The Early Years
The Harvey’s Lake Steamboat Era represents a romantic time that spanned the growth and decline of the Lake as a major summer resort. Although the earliest steamboat at the Lake was launched a year before the Civil War, the true steamboat era at Harvey’s Lake reigned from the early 1890’s to the late 1920’s. In peak years, over 100,000 passengers would be carried on Lake steamers during a summer season.
The history of this special time at the Lake had its origin in the creation of the steamboat and its development on the Susquehanna River. Although John Fitch built a workable steamboat in 1787 for use on the Delaware River, it was Robert Fulton’s North River, now called the Clermont, that is considered to be the first successful steamboat because of its commercial run on the Hudson River between New York and Albany in 1807. While use of the steamboat expanded widely on American rivers in the early nineteenth century, its development on the shallow Susquehanna was slow.
The earliest steamboat on the Susquehanna was the Codorus in 1825. It was built below York and arrived in Wilkes-Barre on April 12, 1826. It subsequently went to Binghamton. The Codorus successfully navigated the river, but it was a commercial failure. In 1826 the eighty-two foot Susquehanna was built in Baltimore. On its initial journey it struck a rock and blew up at Nescopeck Falls on May 23, 1826, killing four passengers. Another Susquehanna was built at Owego, New York, for a Wilkes-Barre steamboat company, and it arrive in Wilkes-Barre on August 7, 1835. It, too, was a commercial failure. The steamboat was abandoned, and it was later crushed by winter ice at Nanticoke Creek.
Sporadic adventures with commercial steamboats on the Susquehanna followed. The 122 foot Wyoming was built in Tunkhannock in 1849 and abandoned in 1852 as unprofitable. The ninety-five foot Enterprise was built in 1850 and ran between Athens and Wilkes-Barre. It was profitable as a coal carrier, but it only ran a short time before it became stranded in shallow water and was abandoned. It was not until the two decades of the 1870’s and 1880’s that the Susquehanna River supported commercially successful passenger steamers in Wyoming Valley.
It was during the interlude between the pioneer steamers on the river and the successful steamer trade of the late nineteenth century that Harvey’s Lake carried the Wingohocking, the first steamboat on the Lake. The Wingohocking was originally launched on the Susquehanna River at Plymouth in June 1859 by John Martin. At the time it was described as a “small, trim built boat” with a twelve horsepower steam engine. Probably in deference to the dress of the time, a newspaper stated the Wingohocking “will seat some 30 gentlemen or about 15 ladies.”
The Wingohocking served two purposes. At Nanticoke a dam across the river provided “slack water” for canal boats on the North Branch Canal. The canal boats were actually coal barges, but in time the canal also carried passengers on canal “packets.” Running northward parallel to the river on the west side, the canal temporarily ended at the lock at Harvey’s Creek. Canal boats entered the river above the Nanticoke Dam and were towed by small steamers through the “slack water” a few miles up the river to the canal entry at Solomon’s Creek on the east side of the river. The canal then ran through Hanover Township and Wilkes-Barre on a northward journey along the river’s east side to the New York state line. The Wingohocking towed canal boats in the “slack water” pool . The Wingohocking was also the first steamboat in the Wilkes-Barre area to attempt regular passenger service on the Susquehanna. The Wingohocking made three daily trips between Wilkes-Barre and Plymouth in a shallow channel of two or three feet. It was probably a side-wheel steamer. The four-mile trip took about thirty minutes. A round trip fare was twenty-five cents.
The Wingohocking ran one season on the river before it was purchased by George P. Richards of Plymouth. Richards was a native of South Wales who immigrated to American in 1850. He worked on the steamer William Patton, which also towed canal boats between Plymouth and Nanticoke. In 1860 Richards took the Wingohocking to Harvey’s Lake on a sleigh through the Back Mountain wilderness.
At the Lake the Wingohocking was an attraction offered by the Lake House, a large hotel opened in 1855 on the lakefront. The Wingohocking served the Lake House for four years. In 1865 it was sold to Col. Hendrick B. Wright, a prominent local resident and Congressman from the area, who transferred the Wingohocking to a New Jersey lake. The Wright family had a cottage on the Lake on the hill behind the Lake House. A son, George R. Wright, would later play an important role in the development of the steamboat business at the Lake.
In 1875 the Lake House was purchased by James W. Rhoads. After the Wingohocking left the area, there may have been occasional use of a steamboat at the Lake in the next ten years, but the only available account is found in late April 1876 when Rhoads purchased the Emma, a Susquehanna steamer, and took it to the Lake to serve the hotel’s guests. The Emma was originally launched on the river at Wilkes-Barre in early August 1875. It was a side-wheel steamer, twenty-five feet long and covered with a curtain.
Presumably the Emma ran only a couple of seasons, and no record exists of other steamers at the Lake for another twelve years. Resort activity at the Lake may have been too undeveloped to maintain a steamer trade until a later time, even through another hotel, the Lake Grove House, was built in 1881. The Lake Grove House was located near the Rhoads Hotel, but on the other side of a long wooden bridge at the Inlet.
During the 1880’s there was an awakening interest in the Lake as a summer resort; boat clubs from the Valley held races at the Lake each July 4. In July 1882 a Wilkes-Barre newspaper commented that a steamboat at the Lake would be a welcome improvement. But development of the Lake as a resort was slow due to the poor roads and absence of convenient public transportation. Because of the long stagecoach rides, daily guests could only stay a few hours at the Lake before catching a stage home. Other regional resorts with better roads or train transportation were more popular than the Lake. But soon the Lake would begin to blossom with exciting changes.
In early June 1887 two steamboats were brought to Harvey’s Lake to serve the two hotels and the increasing summer trade. James W. Rhoads and Charles Rhoads purchased a steamer from Edward G. Butzbach who had a well-known landing on the river in Hanover Township. The Rhoads brothers brought the steamer to the Lake. The small steamer was originally called the Lena and was launched on the Susquehanna River in April 1887 when Butzbach renamed it the Rose. The Rose may have run only one year at the Lake as no record exists of it after 1887. At the same time, Col. Jacob Rice, who owned the Lake Grove House, launched a steamer called Lily of the Lake. Little is known of the Rice steamer. It came from the Susquehanna River, and its original name may have been Riverside. During the same summer the Rice steamer was purchased by Albert Lewis, a wealthy land owner at the North Corner. Apparently, Lewis ran the steamer on a private basis and not for public fare.
In August 1887 regular passenger excursions began on a railroad which ran from the Wyoming Valley to Alderson. The small steamers of 1887 met the train at Alderson and took guests to the Rhoads and Lake Grove House hotels. The railroad and steamboat rides were a welcome change from the long stagecoach ride to the Lake.
In May 1888 an attractive steamer, the thirty foot Mistletoe, was launched on the Lake by Charles Stanley and John Lloyd of Pittston. The Mistletoe was apparently built on the Hudson River as it had a previous run around Staten Island before its transfer to Harvey’s Lake. The Mistletoe carried about thirty passengers and appeared to serve principally the Rhoads Hotel.
In May 1889 William Bond, of Warden Place, brought a small steamer called the City Charter to the Lake from Ithaca, New York. The City Charter was forty-one feet long and eight and one-half feet wide with a three-bladed propeller. From 1889 to 1904 the City Charter had regular summer runs on the Lake.
