-cutters who had a prominent trade in earlier years were the cousins Grover and George Anderson. In time, however, it was Nathaniel Casterline’s son, George Casterline, who had the largest ice operation on the Lake. During the summers of the Golden Years, George Casterline also operated a carriage service carrying passengers and luggage from the Alderson station to the Hotel Oneonta and Lakeside Inn. The horse and wagon service was later replaced by a jitney service.
In later years, George Casterline was aided by his sons, Bill, Jim and Chick Casterline. The Casterlines generally cut ice in the Sunset area – about 150 feet from the shore. Ice was also cut in the Inlet basin. In the early years, ice was cut with horse and muscle. Usually, ice was cut when it was about eight inches thick . A horse-drawn plow cleared the snow from the ice field. An ice plow would cut parallel rows about one hundred feet long. Cross-cuts were made with a hand saw, and the eighteen by twenty-eight inch blocks were spudded apart and piked over to a loading chute. Ice was stored by the Casterlines in icehouses or loaded into the icehouses of the Hotel Oneonta or Lakeside Inn.
During the 1920’s the Lake Improvement Company also entered the ice-cutting business, along with Stull’s Supply Store at Alderson. The Stull Store, however, received its ice from Mountain Springs. The Casterlines had two large icehouses at Sunset. Each held about twelve hundred tons of ice, as the Casterlines cut nearly twenty-five hundred tons of ice in the winter. Only about five or six weeks of ice-cutting were necessary to fill the icehouses if conditions on the Lake were appropriate. Frequently, ice was cut in mid-January, but in a later winter ice could be cut as late as March. In addition to ice, the Casterlines sold and delivered coal and also managed a general hauling service. In the 1930’s mechanical devices would be constructed by the Casterlines to modernize the system. But the rotary saws and mechanical chutes could exact serious injuries, and occasionally trucks and tractors fell through the ice, threatening the lives of their operators.
In the 1920s young men and women at the Lake revived the ice-boating during the winter months. Principal owners of the ice craft were Ben rood, All Stull and Otto Beiry. Rood had a sail boat and Stull and Beiry had a motor-driven craft. Rood has been a star athlete at Laketon High and captain of the basketball team. His ice boat once clocked 92 miles-per-hour on a run from the Picnic Grounds to Sunset. Stull’s four-seater power sled has a four-cylinder Chevrolet engine which ran a six-foot airplane propeller reaching a speed in the 80s. The rides were shared with friends.
With ice cover often twelve or more inches thick automobile races were also held on the Lake in the mid-1920s, sometimes with only eight inch ice. The Picnic Grounds were the usual spot for the races with as many as 1,200 ice skaters sharing the winter ice. Automobile drivers would also occasionally take short cuts over the ice to destinations rather than the snow-covered Lakeside road.
In 1928 Warden Place cottagers questioned whether the community should become its own borough. In June 1929, 200 Lake residents met at Warden Place to discuss incorporating the entire Lake as a separate borough. It was claimed Lake residents incurred the greater share of Lake Township taxes but the rural areas of the township benefited from tax-funded road improvements. Lake residents constantly complained about the condition and safety of the Lake road. The 1929 plan did not succeed until 1967.
In summer months the threat of fire continued to plague the Lake. In April 1930 the Lido Inn, near the Picnic Grounds, was gutted by fire. In June 1930 the Lake Breeze Hotel at Warden Place burned down. Owned by Charles Solomon, it has served summer guests for ten years.
The summer of 1930 brought tragedy to the Lake. On Saturday night, July 19, 1930, Harry D. Sordoni of Kingston, brother of Sen. Andrew J. Sordoni, was shot by Paul Skopa, an employee at Harry Sordoni’s farm at Lehman. Sordoni died in Nesbitt Hospital early the next morning. On Sunday at 5:35 A.M., John T. Ruth, Chief of Police at Harvey’s Lake, was investigating the murder when he was shot from ambush by Skopa. Ruth died later at Nesbitt Hospital. Skopa committed suicide by shooting himself when capture seemed certain. In February 1931 Ira C. Stevenson, a thirteen year veteran of the state police, was appointed Chief of Police.
