The lake was named after Benjamin Harvey, who inadvertently discovered the lake in 1781. He was a member of the Sons of Liberty, an eminent colonial-era group that eventually defeated the notion of Great Britain's Stamp Act. The first resident in the vicinity of the lake was Matthew Scouten, who arrived in the early 1790s, but the first settlers were the Worthingtons, who arrived in 1806. Historically the area offered many forms of recreation and entertainment, which brought tourists from all over the Northeast. Harveys Lake became a major resort destination in the early 20th century. Hotels, boathouses, a casino, and even an amusement park were all constructed around Harveys Lake. Grand Hotel Oneonta was especially prominent in the early 1900s, and former United States President Theodore Roosevelt visited the hotel in August 1912. Harveys Lake was not officially incorporated as a borough until 1968.