Lake Mokoma's History

The earliest inhabitants of Sullivan County were the Lenni-Lenape nation (also known as the Delaware nation) that centered around the upper Delaware River. Many names in the Sullivan County Area have a Native American heritage: Lycoming, Susquehanna, Wyoming, Muncy, Loyalsock, and Mount Wahollock, the proper name of what is now known as Blueberry Hill. Mokoma, although sounding Native American, was apparently made up by the developers of the Lake in 1888.

The land known as Pennsylvania was acquired by William Penn as a grant from Charles II in 1681. Following the Revolution, the land comprising Sullivan County was sold to three entrepreneurs from Philadelphia. Although the population of Pennsylvania was 430,000 in 1790 (one-third of whom were of German descent), the northeastern section of the state was still largely unpopulated. Other than a cabin here and there, there would be nothing at all for another 50 years on the mountain that would become Laporte.

Sullivan County, consisting of 650 square miles, was broken away from Lycoming County in 1847 through the efforts of Secku Meylert and his son Michael, who managed land holdings in the area and owned about 10% of present day Sullivan County. They had the support of Charles Sullivan, the leader of the Pennsylvania Senate, and John LaPorte, the Surveyor General of Pennsylvania. The Meylerts chose LaPorte for the County Seat in 1847 and ground was broken for the first court house later that year. The Borough was incorporated in 1853. Among those assisting Michael Meylert in developing LaPorte was Thomas J. Ingham, a lawyer and one of the first County judges. The population of Sullivan County was 3700 in 1850 and reached a peak of 13,000 in 1910. Today it is about 6,000, a little less than 10 persons per square mile. In the 1870's, Eagles Mere grew into a fashionable summer resort around what was then known as Lewis Lake.

In the 1870's, Williamsport became the capital of U.S. lumbering and the world's center for hardwood. Lumbering was also the key industry in early Sullivan County. In Sullivan County, the peak of the industry was between 1890 and 1920. In addition to hardwood boards, plaster lathe, clothes pins and barrel staves were produced. Kindling was also produced and sold to New York City tenement dwellers. The hemlock bark was used for tanning.     

Michael Meylert lumbered virgin hemlock for his sawmill, using the bark for his tanneries in Laporte and Thornedale. His Laporte "Tannery Town" was constructed in 1851 near the intersection of Routes 220 and 154. The tanning operations provided employment for 150 men. He built his mansion (known today as the Bradshaw house at the corner of Meylert and Beech) in the 1850's. He died in 1883 and is buried in the Mountain Ash Cemetery, which he founded.

Rail lines were built to get logs from the mountainous regions and to transport finished products  to market. Meylert incorporated the Muncy Creek Railroad, later known as the Willliamsport and North Branch, in 1864. The rails reached Muncy Valley in 1885, Sonestown in 1886, the already fashionable Eagles Mere in 1892 and Laporte in 1893. The line went along the railroad grade on the west side of the Lake, next to the beach house and across the trestle (remnants of which are still visible) north of the dam.

Passengers quickly became the major business, with six passenger trains and four freights running each way in 1896. The peak years for the W & N.B.R.R.were between 1894 and 1910. As the timber was cut and automobile usage increased, the rail line declined in importance, and ceased operation in 1937.

Hoping to take advantage of the impending arrival of the train, Ellery Ingham (son of Thomas J.), Clinton Lloyd (a prominent Williamsport attorney) and W.C. Mason incorporated the Lake Mokoma Land Company in 1887. Hoping to rival Eagles Mere as a prestigious resort, they built bath houses, a pavilion and an earthen dam. This dam, creating Lake Mokoma, was finished in June 1888. Most of the 1000 authorized shares were sold for cash or land. By the end of 1888 the Company had acquired 892 acres. Each of the original 39 shareholders was given a one acre lot. In 1894 a steam vessel Queen of Mokoma was launched, and a superintendent's building (the center of the current beach house) was built for $35.23.

By 1895, land sales were lagging and the Company did not have enough money to pay its bills. In 1898 the Queen of Mokoma was sold to pay taxes. Although the owners tried to sell ice, not enough money could be raised, and the land was put up for auction in 1901. By the time it was sold in 1908, the Lake Mokoma Land Company had sold just 44 lots for a total of $5000.

