Features appear in each issue of Pennsylvania Heritage showcasing a variety of subjects from various periods and geographic locations in Pennsylvania.

No longer defending their fortifications from hostile Indi­ans nor protecting their territory from grasping foreign governments, late nineteenth century Americans – encouraged by the prosperity of the rampant Industrial Revolution, as well as improved transportation systems – were able to indulge in but one of the many advan­tages of peacetime prosperity: the pursuit of pleasure. And daring entrepreneurs were quick to satisfy Americans’ almost insatiable appetite for fashionable, luxurious hotels and resorts. Packing up chil­dren, servants and luggage to escape the summer city heat became a sign of prosperity long before the turn of the century.

Despite their burgeoning penchant for leisurely pur­suits, nineteenth century Americans valued hard work and diligence. Life’s pleasures were greatly appreciated – but certainly neither expected or guaranteed. A strict Puritan heritage and the unbending Victorian conscience prevented individuals and families from embarking on sojourns and vacations purely for pleasure so most early resorts began their lucrative operations by proclaiming the excellent health benefits and restorative powers offered by the waters that had originally triggered the imagination of the entre­preneurs. Resort promoters promised that springs, lakes and the ocean would wash away everything from simple ennui to more serious mala­dies such as tuberculosis. Cape May, New Jersey, for instance, enjoyed an early boom because its promoters claimed the seaside resort­ – with its pure water and clean air – would improve visitors’ health. According to one early report, “To make such a trip for the pure enjoyment of it would have been considered frivolous, but it was perfectly acceptable as a method of therapy.”

New York’s famous Saratoga Springs boasted that its waters cured many illnesses in addi­tion to ameliorating the bad effects of leading a life of wholesale dissipation. Naturally, seaside and mountain resorts grew in popularity­ – and so did the scope of their manufactured attractions for the summer visitor. An early guidebook to Saratoga proudly proclaimed that, “The mineral waters of Saratoga and the healing virtues of the Springs are not the only nor the princi­pal objects which draw to its sands the thousands who flock here annually.” Commodious hotels, fine foods and spirits, cultural programs and recrea­tional activities were quickly manufactured to meet its guests’ every need and whim.

And Pennsylvania was not without its own fine summer version of shangri-la: Eagles Mere.

Hidden far away from the growing industrialization deep in the mountains of Sullivan County, Eagles Mere shared many of the characteristics – if not eccentricities – of its more renowned counterparts of the period. Its most memorable and exciting years began about the turn of the century when the village hosted prominent and affluent families from Philadelphia, Baltimore, Wash­ington, New York, Harrisburg and nearby Williamsport. Eagles Mere flourished from the early 1900s until World War II when inevitable changes in lifestyles occurred. But, thank­fully, Eagles Mere – despite its decline in both the gracious old hotels and popularity – still teems with summer colonists, more often than not descen­dants of the families which governed the little society from Memorial Day to Labor Day.

Before William Penn inher­ited his beloved wilderness territory, Indians had forged their own trails and committed to memory the landmarks dotting a large area. Yet, in spite of the uniqueness of a spring-fed lake two thousand feet above sea level, only a side trail led to the lake. Ap­parently, the Indian tribes of the region – Susquehannocks, Delawares and Iroquois – had little use for the lake’s waters. No authentic Indian name can be attached to the lake and at least one early map neglected the lake altogether. One theory held that an Indian word for the lake, roughly translated, meant “Lake of the Eagles,” but this claim has remained unsubstantiated.

The lake’s first official name was Lewis Lake. George Lewis, an enterprising Eng­lishman, purchased more than ten thousand acres at one dollar an acre from Charles Wolstoncraft of Philadelphia in 1794. While Lewis’ homeland fought the United States in 1812, glass imports were in short supply. Lewis eyed the natural sandy beach on the north shore of the lake and established a glass factory. Unfortunately, difficult trans­portation up and down the mountain doomed the ven­ture. On Lewis’ death, his widow sold the large tract.

In 1845, Judge John Richter Jones of Philadelphia acquired Lake Lewis and the surround­ing land on which he built a summer cottage, encouraging his close friends to do like­wise. Despite the long, diffi­cult stage-coach journey to reach the isolated mountaintop lake, individuals were increas­ingly willing to make the trip. The clear lake, wreathed by mountain laurel, rhododendron and hemlocks, appealed to many as a relaxing and inviting spot to spend a sum­mer sojourn. What better – and more beautiful – spot existed to renew one’s health and inspi­rations?

