History of the Park
Sweet Arrow Lake County Park

History of the Lake

The lake has a rich history, beginning in the 19th century when it served as a water supply for the Union Canal. It brought prosperity to the region by supporting the lumber and coal industries. It also provided recreation for residents of that time; one popular activity was Ascension Day fishing. The dam was destroyed during the flood of 1862 and later a new dam was built to support an electric generation plant operated by the East Penn Electric Company in the 1920’s and later, PP&L. In 1972 the lake was purchased by the Borough of Pine Grove. Most residents of Schuylkill County have pleasant memories of fishing, swimming, picnicking, boating, and relaxing in the serene beauty of the lake.  On February 21, 2001, Schuylkill County purchased the lake with the intention of creating a county park.

History: Sweet Arrow Lake's roots go back to William Penn and George Washington
Ron Devlin Staff Writer

Oct 14, 2023 

​From the Republican Herald 

The 100th anniversary of Sweet Arrow Lake, as we know it, is being celebrated with a Lakefront Festival from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. today at the lake.
But the lake’s historical roots go back a lot farther than a century and are intertwined with the development of the Union Canal.
Indeed, its origin can be traced to 1690, when William Penn discussed building a canal to link the Susquehanna and Schuylkill rivers.
Called the “Golden Link” between Philadelphia and the interior, it was chartered as the Schuylkill and Susquehanna Canal Co., and construction began in 1792. The waterway was considered so important to Colonial America that President George Washington personally visited the construction site in 1793.
For one reason or another, mostly financial, the canal was not built at that time.
With the East Coast cities, including Philadelphia and New York, experiencing what amounted to an energy crisis at the turn of the 19th Century, the state legislature chartered the Union Canal Co. as a corporation on March 11, 1811 — one of the earliest chartered corporations in the state.
In his “History of Pottsville and Schuylkill County,” Joseph H. Zerbey gave this account, published Nov. 3, 1934, in the Pottsville Republican:
“The Union Canal had its headquarters at Pine Grove and ran to the Water-Works Dam, a distance of about 22 miles, where it met a junction point. One branch ran southwest along the Swatara Creek for 30 miles, where it connected with the Susquehanna Canal. The other branch from the Water-Work Dam ran in a southeastern direction for about 50 miles to connect to the Schuylkill Canal at Reading.”
The southeast branch went under a mountain near Lebanon in the first tunnel built in the United States. The tunnel, considered the oldest in the U.S., is now part of Union Canal Tunnel Park.
The Union Canal was completed in 1828 under the direction of Canvass White, the preeminent engineer of the day.
The first canal boat arrived in Pine Grove on Nov. 22, 1830. On Dec. 3, the first boat left Pine Grove for Philadelphia.
Canal boats leaving Pine Grove transported coal from the Lowberry mines, near Tremont, to Philadelphia and New York — the main money maker for the Union Canal. On the return trip, they brought groceries and dry goods for Pine Grove merchants.
Coal was brought from Lowberry to Pine Grove on the Union Canal Railroad, one of the first in the U.S.
Originally, the boats carried 28 tons of coal. Eventually, the canal was enlarged to accommodate boats carrying 80 tons. By the early 1840s, about 500,000 tons of coal had been transported out of Pine Grove.
Supplying water to the canal, especially during dry spells, was a problem.
In 1850, the Union Canal built the so-called Big Dam to store water for dry spells.
“This dam was located where Sweet Arrow Lake now is,” Zerbey wrote. “But in size and capacity Sweet Arrow Lake is but a pond compared to the Big Dam.”
Sweet Arrow Lake currently covers about 60 acres, part of the 183-acre Sweet Arrow Lake Park in Washington and Pine Grove townships.
On the night of June 2, 1862 — during the Civil War — the west spillway of the Big Dam filled with debris during a torrential downpour. Because the gates were not opened, the water ate away at the breast and the dam broke.
In its path, the raging water consumed Berger’s and Fegley’s grist mills and a covered bridge across Swatara Creek.
Extensive flood damage to the waterway threw the company into bankruptcy, forcing the Union Canal to close in 1881.
It was, Zerbey wrote, the end of the canal industry in Pine Grove.
In the 1920s, a new dam was built as a source of water for the East Penn Electric Co., an arm of the Pennsylvania Power and Light Company.
In 1972, PP&L sold the dam to the Borough of Pine Grove.
After the borough owned it for 29 years, Pine Grove borough council voted to sell Sweet Arrow Lake to Schuylkill County on Feb. 21, 2001.
“A preserved Sweet Arrow Lake,” the Republican reported, “will become the jewel in a countywide park system.”
Contact the writer: rdevlin@republicanherald.com; 570-628-6007

On June 20, 2001 the Schuylkill County Board of Commissioners entered into an Agreement of Sale with the Borough of Pine Grove to acquire the Sweet Arrow Lake property for use as a public recreational area. This 183.47-acre site is comprised of roughly 60 acres of water and 123.47 acres land. 

The Sweet Arrow Lake property is located in Washington and Pine Grove Townships, Schuylkill County. Major access routes include Sweet Arrow Lake Road along the northern border of the lake and State Route 443 which provides access to the southern portion of the site via Clubhouse Road. 

The park is open to the public to enjoy the natural beauty, hiking, fishing and boating that people have enjoyed for generations.   More improvements are planned for the future.

Grants have been used to improve the driveway to and parking area of the Clubhouse. A playground, additional picnic pavilions, better fishing access and north side parking is now available.  A picnic pavilion and gazebo are available for free use at the Waterfall Parking lot.  A hiking trail that nearly encircles the entire park is partially constructed.  Fishing and boating access for everyone has been improved with an emphasis on providing for those with special needs.