8-16-2008 Harveys Lake 1965

Two summers ago, I conducted a WDI which took me all of eight hours. WDI is short for an official wood-destroying insect inspection of a home currently up for sale. It is meant to protect any prospective buyer from insect infestations of the wood-destroying variety. Think termites, carpenter ants, wood-boring beetles, carpenter bees, neat stuff like that.

Your typical WDI takes about an hour or so. Sometimes longer, but not usually. So when I tell you a single WDI took me an entire work day to complete, I’m really saying something. This was not your average nondescript, aged Wyoming Valley home. And this was not a home I could ever dream of purchasing, short of my inheritance finally materializing.

No, this was a waterfront home at Harveys Lake, and with an asking price of $3.9 million. As I said, not your typical home.

I was reading David Yonki’s most recent post in which he takes the residents of Harveys Lake to task for suggesting they’d prefer to secede from Luzerne County than pay their recently reassessed tax burden. And it struck me that the Harveys Lake of 2008 and the Harveys Lake of 1965 have very little, if anything at all in common.

The lake was last reassessed in 1965, and I was there for the entire summer. Even though I spent the majority of my formative years growing up near New Haven, Connecticut; a summer spent at Harveys Lake with my grandparents was my preferred and usual summer haunt. For a sprat of six, it was a new adventure every day just waiting for me to awake from my nightly slumber. While my sister and the crew headed for Canada, Maine, upper New York State and the like, first they had to run the length of Route 6 from the New York border to Scranton and drop me off in Wilkes-Barre. Back in those days, the Pennsylvania leg of Route 84 hadn’t been constructed yet.

My grandparents were good, good friends with the Roods--Ben and Barbara--who once owned all of the properties lying directly across the street from a once glorious Sandy Beach. The generous Roods are gone now, as are my grandparents, but to this very day the street signs there read Rood Lane, Ben-Bar Lane and others that escape me now. Their homestead sits directly across the street from the new Sandy Beach Inn. And behind it still sits the three-room lean-to-like cabin we spent some of our summers in.

Before graduating to the lavish accommodations, we stayed in the largest cabin in “The Grove” that sat behind the old Sandy Beach Inn, which is now a private residence. This cabin had three rooms, if you could really call these three smallish cubicles rooms. Basically, we had enough room for a bed, a small cot, a large dresser and a kitchen table and chairs. There were no bathrooms, only an ancient communal outhouse. Spooky looking, in fact. And on our tiny porch sat a refrigerator that was dependent on those huge blocks of ice being delivered by the ice man to remain cold.

The Grove consisted of, I think, 22 cabins, which were displayed in a nifty horseshoe pattern with the open end facing the lake directly across the street. There was barbecue pits here and there. There was trees. There were other folks roughing it. And that was about it.

A nearby family lived in a basement they had built with their own hands. They were promising to add additional floors and live there year-round, but twenty years passed before they ever got around to it. The close-by side streets were lined with summer cottages, as well as cottages that served as year-round homes horribly short on insulation, had hastily-built smallish additions and for the most part, crawl spaces and duck walks in lieu of basements.

Back in those slower, more innocent days, there was much to do at the lake. And since my Uncle John was old enough to serve as my baby-sitting tour guide, even at that tender age, I roamed very far and very wide every summer. We regularly hit the “casinos” at Sunset. Hansen’s Amusement Park (closed in 1984) was a frequent stop within reach of the rented paddle boats. Sandy Bottom Beach (closed to the public in 1984) was within walking distance. And Sandy Beach, with it‘s bingo parlor, dance hall and dances (Eddy Day & The Nighttimers), pinball room, lockers, amusement rides, various eats, kiddie rides, drive-in movies, docks, expansive beach with sand imported from Atlantic City and plenty more was right across the street.

Hansen’s Amusement Park--Bumper Cars (0:55)

And when we weren’t enjoying the countless amenities, we were off exploring and fishing the many tributaries and outlets that can be found at practically every corner of Harveys Lake. Trout, crayfish, fishing using little more than a clothespin, some line, a hook and the world’s smallest bobber. My point is, we got around. And we met/visited plenty of folks along the way.