Cottages soon began to dot the lake’s perimeter. As Eagles Mere’s reputation increased, so did the need for additional lodging. By the 1870s, several boarding houses were con­structed and received guests. One cottage had such an out­standing view of the lake that the owners, John S. Kirk and his family, gradually added four additions so that it even­tually evolved into a spacious resort hotel, the Lakeside. The hotel was soon joined by ho­tels Eagles Mere, Raymond, Allegheny and Lewis. The Forest and Crestmont inns joined the ranks not long after.

As a resort blossoms, so does the need for increased accessibility. Eagles Mere was no exception. In 1892, ground was broken for a narrow gauge railway track to connect Sonestown, at the base of the moun­tain, to Eagles Mere – a distance of nine miles with more than a thousand foot grade. Rumor claimed that the hotel owners offered a reward if the railroad was completed by July 1 of that year. The railroad, whose officers and directors had a vested interest in developing Eagles Mere, complied and the project was completed in five months, just in time for summer visitors.

A typical journey to Eagles Mere was recounted in the Muncy Valley Lifeline, a book chronicling the railroads in the region. A family destined for Eagles Mere would board a sleeper at Reading Terminal in Philadelphia late in the eve­ning. According to the Lifeline, “Early in the morning the train reaches Halls [station] and the sleeper is uncoupled. Passen­gers alight and cross over to the local hotel for coffee. Dur­ing their absence, the W.&N.B. [Williamsport and North Branch] train backs down and couples onto the car, and mail and express are transferred.” An hour later, this train arrived in Sonestown, where the pas­sengers boarded the small train that chugged for another hour up the mountain to Ea­gles Mere. Once at the Eagles Mere station, families were met by carriages that conveyed them and their belongings to their hotels. Those staying at the Forest Inn remained on the train since that hotel, because of its m?e remote location, had its own stop.

A warm spirit of camaraderie and friendly competition ex­isted between the hotels dur­ing the resort’s early years. The Forest Inn loomed at the north end of the lake, only a few minutes walk from the beach, while the other lodges were randomly scattered around the lake, each with access to a dock that would serve as a “boatstop.” A steam­boat regularly circled the lake to ferry guests from one hotel to another. Obviously, the beach was a natural focal point and many of the spirited competitions among the hotels took place in its waters or on its sandy shore. Races of all kinds – boat, canoe, sailboat and swimming – were popular, and diving contests and canoe­-tilting matches rounded out the water sports. On the nearby athletic field, baseball games frequently pitted hotel teams against each other. The athletic field was also used for novelty competitions: the gentlemen participated in suitcase relay races while women, in their flowing long dresses, chased geese in a rollicking relay. At twilight everyone gathered at the lake­side, either on the dock or in a nearby rowboat, for evening vespers before returning to their hotels for the night.

The summer pace was slow and relaxed. Hikes through the woods, boating along the tree-lined shore, and lawn croquet filled the days. Each hotel scheduled numerous activities to keep its guests occupied. The more popular events were excursions to a local scenic spot. The trips were usually styled as picnics, with hotel guests venturing out in carriages or hay wagons to the chosen site for the day. Picnic hampers were either carried along by obliging help or found at the journey’s end.

One very popular outing frequently undertaken was the six mile trek to Fulmer’s View, a local attraction. The Fulmer family owned a farm com­manding an impressive view of the mountains and valleys that stretched to the Susque­hanna River and beyond. Mrs. Fulmer was noted for her ability to turn out prodigious amounts of chicken and waf­fles, and visitors would arrive constantly to savor both the view and the food.

A guest book from the Fulmer farm dated 1908 pro­vides some insight into the relationship between the farm and the mountaintop inns. Eagles Mere guests visiting the farm represented a broad sam­pling of American cities; in addition to the expected numbers from Philadelphia, Harris­burg, Baltimore, Washington, and New York, other cities found their way into the guest book-Little Rock, Los Angeles, Norfolk, Ann Arbor, Columbus, St. Louis, Detroit, Vancouver, Winnipeg, and Greensboro. Considering traveling difficulties at the time, the list contains an im­pressive array of cities.

