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December 14, 2013

Oneonta name found in Northeast Pennsylvania lake borough

Harvey’s Lake, Pa., is small enough so you can’t miss a street sign that reads, “Oneonta Hill.” Whether you’re new to that area, or you’re from this part of the upper Susquehanna Valley, a bit of curiosity might tug at your mind regarding the name of the hill and how it got there. 

There are many places across the United States that have the name Oneonta, and in all of those places, from Kentucky, Kansas, Alabama, California or Oregon, there is something in common in how the place got its name. It had something to do with our city’s railroad heritage or an individual who may have lived or worked here on the railroad and moved on.

The name reference in Harvey’s Lake isn’t so obvious, however. The lake community is about 22 miles northwest of Wilkes-Barre, Pa., and my visit earlier this year to conduct some research at the Luzerne County Historical Society wasn’t successful in pinpointing the exact origin.

A large and luxurious hotel was built in 1897 on the “sunset” side of Harvey’s Lake. One of the principal stockholders, John Graham, became the hotel’s namesake at first when the owners gave the hotel a formal inspection in April 1898.

However, according to files at the Historical Society, the hotel was renamed Oneonta in June, “an Indian name meaning a ‘place of rest.’ Within a week the landscapers at the hotel found an Indian canoe buried on the grounds. It was carefully removed and cleaned for exhibition. On July 7, 1898 the Hotel Oneonta was opened for guests.”

The Oneonta was built by the Harvey’s Lake Hotel and Land Co., to take advantage of increasing tourist traffic in that part of Northeast Pennsylvania. The investment was made possible by a trolley line linking the lake to the cities in the valley below, Scranton and Wilkes-Barre. The Delaware & Hudson Railroad, to which our city has its historic ties, had a terminal in Wilkes-Barre, which could be a factor in the Harvey’s Lake hotel being named Oneonta. Wilkes-Barre was the southern end of the line, where connections with other railroad lines were made at that time.

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