Activities began early at the Lake in 1931. In May placards were posted around the Lake forbidding the undressing of bathers in automobiles. The season also opened with eager crowds in awe of the glorious new Roller Coaster at the Picnic Grounds. On Memorial Day eve the midnight dance at Sandy Beach featured Phil Cusick’s Radio Nine known as “The Sweetest Band in Radio Land.” For Memorial Day afternoon at Sandy Beach, Gorgon Gebler’s Music Masters from New York City held a band contest with Matzer’s Californians. The Californians were a rousing group of twenty-three musicians who could play fifty instruments. The Avon Inn opened its season with the Preppy College Band. Near the Avon Inn a health resort called Sunny Gym was managed by Beatrice Ward O’Dea. Strollers along the Lake road could stop for snacks at Gildea’s and Johnson’s which were popular stands nears the Picnic Grounds. Other attractive restaurants were the Japanese Gardens at Alderson and the Green Lantern Inn near the Picnic Grounds. The Japanese Gardens were a renamed Avon Inn and only lasted one year before reverting to the Avon Inn name again.
The Lake provided a wonderful diversion for the Wyoming Valley, despite the Depression gripping the nation. On July 4, 1931, the Picnic Grounds offered dancing in the afternoon and evening. The Hey-Dey, Whip, Caterpillar, Dodgem and the Coaster were filled to capacity, with patient mothers holding young children in line for smaller rides and the Miniature Railroad. At Sunset the resident Black band at the Cotton Club played a jumping jazz jamboree to a holiday crowd. Stella Starr, formerly of the Grotto, now managed the Topsail Manor on Old Lake Road. The Lake Transit Company, struggling in its last regular season, tried to entice some trolley passengers for steamboat trips to Sandy Beach where Al Sessa and his Musical Commandeers from New York City were drawing an overflowing audience. A leisurely dinner, away from the bustling Sandy Beach restaurant, was available a few steps away at the Stone House. A few days earlier, on June 28, at the Blue Triangle Lodge, the Wilkes-Barre Y.W.C.A. dedicated the construction of a lodge and camp buildings.
By this time the trolley system throughout the Wyoming Valley was rapidly declining. After World War I the railway company encountered increasing problems with labor, material and taxes, while patronage declined with the increased use of automobiles. The railway tried a refinancing scheme in 1924, but in 1929 the local trolley system went into receivership from which there emerged the Wyoming Valley Public Service Company. An early casualty was the Harvey’s Lake line; on July 6, 1931, trolley service ended between Idetown and the Lake. On September 16, 1931, the Dallas to Idetown trolley was discontinued. The trolley line had itself operated a bus service from Idetwon to the Lake in the summer of 1931. When the trolley retreated to Dallas, the Wyoming Valley Autobus Company, a trolley subsidiary, leased the bus line from Dallas to the Lake to I. A. Rood.
The 1932 season opened to wagging tongues as the Plantation Club at Sunset introduced Memorial Day to a “hot cha” act. The popular fifty-cent midnight dance at Sandy Beach had Al Jenico, and the Avon Inn, under the management of Jacob L. Williams, featured Mel King and his Royal Aces for the holiday. A popular site at Warden Place was Link’s tavern. At the Picnic Grounds, Howard Major was managing the beach and renting canoes and rowboats to happy young couples. In his own way, Howard Major, like others who provided a life of service to Lake guests, was a special reminder of youthful, sunny days to a whole generation. It almost seemed there was never a summer at the Lake without Howard Major, even after a generation of his young customers had grown to bring their own children to the Lake.
Another Lake landmark was lost on February 27, 1933, when the old Andrew Hunlock home at Warden Place was destroyed by fire, after it escaped loss during an earlier fire on New Year’s Eve 1933. At the time of the fire, the three-story, twenty-room home was a monastery for the Congregation of Sacred Heart of Jesus, a religious order that had moved to the Lake in 1926.
On July 28, 1933, newspapers announced that the steamboat line was sold as the Lake Transit Company ended its failing business. Assets of Interest to the buyer were the company’s land holdings along the Lake. The steamboats, except for the Natoma, were to be destroyed. At the same time, A. J. Sordoni began building his model farm at Alderson by purchasing the old farm of Arthur L. Stull. Additional acreage would be added from the Kitchen estate and from surrounding lands in the next few years. On December 5, 1933, the Prohibition Era closed as the Eighteenth Amendment was repealed.