The guest book also provides a more intimate understanding of the era’s ambience. As the members of each group signed the guest book, they some­times proudly scribbled the name of their hotel. Large groups from the Crestmont, the Lakeside, the Raymond, the Hotel Eagles Mere, and the Forest Inn arrived regularly throughout the summer. One group from the Forest Inn dubbed itself the “Jolly Quaker Squad” while another referred to itself as ‘The Happy Hooli­gans” from the Raymond. Often, guests penned a few lines of poetry, usually echoing the theme of overindulgence:

There never was a party
Like the one that came today
Which consisted of two Eastons
A Ready and a Ray.
They came a little early
And stayed a little late
And no one in the party
Dare tell how much they ate.

Another entry tells of a group from the Forest Inn which arrived in the midst of a thun­derstorm. After the rain subsided, the clothesline was strung with “shoe strings, button hooks and other things.” The author of this little vignette made it clear that “other things” referred to “unmentionables.”

Perhaps the most profound entry was the contribution of Gladys T. Paine from German­town. Underneath a drawing of a Gibson girl silhouette, Paine wrote, “There comes a time in the Jives of all men and women when they must eat ‘chicken’ and ‘waffles.'” A sense of lightheartedness pervades the guest book, offering a clear picture of the simple and innocent leisure enjoyed by the early Eagles Mere visitors.

During the course of busi­ness, it was natural for each hotel to cultivate and claim its own clientele. Families often came for the entire summer and over the years dose friendships with the owner and fellow guests evolved. Inevitably, each hotel reflected not only the character of the owner, but of the families who faithfully returned each sum­mer.

More than one resort ho.tel resulted from the vision of railroad owners, and the Forest Inn was a prime example. Benjamin G. Welch, of the Williamsport and North Branch Railroad, had his two nephews in tow when he surveyed the area around Eagles Mere for laying his tracks. His enterprising neph­ews, C. W. Woddrop and Har­vey S. Welch, developed a thriving coal and lumber busi­ness in the area while sparing the trees at the north end of the lake for. a resort. Benjamin Welch and his brother, the Rev. Joseph Welch, enthusias­tically made the resort a Chautauqua camp.

As a Chautauqua, the resort echoed the original at Lake Chautauqua in New York. The Chautauqua concept involved a community of adults inter­ested in education and culture in a relaxed summer setting. Simple dwellings and an audi­torium were erected, lecturers and cultural entertainment were imported, and the resort was surrounded by a fence and guarded by a gatehouse. A large bell summoned every­one to devotions or lectures and gave warning when it was time to retire for the evening. Reflecting the period, early Chautauquas were imbued with a religious component that was abandoned in later years.

The Welch brothers man­aged to keep the Eagles Mere Chautauqua active from 1896 to 1898, but the idea never really succeeded. The large building known as the Chau­tauqua Inn, as well as the surrounding cottages, came under new management and became the Forest Inn and Eagles Mere Park, respectively. Edgar R. Kiess, the manager and later a congressman, radi­cally altered the complexion of the inn. A 1910 advertisement for the Forest Inn proudly touted: “Complete with mod­ern conveniences. Rooms are large, airy, and pleasant, com­fortably furnished, and in every way desirable. Fine orchestra; new Amusement Hall, with bowling alleys, pool-tables, shuffle boards and other amusements; new tennis courts.” The Forest Inn soon became popular! Saturday nights were big dance nights; guests brought their own liquor and the inn provided setups.

In later years, the Chautau­qua days were echoed when the Forest Inn harbored young actresses and actors, who practiced their craft while entertaining the summer visi­tors. The canvas-walled audi­torium of the Chautauqua days had long since been re­placed by a permanent struc­ture which became the Eagles Mere Playhouse. From 1939 to 1944, the Jitney Players­ – members of which included Doug Rowland and Diane Barrymore – made the moun­tain town their home.

From 1944 to 1963, however, a more powerful presence influenced the Eagles Mere stage. Little did the residents and visitors of Eagles Mere realize that they claimed a very special person, Alvina Krause. She was known throughout the United States and greatly respected as a drama coach. A few of her “discoveries” included Charlton Heston, Ro­bert Reed, Paula Prentiss, Richard Benjamin and Patricia Neal, all of whom graced the stage in Eagles Mere when the playhouse was in its prime. The Playhouse, like the Forest Inn, typified all that was play­ful about Eagles Mere.

