HISTORY
OF
WOLFE'S GROVE
SYLVAN LAKE, LUZERNE COUNTY, PA

Click on Images to Enlarge!

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While viewing the above photo, please keep in mind that the actual image is reversed due to the photographic process. Donated by Frank Regulski.

Land Ownership

The major part (90%) of the 100-acre Ross Township property of which we will speak dates back at least to ownership by Joel Rogers Long.   In the 1880’s he was well known around the Sweet Valley community as the first owner of the Sweet Valley Hotel.

Joel died on May 27, 1912, leaving the property to his widow, Keziah J. Wesley Long.   Following her subsequent death, the executors of her estate, in 1916, conveyed it to Almon T. Rood and his wife Margaret Smith Rood, of Hanover Township, Luzerne County.

On October 18, 1926, Peter Wolfe Sr., of Hanover Township, purchased the 90 acres from the Roods.  Peter Wolfe, Sr. (hereafter referred to a simply "Peter") was the son of German immigrants, Andrew and Dora Wolfe, who were born in "Poland (Russia)" per the US Census.  The initial spelling of their surname was Wolss. It was Americanized to Wolfe following their arrival in this country with their daughter Amelia in 1890.  Peter was born in September of that year and, at first, he and his parents lived in Plymouth Township.   

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Former residence of Pete Wolfe Sr., at the top of Ledge Hill, taken in 2005. 
Photo courtesy of Ron Hontz.

As a 7-year-old Peter worked as a slate picker.  He later met and married Cora Jacoby (originally from Newport Township) and she bore him two sons, Charles and Peter, Jr. (hereafter referred to a simply "Pete".) The family crossed the Susquehanna and operated a grocery store and butcher shop at 46 Oxford Street in Hanover Township. 

The 90-acre parcel lies on both sides of what is now Broadway Road, at the top of Ledge Hill.  The property features two dwellings.  Heading westward from Sweet Valley towards Broadway, one would first encounter the Wolfe residence, which Peter built, on the right side.  It was called the "Rock House" because of its construction.  Beyond that lies the "Post house", named for the family that rented it from Peter. Turning left at the Rock House led one down an access road to the Sylvan Lake (f\k\a South Pond) waterfront. 

On May 11, 1933, Peter and Cora added to their holdings by buying an additional 10.12 acres from one Evan B.W. Long and his wife, Minnie S. Naugle Long.  That parcel included a log cabin built by John George Long in the 1800's.  The Longs retained usage of a spring near the barn.

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View of the Long family log cabin.

Construction of the Grove

A man named Andrenko (sp?) from Hanover Township was the first to cater to the swimmers at Sylvan Lake. 

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Pictured above are some of the visiting sunbathers at Wolfe's Grove. Donated by Frank Regulski.

He opened a soda and hot dog stand on the lakeshore but it lasted only one season.  The idea of building a dance hall came from a man named Jake Benscoter, who was related to the Benscoter family that owned much of the land around South Pond. Jake used to drive his team of oxen up Ledge Hill from Bloomingdale on Sundays to visit the Wolfes.  

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Benscoter Homestead at Bloomingdale, PA. 
Donated by Jake Benscoter.

At the time, there were few oxen teams around the area and the Wolfes' sons delighted in the animals.  

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Benscoters with their Ox, Dave. Donated by Jake Benscoter.

Peter learned of an old granary in Towanda where one could get free lumber by demolishing the building.  He and his brothers-in-law, Nate and George Jacoby, tore down the granary.  Then they drove an old flat-bed truck with solid (non-pneumatic) tires to Towanda and brought home the lumber.  In 1933, the beams and boards became the dance hall and the Grove was opened.  The granary's metal roof covered the carousel which was originally inside a building.  Later, the carousel was moved outdoors and the building became a bingo hall.  

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Photo of the carousel at Wolfe's Grove. Notice Peter Wolfe Sr. in the center, surrounded by many of the park visitors. Ride operator Mickey Adams is seen at the rear left. Donated by Frank Regulski.