The Lake Mokoma Company took over the Lake in 1908. Most of the original 33 stockholders were friends and neighbors of the purchaser, Charles Pennock of Kennett Square, PA. The Company publicized the Lake in an attempt to sell land, but only sold 12 lots between 1909 and 1926. Despite that, the Company launched a new 50 foot motor boat, the Clinton Lloyd, and successfully operated the Lake for 18 years until 1926. On November 16, 1926, as a result of heavy rains and melting snow, a 35 foot breach was created in the earthen dam. The Lake was out during 1927 and 1928, effectively bringing the Lake Mokoma Company to an end.

Joseph Ingham, grandson of Thomas J., and Mulford Morris conceived a plan to restore the dam and Lake and sell lots. Incorporated in 1931, the New Lake Mokoma Company planned to sell 1/6 acre lots - 770 on the west side of the Lake and 1166 on the east side - for $200 to $900 each and bring in over $1.5 million. The Company rebuilt the dam by 1931, added the porches to the beach house, built what is now the Association cottage and built a dance hall on Mt. Wahollock where live bands provided dance music in the 1930's. Also planned were a Lake Mokoma Club with a lavish clubhouse, a golf course, tennis courts and an airport with a 1500 foot runway.

Unfortunately, these plans were made in the depths of the Depression. Lots were sold for $15 to $20 down, but future installments were never paid. Consequently, creditors, including the dam contractor, could not be paid. The Company was dealt a final blow with the onset of World War II, making travel difficult. Lack of attention caused the buildings to fall into disrepair.

The Lake Mokoma Development Corporation was formed in November 1939 to rescue the floundering New Lake Mokoma Company. The corporation was dominated by Lloyd and B.C. Rothfuss who did not live in Laporte and were not interested in the operation of the Lake. They were interested in the Company primarily from an investment standpoint. Consequently, very few improvements were made during their tenure. There was open public admission to the Lake with no fees, rules, policies or organized activities. The only authority was Mac Mathe who ran the beach and the Mokoma Inn. During the early 1950's as many as 600 cars were counted in the vicinity of the Lake on summer weekends.

Concerned about overcrowding, the run-down buildings and what would happen if the Rothfusses sold to an outsider, Philip Powers and David Bradshaw suggested to the owners that they utilize new management methods or sell their shares to local people. In August 1958, the owners held a meeting to discuss the status of the Lake. The Corporation agreed to sell the Lake to locals if they could get organized. Powers chaired the organization group that offered $65,000 to the owners. Anticipating needing another $10,000 to get started, they offered for sale 150 shares at $500 each. By the end of 1958 all the shares had been sold and the Lake Mokoma Association was incorporated on January 6, 1959, taking control of 525 acres including the 86 acre Lake. Since then, the Association also acquired considerable additional real estate. Although the charter authorizes the issuance of 250 shares, the current policy is to limit the shares to the 175 currently issued.

Since the establishment of the Lake Mokoma Association, the property has been managed by a Board of Trustees elected by the shareholders. These trustees choose the Association's officers and conduct the Association's business through committees dealing with such aspects as finance, membership, activities, beach, lake, etc. The Association is financed by fees paid annually by members for both the regular expenses of ownership (taxes, insurance, etc.) and operational costs (employees, maintenance, activities, etc.) Selected land sales and timber harvesting have also provided reserve funds and security unrealized by any of the previous lake companies. The Association has, consequently, been able to upgrade its facilities significantly. Since 1987, the hard work of member volunteers has been supplemented by the employment of year round resident managers.

The facilities of the Lake Mokoma Association are enjoyed by about 190 active and associate members, their guests, and those non-members who pay daily or annual admission or usage fees. The stated goals of the Association are "to mange the lake, its adjacent woodlands, lots and facilities" and "to preserve and develop without profit motive the beauty, natural resources, recreational opportunities and other attributes of the property which are conducive to the pleasurable pursuits of Association members."

Summarized by Henry Ryder from David M. Bradshaw's Lake Mokoma and Laporte, 1978.
Edited by Wilson Ferguson, August 2000.