Bear Creek Village evolved in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as a company town designed to support the industrial activities occurring there and the lifestyle of a successful business leader, Albert Lewis. During the industrial era, Lewis permitted several members of the regional elite to establish summer residences, a process of development that increased after the industrial era of the village ended.
Since the industrial enterprises of Albert Lewis were located in a rather remote area, it was necessary to provide living accommodations for workers and the various services required of Albert Lewis and his family. This was a pattern consistent with early industrial development throughout northeastern Pennsylvania, the remainder of the state, and the nation. Lewis constructed single houses and boarding houses for the immigrant workers he hired, many reminiscent of the style typically constructed for anthracite coal workers. In particular, the early company housing types found at Bear Creek (#9
) reveal a heavy emphasis on the communal boarding of workers, and several early company boarding houses are believed to remain. The preponderance of communal housing indicates the nature of the workforce for Lewis' original ice harvesting and lumbering operations.
The village had its own electric power plant for the industrial operations and the village community. Electric power was free to village residents. In 1903, Lewis incorporated the Bear Creek Water Company (#9
) to supply water to the community. The village had a general store, and, in 1911, Lewis built a Catholic church for the workers. St. Elizabeth's Catholic Church, formally dedicated on September 7, 1911 by Rt. Rev. Bishop Hoban of the Scranton diocese, was a mission of St. Leo's Parish in Ashley. In 1913, a one-room schoolhouse was built along White Haven Road for the education of the village's children, reflecting the changing nature of Lewis' workforce and community.
In comparison to the other communities that grew up around this regional enterprise, such as Mountain Springs or Alderson, Bear Creek Village retains a high degree of integrity from this period of its development. While certain structures, such as the ice plants, the ice company office, and the boarding house, have been destroyed, the resources which remain - the lake and dam themselves, the workers' houses, store, and chapel, the railroad depot (#4
) - provide ample opportunity to understand turn-of-the-century life at Bear Creek Village.
Albert Lewis' original house, the "White House," was enlarged in 1891 in preparation for his second marriage. It stood on the west side of the lake and was destroyed by fire in the 1950's. At this time, Lewis also constructed a boathouse (to hold a thirty-three foot steamboat transported to Bear Creek by rail), a carriage house, and a bowling alley for the recreation of his guests and summer residents. A large picnic ground and pavilion were also constructed. By 1895, Lewis' growing family (#2
) required more space; as a result, he had Wilkes-Barre contractors Monks and Shepard construct a large new home, known as the Mokawa Inn (#1
). This mansion was sided with hemlock bark shingles, which were also used on many of the Lewis estate's other structures.
It was at Mokawa Inn that Lewis entertained Teddy Roosevelt (#12
) in 1910 and 1914. William H. Taft (#13
) enjoyed the Lewis hospitality in June of 1919. On November 7, 1922, a fire (#7
) destroyed the central portion and south wing of the Mokawa Inn. Lewis retained Wilkes-Barre architects Donald F. Innes and Charles L. Levy to reconstruct the home as a Tudor Revival mansion. Lewis lived in the home for only six months before his death in 1923.
Near Albert Lewis' home, perched on a high knoll, stood the stately home of Daniel Stull, a Lewis business associate, who operated the village's general store. This home was passed on to Arthur L. Stull, who became a partner in the ice business with Lewis. Stull sold the house to the prominent Reynolds family of Wilkes-Barre in 1892. Several other large seasonal residences, constructed by Lewis friends from Wilkes-Barre's elite, stood nearby along Bear Creek Boulevard on land leased from Lewis.
In addition to the Lewis home, Bear Creek Village possesses other remarkable monuments to Albert Lewis' interests, patronage and taste. Foremost among these are Grace Chapel, a superb example of a high-style rural Episcopal chapel that was built by Lewis in memory of his first wife; and the monuments in the adjoining Lewis family cemetery, many designed by the Tiffany Studios of New York City. Taken together with the bowling alley, the boathouse, and other service buildings, these resources present a remarkably complete picture of the world that Albert Lewis created for himself and his family.