The small steamers in the 1887-1889 period were never described in detail. The steamers, however, were thirty to forty feet in length. They had a rigid wood or canvas top; the steam machinery was in the center of the boat. The later steamers drove a screw propeller unlike the paddle-wheel steamers of the shallow Susquehanna River. During the inclement weather, the steamers may have had canvas awnings dropped to protect the passengers.
The Big Boats
The age of the large steamers began in 1891. In January 1891 William Bond began to build a large steamboat that was unnamed but was generally called the Big Boat. Construction of the Big Boat occurred at the North Corner, although Bond would subsequently use a boathouse near the Hunlock home at Warden Place to headquarter his steamer business. The Big Boat was seventy feet long and fifteen feet wide. Bond also had a boarding house and store at Warden Place near the later site of the Lakeside Inn. In a curious note the Luzerne County Court system seized the boat in May 1891 when a carpenter filed a claim for forty dollars due for work on the boat. The claim was quickly settled. The Big Boat, painted white and red, was launched in June 1891. One news account reported that the boiler was inadequate for the boat’s size and had to be replaced with a larger boiler. On the trial trip Bond was in a rowboat admiring the structure of his creation, and in the excitement he capsized but was rescued by a friend.
A tragedy occurred in late September 1891 when nine year old Gomer Rosser of Kingston fell overboard from the Big Boat and drowned. His father, Morgan D. Rosser was a miner recently injured in a mine explosion and had taken his family to the Lake to recuperate.
The Lake became increasingly popular as a resort. In 1891 one of the largest dancing pavilions in the region was built at the Picnic Grounds. Bathhouses on the lakeshore were also built, and patronage from New York and Philadelphia was growing. During this time the Big Boat, City Charter, and the Mistletoe regularly met the passenger trains for steamboat service to the hotels and for tourist excursions around the Lake.
The Rhoads and Lake Grove House hotels were always booked early, and it was difficult to find accommodations at the Lake. Farmers in the area did not seem to take boarders, although boarding houses would develop over time. An alternative was camping on the lakeshore; large summer camps were later available for the summer trade. A popular attraction at this time was the Saturday evening “hop” at the Rhoads Hotel, which had a dancing pavilion with Japanese lanterns illuminating the hotel and grounds.
In 1892 Capt. Theodore Renshaw, who operated steamboats on the Susquehanna River, contemplated the removal of a large river steamer to the Lake, but the plan was not followed. As Captain of the Big Boat and City Charter, William Bond was the “jolly sea dog” at the Lake. The popularity of the Lake attracted new cottagers. When asked about the cost of the cottage in the summer of 1892, Bond replied, “Bless your soul!” Put your slab cottage on the Square in Wilkes-Barre. Land is cheaper there. You can’t buy land in sight of the Lake under ten dollars a foot.”
Besides the steamer run from the train station to the hotels, the steamboats ran excursions for Lake visitors between 4:00 P.M. and 6:00 P.M. with additional runs during the evening after the train left for Wilkes-Barre. The round trip fare was twenty-five cents.
By the fall of 1892 it was evident that Harvey’s Lake would become a major summer resort. Bond’s Big Boat was well patronized and was now said to carry an exaggerated two hundred passengers. The Lake Grove House planned a major expansion to accommodate 150 guests, and a new iron bridge at the Inlet was planned to replace the old long wooden bridge that was in disrepair.
The success of the Lake as a resort and the novel steamboat trade attracted the interest of a few local businessmen. On November 4, 1892, a corporation named the Lake Transit Company was formed to operate a steamboat company at Harvey’s Lake. The five owners were S. H. Sturdevant, the company President; George R. Wright, the Treasurer; S. J. Fogel, the Secretary; and two other directors, E. C. Snyder and George B. Rhoads. Wright seemed the most active of the company owners. Wright inherited Lakeside cottage from his father, the former Congressman Hendrick B. Wright. George R. Wright often fished at the Lake with his good friend, Charles Rhoads, who was then the owner of the hotel. Wright frequently rode the steamer Mistletoe from the railroad station to his cottage near the Rhoads Hotel. Wright also had memories of a magnificent Susquehanna River steamboat, the 108 foot Hendrick B. Wright, named after his father, that was built in Wilkes-Barre in 1874. It ran on the river for several seasons but was crushed by ice on February 11, 1881.
On January 10, 1893, George R. Wright took the New York Central train to Peekskill, New York, along the Hudson River, to meet W. R. Osborn, a builder of steamboats. Osborn began his steamboat building business in 1868; he built boats for South American rivers and lakes. The next day Wright went to the Hudson, but the river was choked with ice. Since there were few steamboats to view, he returned home.
At a meeting of the Lake Transit Company on January 31, another trip to the Osborn Company was planned. The following day Sturdevant, Rhoads and Wright took the train to Peekskill. The next day Osborn showed the Transit Company officers two steamers for sale: the Dunderberg for $5,500.00 and the Sylph for $3,500.00. The Lake Transit Company executed a contract with Osborn to build a steamboat for Harvey’s Lake similar to the Sylph.
During the 1893 winter, Wright helped erect a huge crib on the ice in front of the Rhoads Hotel to prepare a dock for the new steamboat. The crib was finished on March 11. It was seventy feet long and nine feet wide. The next day Wright and Rhoads walked to Bond’s place at Warden Place to view the Big Boat. The Lake Transit Company wanted to buy the Big Boat to eliminate competition for the 1893 summer season. But Bond wanted $5,000.00 for the Big Boat – an exorbitant price for a steamboat which was already two years old.
The following week, on March 17, machinery and material to build the new steamboat arrived at the Picnic Grounds on the railroad from Osborn’s Company at Peekskill. On March 23 at a Transit Company meeting, the directors decided to call the new steamer Rosalind. During these few days the pioneer of steamboats at Harvey’s Lake, George P. Richards, owner of the Wingohocking, was fatally injured in Wilkes-Barre when he was struck by a train. Richards had been a prominent real estate and hotel owner in the city.
On May 9, 1893, at 3:40 P.M., the Rosalind was launched with champagne into the Lake from the Picnic Grounds. On May 13 a special railroad car carried the owners, their families and friends to the Lake for a ceremony. The builder, W. R. Osborn, held the wheel for the maiden trip. After a luncheon at the park pavilion, a trip was taken to the Albert Lewis estate for a tour of the rustic home, followed by a second steamboat tour around the Lake.
The Rosalind was sixty feet long with an eleven foot beam. With one and one-half foot guards, the overall width was fourteen feet. Built with white oak, hard pine and white cedar, the Rosalind had a pilot house on the forward deck with an eleven foot open cabin forward of the engine room. There was a thirteen foot enclosed cabin behind the engine room. The steamer had a three and one-half foot draft and carried seventy-five to one hundred passengers. It had a vertical steel boiler with a simple or single-action steam engine that drove a forty inch four-bladed propeller. Its speed was eleven miles per hour. The Rosalind carried a single lifeboat, but a number of crude life preservers were available.
On May 16 the Rosalind was tested; its boiler withstood 180 pounds of pressure. The Rosalind went into regular service on May 20 to meet the Saturday trains. At ten cents a ride the Rosalind made $9.50 on its first day.
