February 2012

The Light of Highland Lake

By Paul Harvey

This month I would like to share with you the story of one of the museum's finest engines and its most unique history.  The engine is our 8 hp Bates and Edmonds engine and direct coupled generator.  Its history reveals that it originally lighted a hotel high on top of a mountain in Eastern Pennsylvania.  And so the story unfolds.

At the turn of the last century, the wealthy from Philadelphia and New York City were looking for summer retreats to get away from the hot and noisy cities and enjoy peace and solitude in the unspoiled country.  The mountains provided lakes, forests and cool,  refreshing air in the summers. This was considered medicinal at the time. The city visitors could relax and enjoy all the comfort the grand hotels provided.  The Poconos provided some magnificent resorts but so did the areas of northern Lycoming County as well as Sullivan County.  Here, in the Endless Mountains, our engine found its first home.

A small lake, Highland Lake, at 2550 feet elevation started to be developed about 1890.  John Maginness, in his history of Shrewsbury Township, Lycoming County, of 1892, tells of three grand hotels already built.  The first erected was the Highland House then shortly followed by the Grand View.  The last and the biggest was the Essick and this was the home of our engine.

Records reveal that Dr. Howard M. Essick started practice in the village of Picture Rocks, PA, on March 8, 1881.  The village was along Muncy Creek and named for Indian glyphs carved into a local rock formation.  North from there, the valley narrows and the mountains rise to the west.  About two miles on, there is the small village of Tivoli and here a small road winds seven miles up to Highland Lake.  Little information is available about Dr. Essick but apparently his interest turned to developing this area and here he built the fabulous Essick Hotel.  The entire mountain community was named Essick Heights and many large summer cottages were built in the area.  It was noted that his wife was postmaster for Essick Heights during the summer months when it was open.  At that time, winter sports were not appreciated.

The area prospered in the early 1900s but then the railroad was extended to Eagles Mere which surpassed Essick Heights in popularity.  The guests did not favor the seven mile horse and carriage ride from Tivoli instead of riding the train a bit farther to Eagles Mere.  Eagles Mere still flourishes as the town that time forgot and has a beautiful lake and view.

In 1902, Dr. Essick brought the new electric light to his hotel.  He purchased two Bates and Edmonds units and had them placed in a stone powerhouse about 200 yards from his hotel.  Each unit provided 5kw of direct current so it is hard to imagine how well a four story hotel could have been illuminated!  But an old newspaper clipping states that the hotel could be seen from Hughsville, in the Muncy valley eight miles south and it was considered a "modern marvel".

However, the grand adventure was short lived and, as Sherry Gardner states in her book "Around Picture Rocks," the Essick Hotel opened on June 1, 1889 and was destroyed by fire on Nov. 15, 1916.  This situation forced Dr. Essick into bankruptcy and ended any further development of Highland lake.  No further information can be found about Dr. Essick.

Fortunately, the engines were located in a stone power house 200 yards distant and were not affected by the fire.  One disappeared long ago with no record, but ours remained for an amazing 101 years.  An ad in Lancaster Farming of May 2003 lists it for auction and it was still on original location.  After going through two other collectors, it came to Coolspring in 2009!  It lived in its building from 1902 to 2003. 

In 2009 I had the opportunity to visit the area and spent a day at Highland Lake.  I met the local caretaker, Tom and he pointed out the site of the Essick Hotel.  A stone bench, as well as a depression in the ground is all that remains.  Standing on the bench, the view is spectacular giving a 360 degree panorama of the distance.  It was so quiet that I am sure the wind was singing the songs of happy voices of the past.  Highland Lake was visible about 200 feet below and still used for fishing. Then I drove on to the forest border and there remained the stone power house with the two engine foundations.  I know that I drove out Park Avenue of Essick Heights since the big trees were still there beside the dirt tracks in the snow.  What an experience!!! 

Our engine is a Bates and Edmonds built in Lansing, Michigan in 1902 which is consistent with its installation at the Essick Hotel.  It is labeled a Fairbanks Improved but this is the jobber that sold them.  It is interesting with the "alligator link" valve motion and vertical governor design. The designer was Madison F. Bates who also built the Bates automobile.  He also worked with the Olds Motor Works and designed many of their early engines.  His associate was a Mr. Edmonds who managed the company and its progress.  We are all familiar with the Bulldog engine which is a later product.  Several Bates and Edmonds engines are on display at the museum.  According to my research, he has one patent of May 26, 1903, number 729,254 for a gasoline mixer for his engines.

Photo 1 shows the Essick Hotel at its height.  It is a magnificent structure that was accompanied with stables, tennis courts, and all the pleasures of the day.  Looking closely, the stone bench that still remains today can be seen outside.  Photo 2 shows Park Avenue of Essick Heights.  Noting the location of the trees, I am sure that I drove out this street and the hotel would have been located in the foreground.  There are still five big summer cottages maintained there as well as three in disrepair.  So Essick Heights still lives!  Photo 3 shows the stone bench and the location of the hotel.  There is a small depression in the ground where the big building once stood.  Photo 4 shows the stone power house as I found it in 2009.  Despite its flat roof,  it is still intact and the foundations of the engines are inside.   Photo 5 shows Highland Lake as seen from the road.  It is open to the public as a fishing location although all the other locations are now private.  The last photo, Photo 6, shows the engine as it now appears in the museum.  It runs beautifully.

I hope that you have enjoyed this tour of the Essick Hotel and our engine.  For more information, on the museum and the other engines here, please feel free to call 814-649-6883 to keep updated.  We will open again in April but appointments and tours can be scheduled.  Have a great winter and see you in the spring!!

Photo 1: The Essick Hotel

Photo 2: Park Avenue of Essick Heights

Photo 3: The Site of the Essick Hotel

Photo 4: The Remains of the Power House

Photo 5: Highland Lake

Photo 6: Paul and the Bates and Edmonds engine today


Copyright 2018 by Coolspring Power Museum