The Harvey’s Lake Hotel and Land Company was incorporated on April 20, 1897. The President of the company was Christian Stegmaier; other major stockholders were Peter Forve, John Graham, P. R. Raife, John B. Reynolds, Pierce Butler, Edward Gunster and A. A. Holbrook. The company purchased three parcels of land, including the site of the Lake Grove House. P. R. Raife, a well-known builder in Wilkes-Barre, was the general contractor for the new hotel, and McCormick and French were the architects. Construction of the hotel began in October 1897.
The hotel was built on a hill behind the site of the Lake Grove House. It was two hundred feet from the edge of the Lake and occupied a plot 196 feet wide and 105 feet deep.
A formal inspection by the owners of the new hotel was held on April 14, 1898. At this time it was called Hotel Graham, after one of the principal stockholders. Following a tour of the hotel, an elaborate dinner was held with Oppenheim’s Orchestra providing the music.
In the center of the hotel, a six foot wide main stairway reached from the basement to the fourth floor. The basement contained a barroom, café, barber shop, pastry kitchen, wine cellar, laundry room, lavatories, billiards room and bicycle room. At the top of the stairway, a large skylight diffused light through its sixteen square foot wall.
The main entrance led to a hall thirteen feet wide and forty-four feet long. The hall passed through the center of the building. To the left, a large lobby, with paneled wainscoting and an open six and one-half foot fireplace, held the registration and office area. The ceiling was coffered and supported by columns and pilaster. To the left of the office area, an archway led to a large parlor with another fireplace. At the end of the parlor a ten foot wide hall led to a thirty by fifty-five foot dance hall with two sets of large double doors opening to the side porch, a glorious promenade for evening dancing guests.
To the right of the main lobby a thirty-three by sixty foot dining room lined with plate glass windows overlooked the Lake. The dining room ceiling was coffered in quarter oak. An adjoining area served as the nurses and children’s dining room.
Seventy rooms filled the second and third floors with two sets of public baths on each floor. Many of the rooms were suites with private baths and fireplaces. The fourth story was used for storage. The eclectic exterior featured gables and towers in English half-timber with a distinctive veranda and balcony. The porch was sixteen feet wide and 343 feet long. The building was wired for electric lights and a fire alarm system. A power house, one hundred feet to the left of the hotel, was built to serve the hotel and the surrounding area. In March 1898 the owners of the hotel also incorporated the Harvey’s Lake Light, Heat and Power Company to supply the hotel’s power system. Electric current was sold to cottagers in a two mile area near the hotel. An electrical system to serve the rest of the Lake was twenty years away. Steam heating and a sewage treatment system were additional features of the new hotel.
In June 1898 the hotel was renamed the Oneonta, an Indian name meaning a “place of rest.” Within a week the landscapers at the hotel found an Indian canoe buried on the grounds. It was carefully removed and cleaned for exhibition. On July 7, 1898, the Hotel Oneonta was opened for guests. The first floor was finished in Indiana red oak with embossed decorations in the office and parlor. Each of the guest rooms had two windows, brass enameled beds, maple and oak furniture. Familiar names in the Wyoming Valley furnished the hotel. Isaac Long furnished the Axminister and Brussels carpets, and F. M. Kirby furnished the silver and glassware. Jonas Long’s Sons furnished the bedroom and table linen. The hotel was the equal of any summer hotel in the state and signaled an incredible two decades of resort fame for the Lake. Soon after the opening a barn and stable along with picnic grounds were planned for the rear of the hotel.
A line of sailboats was available for guests. A twenty foot flag was raised in front of the hotel and red shale paths were laid around the hotel grounds. The trolley brought crowds to the Oneonta for Saturday night dances, and the hotel guests enjoyed concerts during luncheon and dinner hours.
In 1899 a large boathouse was built for the Oneonta, and its landing became the principal stop for the steamboats. In 1903 tennis courts were added to the Oneonta lawn. Masses were held at the Oneonta on Sunday’s drawing summer guests, as well as servants and maids from the summer homes.