Other Lake improvements were also evident in the spring of 1893. A number of new cottages were built for summer use. The wooden bridge at the Inlet had been destroyed by winter ice and was replaced by a new iron bridge to an expanded Lake Grove House. The new bridge opened in late June 1893. During the late spring a corporation was formed to develop an electric trolley line from Wilkes-Barre through the Back Mountain area to the Inlet area of the Lake. But it would be a few years before the line was in operation.
A year after the Rosalind was launched, a Susquehanna steamer, the Mayflower, sank at Nanticoke on May 20, 1894. There were no injuries in the accident. Built in 1889, the eighty-five foot Mayflower had traveled between Wilkes-Barre and Nanticoke. The Mayflower hull was taken to the north shore of the Lake in the Alderson area with the intent of rebuilding the steamer for Lake use. It was never rebuilt and it remained on the lakeshore for ten or fifteen years until it went to pieces.
On March 27, 1895, the Lake Transit Company finally agreed to buy Bond’s Big Boat for $3,500.00. By this time, however, Bond had renamed his steamer the A. H. Lewis. The local baron Albert Lewis did not have a middle initial. The A. H. Lewis may have been named for Alfred Henry Lewis, a former cowboy, author of Western fiction, and a popular Chicago investigative journalist of Bond’s time. Although Bond’s price for the A. H. Lewis was still high, Wright successfully persuaded the Transit Company directors that it was important to have a monopoly on steamer travel at the Lake. For the 1895 season the Lake Transit Company continued to call the Big Boat the A. H. Lewis, but later it was rechristened the Shawanese. When William Bond sold the Big Boat to the Lake Transit Company, he took his small steamer, City Charter, to Lake Carey, although for a time he continued to run a store and boarding house at Warden Place.
Little is known of the actual operation of the steamers Rosalind and Shawanese. On July 4, 1895, the Rosalind and Shawanese carried three thousand passengers. George Rhoads was a captain for the Rosalind with Al March as pilot and Amos Flower as engineer. Elihu Joel Carpenter, a retired U.S. Army veteran, was a popular captain for the Shawanese. The principal run for the steamers was still from the train depot at Alderson to the hotels at Inlet. A popular landing, of course, was at the new Picnic Grounds.
The Rosalind and Shawanese each had cabins in front and behind the engine room. Both carried passengers on a rear upper deck guarded by a wooden railing. The cabins on the Shawanese probably had glass windows, but the Rosalind only had windows in the rear cabin with canvas awnings in the front cabin.
The Shawanese could be distinguished by the narrow painted band about a foot under the dark painted hull guard. Like later steamers, the Rosalind and Shawanese carried the American flag on the stern and a banner on the bow. The banner had either the name of the steamer or a field of stars. Presumably the two steamers, like the steamers to follow, were each painted the Lake Transit colors of white with green trim.
During this period the steamer Mistletoe disappeared from the news records, although another small steamer called the Columbia operated on the Lake for a time. The Columbia sank at its pier at the Inlet where it lay submerged for years. Since the area was filled in years later, any trace of the Columbia is lost.
The Harvey’s Lake Hotel and Land Company was formed in early 1897 to build the Oneonta Hotel at the Inlet. Among the incorporators were P. R. Raife, who would become the President and general manager of the Lake Transit Company, and John B. Reynolds, a lawyer who had developed the trolley system on the West Side. The hotel was formally opened to the public on July 7, 1898. A large boat landing was built in front of the Oneonta. The landing served the public and was the principal landing for the steamers of the Lake Transit Company.
In 1898 access to the Lake was greatly enhanced by the extension of the trolley to the Inlet. During the resort season the steamboats arranged a schedule to meet the trolleys and also to provide evening excursions for the guests at the Oneonta.
As the century turned, the Lake Transit Company continued to expand. In the summer of 1899 William Rindall and his son, D. M. Rindall, of Wilkes-Barre, built a dry dock for the company. Built of oak with three-inch pink planks, the dry dock was eighty feet long, twenty feed wide and seven feet deep. Later in the year the company also purchased a large lot along the lakeshore near Outlet Point. A frame house on the property served Reuben Shaver, a Transit Company captain, and for the longest time it was the home of Clarence Shaver who later became the Lake Transit’s general manager. On the lakeshore the Lake Transit Company built two large adjoining boathouses to store the steamers in the winter. The dry dock was maintained next to the boathouses, and a smaller boathouse at the site later housed the company’s launches. The company also began to maintain a small fleet of St. Lawrence skiffs to rent from the Oneonta Hotel’s boat landing.
On August 14, 1899, the Lake Transit Company announced an ambitious plan to have Osborn build a great new steamer one hundred feet long and twenty feet wide with three decks. The new steamer would have an electrical dynamo for electric bells and lighting. The carrying capacity was expected to be 350.
On June 9, 1900, the Lake Transit Company launched the Natoma or Queen of the Waters. While the Natoma was the most majestic of the Lake steamers, it was not the same steamer announced by the company the previous summer. Launched with champagne by Miss Julia Raife, daughter of the company’s general manager, Philip R. Raife, the Natoma had a length on deck of seventy-seven feet and an overall length of eighty feet. The beam of the hull was fifteen feet with a four foot draft. The vertical tubular boiler was five feet six inches in diameter and eight feet six inches high, and it was built for 150 pounds of steam and eighty horsepower.
The Natoma was the only fully double decked steamboat to run on Harvey’s Lake. When crowded, it carried 350 passengers. While the other Lake steamers had a single lifeboat, the Natoma carried two lifeboats. All of the steamers, however, carried canvas covered cork life preservers. The Natoma pilot house was on the upper deck. There were cabins in front and behind the boiler room on the main deck. The cost to build the Natoma was $3,000.00.
The Lake Transit Company planned a launching party equal to the fame of the Natoma. The guests assembled at the Oneonta Hotel in the early afternoon. Shortly before 3:00 P.M. the guests crowded around the Natoma. The launching site was along the shore between the Oneonta Hotel and the Paine cottage. Amid refreshments galore and premium cigars, the crowd broke into songs from the patriotic to the popular. The usual speeches, of course, were made by local dignitaries including Cong. S. W. Davenport.
As President Raife was called to make a speech, the Natoma whistle began to screech and Raife could not be heard. Someone shouted, “Let her go at that!” and Raife agreed. The blocks were cut and the Natoma slid into the water. For a lake steamer the Natoma’s whistle was “top heavy,” and it was claimed to have been originally built for the Atlantic liner Oceanic. The new sound at the Lake was not universally welcome. In the summer of 1899 many cottagers and hotel guests complained about the unnecessary screeching of steamboat whistles disrupting their peace. Earlier in the year, on January 15, 1900, Lake owners filed a lawsuit against the Lake Transit Company to enjoin the dumping of waste and ashes into the Lake and to curtail the noise from the steamers. The local court, however, eventually dismissed the case.
The trial trip of the Natoma was managed by Charles Osborn, son of the builder. The captain of the Natoma for the Lake Transit Company was E. J. Carpenter with A. E. Marcy as engineer and George Anderson as deckhand. Following the trip a splendid dinner was offered the company’s guests at the Oneonta.