Grace Chapel, in particular, is an extremely well done essay in the Queen Anne style. Its highly talented designer is unknown, and it is possible that Lewis or P. R. Raife, the Wilkes-Barre contractor who built the chapel, may have obtained the design from a patternbook. In any event, the fact that a building of this quality would emerge in a place like Bear Creek in 1884 speaks volumes about Albert Lewis and the aspirations he held for his proprietary village. As Lewis' country seat, and the center of his multifaceted business operations, Bear Creek Village provides an glimpse into the complexities and subtleties of nineteenth-century capitalism as practiced by this significant Pennsylvania industrialist.
Two significant religious buildings and a contributing site, the Lewis family cemetery, are set in the woods to the southwest of the dam. Grace Chapel (1884) is a shingled high-style Queen Anne building with a T-shaped plan. The nave and chancel are encompassed within the chapel's rectangular main wing; the chapel's interior, which is finished in beadboard, is illuminated by arched art glass windows on the north and south walls and a hipped dormer with three large multipaned windows on the east wall. An entry porch and tower, topped by a bell-roofed belfry and spiral, project from the sanctuary wing. The Lewis family cemetery sits across Chapel Road from Grace Chapel. Surrounded by a stone wall, the cemetery contains the graces of Albert Lewis and other prominent members of the Lewis family. The graves are marked by monuments or crosses designed by Tiffany Studios, New York.
Further south along Chapel Road, the former St. Elizabeth's Catholic Chapel (#5
)(1911) is a vacant clapboard building. A tower with open belfry, centered on the north gable end, houses the main entrance. Simple rectangular windows, embellished with applied pedimental hood moldings, light the chapel's interior.
Another fascinating aspect of the Bear Creek Village district is the way in which it illustrates the free intermingling of recreation and industry - an aspect of nineteenth-century life that has not continued to the present day. The pursuit of rest and outdoor recreation was a focal point of cottage life at Bear Creek, occurring alongside Lewis' ice-cutting and lumbering operations. The remaining cottages along Bear Creek Boulevard document the coexistence of an elite summer colony and a company town; architecturally, they are representative of the rambling residences, influenced by the Stick and Shingle styles, which typified Victorian summer resort architecture in the region.
As Bear Creek Village's industrial role declined, its development as a lakeside retreat accelerated. The residential compounds designed for Albert Lewis and his son, Hugh, by Wilkes-Barre architects Donald Innes and Charles Levy illustrate the architectural manifestation of that shift.
The firm of Innes and Levy dominated residential design in the Wyoming Valley during the 1920's and 1930's, designing dozens of town and country houses for the continuity's elite. They were particularly gifted at the Tudor Revival, and several of their essays in that style are significant resources within downtown Wilkes-Barre's River Street National Historic District. When Albert Lewis' mansion burned in 1922, Lewis engaged the firm to rebuild it. Innes and Levy were pleased enough with the results to feature the Albert Lewis house in their monograph, published in 1933.
It was Innes and Levy's residence for Hugh Lewis, however, which set the tone for residential development at Bear Creek during the next several decades. Seemingly influenced both by Adirondacks camp architecture and rural French examples, the architects developed a vocabulary of uncoursed rubblestone walls, logs, steel casement windows, and roughcut clapboards, which they used in conjunction with massing and motifs taken from the French countryside.
The design for the Hugh Lewis compound is echoed in the 1930's and 1940's residences at 37 and 39 Cove Road, 99 West Lake Road, and 585 and 605 East Lake Road. Some, such as the adjoining homes along Cove Road, are almost certainly by Innes and Levy. Taken together, they define a nascent "Bear Creek style" which came to typify the community's architectural development during the middle of the twentieth century. This stylistic direction sets Bear Creek apart from other Victorian summer colonies turned suburbs in the Wilkes-Barre area, such as Glen Summit or Harvey's Lake.
The district's twentieth-century architectural resources are not limited to essays in the Bear Creek vernacular. The high-style Ernest Rohr residence (ca. 1939), for example, is one of the few examples of Art Moderne residential architecture in the region. As Bear Creek Village's new role as a year-round suburban community for Wilkes-Barre - a place apart from the bustle of the valley below - solidified, the district has continued to serve as a testing ground for new architectural design - a role which has continued to the present day.
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