Susquehanna pastimes at the River View Hotel in Pequea

It’s hard to imagine today, but the now sleepy village of Pequea in Martic Township (not to be confused with nearby Pequea Township) was once a premier tourist destination.

“Tucquean Lake,” on the Susquehanna River at Pequea. Early 20th century hand-colored photograph printed on a postcard. Image courtesy of the Conestoga Area History Society.

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, visitors included not just local residents but venturesome travelers from Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York, Chicago, and Washington. A few even crossed the Atlantic to vacation on the banks of the Susquehanna. Pequea even had its share of celebrity sightings, including President Calvin Coolidge and heavyweight boxing champion Jack Dempsey.

Calvin Coolidge supposedly stayed at the River View Hotel on September 13, 1928. However, according to Jack Brubaker, Coolidge’s signature in the guest book does not match the official one on record.

You might wonder what people did there. They do many of the same activities today, such as fishing, boating, enjoying nature, examining unique rock formations, and exploring Cold Cave.

Early Days

Frederick Shoff and Paul Heine were instrumental in turning Pequea into a resort town. Serious development began in 1877 when the Columbia and Port Deposit Railroad began carrying passengers to the area, then known as Shoff’s P.O.

Can you guess who Shoff’s P.O. was named after? From an 1899 map of Martic Township.

At one time, practically all the riverfront on the Lancaster County side of the Susquehanna was owned by Shoff and Heine. Heine alone held five miles of river frontage to the south, including the York Furnace Springs area, where there was a dance pavilion. Heine also owned the water company which supplied the Pequea area.

Entrance to the York Furnace Park, just south of Pequea.

Shoff operated a sawmill and lumber yard and organized the York Furnace Power company.

Together with John Myers, these two men organized the Lancaster & York Furnace Street Railway Company in 1904 to promote and further commercially develop Pequea into a summer resort. The trolley line transported people from Millersville to Pequea.

Lancaster & York Furnace Street Railway Company trolley map.

Service was every other hour, and it took an hour to cover the hilly 12.5 miles of track that passed through the countryside and wilderness. Fares were only 5 cents in the 1920s, and by the time the trolley service ended in the 1930s, they still were only 15 cents.

It was once of the few trolleys not owned by the Conestoga Traction Company.

River View Hotel

Lancaster and York Furnace Trolley Car No. 1 at the River View Hotel, Pequea.
Lancaster and York Furnace Trolley Car No. 1 at the River View Hotel, Pequea.

To further enhance the area’s development between1902 and 1903, Shoff built the Riverview Hotel (originally the River-View and then the River View). He sold the hotel to Heine the following year, in 1904.

Its size commanded attention. The three-story, 75 bedroom structure sat on 500 acres of mountainous forest that stretched along the banks of the Susquehanna for a distance of four miles. The hotel boasted a dining room, banquet hall, summer garden, tennis courts, croquet courts, swings with canopies.  

Postcard view of the River View Hotel in Pequea (1910-1915).

Visitors to the hotel enjoyed rides on a miniature narrow-gauge railroad, short trips on a steamboat, a game of billiards, a stroll in the woods, carriage rides, target shooting, croquet, and ballroom dancing. It had its own tiny “beach” on the Susquehanna.

The hotel advertised that the place had no mosquitoes or malaria. By the early 1900s, many considered Pequea a “rich man’s playground.”

Hundreds of visitors over the years were entertained by ‘Colonel’ John Mead, the enigmatic “Gentleman Bum” of the River Hills who lived a short distance south.

The hotel’s water, piped in at great expense from the nearby York Furnace Springs, was well known for its health benefits. I’m still searching for the fabled York Furnace Springs; however, I have a pretty good idea where it is. If you know where it is, I’m all ears.

York Furnace Springs.

An analysis of the water done in 1886 stated the quality of the water was “very desirable for drinking and culinary purposes.” It drew the healthy and unhealthy alike, particularly those afflicted with liver or kidney ailments.

A 23-page book with numerous photos exalting the property was created to help further promote the hotel.

One of the hotel’s main attractions was Pappy Stark and His Blue Danube Serenaders. The ballroom was rumored to be pretty lively, where visitors and locals danced the jitterbug. It was even said that most of the whiskey that flowed along the river was surely going through the hotel.

Of course, all of this would have been dwarfed by the super luxury 384 room Pequehanna Inn that started construction around 1907 in Pequea but was never completed. Click here to read the tragic story of the Pequehanna.

3D rendering of the Pequehanna Inn based on a 1910 prospectus drawing.

Decline

The River View Hotel came under new ownership around 1926 when Charles W. Hall purchased and fully renovated the property. But the resort town was already in decline. A victim of the rise of competition from the New Jersey Shore, the Pocono Mountains, and the Adirondacks. Any chance it had to reclaim its former glory was dashed with the Great Depression.

Article from the May 27, 1926 issue of the Lancaster New Era.

After World War II, Paul and Mary Lungren bought the hotel and made substantial repairs to revitalize the property. It was too late. Pequea was no longer the same resort town it was years before. The hotel eventually became a cheap place for fishermen and boaters to stay.  

The River View Hotel in September 1970.

The Lungren’s sold it to the Pequea Fire Chief, Eli Haddad, in 1970. Three years later, an alleged accidental fire closed the place for good. Chief Haddad began to demolish the hotel, but it proved too costly, so he had his volunteer firemen burn the hotel to the ground.

Pequea Today

Today, people continue to enjoy many of the same recreational activities along the Susquehanna as they did more than a hundred years ago. In Pequea, people come to swim, boat, water ski, fish, hike, sightsee, bird watch, ride horses, and relax.

You can find the former River View Hotel site on Bridge Valley Road, about a quarter-mile south of the Pequea Boat Launch. Nothing remains today but a grassy yard. The property is highlighted in red on the map below.

The area shaded in red shows the location of the former River View Hotel.

However, Lancaster Conservancy now owns the grounds of the former hotel, which allows you to explore if you so desire.

Map highlighting Lancaster Conservancy’s various properties in Pequea.

River View Hotel Book

Download a PDF of the River View Hotel Book

River View Hotel Gallery

Learn More

Click the following links to learn more about Wind Cave, Lancaster’s trolley system, ‘Colonel’ John Mead: the enigmatic ‘Gentleman Bum’ of the River Hills, or the Pequehanna Inn.

Resources

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