Shortly, steamboat travel ended on the Susquehanna at Wilkes-Barre. The last of the river steamers, the side-wheeler Wilkes-Barre, under Capt Joel Walp, completed the river steamboat era in September 1902. The river steamboat trade could not compete with the railroad and trolley. But the Harvey’s Lake steamboat era would continue for another three decades.
On September 29, 1902, a new steamboat company was formed to compete with the Lake Transit Company. With $20,000.00 of capital stock, the Harvey’s Lake Steamboat Company had six directors. Calvin Dymond of Kingston was President of the new company. Other incorporators were T. L. Newell, E. T. Payne, Ephraim Troxell, John N. Pettebone and C. D. Honeywell.
The Harvey’s Lake Steamboat Company decided to build two twin steamers and to engage William Osborn for their construction. The new steamers were built alongside each other on the shore of Harvey’s Lake above the Rhoads Hotel. Built in the spring of 1903, the new steamers, Wilkes-Barre and Kingston, were ready for launching in May 1903. The Wilkes-Barre was initially launched without ceremony during the early days of May. As with other launchings at the Lake, William Osborn, the builder, was present.
The launching of the Kingston was scheduled for May 13, 1903. A launching party of one hundred people left Public Square at 12:30 P.M. on two special trolley cars. At Kingston the Forty Fort Band, which sponsored a huge annual affair at the Picnic Grounds, boarded the trolley and played during the trip to the Lake. Upon arrival of the special cars, the guests boarded the Kingston for its trial trip around the Lake with Capt. John Pettebone and Calvin Dymond in charge of the steamer.
At 4:00 P.M., as the supports were knocked away, the launching party cheered the entry of the Kingston into the Lake. The boat was ceremoniously christened by Miss Faith Bullard with a bottle of wine broken against the bow followed by the cheer of the crowd. The Forty Fort Band played the Star Spangled Banner. The initial pilot for the steamer was Albert Marcy. Marcy and Daniel Ide, who resided near the Lake, helped to build the twin steamers.
The Wilkes-Barre and Kingston were truly twin steamers, and without the names of the boats painted on the bows, there was no practical method of distinguishing them. Each steamer was seventy feet long and twelve feet wide with a four foot draft. They each had single-action fifty horsepower vertical boilers, and each steamer carried two hundred passengers. Within a few years white “caps” were added to the top of the boiler funnels which distinguished the two steamers from the other steamers on the Lake. The Wilkes-Barre and Kingston each had a foot-high banister around the deck of the boat, a feature different from earlier Lake steamers. The twin steamers had awnings over the front and rear decks to protect passengers from the summer sun – a decided advantage over earlier steamers.
The new steamboat company also built its own pier out from the middle of the new iron bridge. The pier provided a landing for the Wilkes-Barre and Kingston close to the Oneonta landing and the trolley station.
During the summer of 1903, the Lake Transit Company experienced changes in its ownership. One of its founders, Samuel H. Sturdevant, died at Huntsville, at the age of forty-two. He was succeeded by a new President of the company, the Wilkes-Barre contractor P.R. Raife. The Secretary was John R. Jones; Lucas Williams was the Treasurer. George R. Wright was busily engaged in managing the new bank at Dallas and withdrew from the steamboat company. At the same time, the principal steamboat captain for the Lake Transit Company, Reuben Shaver, moved to Lake Carey to operate steamboats. The Transit Company recalled the retired E. J. Carpenter to captain its steamers.
Until this time no laws licensed steamboats on the inland lakes of the state. Similarly, there were no testing or licensing requirements for the men who operated the inland steamers. While there were no previous accidents in the state involving inland steamers, the increasing use of lake steamers and accidents elsewhere in the country, especially on ocean steam vessels, compelled the enactment of legislation to protect the public. On April 15, 1903, the Pennsylvania legislature adopted a law regulating inland steamboats. The Department of Factory Inspectors was charged with the inspection of steamboats and the licensing of captains, pilots and engineers.
Enforcement of the new inspection and licensing legislation was given added urgency a year later when the steamer General Slocum burned in New York City’s East River on June 15, 1904. One thousand passengers lost their lives in the disastrous fire that blazed within sight of the shore. State inspectors carefully checked the operation of the inland steamers on the lakes of Pennsylvania in the summer of 1904 and detailed for steamboat owners the requirements for additional life saving equipment on the steamers at Harvey’s Lake. Because of a near collision between two steamers on the Lake a year earlier, the state inspectors required the steamboat companies at the Lake to adopt a code of signals.
Whether due to rivalry or passenger demands, the Lake Transit Company, on February 3, 1905, engaged the Osborn Company to build the last of the Harvey’s Lake steamers. By this time the Osborn Company had moved its works a few miles south of Peekskill to Croton-on-Hudson. During the spring the new steamer Acoma was built at a site near the Oneonta. Acoma was supposedly an Indian name for Large Water. The launching of the Acoma was scheduled for June 29, 1905.
In anticipation of the Acoma, the Lake Transit Company in May 1905 sold the Rosalind to a firm that operated steamboats at Lake Carey. The Rosalind was sent on three gondola cars on the Lehigh Valley Railroad to Lake Carey.
The Acoma was seventy-five feet long with an inside beam of thirteen feet but a beam over hull guards of sixteen feet. It had a hold of four and one-half feet. The keel was made of white oak. With an eighty horsepower boiler and working pressure of 160 pounds, it could travel fifteen miles per hour and was considered the fastest steamboat on the inland waters of Pennsylvania. The decks had a canopy for the passengers’ comfort. The cost to build the Acoma was $7,000.00.
The Ruggles Band played for the launching party when the Acoma entered the water at 3:00 P.M. An address to the crowd was provided by W. L. Raeder, a lawyer and Lake resident.
The Acoma’s trial trip occurred on July 3, 1905. Early in the morning the boiler on the Acoma was fired under the direction of Osborn. For three hours the machinery was kept running to smooth it out. Osborn did not intend to formally turn the Acoma over to the Lake Transit Company until the trial run assured him that the swift steamer was complete. Shortly after 10:00 A.M., with guests aboard, President Raife gave the order to begin the trial trip. Among the guests were members of the company and their families, prominent cottagers from the Lake and a few guests of the Oneonta Hotel. Two waiters from the Oneonta served refreshments.
The Acoma’s trial run was a gala event as the new steamer exchanged signal whistles with the other steamers on the Lake. The Acoma’s passengers waved to the launches that followed the Acoma on her run. The trial run was a great success, and the Lake Transit Company began regular runs of the Acoma the next day with E. J. Carpenter as the captain. A proud Osborn claimed the Acoma was one of the best steamboats he ever built.
In June 1905 the rival Harvey’s Lake Steamboat Company purchased a gasoline launch that would also offer passenger rides on the Lake. This launch possibly was the Wyoming. Gasoline launches were still relatively novel at this time as the earliest motor boat on the Lake was introduced only within the previous decade.
After the launching of the Acoma, the Lake Transit Company, with its other steamers, Shawanese and Natoma, ran in competition with the Wilkes-Barre and Kingston owned by the Harvey’s Lake Steamboat Company.
The Boom Years
The twenty years from 1900 to 1920 were the high water mark for the steamers at Harvey’s Lake. It 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 the 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 to meet work schedules and of timely trips to the summer dances and amusements.
During the early 1900’s the crowds grew with each seasons. In additional 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.