I was once in a basement of a cottage that had a stream running right through it. And with screens at both ends of the patchwork foundation, it served as their ad-hoc fish tank with live fish in it. I was in a “basement” that had solid rock for a floor. I was in a “basement,” again with solid rock as it’s base, in which the shivering grandkids were regularly hosed with ice cold spring water by their grandparents, since the place had no tub or shower. And in those days, the lake had as many outhouses as it had livable structures.

That was Harveys Lake in 1965, when last it was reassessed. And some forty years later, Harveys Lake is for all intents and purposes a gated community sans the gate. It has no amenities that are open to the public. Namely, nothing for a sprat of single digits to legally explore. It has no more outhouses to speak of. No, these days, the folks have running water, bathrooms, even sewer hookups. And somehow, the current residents of the lake are crying poverty now that reassessment has finally come to town.

The lake has had and still has unchecked development. Homes replaced the cottages. People live there year-round, and with insulation and furnaces, too. And the cottages that did survive have doubled and/or tripled in size, they have been remodeled and barely resemble their humble beginnings. There are no more groves. There are no more summer odysseys. And no more giant blocks of ice. To see that Harveys Lake of 1965, a trip to the lake no longer suffices. No, to see that long-forgotten wonderful place, you now need access to a hefty scrapbook or two. Perhaps the internet.

As for the current makeup of the residents, there are no more Roods to speak of. Or, at least, not many original year-round residents left. Nope, these days, Harveys Lake is home to the wildly successful, the clearly filthy rich and the folks probably living well beyond their means so as to partake of the now private aquatic playground.

And don’t mistake those comments as any sort of class envy or contempt for the well-off on my part. The only thing I hate about Harveys Lake is that I can no longer visit the Harveys Lake of my youth. I know, times change. But if you could see what I once saw, and experience all that came before what currently is, you might get to thinking, as do I, that maybe they shouldn’t change. If this what they call progress, I’ll take the frozen blocks of ice any day.

There are exceptions to every rule, so don’t go calling me names via the e-mail inbox. But here’s the scoop.

Very many of the residents at the lake have assorted, high-priced water crafts that exceed the values of your average properties down here in the Wyoming Valley. Many of the pricey vehicles owned by lake property owners also exceed the values of your average properties down here in the Wyoming Valley. I’ve been in boathouses that put to shame your homes, as well as mine. How many of you have kitchens decked-out completely in restaurant-grade equipment from Garland? How many of you have boathouses decked-out completely in restaurant-grade equipment from Garland? How many of our gangly-looking teenagers drive Jaguars, BMWs and Land Rovers when the Bentley is in the shop? How many of you have nuclear-powered RVs parked in the secondary driveways, or in the oversized spare garage?

How many of us have satellite receivers in every room, including the four bathrooms? How many of us have full-time nannies, personal servants and groundskeepers? How many of us have the pool guy, the landscaper, and a contractor on speed dial? And how many of us view those wanting to partake of Pennsylvania’s largest natural lake as undeserving interlopers? How many of us have it that completely bad, and need to flee the county rather than face reassessment?

In forty-three years, many of these lake properties have gone from hosting glorified huts to sporting full-blown, spare-no-cost mansions and mini-mansions. And the homes that can’t be called mini-mansions are still worth plenty of money, and especially the ones anywhere near the water’s edge. I think it’d be safe to say that a property purchased there forty-three years ago has increased in value tenfold, if not even more. At this point, a fancy dog coup perched right next to a boathouse is probably worth more than your modest, but smartly decorated home.

Thing is, every property owner out there at the lake has the right to appeal their assessments, as does every other disgruntled property owner throughout Luzerne County. But to conflate a few outraged property owners into an epic uprising the likes of which has never been seen is seditious nonsense at it’s most self-centered worst. And anyone, politician, talk radio host or otherwise, that encourages this seriously misguided blatting is entirely missing the point.

I really hate to break it to the people making the most troubling of noises, but if we’re ever going to bring this county up to speed whereas no longer behind the times and being somewhat progressive is concerned, we have to reassess more often than every hundred years or so.

And to the loudest of the people of Harveys Lake I would say: Come, take a spin through my voluminous scrapbooks and tell me you’re bring ripped-off. And at that point, if they kept with the seceding bit, I’d have to conclude that they are self-centered to the point of being dishonest even with themselves.

Because no matter how they care to spin it for their own benefit, not a single one of them is waiting on the ice man. Not a one.

For what it’s worth, sez me.



Sandy Bottom Beach (1:26)