The former waiting room of the Lake Hopatcong Environmental and Educational Center was as crowded as in the resort days of the lake.
The women weren’t wearing hoop skirts and the men weren’t wearing boaters, and while some folks were sitting on the old waiting-room benches, most were seated on folding chairs.
The occasion was a Lake Hopatcong Foundation program, “Landing Transportation Mecca” on Thursday, January 23. Foundation Board President Marty Kane informed the audience of the three forms of transportation that, taken together, created an important 19th and early 20th century resort on the state’s largest lake.
Early on, there was no Landing. Shipman’s Port was the Morris Canal stop east of Port Morris. Popular usage eventually turned the name into Shippenport.
The canal resulted in industry in the area; the industry led to the original village that was to become Landing. The Lackawanna Railroad put in a stop with a siding in 1970 and a station on the level of the railroad and canal in 1880. It was called Hopatcong Station.
It wasn’t until the Lackawanna, facing competition from the New York Central Railroad on the lucrative New York City to Buffalo run, decided to create a straighter, faster route across New Jersey that the Landing Station was considered.
The Lackawanna Cutoff shortened the trip from 39 miles to 28 and cut 20 minutes off the trip. The railroad was determined to go straight across the state regardless of the terrain, Kane explained.
The results of that goal are still visible, most dramatically in the Paulinskill Viaduct near the Delaware River, an engineering marvel of its day. Drivers daily travel through tunnels with 1909 or 1910 concrete over the arch. All of these structures date from the Cutoff construction.
The Lackawanna worked with Thomas Edison to take the use of reinforced concrete to a new level for this monumental construction, Kane said.
The cutoff took three years to plan and another three years to build and cost $11 million.
Meanwhile, the train still stopped at the lake and the Morris Canal.
The cost of the Cutoff was so enormous, the railroad knew it could put in the cost of a better station as well as freight elevators without corporate noticing. They used their resident architect William Hull Botsford. Botsford also designed the Mountain Lakes and Montclair stations for the railroad. Only in his mid-20s, he journeyed to Europe and Egypt to study architectural styles he could use for the railroad. Unfortunately, his return trip was on the Titanic.
The new station was built high above the tracks and was reached by passenger stairwells as well as the freight elevators. It was built with the Morris Canal and the new trolley in mind, Kane said.
The price tag for the station was $12,000 and for the freight elevators, $40,000.
Streetcars were very popular during the turn of the century, Kane said, and in 1905, the Morris County Traction Company was formed. It first sent trolleys from Dover the Wharton, then, in 1908, built a line to Lake Hopatcong.
It was successful during the week, but the traction company decided there needed to be a reason for people to use it on weekends.
The original bridge over the railroad tracks in Landing wouldn’t support the trolley car. It took some convincing, but the Lackawanna eventually realized an alliance with the trolley was a good idea and agreed to build the bridge that is still in use today.
The traction company built its line to Bertrand’s Island, which, at that point, still only had a beach.
The tracks ran to the giant ice house, now the site of Nixon Elementary School, and the powder plant where the Shore Hills beach now is. But on Decoration Day (now Memorial Day) in 1910, it reached Bertrand’s Island. With a suspension of service during World War I because of the needs of the powder plant, the trolley served the island until 1926.
The influx of tourists turned the island into a summer destination with a dance hall, a carousel, and a shooting gallery. Finally, in 1921, a hotel was built.
By Land and Water
The other way to reach the lake from the station was the canal.
The canal ran parallel to the tracks, which is why the bridge has two arches. It joined a feeder canal, which brought the necessary lake water into the canal, near the current state park. The Black Line of steamboats on Lake Hopatcong made a deal to send boats up the feeder canal. The Black Line also employed porters. Theoretically, tourists could board the train at Jersey City or Hoboken and not touch their luggage again until they reached their hotel, Kane said.
Steamboats also docked in Landing Channel which had a dock running up the middle. The White Line, which couldn’t duplicate its rivals deal with the railroad, used that dock.
The steamboats were roughly 50 percent larger than the Miss Lotta, today’s tour boat on the lake, Kane noted. The White Line boats were double-decker because they didn’t have to go through the lock in the canal.
The channel was originally a wetland, and, Kane pointed out, seems to continually want to return to that status.
The lake was first raised in the 1770s with an earthen dam to provide water to the many forges. The second dam came in the 1820s, for the canal, and the third, and present, dam was built in the 1840s.
The fourth form of transportation that came to the lake put the others out of business: the automobile.
The railroad was actually the death knell of the canal. The engineering marvel that ran from Jersey City to Phillipsburg was abandoned and mostly filled in in 1924. The section at the Landing station is now a parking lot. In 1926, buses put an end to trolley service at the lake.
There was still some boat service on the lake as late as the 1940s and 50s, but the steamboats stopped running.
But the automobile, after World War II, changed everything.
The Lackawanna Railroad eventually went bankrupt and Conrail sold the station in the 1970s. In 1982, the freight elevator structure, considered a great place to play by children and a hazard by Conrail, was torn down.