Weekend steamboat service opened in late April 1910 for an unusually early season. Fishing for catfish, always a popular attraction, was exceptional. In late May, five Oneonta guests caught sixty-four pounds of catfish in one evening. The Oneonta managed to oblige its guests by keeping the catfish in a bathtub until they could be packed for the guests’ return trip to Philadelphia.
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 in this year set a record for the highest daily passenger service on the steamers. The Shawanese did not attract a buyer, and it rested at the West Corner dock until it was dismantled.
After 1910 independent owners of gasoline powered launches began to offer passenger and tourist rides to Lake attractions. Charles Lord, who had a popular restaurant near the Picnic Grounds, provided rides around the Lake in competition with the steamboats.
The advent of independent launches induced the Lake Transit Company to run a steamer on Wednesday evenings for the dances during the 1913 season. Years earlier the company had run a similar Wednesday evening steamer but had ended the run until the independent launches became popular. At the same time cottagers complained that the steamboat company no longer ran an early morning steamboat for residents who wished to meet the trolley for work in the Valley. This complaint may have been the reason the company purchased a large gasoline launch called Emily to serve the early trolley riders.
The independent launch operators initially used the docks of the Lake Transit Company as well as private docks. The most useful dock, of course, was the Lake Transit dock at the Picnic Grounds. At the beginning of the 1914 season, the Lake Transit Company closed its docks to the independent launches. The loss of the Picnic Grounds landing severely limited the independent operators. Cottagers took sides in the controversy. Many cottagers supported the independent operators who provided services after regular steamboat hours. While available accounts do not state how the controversy concluded, presumably the independent operators used alternative docks to support their business.
In 1914, too, the Lake Transit Company won a coal freight battle with the Lehigh Valley Railroad. The railroad has been charging fifty cents a ton to haul coal to Alderson but $1.15 to haul it to the Picnic Grounds where the boat company had its coal storage bin. The boat company on its own behalf and for area cottagers claimed the extra charge for coal haulage was excessive. In 1911 the boat company sued the railroad and in December 1914 the railroad capitulated and agree to reduce the haulage rate to fifty cents to the park.
During the years before the Great War, steamboats were also an attraction available at other area lakes including Eagles Mere and Lake Carey. The Rosalind, which was taken to Lake Carey in 1905, sank after ice damage, possibly in the winter of 1911-1912. Remnants of the steamer still lie in the shallow water of Lake Carey near where the old picnic grounds were once located. After the Rosalind was lost, steamboat service was not resumed at Lake Carey.
For the 1915 season the Lake Transit Company built a large public landing adjacent to the Hotel Oneonta landing. The hotel’s smaller dock was often crowded and a risk to passengers when steamboats were operating at the site. Cottagers had held a petition drive to erect a public landing from the new concrete bridge, and the steamboat company’s alternative was a welcome improvement since the petition was denied by county officials. The new landing site along the Lake front was apparently leased from the hotel.
The 1917 season began well. As usual, the Hotel Oneonta was opened for Memorial Day. But the nation had joined the Great War in April. Although the Lake enjoyed continued popularity during the years of World War I, holiday events were somber with the nation’s young men at war.
The most significant event during this period was the loss of the Oneonta Hotel by fire on February 2, 1919. Following the fire the Wyoming Valley Trust Company, which held the Oneonta mortgage, foreclosed on the property and sold it to a local group who turned the property into building lots. The Lake Transit Company, on December 13, 1919, purchased the Oneonta lakefront, which contained the hotel’s old landing dock, boathouse, two concession shops and the public landing.
With the ending of the Great War, the 1919 season was a record breaker. A record number of steamboat passengers, 15,876, were carried at fifteen cents each on July 4, 1919. The summer crowds and increasing automobile traffic continued through the 1920 season, and state troopers were needed to direct traffic at the Lake. But the popularity of the automobile began to curtail use of the steamboats by summer guests, and the steamboat era rapidly declined.
The Steamboat Season
Preparation for the annual steamboat season would begin in April. Clarence Shaver would retain some of the regular men in the spring depending on the amount of repair work the boats required. All the steamers received a fresh coat of white paint above the deck line with the usual green trim.
As necessary a steamer would be dry docked for more extensive repairs. The huge dry dock rested on the Lake bottom with only a few inches of its seven foot walls reaching above the surface. The dry dock was enclosed on three sides, but the rear entrance was fitted with a hinged seven foot door. A steamer was floated into the dry dock and the rear door was raised to seal the dry dock. The water in the dry dock was them pumped out into the Lake. As the water in the dry dock shot out, the dry dock would become buoyant and slowly it would rise out of the water. The dry dock was then towed near the shore where it rested on the bottom. The steamer was centered in the dry dock with the keel resting on several keel blocks. The boat was then secured with timber staved between the sides of the dry dock and the hull of the boat. The workmen could then seal the seams with oakum. A workman would take a small handful of the fibrous tar-impregnated oakum and roll it along his pants until an oakum string was formed to fit into any seam on the hull. Once the hull was “corked,” it received a coat of red paint. At times rotten planking had to be replaced. Planking was cut, steamed, curved and fitted into place. The boilers were carefully checked, and if the water tubes leaked, they had to be replaced.
Once a fresh fire was started in a steamboat boilers for the regular summer season on Memorial Day, a fire would be kept banked at nights for the entire summer if a steamer was in daily use. Each summer morning the coals were raked and the ashes from the ashpit were dumped into the Lake near the company boathouse. The decks were swept and washed and the small chemical toilet used by the crew was emptied. Pumps were checked and the globes for the headlights were cleaned. Ice from the Shaver icehouse was placed in a cooler box to provide water for passenger use.
Coal for the steamboats was shipped by the Lehigh Valley train and stored in a coalhouse above the landing at the Picnic Grounds. The pea coal was shoveled out of the railroad cars into chutes that carried the coal across the road into the coalhouse. The crew then carried the hard coal in buckets from the coalhouse to the boats and filled the bunkers along both sides of the boiler. The steamers used about a ton of coal each day. It would take about two hours to ready a boat for a day’s work.
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.
Weekend steamer service began in June with daily steamer service beginning on Memorial Day. The trolleys arrived every half-hour and often “double headers,” which were two connecting trolleys, brought enthusiastic crowds to the Oneonta station. Sometimes five or six trolley cars would be strung together. At the station, passengers scrambled down the rough Oneonta Hill to the landing docks.
In the early 1900’s there was a decided advantage to the Wilkes-Barre and Kingston not shared by the older Rosalind and Shawanese. The Wilkes-Barre and Kingston had canopies over the passenger decks to protect passengers from the broiling summer sun. The advantage was not lost on the Lake Transit Company, which had canopies on the later steamers – Natoma and Acoma.
The most popular ride for the trolley passengers was the “direct run” from the Oneonta landing to the Picnic Grounds. With a trolley arriving even 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 the steamer could run a circuit around the Lake stopped at Warden Place to leave guests for the Lakeside Inn. Then the steamer would cross the Lake to Boyd’s above the firehouse, which was as close to Alderson as the steamer could approach.
The steamers then ran down the shore to the Picnic Grounds, Coon’s, the West Corner, across to Jungle Camp, on to Point Breeze, Biddle’s and across the Lake to Oneonta.
