HISTORY OF STILLWATER LAKE
By Rick Bodenschatz
June 2010, amended September 2010
Stillwater Lake is located in Pocono Summit, and the communities of Stillwater Lake and Stillwater Estates partially surround its shore. A large portion of the shoreline, as well as the lake itself, is the responsibility of Camp Minsi, Boy Scouts of America.
The lake area is located in both Tobyhanna Township and Coolbaugh Township, covering a surface of approximately 315 acres. It is 0.87 mile in length and 1.25 mile wide. The lake reaches depths of approximately 8 feet, with the average being 4.7 feet. It is located 1,811 feet above sea level.
Stillwater Lake is a man-made lake, being fed by several underground springs and the three streams of Dotter’s Run (the primary feed), Hawkeye Run and Pocono Summit Creek. The outflow of the lake forms the Upper Tunkhannock Creek, which flows to, through and beyond Lake Naomi.
The Early Years
Once a swamp, Native Americans called it Klampeechen Chuppecat, which translates to “deep, dark swamp.” Those early, original inhabitants were the “Minsi” tribe of the Leni-Lenape Indians.
As new settlers established themselves on the Pocono Plateau starting in the early 1800s, the rich resource of timber brought lumbermen to the mountain. The swamp area itself was fully cleared of all timber, and its water supply and topography provided opportunity for a man-made dam to be built.
Although the exact date of the dam construction is unknown, it was built prior to 1871. First known as Tunkhannock Lake, the initial purpose of this lake was to provide a water vehicle for timber to flow to the already built Pocono Lake. Using dam water releases of massive quantifies of water, known as a splash dam, logs were pushed into the stream below the breast of the dams and flowed via the larger Tobyhanna Creek, then on to the Lehigh River. From there, logs could be sent downstream to Easton and the Delaware River, then on to the Philadelphia metropolitan area.
The Transition of Natural Resources
In 1871 the lake was enlarged to its current size and configuration. Over the years, as timber was cleared from the Pocono Plateau, businesses and major landowners had to look to alternatives for revenues. The long, cold Pocono winters provided an ideal solution: development of the ice harvest industry for refrigeration.
Around 1898 The Tunkhannock Ice Company built ice-harvesting operations on the lake. A massive icehouse was constructed, measuring 300 feet by 100 feet and 50 feet in height. The structure contained individual, equally sized rooms constructed of timber with sawdust insulation. It had a capacity to hold 31,000 tons of ice blocks, or chunks. A second building housed the steam plant, which generated energy to run the conveyer belts and other machinery. Boarding house quarters were also reported to be on the grounds, providing temporary housing for the workers.
With the Wilkes-Barre & Eastern Railroad’s opening through the area in 1895, a side track of one and one- half mile long was built to provide access for rail transport. With this railroad, the ice company had access to the massive New York and Philadelphia markets. After filling of the icehouse for winter storage, ice was then shipped directly from the lake during the winter, and from the icehouse during warmer months. The Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroad, with its large passenger and freight station in Pocono Summit, also had a side rail that provided access for shipping harvested ice via its rail system.
In 1902 the Tunkhannock Ice Company merged with the Mountain Ice Company, owned and directed by Samuel Rubel. With demand for refrigeration ice continually growing, Rubel started and acquired a number of other ice harvest operations, becoming known as the Pocono Mountain Ice Company. Rubel’s ice operations grew to become an industry leader for the metropolitan New York and Philadelphia markets.
Although 36,000 tons of ice was shipped from the Stillwater Lake’s ice harvest operations in 1927, the expanded use and acceptance of electric refrigerators drove the ice industry under water by the end of the 1930’s. Manufactured ice satisfied what little demand existed in metropolitan areas. In 1932 one-half of the lake and 1,000 acres were offered for sale for $25,000.
Some local demand for ice continued, however, as many summer homes and cabins on the mountain were yet to be fully electrified or equipped with refrigerators. German prisoners from WWII being held at Camp Tobyhanna were reported to be among the ice harvest laborers during that period, and were quartered in the boarding houses at the lake.
Article from The New York Times, June 17, 1949, and the gateway over the old entrance of Camp Minsi
The Boy Scouts of America — Camp Minsi
In 1949, a gift of land from the late Samuel Rubel and the Pocono Mountain Ice Company was donated to the Bethlehem Area Council of the Boy Scouts, later becoming the Minsi Trails Council. This included approximately 10 buildings and half the frontage of the lake. Further acreage was acquired and today comprises 1,250 acres.
In July 1952 the Boy Scouts dedicated the camp and held its first summer encampment. The camp was established on the southern shore of the lake utilizing the facilities of the old ice industry. The old buildings of the ice company were used for the staff housing, dining hall, health lodge, an indoor rifle range and the ranger’s lodging.
The council sought to expand its programming for summer camp and plans were drawn up for a bigger and better Camp Minsi. In the mid-to-late 1950s these plans were realized, chiefly through the donations given to the council from Bethlehem Steel. Construction of the current camp, along the western side of the lake, was completed in 1958 and the newly expanded camp opened for the first time in the summer of 1959.
Today, there are eight weeks of summer camps conducted by the Boy Scouts. Year round rentals by Boy Scout troops and other organizations utilize the facilities and lake. As a second and third generation of timber has grown, the wooded area returned to it natural splendor. In addition to being a home for the Boy Scouts, it is a natural habitat for many black bear, white tail deer, fox, turkey, raccoon, opossum, skunk, squirrels, groundhogs and numerous other critters.
In 2010 and 2011, state grants and donations enabled the entire rebuilding of the dam breast. Having reached a critical stage of being unsafe, this rehabilitation project insures a safe and environmentally sound lake and stream for all the area’s inhabitants, including downstream Lake Naomi and its large community.
In 1952 two parcels were purchased, one near the railroad from the Rubel operations and the other was purchased from the estate of Isaac Stauffer, for development. In the 1960s a syndicate of New York developers marketed the property as Stillwater Lake Estates, with approximately 1,000 building lots. This development included amenities such as a lake beach, community center, playground, nature preserve, tennis courts and a marina. 1/2-acre lots were offered at $1,890, and a 4-season chalet with lot was offered for $5,790.
The Stillwater Estates Property Owners Association was chartered January 7, 1964. In 1967 the developers turned over to the association this development, including responsibility for half of the lake, 10 miles of roads, and all amenities. All property bills of sale required property owners to share in the costs of community upkeep.
In 1968, Interstate 380 was built, separating Stillwater Estates. A new entity was established, as rights to the eastern portion were sold to Sundance-Stillwater Corporation, and a separate governing entity was established, known as the Stillwater Lakes Civic Association.
Since 36 percent of the lots in Section C in this eastern section were actually sold by Stillwater Estates, those remained a part of the Estates, and the two entities apportion common expenses, such as road maintenance between them. Estate owners of these properties must travel three miles to the main Estate area to use the amenities, or pay an additional fee to their local association to use those closer amenities.
There also exists the North Shore Development started in the early 1970s, and that section is included in the original Estates.
- History of Camp Minsi
- Minsi Trails Council, Boy Scouts of America
- Wikipedia — Stillwater Lake (Pennsylvania)
- Stillwater Estates Property Owners Association — 1989, 25th Anniversary Booklet
- The Natural Ice Harvests of Monroe County Pennsylvania, August 2, 1972, by Vertie Knapp