While the summer months provided opportunities for temporary employment at the amusement centers, the Depression gripped Lake residents the balance of the year. The Works Projects Administration provided funds to the township, which were used largely to employ men to improve the road system. Most of the roads off the main Lake drive were still unpaved. The WPA supported the regrading and proper drainage of familiar Lake Streets; for example, Baird, Ridge, Maple and Perrego streets at West Corner were reconstructed under the WPA. Other examples of rebuilt roads were Raskin’s Hill near the Avon Inn, Oneonta Hill and Lakeview Terrace. Once they were regraded, the township asphalted some of the roads. Removal of brush along the entire nine miles of the lakeshore was another WPA project.
In late February 1933 the monastery at the Lake owned by the Congregation of the Sacred Heart of Jesus at Warden Place was lost to fire. There was also slight damage to the adjoining Lakeside Inn. The monastery was formerly the expansive cottage of Andrew Hunlock and was dedicated to the religious order on September 6, 1926. At the time of the 1933 monastery fire the monastery had not full completed repairs from a December 31, 1932 fire. Six priests fought the 1932 fire and were not injured. There were no injuries in the 1933 fire. In September 1936 plans were proposed to erect a new monastery at the site but never materialized.
Given the drudgery of the Depression, the nation was ready for an escape story. For a time real-life events at the Lake provided an opportunity that captured the American attention for months. The American Tragedy murder occurred at Mayer’s Grove near Sandy Beach during the rainy night of July 30, 1934. For years Robert Allen Edwards, a handsome thirty-two year old with a “jutting chin and deep set eyes” and coal black hair, had been dating his hometown neighbor, Freda McKechnie, a twenty-seven year old telephone operator. But Edwards had also fallen in love with Margaret Lee Crain when he attended Mansfield State College. Even though Edwards left Mansfield, and resumed a romance with Freda McKechnie, he wanted to marry Margaret Lee Crain, a talented music teacher who could provide social status to the Edwardsville coal surveyor.
Edwards panicked when Freda McKechnie became pregnant. He took her for a late night swim at Sandy Beach. The couple then went to the Mayer dock near the beach, and when the girl went for another swim, she was clubbed to death by Edwards. She was then allowed to sink in the shallow water near the beach. Edwards later claimed the girl fatally struck her head when she accidentally fell from a boat at the landing. The discovery of the dead McKechnie girl catapulted the Lake into the national headlines because the circumstances of the murder had an uncanny similarity to the 1925 novel, An American Tragedy, by Theodore Dreiser.
In An American Tragedy, Dreiser’s fictional Clyde Griffiths murders the pregnant Roberta Alden on a July evening on Big Bittern Lake near Utica, New York. Griffiths wanted to marry Sondra Finchley, a more prominent girl, but he could not break the relationship with Roberta, his hometown girlfriend.
Dreiser’s novel was based on a July 11, 1906, murder at Big Moose Lake in the Adirondacks. In 1906 Chester E. Gillette was a dropout from Oberlin College. He dated Grace Brown, who became pregnant, but Gillette wanted to marry a more respectable girl. He took the four month pregnant Grace Brown on a rowboat ride, and hit her with a tennis racket before pushing her into the Lake.
The similarities of the Harvey’s Lake and An American Tragedy murders were a national obsession for months. Edwards came to trial on October 1, 1934. The national press services covered the Wilkes-Barre trial, including Theodore Dreiser for the New York Post. The District Attorney was Thomas M. Lewis, and his assistant was J. Harold Flannery; both later became local judges. Edwards was convicted of murder, but there was an unusual degree of sympathy of Edwards. One thousand letters supporting clemency were sent to Gov. George H. Earle who declined to alter the jury’s death sentence. On May 6, 1935, after a rainy evening, at 1:30 A.M., Edwards was electrocuted at Rockview Penitentiary.
With the end of the Bobby Edwards murder case, the ordinary problems of the time had to be resolved. Fire protection became a priority for an expanding Lake community. In mid-July 1934 the twenty-room Cobleigh home at Warden Place was destroyed by fire. The Cobleigh home, located by the Sordoni estate, was built twenty years earlier at a cost of $75,000.00. At the time plans were already underway at the Lake to build a permanent firehouse.