While the Lake Transit Company owned a landing at the Picnic Grounds and later purchased the Oneonta landing, there were other landings that were privately owned but commonly used. As an area grew in popularity, a steamboat landing could result. For example, camping grounds were a popular attraction. Near Sandy Beach an area called Jungle Camp added itself to the landing list in July 1913.
During the height of the steamboat era there were a number of commercial and cottage landings regularly used by the steamboats. Common names of landings were Biddle, Roderick, Newell, Rhader, B.A.’s, Switzer, Point Breeze, Jungle Camp, Sandy Beach, West Corner, Tennant, Coon, Picnic Grounds, Allen Boyd, Stull, Rice, Blue Triangle Lodge, Derr, Beckwith, Dymond, Cobleigh, Hunlock, Troxell, Warden Place, Teeter, Harding, Rhoads, Weckesser, and Oneonta.
Residents in an area near a steamer landing had a system to flag a steamer or launch. 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.
The steamers also had their own whistle system while running on the Lake. There was a single blast on entering or leaving a port. One whistle was used to pass on the left or port side and two whistles for a starboard or right pass.
The earliest rides were a dime, but with time the fare increased to fifteen cents. A trip around the Lake could take forty minutes to an hour depending on the number of landings made.
Holidays were special at the Lake. The hotels and the Picnic Grounds would sponsor entertainment for the crowds followed by a moonlight ride on a steamboat. At times a local band, Renard’s or Ruggles, would play on the boats. The steamboats also served picnics scheduled by local societies, glee clubs and the railroad company.
The only year-round employee of the Lake Transit Company was Clarence Shaver. He lived in the company home near the Outlet. As general manager of the company he was responsible to the company President. Shaver supervised the general operation of the steamers. He also served at times at the captain of the Natoma, which he helped to build. The other employees of the company only worked on the steamboats during the summer season. For the balance of the year they found other work, for example, farming or cutting ice. Clarence’s brother, R. Bruce Shaver, was also a captain for the Natoma.
Each of the steamboats had a captain, pilot and engineer. The steamers also needed a deckhand or “snubber”; for the Natoma two deckhands were used. The captain collected the fares and provided general supervision for his steamboat. The pilot handled the wheel in the pilothouse. The wheel only controlled the rudder for turning the boat. The steamers were bell boats. Through a bell system the pilot signaled to the engineer the engine direction and speed.
The engineer or fireman was always busy. The engineer tended the fire by shoveling in the coal from the side bunkers into the firebox door. He broke the clinkers and managed the damper to control the draft. He had to maintain sufficient steam pressure to operate the engine. But if the pressure ran too high, the safety valve would blow and startle the passengers. The engineer also pumped water from the Lake into the boiler when necessary, and he frequently oiled the engine while it was in operation.
When the pilot gave a bell signal, the engineer engaged the engine for a forward run. Another bell signal would direct the engineer for a stop with a double bell for a reverse run. The reversing lever controlled the reversing linkage, which the engineer also operated.
The deckhands largely handled the rope “snubbing” of the steamboats to the docks. Large ropes wrapped around the dock piles kept the steamer snug to the dock while passengers and crew stepped on or off the boat. There was no gangplank used by the steamers. When the steamers were to shove off, the deckhand would unsnub the oat and leap from the dock to the boat. At the Oneonta landing the deckhand had a special role. The steamers pulled in front of the landing facing the bridge. The area near the bridge was shallow. There was also the problem in earlier years of the landing of the Harvey’s Lake Steamboat Company that ran out from the bridge. These conditions interfered with the ability of Lake Transit steamers to turn around in the Inlet area when leaving the Oneonta dock. When the steamboat left the Oneonta landing, the deckhand held the stern rope hard against the rear piling on the landing while the engine slowly ran in reverse. In this time the steamer could be turned directly out into the Lake and deeper water, avoiding the bridge area, and as the deckhand tossed the rope into the running steamer, he expertly leaped himself into the stern of the boat. Undoubtedly, the less experienced deckhand could take an unexpected swim.
There were areas of the Lake that were too shallow for the steamboats. Two examples were the Outlet and Alderson areas. There were also other dangers. At Warden Place there are rock ledges under the water. At the Warden Place dock near the Lakeside Inn, the steamers and larges launches had to carefully run directly through a channel in front of the dock to avoid the ledges.
For shallower areas the Lake Transit Company used a gasoline launch. The Lake Transit Company initially 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 Lake Transit Company 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 also picked up working men who came on the early trolley to work at the Lake for the day. The Emily took them to various docks. The Emily also met the summer residents who returned from the valley on the early evening trolley runs. On Sunday morning the Emily carried Lake residents to the Alderson Church or to Mass at the Oneonta Hotel. The Emily was also available for excursions during the day or evening and, unlike the steamers, it could serve the docks in the shallower areas.
The night trips took experienced hands. There were no lights along the shore to guide the steamers to the landings. Each steamboat had a large headlight, nearly two feet in diameter and fueled by kerosene. Emily had a brass gas headlight, which was probably fitted from an early automobile. By headlight alone the pilot would steer a careful course around the Lake.
Usually the last stop for the late night steamboat was the Oneonta landing. The crew, anxious to return home, would head the steamer for the company boathouse, and the engineer would begin to bank the fire. The remaining steam provided enough pressure to cross the Lake. By the time the steamer was snubbed to the company landing, the crew had the boat ready for the night and the crew could rush home.
The season generally ended with the Labor Day holiday, although the steamers would usually run during the weekends in September or early October. With the boiler stacks dismantled, the steamers were at the boathouses for the winter. The double boathouse stored the Natoma and Acoma while the Kingston and Wilkes-Barre remained moored outside. As general manger, Clarence Shaver had to frequently hand chop the ice in the winter from around the boats to prevent damage to them. The winter of 1920 was especially difficult: heavy snow on the roof collapsed the boathouse around the Natoma, but there was no serious damage to the steamer. The boathouse which stored the Natoma was not rebuilt after its winter loss.
During the off-season the other steamboat men found different work. If they were lucky to find year-round employment, they did not return for the steamboat season. Shaver’s neighbor near the Outlet, George Anderson, was a farmer. But in the winter Anderson helped fill the icehouses for the Hotel Oneonta and for other Lake residents. He also cut ice around landings.
In the winter, cribbing for new docks was built. Log boxes were spiked together and when loaded with stone, the crib was sunk through a large hole cut in the ice. The landing was then fastened to the cribbing. Many of the steamboat men had winter employment in the ice-cutting industry. Others were engaged in the timbering or well-drilling business.
By 1920 all of the steamers could not be kept busy for the entire season, as tourists increasingly owned their own automobiles. By the early 1920’s the Kingston was in reserve most of the time as the years wore earlier on the Kingston than on her twin, the Wilkes-Barre. For the most part the Acoma and Wilkes-Barre were the workhorses for 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” Anderson: Last of the Steamboat Pilots
The following romanticized article is reprinted from the Sunday Independent, June 6, 1939:
Not the story of a hard, seafaring, blustering boatman, but rather that of one who has led the quiet, joyous and less eventful life of a “lake steamer” pilot, describes the earliest of all Harvey’s Lake yeomen, George “Cap” Anderson. Sixty-eight year old “Cap” Anderson, as he is known to his many intimate friends, was a familiar figure a little way back in the history of the famed summer resort, where for thirty-seven years he commanded the Lake Transit Company, operators of the boats, affording transportation around Harvey’s Lake before the advent of the motor car.