The dance hall featured "farmer dancing" with a gender-specific admission fee--25 cents for men and only a nickel for ladies. The dances featured caller Ossie Lewis who became the mentor of the younger Joseph "Red" Jones when Jones was only 13. Jones went on to call for farmer dances all around the region for years afterward (as late as 1994), including at the Kunkle Community Hall.  In the 30's, folks would come to hear and dance to Jack Karns and his Traveling Cowboys Band. The Pat Finley Band also played at the Grove for years. Following the advent of rock'n'roll, the dance hall drew considerable crowds of teenagers. Jim Ward (the "Morning Mayor") of radio station WBRE would import artists such as the just-starting-out Bobby Rydell (singing his first hit, "Kissin' Time", in June 1959).  Fabian, Brian Hyland, and Danny and the Juniors also played the Grove.  For the most part, the acts would fly into Avoca and rent a car or limousine but needed to be led to the Grove.  Duane Wolfe (the son of Charles Wolfe) and the Sayre brothers, Bob and Tony, would take the Sayres' beautiful '51 Chevy to the airport and lead the act back to the Grove.  Duane says "If the group we were picking up acted like they were better than us, we'd drive like maniacs  to see if they could keep up with us.  It was hairy on the road from Hunlock Creek to the Grove."

One very memorable event related by Pete occurred at the dance hall.  Unlike today, one did not play bingo for cash prizes back in those days.  Rather, one would collect coupons and redeem them for prizes.  Vendors would visit the Grove selling merchandise to be used as prizes.  One vendor once had a very unique offering-several hundred pairs of women's shoes.   Pete initially turned the vendor down flatly, asking "What would I EVER do with them?"  The vendor persisted "But they're brand new, never-worn manufacturer's samples!  All sizes, colors, and styles---only 5 cents a pair!"  Eventually either the vendor or Pete came up with a possibly workable idea.  A Cinderella dance would be held with each girl in attendance to get a free pair of shoes.  Pete reasoned that by collecting admission from each girl and handing out nickel shoes, he'd make a substantial profit IF enough girls showed up.  He took the bait and bought the shoes. As he tells it. "We didn't even spend any money on advertising.  We just took a piece of cardboard and some shoe polish and hung up a sign at the dance hall entrance three weeks in advance.  The dance was supposed to start at 8:30 but, to my complete surprise, by 6:30 you couldn't stuff one more person inside!  We'd piled the shoes in a big heap in the middle of the dance floor and, initially, the girls just sort of walked around the pile, looking.  Finally one brave soul parked herself on the floor and began sorting through them.  She was joined by another girl, then another, and another and pretty soon there was a feeding frenzy.  Now, these girls were wearing skirts.  To sit down on the floor to try on shoes, they had to hike the skirts up much higher than modesty would dictate.  The boys were going crazy with all the free looks they were afforded.  In general, a great time was had by all except for one poor lass.  She approached my Dad, crying.   Barefoot, she cried that, in the melee, someone had made off with the shoes she'd worn to the dance!! "  Pete doesn't recall how her dilemma was resolved but they never again held another Cinderella dance.

Courtesy of Bob Baloga and Stanley Whitey Rodgers

Movies and Baseball

When it first opened, Peter operated one of the first "drive-in" theaters. Cars would park in a 4-acre field between the baseball diamond and the dance hall, facing the dance hall.

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View of the former site of the baseball field, looking outward from home plate. The Rock House was reachable by a long home run to left field and across Broadway Road. Note the two very large pine trees growing in the middle of the field. Photo courtesy of Ron Hontz and Sheila Brandon.

Movies were projected onto a screen at the end of the hall. Admission was $1 a carload.  During WW2, the parking lot was converted to a potato field by Charles Wolfe.  In 1939 some businessmen approached Peter with the idea of building a larger, full-fledged drive-in theater in the orchard across the access road from the ball diamond.  He was amenable to the plan but it failed in the face of uncompromising Ross Township supervisors.   A meeting was held in the office of the township solicitor, Miner Aylesworth.  The supervisors refused to either waive or lower the township's 10% amusement tax.  The businessmen, discouraged but not beaten, took their plan to Edwardsville Borough.  They built, instead, the West Side Drive-In along the Narrows highway. 

In the 40's Peter owned a semi-pro baseball team that played on the Grove's diamond against opponents from Hunlock Creek, Stillwater and other towns. One of the better Hunlock players was Ken Pollock, who later ran a trucking firm that hauled coal to the power plant on Route 11. Pollock's love of the game grew into playing minor league ball in Virginia. As his business career flourished, it eventually led to an almost-successful bid to buy the Boston Red Sox from Mrs. Jean Yawkey in the 1970's. Pollock turned to the Pittsburgh Pirates and, in 1990, became a part owner and board member of that team.