The fire company had been holding meetings at the home of A. J. Sordoni, and in July 1934 the site of the present fire hall was purchased. Daniel C. Roberts, a Woolworth executive, donated the funds to build the fire hall. In August 1934 the company had Otis A. Allen, Sr., as President and A. J. Sordoni as Chief. The name of the company was changed to the Daniel C. Roberts Fire Company. On September 14, 1934, the D. C. Roberts building, next to the Allen grist mill, was dedicated. An ill Daniel C. Roberts was at the dedication against his physician’s orders. During the ceremony he remained in his automobile parked near the rostrum. The principal speaker was Judge J. Warren Davis of the United States Court of Appeals in Philadelphia. (In July 1993 the fire company was renamed the Harvey’s Lake Fire and Ambulance Company). The building jointly served the police and fire departments. The building included two jail cells, a truck room and recreation room. The second floor served as an apartment for the Chief of Police. In the summer of 1935 Roberts donated to the Lake company a new 1935 White pumper with twelve hundred feet of fire hose.
In 1935 a five year drive to protect the water from pollution was initiated. Inspections disclosed a number of private and public facilities were emptying sewage directly into the Lake, especially at Sunset. Inspectors tested restaurant facilities, and the Protective Association pressured violators to property handle waste material.
In late January 1935 the Bon-Air restaurant at the Sunset steamboat landing was lost to fire. The 24 by 80 foot wood frame structure was located across from the telephone exchange, site of the former New Oneonta Pavilion. The fire wiped out telephone lines and service for fifteen hours in the 10-below zero winter weather.
A landmark at Sunset disappeared in 1935 when J. C. Gosart closed his general store. An American store had served the area, and other grocery services were opened along Old Lake Road. Other stores were also serving the Lake community. In 1931 Tony Javers opened a store at Alderson. Three years later he moved to his present location. He also had an Atlantic gas station. Near the Picnic Grounds, Squire Ralph Davis maintained a store and has station. Once he had a restaurant over the Lake next to the steamboat company’s coalhouse at the Picnic Grounds. His lakeside restaurant was removed down the shore to serve as Howard Major’s boat rental shop.
Another example of charitable giving at the Lake occurred in April 1936 when Frederick J. Weckesser donated his attractive Lake home near Sunset to the Girl Scouts of Wyoming Valley. Weckesser was an executive with the Woolworth chain. He had acquired the Lake estate in 1907 and the Weckesser home and boathouse were familiar landmarks at the Lake.
The July 4 holiday in 1937 was crowded as Russian Day celebrated its twelfth anniversary at the Picnic Grounds. During the day, however, the Lake hermit, Frank “Santa Claus” Meighan, stumbled while walking along the Lake shore near the Picnic Grounds. He fell into the water and drowned. For the last ten years of his life he lived a reclusive life at the Lake writing short stories and poetry that he refused to publish. Despite his odd habits he was a popular gardener and general yard man for Lake cottagers.
The late 1930’s also saw the development of new family resorts at the Lake. Ted Frantz, Jr., acquired lakefront property from Stull in 1937 and created Stonehurst Cabins. The Lodge and log-cabin cottages were uniquely modern with complete utilities. Stonehurst also offered a large private sandy beach to delight guests. After the development of the attractive resort, Frantz lost his life in a tragic boating accident one late evening in early September 1941 when his speedboat struck the moored but unlighted seaplane of Mack A. Stogner, a visitor from New York City.
The Avon Inn was acquired by Frank Lutinkski in 1937. In 1939 he renovated the grounds as Pine Grove Lodge, a popular vacation setting for thirty-one years. In addition to sports and games, the Pine Grove Lodge filled summer evenings with dancing, dramatics, campfires and masquerades. Rooms and meals were available at the main lodge. Well-shaded cabins and trailer sites could be rented. The Lodge provided a bus from Wilkes-Barre to the Lake and Sunday transportation to church services at the Lake.
Familiar names also served summer guests. Near the Picnic Grounds, the Tabard Inn, which was acquired by William and Elizabeth Mann in 1921, provided an enjoyable dinner to another generation of Lake visitors. The well-known host of the Lakeside Inn at Warden Place, Martha James Schworm, had died. But the Lakeside Inn would continue to be operated by Lewis Schworm for a few more years. There were also new names associated with popular Lake sites. Sandy Beach was now owned by Margaret Pugh. She had acquired the beach in August 1936. At Sunset, Anthony Burnett converted Carpenter’s Hotel in 1938 into a night club called Sloppy Tony’s.