His life is filled with stories of the early days on the placid and sometimes turbulent waters of the lake. Passengers were his best friends and their welfare remained foremost in “Cap’s” mind. During his long period of faithful service not even the slightest mishap blemished the proud record of the lake steamer captain.
Born at Harvey’s Lake, “Cap,” when only a young lad, had no particular craving for a career as a boatman. Enterprising and youthful as he was at the time, he sought the advantages of the more thickly populated areas and moved into town. He worked for the Farmers Dairy on North Main Street, Wilkes-Barre, for several years and then timbered in the woods near Ice Cave Hotel along the old turnpike above Luzerne. A short time later he returned to Harvey’s Lake and with the assistance of his brother [Charles Anderson] undertook the difficult task of clearing the land near the outlet section of the lake. Here was the start of a lifetime for young Anderson. He recalls seventeen trips he made into the city with timber, returning each time with a load of coal, which sold at the bin for three dollars a ton, with a nice-sized profit for the teamster. It was hard work in those days and he later resolved to start on another career.
Those early settlers in that region probably never visioned George Anderson, at twenty-five, a deckhand on the “Shawnee” [Shawnese] as some day captain of the entire fleet of “lake steamers.” One of the first pilots Captain Carpenter took a liking to Anderson and under the tutelage of the veteran the deckhand learned the many tricks of boat travel. Rube Shafer succeeded Carpenter as captain on the “Shawnee” and Anderson subsequently advanced to engineer. Upon retirement of Shafer, Anderson, a full-fledged captain now, filled the breach. [Reuben Shaver relocated to Lake Carey to captain the Rosalind].
Two [Early] Steamers
At the turn of the century the Lake Transit Company held a monopoly on steamer travel around Harvey’s Lake. Two boats, the old “Shawnee” and the “Rosalin,” each with a capacity of one hundred passengers, were the only steamers to ply the lake waters. Phil Raife was president of the Lake Transit Company, which met competition several years later with the formation of the Wilkes-Barre and Kingston Boat Company under the supervision of Captain Dymond, another veteran voyager. Owners of the latter enterprise included John Redington, Judge Strauss, Sam Lewis and I. T. Honeywell, who brought two additional boats, the “Wilkes-Barre” and the “Kingston,” into service along the lake’s shore.
The new organization served as an impetus to lake travel and in order to meet competition, many new luxuries and conveniences of the day were added to the steamers of the Lake Transit Company. When the boats of the new company were first started, awnings were provided on the decks for the protection of the passengers from the sun’s rays. Early patrons of the “Shawnee” and “Rosalin” were placed at the mercy of Ole Sol if they by chance selected a seat on the deck. Then came the awnings and shelter.
The Wilkes-Barre and Kingston Boat Company survived only a short time, when the interests of the group were purchased by the pioneer steamer firm, the Lake Transit Company. “Shawnee” and “Rosalin” had outlived their usefulness and as business increased two new boats, constructed by a veteran boat-builder of the period, W. R. Osborn, located on the Hudson, were added. First came the “Acoma” pride of “Cap” Anderson who was the first to run the steamer and operated it steadily thereafter, and later the largest of the combine, “Natoma,” which rests near West Corner, near Sandy Beach at present. [Actually, the “Natoma” was launched in 1900 and the “Acoma” in 1905] The “Shawnee” was ripped apart and the “Rosalin” went to Lake Carey. Thus was ended the story of the early boats as modern steamers arrived to replace them.
A color scheme of green and white decorated the boats under the command of “Cap” Anderson, whose appearance at the wheel in pilot house on the lower deck was always welcomed. Life preservers were carried on all boats as an added precaution in case an accident should occur to mar the voyage. On the upper deck, picnickers flocked to get views of the lake front. The lower deck contained steady travelers and those who desired to listen to music supplied on many occasions by the famed Ruggles Band of the day. A cozy cabin offered refuge during rain storms. On the stern an American flag was placed while a flag bearing the name of the boat could be seen waving from the bow of the steamer. One boiler was sunk in the hole of each boat and supplied the power, consuming for this purpose about a ton of coal per day. Whistles on the steamers sounded a cheery note at the landing piers along the way. Upon entering and leaving port one blast was sounded. Passing other boats was accomplished by blowing one whistle, if contemplated passing was on the port side. Two shrieks signaled passage on the starboard side.
Lake travel was at its heaviest at this period. Rhodes’ hotel, the Oneonta, two of the most popular hotels at Harvey’s Lake, beckoned a score of travelers. Around the lake traveled the steamers with stopping points at Laketon, Boyd’s, picnic grounds and Hunlocks. Round trip required about one hour and cost twenty cents. Excursions were in vogue at the time and on such occasions “Cap” Anderson was tendered felicitations of the merry group for his valuable service on the steamers. Most popular of all cruises were the moonlight excursions. Many marriages had their inception on the $6,800 “Natoma,” largest steamer of the fleet used on such occasions, and the agility of “Cap” Anderson at the pilot wheel through swift waters, evading sand bars and rocks, hastened many a budding romance. Kerosene lamps provided the necessary amount of light to guide the ship through the night and the several trips around the lake offered to moonlight excursion patrons. A band was on hand to lend music in keeping with the spirit of the evening and singers completed the evening’s program, presented during the course of the journey.
Holidays were boom days for the lake steamers. Many of the hotels would sponsor entertainments for the festive crowd and serve to boost the amount of passengers. “Cap” Anderson vividly recalls the time when Rhodes’ hotel offered a resident from Ruggles Hollow fifty dollars for a “tight-rope walk” across Harvey’s Lake near the inlet by the bridge. Strange as it may seem the feat was accomplished. Picnics of various societies, glee clubs and railroad organizations attracted thousands of followers to points along the Lake front. From New York, Philadelphia, Boston and other distant points came spectators to witness the launch and skiff races, scheduled for the holidays.
Advancing with time, the automobile soon spelled doom for the lake steamers. However, a short interim marked the advance of private launches, motorboats or “water jitneys,” as they were called. Lake Transit Company pressed a spacious launch, “Emily,” into service to meet competition. The “lake steamers” then faded fast. “Cap” Anderson took the wheel of the “Emily” and piloted the craft for a number of years. Then as teamers and launches gave way to the motors of the twentieth century, “Cap” Anderson retired to his home near the outlet, overlooking the blue waters, on which “Cap’s” steamers once traveled so majestically.
Despite the intriguing headlines from the Sunday Independent, George M. Anderson (1867-1942), great-grandfather of the author of this history, was not the last surviving steamboat captain at the Lake. Clarence Shaver, general manager of the Lake Transit Company, died in 1957. His brother, R. Bruce Shaver, the last captain, died in 1959.
