From the time the Lenape first discovered the waters of Lake Hopatcong some 12,000 years ago, it was a special place. A deep spring-fed lake formed by glaciers, it was the perfect setting for a Native American community. Its forested shores supported ample game while the water furnished abundant fish.
Life for the Lenape people, as with most other Native Americans, would change with the arrival of European explorers and colonists. As a result of diseases brought by the Europeans to which the Lenape had no tolerance, and the increasing westward movement of the colonists, most of the local Lenape population had died or left the area by the time of the American Revolution.
The body of water the Lenape knew was 12' below the level of the Lake, as we know it today. The natural Lake ran roughly from Hopatcong State Park to just north of Nolan’s Point and was known as Great Pond or Brooklyn Pond. From there a stream connected it to a smaller body of water, known as Little Pond, located in the area we know today as Woodport or Lake Forest. In ensuing years, dams and dredging have increased the Lake to its current size. Even at its original size, Great Pond would be the largest Lake in the State of New Jersey.
In the years that followed America’s independence, little development occurred in the area around Lake Hopatcong. Although iron had already been found and mined in the vicinity, the difficulty of getting it to market caused the industry to flounder.
Following the War of 1812, the United States entered a great era of canal building. It can perhaps be considered America’s first attempt at interstate highways. By using canals, there was suddenly a means of transporting large amounts of cargo great distances in what was then considered a very short period of time. It was in this era that the idea of the Morris Canal was conceived. Coal existed in the mountains of Pennsylvania and iron in the hills of New Jersey, but horse and wagon was simply not an efficient means to bring these products to market. A canal crossing northern New Jersey and connecting the Delaware and Hudson Rivers, could overcome this situation as well as furnish transportation for such growing New Jersey cities as Paterson, Newark and Jersey City.
Like any canal, the Morris Canal required massive amounts of water. Lake Hopatcong was looked upon to be its single largest feed. In fact, the story has been told that George McCullough, the driving force behind the Morris Canal, got the idea for it while fishing one day at Lake Hopatcong.
At over 900 feet above sea level, Lake Hopatcong was situated at the summit or highest point of the canal. Water could thus be fed down both east and west. Along the way, other sources of water were linked – such as the Musconetcong and Passaic Rivers and Greenwood Lake. When more water was eventually needed, the Stanhope Reservoir (now known as Lake Musconetcong) was created.
Since Lake Hopatcong was the key to the Morris Canal’s success, it was determined from the beginning that it needed to hold more water. The Lake had first been dammed in the 1750's for a forge located where the Hopatcong State Park is today. As part of the construction of the Morris Canal, this approximately 6' high dam was removed and replaced with a combination canal lock and dam which eventually raised the Lake some 12' above its natural level, and to the level we know today. During the era of the Morris Canal, the Lake increasingly became called Lake Hopatcong. While the origin of the word “Hopatcong” is unknown, it is believed that the word comes from the Lenape word “hapakonoesson,” meaning pipestone. It is impossible to know the exact context in which the Lenape may have used this word in referring to the Lake. It may have been a reference to the soapstone and other soft stone found in the area that was used in pipe making. It has also been suggested that the term referred to the jagged shape of the Lake’s shoreline. The one thing of which we are sure is that “Hopatcong” does not mean “honey waters of many coves” or any similar derivative. This definition was invented at the turn of this century by individuals seeking to evoke a romantic image of Lake Hopatcong that would help to promote the developing tourist trade.
The Morris Canal functioned for approximately 100 years (1824-1924) and throughout its history had financial troubles. While never realizing the future its founders had hoped, it had a tremendous effect on Lake Hopatcong and it set in motion the events which would lead to the Lake’s rise as a great resort. The Morris Canal spurred the building of a railroad to connect several mines in the area to the Lake. Using the Ogden Mine Railroad, mines such as the Hurd, Weldon, Dodge, Schofield, and Ogden could ship their ore directly to the Lake for passage on the Morris Canal. This 10 mile long railroad ran from Ogdensburg to Lake Hopatcong and was completed in 1866. Nolan’s Point was chosen as the Lake Hopatcong terminus because of its convenient location. Nolan’s Point had deep water allowing boats to be easily pulled across the Lake to link with the Canal at today’s State Park.