The Oneonta was a benchmark of the Lake’s Golden Era. The hotel was open from late May to late September. Days in advance of the annual July 4 holiday, preparations began in Valley homes for the annual “basket picnic” at the Lake. Crowds would assemble on Public Square to catch the trolleys that ran to the Lake from 4:00 A.M. until 11:00 P.M. Family members struggled among the crowds to stay together as they boarded “double-headers” for the half-hour, twenty mile-an-hour ride to the Lake. Tumbling out of the trolley at the Oneonta station with brigades of swinging baskets, they strolled down Oneonta Hill in awe of the huge hotel with its towering gables overlooking the Lake. Couples took advantage of a promenade walk along the Oneonta veranda. But families headed for the steamboat landing to be cramped aboard the Kingston or to wait for a chance on the double-decked Natoma for a sun splashed dash across the Lake to the Picnic Grounds.
Holidays brought massive party groups from the Valley to the Lake’s amusement areas. The Oneonta also catered to guests from New York and Philadelphia. For years the Mozart Club, a wealthy singing society of German origin, arrived on the train at Alderson and boarded a steamboat to the Oneonta for its annual July 4 holiday. Early in the morning the club would walk to the hill behind the hotel to awaken the other guests with songs. Singing groups were in vogue and local clubs such as the Concordia, Givents, Ushers and Emmett Glee Clubs entertained at the Oneonta during the holidays.
In the early afternoon a brief lull reigned before the steamboats renewed their incessant runs from the Picnic Grounds to the Oneonta landing as thousands of holiday guests flocked to meet the return trolleys to the Valley. Then, as cooler breezes signaled the early evening, the trolleys to the Lake were full again with new crowds arriving for the evening dances at the Oneonta or the Picnic Grounds.
The Oneonta always provided musical entertainment with summer meals. String ensembles were popular with the dinner crowd, with better area orchestras for dancing in the ballroom. A popular tune, “Johnson’s Rag,” was written at the Oneonta by two musicians, Guy Hall and Henry Kleinkoff. Tradition held the song was inspired by a cheerful waiter at the Oneonta who had a wide smile and dancing feet. The ever-popular “Moonlight and Roses” was composed by Joe O’Connor, who played piano at the Oneonta before becoming a priest.
From 1901 to 1905 the Oneonta was leased to John A. Redington, a hotel man from Wilkes-Barre. In 1906 he left the Oneonta and leased the Lehigh Valley Picnic Ground at the Lake. James E. Poland then became the Oneonta manager. He held the position for ten years, longer than any previous manager. Poland owned early hotels in the city, the Windsor and later the Hart. Poland’s hotels were popular with vaudeville entertainers who played the area. The popular character actor, Edward Everett Horton, played summer stock in Wilkes-Barre and was a frequent guest at the Oneonta.
The Oneonta’s most famous guest was the former President, Theodore Roosevelt, who had dinner at the Lake hotel on August 22, 1912, while on a visit to the Valley. As the Lake’s most celebrated time was ending, James Poland died on Christmas Eve 1918, and in six weeks the Oneonta would be lost to fire.
On Sunday, February 2, 1919, Mrs. James Poland and a few friends were visiting the Oneonta. In the early evening, at about 6:00 P.M. she left the hotel and was about to drive home when her party saw a blaze in the basement area. Within minutes the entire hotel was in flames. Farmers were aroused from the area to respond to the fire. Holes were cut in the ice, and a bucket brigade was formed to save neighboring buildings. The illuminated sky began to draw crowds from miles around, and the roads were filled with cars as the hotel became a destructive furnace. A high wind showered sparks that ignited trees and cottage roofs. Several times flames caught the hotel’s power house and ice house, but they were extinguished. The fire burned for more than three hours with no injuries to anyone, but nothing remained of the landmark hotel after the fire except a brick chimney, fireplace vault and foundation. For some time, the Oneonta company had been in default on the mortgage to the hotel. The Polands had not planned to manage the hotel in the summer of 1919, and Prohibition was on its way. The cause of the fire was never determined, and the $45,000.00 in fire insurance was inadequate to rebuild it. In August 1919 the Wyoming Valley Trust Company, which held the mortgage, foreclosed on the estate and sold it to John P. Schmitt, Peter Forve and P. R. Raife, who laid out the area in building lots.