Decline and End
As business declined through the 1920’s, the steamers ran less often. The Lake Transit Company used the Emily as a substitute more frequently for passenger trade, often with Anderson at the helm. The Emily carried thirty to thirty-five passengers. The wheel in the front was in the center-right where the pilot would control an engine and steer at the same time. The Emily was run by one man except at night when an extra hand was generally aboard. With a wooden roof and fringe, the beloved Emily picked up her passengers to meet the morning train or trolley and faithfully met them on the return lines in the evening. In inclement weather, canvas awnings were dropped. A glass windshield, hinges on the front, could be dropped during a rain. It took really rough weather to rock the big steamers, and even the Emily managed well when the waves were rolling, although it was always wise to find a quick port in a sudden storm.
The Emily provided daily service in the late 1920’s, and only the holidays and weekends drew sufficient crowds to run a steamer. The Lake Transit Company could no longer survive the changing times.
Nevertheless, in a concession to safety the Lake Transit Company, over the objection of Alfred Wintersteen who owned rides at the park, abandoned its original steamboat dock in front of the park and built a new dock near the Noxen Road intersection with the Lake. There were too many swimmers who used the old dock and were at risk from the steamboats landing there.
For the 1926 season the Lake Transit Company raised its rates: a one-way trip increased from 15 cents to 20 cents; a two-way trip rose from 30 cents to 40 cents; group excursions increased from $13 dollars to $18 dollars for 100 tickets. Cottagers rates increased from $6.25 to $8.25 for 50 tickets, and from $12.00 to $15.00 for 100 tickets.
The inland steamboat trade elsewhere in the state was also ending. On March 29, 1929, the state legislature repealed the inland steamboat licensing law of 1903. Apparently, the law was not actively enforced as some workmen on the Harvey’s Lake steamers were not licensed. However, boilers on the steamers continued to be inspected under general inspection or insurance laws.
By 1930 the steamers were running sporadically at the Lake. The steamboat company tried to take advantage of Sandy Beach’s popularity by building a concrete and steel pier at the beach in June 1930. The company advertised runs from the trolley station at Sunset to Sandy Beach. In June 1931 the Lake Transit Company leased the company’s four steamboats to Sandy Beach’s Thomas Pugh who announced daily steamboat service around the Lake. But as a practical matter only the Natoma was used for Lake excursions. But public attraction could not be salvaged. The increasing use of the private automobile also tolled the end of the trolley line to the Lake. The traction company ended regular trolley service to the Lake on July 6, 1931.
In the summer of 1932 the assets of the Lake Transit Company were sold for $4,000.00 to John A. Griffiths of Forty Fort, although the sale was not reported until late July 1933. At the time of the sale, the company’s stock was largely held by estates of former owners. The estate owners were Nellie H. Stegmaier, P.R. Raife, Victoria Schmitt, Margaret Edwards, J. B. Reynolds, Mary Stegmaier, Mary E. Sturdevant and Harry E. Sweeney, while surviving owners were Peter Forve and J. Lucas Williams.
The sale of the steamboat company included four steamers, the two launches and five parcels of land. Griffiths had no plans to resume the steamer business. Instead, he intended to develop the land holdings of the Transit Company especially in the Outlet area. In May 1934 Griffiths advertised the Acoma and Natoma for sale for a total price of one thousand dollars. He claimed the boats “can be used for excursion boats, house boats, night clubs or restaurants.”
Oscar Roth, an area jeweler, and Bob Roberts were interested in purchasing one of the steamers. The Wilkes-Barre and Kingston were in poor condition. Although the Acoma and its machinery were in better shape, the double-deck of the Natoma was still a special attraction. For a few hundred dollars the Natoma was sold to Roth and Roberts.
Several of the Lake’s steamboat men assisted in preparing the Natoma for the remaining season of 1934. The Natoma drew a curious and friendly crowd as it circled in the Lake in a renewed life. For docking, the Natoma remained at the Lake Transit Company boathouse. For the 1934 overnight excursion season, however, the long dock at Sandy Beach was still available. After 1934 the Natoma continued to run, usually on Sundays, for sightseeing trips around the Lake. In addition to Sandy Beach, the other stops were the Picnic Grounds and the Oneonta landing. A trip was twenty-five cents for an adult and fifteen cents for a child. The new owners added an electric light system and painted the boat in white with black trim. Occasionally, the Natoma was rented for a party trip. Coal for the Natoma was trucked to the Oneonta landing and dumped on the shore where the Roth family would load it on the steamboat.
After the sale of the Lake Transit Company, the Wilkes-Barre, Kingston and Acoma, along with the Wyoming were dismantled at the Outlet boathouse. The boilers, engines and metal parts were sold for scrap to the Bethlehem Steel Company. Griffiths, however, kept the Emily and had it trucked to Lake Winola where he ran it for passenger excursions for two seasons. After the second season, the Emily was vandalized and lost to fire during the winter season while it was resting on the shore.
The Lake Transit Company formally dissolved the company in September 1937.
By the end of the 1930’s, operation and maintenance of the Natoma were a nuisance to its owners. In late August 1938 it was reported that time had finally caught the Natoma. It had served the season for Sunday tourist rides around the Lake, and it was rented for evening parties. The Big Apple, a foot-stomping dance fad of the time, was drawing thirty to forty couples for dance parties on the steamer, which shuddered under the abuse of the apple dance. Carving initials on the woodwork of the Natoma was also a favorite pastime, and owners were unable to stay ahead of the damage to the boat, although the hull still seemed sound.
One unknown day the Natoma had its last ride, and by 1940 the Natoma was resold for two hundred dollars to brothers William and Jack Farrell. They planned to replace the engine and operate it. But Jack Farrell left for Ohio for new employment and William Farrell enlisted in the U.S. Army in April 1942. When he returned from the War in late 1945 the Natoma was a wreck from vandalism at Farrell’s home near Alderson.
When the Farrells purchased the Natoma it was taken to the shore above the Picnic Grounds in front of the Lakeview development which was owned by John A. Redington, a former owner of the amusement park. With the bow facing the shoreline, the Natoma was fastened in place to piles and was used for a dock. In the fall of 1947 the Redington lot fronting the Natoma was sold to Art Badman. By this time the Natoma could not be salvaged. Winter skaters had frequently pulled pieces from the steamers for firewood, and the Natoma was sitting on the Lake bottom with water flooding the vacant engine room. Badman had no alternative but to dismantle the Natoma hulk. He used some of the wood in a summer cottage near the site. It was a sorrowful end for the most majestic treasure of the Lake’s Golden Era.
Today, few relics remain of the Lake’s steamboat era. Some of the steamers’ fittings were saved by men who worked on the steamboats. Near Outlet Point the dry dock quietly rests on the bottom of the Lake; elsewhere the cribbing of once famous landings can be explored by underwater divers. The propeller of the sunken Rosalind at Lake Carey was retrieved and on-shore in the 1980s but it was removed and its location is unknown. As this history was originally written, the last regular steamboatmen, Walter “Base” Sorber and Ralph H. Kocher, passed away and closed forever the experience of gloriously bright summer mornings, tufts of mist rising from the Lake, when the steamboats were fired up and with cheerful whistles headed for the Oneonta.
In August 1996 the Borough erected a Harvey’s Lake Steamboat Memorial to feature the propeller of the Natoma. The propeller had been saved by a Lake resident and was gifted to the Borough. But the propeller was stolen. Later it was discovered in the Lake at Warden Place, but was again missing when a dive team sought to recover it. A substitute propeller, not of Lake origin, is now in its place at the Memorial at the Borough building.