By the mid-1940’s, the semi-pro league had folded and the ball diamond was used by local amateur teams. Your writer’s brother, Bob Hontz, played on one of those teams before he graduated from Lehman High School at age 16 in June of 1950. (He had skipped a grade while attending the old one-room school in Mooretown.) Bob says they were lucky if they could find nine guys for each game. When they did, the defensive lineup most often would be: Phil Scavone (pitcher); Bernard Mont (catcher); Wilbur "Wibb" Shaw (first base); Paul Thomas (second base); Pat Scavone (shortstop); Bob Hontz (third base); Ronnie Thomas (left field); Dick Thomas (center field). Donnie Scavone was a year or two younger than the others and would be stationed in right field if one of the others was a no-show on a given day. The underlying spirit of the Sweet Valley team is perhaps best illustrated by one event related by Duane Wolfe. Behind by a considerable margin in one particular game, they were heartened by the cry of "Woodchuck! Woodchuck!" Balls, bats, and gloves were dropped in place and a mad rush was on to retrieve rifles from their cars. A firing squad lined up along the access road and shot westward toward the stone wall that abutted the orchard. No dead woodchuck was ever found and the mere exercise of this manly pursuit "fired up" the team. They won by 3 runs.

Other Attractions


Memorabilia donated by Frank Regulski.

A roller rink was another major attraction at the Grove.   People of all ages came from miles around to skate.

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Frontal view of the Roller Rink,  taken in 1982. Copyright retained by Gary Looker. Additional photos can be found at 
Defunct  Parks
Rear view of the Roller Rink,  taken in 1982. Copyright retained by Gary Looker. Additional photos can be found at 
Defunct  Parks
Rear view of the Roller Rink,  taken in 1982. Copyright retained by Gary Looker. Additional photos can be found at 
Defunct  Parks

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View of the former site of the roller skating rink. Photo courtesy of Ron Hontz and Sheila Brandon.

Music played and an overhead electric sign set the varying levels of participation, from "Singles" to "Couples" to "All Skate."  Duane Wolf recalls finding cooling relief from his skating exertions in the winter by flying out an open door at the end of the rink and landing in a snow bank.

For the enjoyment of the younger patrons, there was a miniature train ride. 

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Views of the locomotive courtesy of Ron Hontz and Sheila Brandon. May 2005.
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It was built by Cora (Jacoby) Wolfe's brother, Nate, who lived in West Nanticoke and worked as a blacksmith at the Avondale colliery.  Powered by a Chevrolet "H" engine of 1920's vintage, the train was one-eighth of a mile long in an elongated figure-8 configuration.  The garage in which it was housed doubled as a "tunnel."

Large crowds of 4-to-5,000 were not unusual at the Grove in the summer, drawn by the bingo games, 300 picnic tables, 3 clambake sheds, and 3 roofed shelters that held 250 people each.  

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View of the former Bingo Hall,  taken in 1982. Copyright retained by Gary Looker. Additional photos can be found at 
Defunct  Parks

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View of one of the former picnic pavilions,  taken in 1982. Copyright retained by Gary Looker. Additional photos can be found at 
Defunct  Parks

Vehicles were parked in the 4-acre field that once served as the drive-in theater and later as a potato field.   Local churches held their annual picnics there. St. Mary's of Plymouth, most notably, sent a great number of parishioners.  While some picnic tables were built by the Wolfe family, many were simply empty cable spools obtained from the Hazard Iron Works in Wilkes-Barre and set on their sides. 

In 1948, Charles Wolfe moved to Wilkes-Barre.  By 1954 his sons, Duane, who was only 12 at the time and Charles Jr. (hereafter referred to a simply “Charlie”), who was even younger, would hitchhike to Sweet Valley to work for their grandfather and uncle.   Later in the '50's the boys would stay in one of the five rental cabins for the entire summer. 

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Pictured above are views of the five cabins. Each cabin consisted of two very small rooms. Photos courtesy of Ron Hontz and Sheila Brandon, 2005.