In the mid to late 1930s ice-boats returned to the winter Lake. William A. Woolbert was the greatest ice-boat enthusiast. Woolbert had a long career in the automobile business before he created the Woolbert Boat Company on the West Side. He was founder of the Harvey’s Lake Yacht Club and was a skilled motorboat racer. He built motorized ice-boats. One had a motorcycle engine which powered a plane-like ice-boat with an airplane propeller. These ice-boats ended immediately before World War II.
On April 29, 1939, the last trolley ran from the Valley to Dallas; a bus line from Wilkes-Barre to Dallas was substituted for the trolley. At Dallas passengers changed to another bus for the Lake. There were changes at Alderson. On June 12, 1939, the Manhattan Stock Company opened the Harvey’s Lake Theatre, a summer playhouse at the Harvey’s Lake Supply Store building at Alderson. The Supply Store had closed a year earlier. The initial play was The Curtain Rises, a comedy-romance with tickets at fifty and seventy-five cents. The theatre company, however, only served the Lake one year. The veteran Alderson postmaster George Armitage, ended a quarter-century of service in 1939. The post office was relocated to the Avery store, which had been vacant for several years. The post office at Alderson was run in succession by Pete Delaney, John Newhart, and Ruth Avery. Finally, Roy Tyson became the appointed postmaster at Alderson.
In the summer of 1939 a number of women operated popular business stands at the Lake. Estelle Bennethum still managed Sunset interests, including La Casa and a real estate agency, while Mrs. Frank Devlin managed the Casino. Mrs. Lawrence Lansbury operated the only gas station at Sunset, and she also had a milk bar; she introduced “corn on the cob” to Sunset. In the Oneonta section, there were three restaurants. One was owned by Mae Gill, who had served the community for years; Elizabeth Buckley had a restaurant called the Oneonta; another familiar stand was operated by Mrs. James Kearney, who introduced the first twelve inch nickel hot dog to the Sunset section. Margaret Link managed an established tavern at Warden Place. At this time Martha Higgins Condaras had a roadside -stand on Noxen Road next to the Picnic Grounds.
The 1939 season closed in early September with two drownings. A young man, Robert Cule, was killed near the Picnic Grounds when his rowboat was struck by a speedboat. His body was recovered by George Hughes, a hard-helmeted diver from Carbondale. A few days later, Millard Haefele fell into the Lake from a speedboat five hundred feet from Warden Place in eighty feet of water. Hughes searched the muddy bottom for five days but could not locate Haefele. The body was recovered by Chief Ira Stevenson and his assistant, Fred Swanson, after they rigged together special dragging equipment. In his time with the Lake police force, Fred Swanson would recover seventeen bodies from the Lake.
By 1940 the Mohawk Riding Academy was established along Old Lake Road near Sunset. Originally, the site was the Mohawk Club. It was a private club house and grounds created in 1931 by Norman James of Edwardsville and a group of friends. James became the sole owner and created the horse-riding facility. The manager was Paul Kenneth “Skip” Heller and his wife Madge Heller. The riding trail was the old trolley rail bed from near Oneonta Hill ending at the top of Old Lake Road. Later, a son, William James ran the academy which closed in the early 1980s. The story of the Mohawk Riding Academy will be continued in an extended article at www.harveyslake.org.
Among the many summer guests in 1940 was Gov. Arthur James, a Plymouth native, who planned to spend the season at the Lake. Five state policemen boarding at the Lake joined the Governor as a security precaution. The Martha Washington Inn served as a sub-station for the state police. The 1940 season at the Lake closed without a single drowning. Since the crowds jammed the Lake after World War I, there had been an average of three seasonal drownings yearly at the Lake.
The Lake would enjoy another quarter century as a vacation retreat, but a residential community was also growing. At the same time, the community’s growth changed the character of the Protective Association which, for twenty critical years, had served the Lake as a quasi-governmental organization. It was now time for the emergence of other municipal and community institutions to govern seasonal activities, while the Protective Association assumed a more leisurely role in promoting the recreational values of the Lake community.