In contrast to the Forest Inn stood the stately Crestmont Inn. The Crestmont was the newest of the large hotels in 1900 when it first opened its doors. A large structure loom­ing four stories high, it was capped by a distinctive cupola and embraced by a wide wrap­around porch. The Crestmont perched like a Victorian mother hen on the top of Hemlock Hill, which had been conveniently stripped of its trees by a cyclone in 1892. The view from the hotel was mag­nificent. Weather permitting, a sharp eye could survey twelve counties. An impressive struc­ture, it succinctly advertised in 1910 that it was “So well and favorably known that com­ment is unnecessary.”

The hotel’s builder, William Y. Warner, was a dissatisfied businessman who decided that Eagles Mere needed “a mod­ern and comfortable summer hotel where whole families could come to enjoy a happy and healthy vacation. There would be a stable full of horses and family prayers for all who chose to come.” And come they did. Senators, governors, ad­mirals, and generals dined in the Crestmont dining room. Ethel du Pont Roosevelt, FDR’s daughter-in-law, and the Van Sciver family were but two of the hotel’s more notable lodg­ers. New guests fared better if they came with the recommen­dations of well-established guests.

By the 1930s, the grand hotels functioned autono­mously for the most part. The Crestmont, perhaps owing to its lofty location, was more removed from the other activi­ties in Eagles Mere, but with so much to do at the hotel, there was little reason for a guest to venture elsewhere. The hotel featured a bowling alley, tennis courts, a chil­dren’s playland, an outdoor bowling green, croquet court, badminton court, shuffleboard courts, rune-hole putting green, eighteen-hole putting course and, later, a swimming pool. Nice as these facilities were, they do not convey the actual lifestyle of the glamor­ous guests. One word that accurately described Crest­mont summers is “civilized.” Everyone had fun, but in a prescribed manner. A list of hotel events for a week in 1939 included a Saturday evening dance, a Sunday evening hymn sing, and a range of weekday concerts, dances, picnics and bridge tourna­ments. The only time when Crestmont guests could safely be uncivilized was while play­ing “The Game.” Introduced in 1938, “The Game” was a unique and elaborate version of charades and was recog­nized in the March 4, 1946, edition of Life magazine. Cater­ing to the cultural interests of many of the guests, the excel­lent concerts at the Crestmont were booked through a New York agent. Programs even featured musicians from the Metropolitan Opera, the Den­ver Symphony, and the Vienna Opera.

Other recreational events and activities highlighted the early summers. Beginning in 1907, the Crestmont hosted the most well-known tennis tour­nament in the region. Semi­professional, and occasionally professional, tennis players competed among themselves and with the hotel’s delighted guests. In true Eagles Mere style, the visiting players were able to really enjoy the resort as the matches were scheduled around their crowded hiking, sailing and swimming sched­ules.

Youngest of the grand ho­tels, and the last to vanish, the Crestmont Inn changed during World War II along with Eagles Mere. Men were abroad fight­ing and gas rationing changed Americans’ vacation plans. Life was never quite the same after the war, and the 1950s ushered in an era of things new, modern, and futuristic. People wanted to vacation someplace different, some­place more exciting than a quiet mountaintop resort. So Eagles Mere stood ignomini­ously neglected, which, ironically, protected its simple, understated charm. In many ways, little has changed; gov­ernors still walk on the laurel path that circles the lake and families still come from near and far to spend much of the summer at the “Lake of the Eagles.”

One tradition of the past that has been recently resurrected is quintessentially Eagles Mere. Around the turn of the century, the hotels began a two-day festivity to honor the lake. The annual Water Carni­val celebrated fun, creativity, and the magic of summer. A theme was chosen, construc­tion rules established, and positions assigned. Some floats consisted of as many as five boats lashed together. Hotels, as well as individuals, contributed entries. Starting at the Crestmont Inn’s dock, the parade of boats circled the lake, pausing at intervals to include boats waiting to join the procession. Eventually the string of boats would glide past the bathing beach where judges and spectators looked on. The imaginative 1909 prize-winners were the Fulton Steamer “Claremont” and the Zepplin-Air-Ship. The second day of the carnival closed with an evening of fireworks, cap­ping off the weekend. Today, the Water Carnival, though not on as large a scale, infuses the present with something of yesterday, a Victorian yester­day when vacations were devoted to renewing strength and health.