While the Sayre brothers were the Grove's primary full-time workers, Duane and Charlie had a large involvement in day-to-day operations.  They opened the Grove each morning, heating up the grills and fryers, restocking the Coke machine, etc. They came to dread one particular chore.  Each Thursday, they had to peel and blanche from 1,200 to 1,500 pounds of potatoes for the weekend's worth of French fries.  To this day, Duane reports, he hates Thursdays.  On Mondays, he and Charlie and the Sayre brothers would clean up around the Grove. They got help from squirrels and chipmunks who'd eat anything in sight.

Duane operated a shooting gallery that used live .22-short ammunition.  In addition to lines of moving duck targets, shooters would aim at stationary clay pigeons.  The pigeons were attached to chains that were pulled to re-set them after they'd been knocked down. As this is written, some 50 years later, Duane has finally revealed a secret that not even his uncle Pete was in on.  He had discovered that the pigeons fell over much easier if the tension on their re-set chain was decreased and were harder to knock down if it were tightened.   While Ross Township has never, to this writer's knowledge, been a "wet" township, picnickers were allowed to bring their own refreshments to the Grove.  Adult hotshot  "marksmen", some a bit lit up from their clambakes, would brag about their prowess and that annoyed Duane.  Shots cost 9 for a quarter and he would bet the adults 2-to-1 that they couldn't beat even him, a callow youth.  If they beat him, there was no charge and if they won, he'd pay them fifty cents. Naturally, he knew which pigeons would fall the easiest.   After they lost, the adults would bring back their buddies to try to beat the kid.  Duane does not recall ever losing.

The highlight of the week for Duane and Charlie was to ride with their grandfather, Peter, to town to pick up supplies and to buy merchandise to be used as prizes in the bingo hall.  At one stop they found some fishing lures called Black Jitterbugs for sale at $9 a dozen.  Duane knew darned little about fishing but guessed that he'd be able to resell them for $1 apiece to fishermen who came to Sylvan Lake. He took the chance and bought them.  Figuring the fishermen knew a lot more than he did, he would meekly respond affirmatively to inquiries as to likelihood of finding bass in the lake.  He'd suggest they were often found off to the right of the beach.  Some overhanging trees there shaded the lake, providing the cool water that bass prefer.  Invariably, more than one angler would find his line tangled in the trees when a cast went awry and they'd end up cutting their line.  About twice a week, either Duane or Charlie would climb the tree, retrieve the snagged lure, and resell it.  Later in the season, some of the paint would wear off a Black Jitterbug from exposure to the elements and constant banging against the branches, so they'd reduce the price to just 50 cents.   Those 12 lures lasted the boys an entire summer and they recouped their cost many times over.

Over the years a Ferris wheel, a baseball batting cage, and a games arcade were added to the Grove's attractions.  Near the water's edge stood a bathhouse where swimmers could change clothes.  Pete's wife, Doris, operated a hot dog and soda stand at the bathhouse and the stand was named for their daughter, Jane Ann.

Closing of the Grove

Cora Jacoby Wolfe had died in 1950, leaving the 100.12 acres to Peter.  In 1964, he conveyed it to himself and son Pete jointly.

Wolfe's Grove was closed in 1965. Peter died on June 10, 1967, leaving the land in Pete's name only.  

On March 22, 1979 Pete sold the 30 acres that had comprised the Grove to Louis and Ruth Masgay of Forty Fort.   Louis operated a business in Plymouth and had plans to restore and reopen the Grove.  However, he disappeared on July 1, 1981 and was found over 2 years later. He'd been murdered in New Jersey by a serial killer named Richard "The Iceman" Kuklinski, about whom HBO did a special.  Masgay's widow tried to keep up the payments but the First National Bank Of Wyoming was forced to begin foreclose proceedings in 1985. On October 3, 1985 Ruth Masgay deeded the property to the bank in a transaction known as a "deed in lieu of foreclosure."

Don Miller, an ink chemist from New Jersey, had owned a cottage across Sylvan Lake from the Grove for years heard the Grove was for sale. On September 12, 1986 he bought the former Grove from the bank.

Remnants  

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Views of the Dance Hall, Bingo Hall, and Skating Rink, 
courtesy of Don Miller.

On May 27, 2005 your writer and Sheila Brandon, owner of the Lower Luzerne County web site, visited with Don Miller and he graciously showed us around his property.  Within the first year or two of his ownership, he had found it necessary to tear down the crumbling structures that were the roller rink and the dance hall.  Much of the debris was burned under the careful eye of the Sweet Valley Volunteer Fire Company.  It brought a tear to the eye of Fire Chief Bob Walsh who, as a teenager, had helped lay the roller rink's concrete floor.  Miller built his one-story ranch-style home facing the lake on what had been the dance hall site.