During its operation, the Ogden Mine Railroad supplied a significant amount of the cargo being shipped on the Morris Canal. It is a rare example of a railroad being built to support a canal rather than as a replacement. However, as railroads continued to emerge as the modern transportation alternative, it became clear that a railroad to support a canal contained an unnecessary step – the canal. In 1881, the Central Railroad of New Jersey entered into a lease agreement with the Ogden Mine Railroad and in August 1882 completed a connection from its main tracks to the Ogden Mine Railroad terminus at Nolan’s Point.
It did not take long for the Central Railroad of New Jersey management to realize that there was great passenger potential for this newly formed line. Here was a direct rail link to a large lake just over one hour from numerous large cities, as well as New York City itself. In September 1882, the first passenger excursion train arrived at Nolan’s Point and the tourist boom at Lake Hopatcong was on!
Arriving passengers needed activities to busy themselves. This led to the building of a pavilion at Nolan’s Point to entertain the tourists. The Lake Pavilion (commonly called Allen’s Pavilion) was later joined by a second facility, Lee’s Pavilion. One-day excursions soon led to a desire for longer stays at this pleasant locale causing quite a construction boom. Prior to the Central Railroad reaching the Lake, only three small hotels existed at the Lake. By 1900, over 40 hotels and rooming houses were operating at the Lake. Many of these early hotels and rooming houses were concentrated around the railroad at Nolan’s Point, but building soon spread to other areas of the Lake.
The Central Railroad of New Jersey was not the only railroad to reach Lake Hopatcong. Actually, the Lackawanna Railroad had preceded the Central constructing tracks past Landing in the 1850's. However, no station was located there and arriving passengers had to disembark at Drakesville (now known as Ledgewood) and take a stage over rough roads to their destination, making the Lake primarily a destination for fishermen or the adventurous. The Lackawanna finally placed a station at Landing in the 1880's, after the Central was enjoying success with its excursion trains.
Since early roads at the Lake were poor or nonexistent, the main source of transportation was water. As soon as tourism developed so did boat service. Competing steamboat companies met arriving passengers and took them to all parts of the Lake. Most goods and services were delivered by boat. For this reason, islands such as Halsey and Raccoon developed simultaneously with the mainland. At the same time that the Lake was becoming a large hotel resort, other development was also occurring. Many early visitors camped were learning of the Lake and building grand Victorian “cottages,” including an entire millionaire’s community around the grand Breslin Hotel in Mount Arlington. This growth soon spread to the western shore of the Lake that was then part of Byram Township. (Modick Park and Maxim Glen were originally named Byram Park. Hudson Maxim donated that property to the Borough in 1926).
As the western shore of Lake Hopatcong began to develop, landowners believed they were not receiving sufficient attention and resources from Byram Township. For the western shore to properly develop, the residents concluded they needed to establish their own municipality. On April 2, 1898, the New Jersey Legislature approved the formation of the Borough of Brooklyn. With a voting population of 43, the Borough of Brooklyn held its first elections on May 4, 1898.
The newly formed Borough stretched from the Musconetcong River, in what is today Hopatcong State Park, to the southern shore of Byram Cove. It was a fairly narrow municipality, created to incorporate the developing lake front properties. This map, prepared for a land development company in 1912, shows the Borough’s early boundaries. This left the areas of Byram Cove and Northwood, as well as significant lands to the west (including Bear Pond), still in Byram Township. As these locales began to develop, their residents wished to join Hopatcong, which had shared interests. In 1922, the local population of these areas voted to join Hopatcong and the Borough grew to the borders we know today.
The name Brooklyn stemmed from the forge located on land that is now Hopatcong State Park. The Brookland Forge was built around 1750 and operated for about 30 years, utilizing the power generated by the flow of the Musconetcong River as it left Lake Hopatcong. During this period, the Lake was referred to either as Great Pond or Brookland Pond. Following construction of the Morris Canal in the 1820's, the enlarged body of water became commonly known as Lake Hopatcong. The area around the Morris Canal continued to be called Brookland, although the forge was long gone. In the course of the 19th century, the name was corrupted to Brooklyn, probably due to its more famous namesake. Brooklyn was the obvious choice for the new Borough’s name.
