Historical Museum Presents Slide Show of Beaches
Between the 1880s and 1930s, Lake Hopatcong was a major summer resort in the northeast with more than 40 hotels, some with up to 100 rooms.
In the early years, a few of the lakefront hotels had bathing beaches – but not as many as one might think, said Martin Kane, president of the Lake Hopatcong Historical Museum. He presented slides at the Asian Diner in Ledgewood on Wednesday, July 25, during a talk that was part of the museum’s ongoing series of lectures regarding various historical aspects of the lake.
Swimming in the lake has never actually required a beach, as many people simply jump off a dock, but more formal bathing beaches did develop.
The early beaches included bathhouses for changing, since it was considered inappropriate to be seen in public in bathing attire. This was in spite of the fact that bathing suits, often made of wool, covered most of the body.
Hopatcong Borough even had an ordinance prohibiting wearing a bathing suit in public, and Kane presented a slide of the ordinance. Adopted in 1926, it was on the books until 1990, according to former Hopatcong mayor Clifford Lundin.
The prime bathing hour was considered to be 4 p.m. since it was believed that people should wait two to three hours after lunch before going in the water.
Kane presented slides from beaches around the lake, past and present, culled from the Historical Museum’s collection and borrowed from the families of beach owners. Most of the slides dated from the heyday of the lake’s tourism industry.
The first public bathing beach was at the Nolan’s Point Pavilion near the present-day Windlass Restaurant. Later called Allen’s Pavilion, it was at the end of the train line. The pavilion also had a shooting gallery and a carousel. Although the bathing area is not accessible now from Nolan’s Point Park Road, the sand bars – probably not manmade, Kane said – are still visible.
The beach remained through the 1930s. After World War II, the area, then owned by the Crater family, began to develop.
The Borough Beach
The Mt. Arlington Borough beach has been in the same place since the 1890s, Kane said. In the 1910s, the Lee brothers ran it. Also in the 1890s, the Woodport Hotel had a beach. Kane’s slides show how flat that lakefront area is as well as the dirt road that is now Route 181.
One of the first developments around the lake was Breslin Park, which had 19 homes anchored by the huge Hotel Breslin (renamed Alamac in its later years). Barnes Brothers Marina is now located where two original homes burned down. In addition to the public beach, the hotel had a small private beach. After the hotel burned in 1948, a community association maintained the beach, but it has fallen into neglect in recent years.
The building now known as the Stonewater was Smitty’s Lakeview Tavern for many years. Smitty’s was a general store for anything residents or visitors could need or want around the lake. The bathing beach featured a slide into the lake.
The most famous beach was the one at Bertrand Island. People swam there beginning in the 1890s. There was just a narrow strip of sand until more loads were brought in. In 1905, the peninsula was purchased by a group of investors, including one of the Chaplins of Mount Arlington. They subdivided 251 building lots and planned a hotel and a pavilion. However, about all that was accomplished was bringing in the beach sand, Kane said.
In the 1910s, the Morris County Traction Company was looking for weekend passengers. Since the management knew the beach was there, they built a new bridge at Landing and connected more track.
End of the Line
“There’s a reason amusement parks were at the end of the train line,” Kane said.
By 1919 there was bathing under the lights and a water slide. Lew Krauss, who owned the adjacent property, took over the beach. He and a partner put up a few rides, and the first roller coaster was opened in 1923.
The bathing beach had a float that was there until the 1950s, Kane said. Advertisements for the park touted swimming in a lake as being superior to swimming in a pool, he noted. Since not everyone had a bathing suit, rentals were available at Bertrand Island and continued until 1975, said Kane.
The Schoop family, which had operated the bathing beach at Bertrand Island, opened Great Cove Park in the 1920s. They advertised Great Cove “for the better class of people.” It had accommodations for boarders, water slides, and a waterwheel, which was common at beaches in those days. Children could climb onto the wheel and run on top of it … until, Kane pointed out, a “friend” reached out and stopped the wheel from turning, sending the child who was on the wheel into the lake. The park also featured tour boats. The beach was still open when the marina was under construction.
Next to Great Cove Park and across the road from Lake Hopatcong United Methodist Church was the American House (later the Elsworth House), a small hotel.
The Genesis of Lee’s
Another beach was in Van Evry Cove. What is now Lee’s County Park started as bath houses and a little pavilion that sold ice cream. In the late 1910s and early 1920s, it became popular, with cars parked all over Howard Boulevard. Then came a picnic grove and signs saying: “Changing clothes in cars is punishable by a $50 fine.”
The 1953 pavilion was open air, but windows were later added. The park went out of business after the owners were sued following a drowning. Kane said that operating a beach as a private enterprise became nearly impossible because of the threat of litigation. “A marina is easier to run,” he noted.
Bob Lee donated the family property to Morris County 15 years ago. Plans are to restore the building to its historic look.
Another famous beach is at Hopatcong State Park, but that did not come into existence until the Morris Canal was disbanded. The feeder canal ran through the park. Starting in 1924, the state rented property for bungalows.
The fountain opened along with the abandonment of the canal. It was designed as a way to measure the outflow from the lake as well as for the amusement of visitors. While there were still bungalows on what is now the beach, people swam below the dam as is illustrated by photos from 1935 through 1938.
As the baby boom generation began to make an appearance, the state decided to get rid of the bungalows and build a beach. In 1947, the 800-foot beach was constructed along with a dock for tour boats. By 1953, the park was so popular that traffic became backed up on Lakeside Boulevard – still a familiar sight.
Chestnut Point was never a major beach, but it was a picnic grove, said Kane. Now there is one single-family home on the point.
Development around Prospect Point began as Brady Bridge was built. Brady Beach was located where Bridge Marina is now. Around 1950, it became Ack’s Beach, and in 1957, Henry Ackerman buildt a modern building with a lunch counter. It stayed open in the winter to serve ice skaters, Kane remarked.
Kane did not have many photos of Ack’s, but Henry and Susan Ackerman, who were in the audience, loaned him a few. He did have a flyer advertising a ceremony for Miss Lake Hopatcong in 1953. The event featured Joe Semonski’s Trio Tones and the Tasty Weatherman, Joe Bolton, whom many in the audience remembered as Officer Joe Bolton of children’s television fame.
Several of the beaches on the lake are community beaches such as Knolls, Elba Point, East Shore Estates, Community Association of Prospect Point, and Byram Bay Community Club. Byram Bay is still a very active club.
Shore Hills, begun in 1947, was an early big development. It was constructed to tie in to the beach. Since most people could not buy lakefront homes, they were enticed to buy with beach rights. The 400-foot-long Shore Hills beach now also features boat slips.
Hopatcong Hills was a development of vacation homes that sold for $1,500 to $2,000. A bus picked up the children and took them down to the beach.
An Arthur D. Crane development on the lake was Lake Forest. The property he developed included the canals. The beach and clubhouse remain. Crane also developed nearby Lake Shawnee and Lake Winona.