Eagles Mere’s history as a popular resort is intimately linked to the lake which prompted its existence. Al­ways a constant presence, the lake’s significance shifted during the course of a century. In the early years, everyone’s energy centered on the lake. Water sports and competi­tions, evening vespers, the early Water Carnivals and walks along the shoreline constituted the main activities. Each hotel defined itself in its relationship to the lake, whether it was easy access to its beach, or a magnificent view of its entirety.

Ironically, as Eagles Mere’s popularity increased, the sum­mer visitors’ interest in the lake itself diminished. The large hotels were offering more and more enticements to en­tertain their clientele. The bowling alleys, dances, and shuffleboard courts were well received additions but dis­tracted the summer guests from the natural beauty of Eagles Mere. On the hotel owners’ part, perhaps, was a fear that Eagles Mere could not stand in and of itself, that their guests would be bored with just a lake and a few water activities. The subtle change from a lake-centered resort to a resort of self-sufficient and self-contained hotels was, no doubt, a natural shift. Paradox­ically, the increased autonomy of the hotels contributed to their own decline in recent years.

It would be poetic to blame the lake for the hotels’ down­fall. A jealous, pampered creature, it cast an evil spell once it realized that guests would rather remain on a front porch rocking chair than ven­ture to the beach. However, such poetic license drastically simplifies the many reasons Eagles Mere did not continue to enjoy its status as one of Pennsylvania’s favored resorts. For one thing, hotels them­selves had become dinosaurs and their patrons had aged and became Jess active. The buildings were large and costly to maintain and were quickly becoming fire hazards. As the hotel owners grew older, they lacked heirs or able relatives willing to inherit the consum­ing job of maintaining the expansive – and expensive – ­structures. Factors outside the village of Eagles Mere natu­rally impacted on the resort as well. World War II spurred many changes which were gradually felt even in a remote mountain resort. The country’s tax structure changed and fewer people could afford to spend long lazy blocks of time in the large hotels. The smaller, more affordable, cot­tages near the Forest Inn grew in popularity as Eagles Mere became more of a cottage com­munity than a hotel commu­nity. This shift also reflected the growing trend of the American nuclear family standing on its own and claim­ing privacy as an essential ingredient of its lifestyle.

One by one, as the grand old hotels vanished, so did Eagles Mere’s image as a fashionable resort community. The village remains, though, little changed in architecture and ambience from its earlier, brighter days. Quieter, per­haps, and less populated, Eagles Mere remains a haven to which families retreat every summer from the daily business of their lives.

 

For Further Reading

Eagles Mere Art View Company. Random Views of Eagles Mere in the Pennsylvania Alleghe­nies. Eagles Mere Park: N.D.

James, Barbara and Bush James. The Crestmont Inn: A History. Williamsport, Pa.: Grit Publish­ing Company, 1984.

Maxa, Rudy. “The Town Time Forgot.” The Washington Post Magazine (December 7, 1980), 31-34.

McFarland, Jr., J. Horace and Robert B. McFarland. Eagles Mere and the Sullivan High­lands. Harrisburg: J. Horace McFarland Company, 1944.

Spritzer, Lorraine Nelson. “A town forgotten by time.” The Philadelphia Inquirer (February 19, 1984), 1, 12.

Taber, Thomas T., III. Muncy Valley Lifeline. Privately Printed, 1972.

Way, Ariel F. and Nancy S. Wilkinson, eds. Eagles Mere: The Town That Time Forgot. Privately printed, 1985.

 

Laura Sickel Mumma has served as assistant director of admissions at Dickinson College, Carlisle, since 1984. A resident of Carlisle, she graduated summa cum laude from Dickinson College with a bachelor of arts degree in English in 1981. She was also a member of the college’s honorary society, Phi Beta Kappa. The author has summered with her family at Eagles Mere since childhood.

 

Bill Snead, whose contemporary color photographs accompany this article, is staff photographer for The Washington Post.