The newly incorporated Borough soon found that people were confused by the name Brooklyn. The last thing which fledgling hotels and developers needed was confusion as to the name and location of the community. In 1901, the Borough changed its name to Hopatcong. As with any “hot” resort, Lake Hopatcong was a magnet for many of the “rich and famous” of the day. The most famous female actress of her day, Lotta Crabtree, had a home built here in the 1880's. Hudson Maxim, noted scientist and inventor, came here at the turn of the century and built a large estate in the borough of Hopatcong. During the heyday of Vaudeville and Burlesque, the Lake became a favorite rest stop for performers during the summer when most theaters closed, particularly in Hopatcong’s Northwood section. Bud Abbot, Bert Lahr, and Milton Berle were among the many show business people to spend considerable time at the Lake. The center for much of this activity was Joe Cook’s Sleepless Hollow in Hopatcong’s Davis Cove. Cook was a popular Vaudevillian, comedian and musical theater star who lived at the Lake from 1924 to 1941. Among other amenities, his home boasted a nine hole golf course, two bars, and tennis courts at which celebrities could usually be found.
Lake Hopatcong’s run as a major northeast hotel resort lasted from the 1880's through the Depression. Ultimately, the dreadful economy of the 1930's, the development of the automobile, which led people to seek more exotic destinations, and the onset of World War II led most of the Lake’s hotels to close. The few that survived slowly closed in the ensuing decades, with the final operating hotel burning to the ground in 1972.
As with any resort, recreation played an important role in the Lake’s development. Numerous clubs and organizations have operated on the Lake since the 1880's. The Lake Hopatcong Yacht Club opened its colonial clubhouse, which still stands, on Bertrand Island in 1910. Hopatcong’s Maxim Park Yacht Club is long gone but its clubhouse still stands as a private home on Cow Tongue Point. The Garden State Yacht Club, in Hopatcong, started in an old lakeside mansion and one-time hotel. Unfortunately, fire stole that building but the Club rebuilt and occupies the same site on Point Pleasant.
The trolley also came through Lake Hopatcong and linked the Lake with many communities to the east during the teens and 1920's. As with many trolley companies, the Morris County Traction Company sought to develop an attraction at the end of its line in order to encourage business on weekends. For that reason, it extended the line from Landing to the beach at Bertrand Island, in Mt. Arlington. This led to amusements being opened, and under Louis Kraus, Bertrand Island Amusement Park was created. In 1924 it opened the first roller coaster in northern New Jersey as well as a host of other rides and games. It soon had competition from an expanded amusement park at Nolan’s Point that also built a roller coaster and attempted to compete. Ultimately, Bertrand Island won out and was a much-loved institution at the Lake for the next six decades. When zoning ordinances were established in Hopatcong, they banned the type of rides and amusements associated with an amusement park. The Borough also banned advertising signs except on properties where the business being advertised is located. This prevented Lakeside Boulevard and other roads from being dotted with billboards.
In the years following World War II, the Lake continued to be a popular summer spot, as it evolved into a middle class bungalow and second home community. On any given summer weekend during the late 1940's or 1950's, Hopatcong’s River Styx area was a blaze of activity as revelers migrated to wherever the action was – the Mad House (just before the River Styx bridge opposite the marina), Sheppie’s (where the Upper Deck is located), Bon Air Lodge (just past the Arrowcrest), Log Cabin (adjacent to the very tall tree in River Styx), Rainbow Room (now E&T Deli), Feuerstein’s. All featured entertainment and competed to be the Lake’s “hot spot.” Along with numerous other bars and taverns on the Lake, entertainment in this era included numerous beaches, miniature golf in River Styx (just north of the Arrowcrest on Maxim Drive) and Hopatcong’s Bear Farm Zoo (located on the property across the road from Full Life Assembly of God Church). The Borough did not provide municipal beaches, leaving that to the many homeowner organizations.
With the 1960's and the gradual completion of Route 80, the Lake’s evolution accelerated. By the mid 1970's, almost all vestiges of its days as a summer resort had disappeared, as more and more homes became year round residences. When Bertrand Island Amusement Park closed in 1983, the evolution was complete, and for all intent and purpose the Lake had become a residential community.
The year round population of the Borough grew from 75 in 1900, to 146 in 1910; 179 in 1920, 534 in 1930; 660 in 1940; 1,172 in 1950; 3,391 in 1960; 9,052 in 1970; 15,531 in 1980; 15,666 in 1990; and 15,888 in 2000. The number of children in school in the 1970's was almost equal to the Borough population in 1960.
While much has changed since that day in 1882 when the first excursion train pulled into Nolan’s Point, Lake Hopatcong remains a unique and special place – one we need to treasure and preserve! Most of the historical material was provided courtesy of Martin Kane of the Lake Hopatcong Museum. The museum website is listed under ORGANIZATIONS.
Click Links below to view historical images & information.