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View of the former dance hall taken in 1982. Copyright retained by Gary Looker. Additional photos can be found at 
Defunct  Parks
View of the current day site of the former dance hall. Residence of Mr. & Mrs. Miller. Photo courtesy of Ron Hontz and Sheila Brandon, taken in May 2005.

His home is roughly the same size of the former dance hall and has a 2-car attached garage on one end.  He took what used to be the carousel\bingo hall structure and turned it into an additional 2-car garage which he uses chiefly for storage.

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View of the former bingo hall taken in 1982. Copyright retained by Gary Looker. Additional photos can be found at 
Defunct  Parks
Current day view of the  site of the former bingo hall. Photo courtesy of Ron Hontz and Sheila Brandon taken in May 2005.

The original well, albeit with some new pipes added, still serves as his water supply.  It can be seen in his front yard under a child-size wishing well.  He would have loved to retain the sewer system used by the skating rink but current Ross Township standards forced him to install a modern system with a sand mound. 

The swing set (bearing a "1936" engraving) 

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Pictured above- the swing sets during operational times, followed by the current day view of one of the swing sets below. Postcard view has been donated by Frank Regulski, the current day photo, courtesy of Ron Hontz and Sheila Brandon.

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and the games arcade are the only original structures from the Grove that remain standing.

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Views of the current state of the arcade building. Pictured on the left is Ron Hontz (sporting the black cowboy hat) interviewing the current owner, Mr. Miller.

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Also take note of the word "dancing" painted on the side of the building. Photos courtesy of Ron Hontz and Sheila Brandon.

 The arcade is in rough, tumble-down condition with a huge hornet's nest inside.  The rental cabins range from one sagging, open-to-the-elements skeleton to several heaps of lumber.  

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Pictured above are views of the remains of the cabins. The rental cabins range from one sagging, open-to-the-elements skeleton to several heaps of lumber.  Additional photos of the cabins in their current state can be found above. Photos are courtesy of Ron Hontz and Sheila Brandon. May 2005.

The ball diamond has, to a great extent, been mowed over the years but it also features two large trees just beyond the infield.  The concrete slab from the beach house remains. 

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View of the former site of the beach house, courtesy of Ron Hontz and Sheila Brandon.

Miller added a roof over the slab and uses the old bathhouse space for a picnic area and for storage of his boat.  In the heyday of the Grove, one ride featured a "Maypole"-type hub from which hung chains. 

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View of the former ride, current day light pole.

Riders would reach up, grab a chain, and run around the circumference afforded by the chain's length.  Upon gaining sufficient speed, one would lift one's feet from the ground, hang from the chain, and coast until gravity prevailed and stopped the ride.  The "Maypole" is still standing and Miller has adapted it for use as a light pole in his front yard.  

The train's locomotive is still on the grounds near the lakefront but Miller has set it up on cinder blocks and added fake wheels to it just for show.  The train's passenger cars and tracks are long gone from the premises but Pete cannot say where they were taken.  Contrary to popular rumor, the one place they are NOT is at Bonham's Nursing Center down in Stillwater.  Your writer spoke to Mr. Bonham and he confirmed  that the only train he has came from Hanson's Amusement Park at Harveys Lake.  Like the train, what became of the carousel is shrouded in mystery.  

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Remnants of a former pavilion.
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Remnants of the former outhouse.
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Another view of the former outhouse.

For over 30 years, Wolfe's Grove entertained Ross and the surrounding townships and towns.  As this is written, in 2005, it has been closed for 40 years.  Folks who "farmer danced" there at its beginning have passed on. The teenagers who skated there in the 1950's and 60's are now, themselves, well into middle age.  By adding this story to the Internet, may it long be fondly remembered well into the future.  Can't you just imagine a youngster in the year 2075 asking "Wolfe's Grove?  Didn't great-great-granddad used to talk about that place?"

Ronald E. Hontz

33 Whitcraft Lane

Shrewsbury  PA  17361

(717) 235-5791

cell phone (717) 309-1402

e-mail: Sweetvalleykid@gmail.com

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