It wasn’t the same as hearing Marty Kane’s enthusiastic presentations in person, but a webinar is the new normal these days.
On Thursday, July 2, the Lake Hopatcong Foundation presented Lake Hopatcong’s Rise as a Great Resort on a Zoom Lunch and Learn.
Kane started with a screen share of the lake, illustrating the dimensions of the lake before the first dam in the 1750s and later dams until it achieved its present size in the 1840s.
Iron ore was the first reason Europeans came to the Lake Hopatcong area, Kane noted. Small mines surrounded the lake and what is now Weldon Road led to larger and more profitable mines.
At first horses and wagons brought the ore from the mines to the lake, a slow process, Kane noted. Ore was loaded onto boats and was shipped across the lake to the Morris Canal.
The canal was the first highway across the state, Kane said.
When horse and wagon transport proved too slow, the Ogden Mine Railroad was constructed, a straight line from Nolan’s Point to the Ogden Mine in Ogdensburg. Kane mentioned newcomers to the lake wonder why there are three restaurants on the winding narrow Nolan’s Point Park Road. It makes perfect sense, he explained, when you realize the area was not meant to be reached by roads, but by rail.
The ruins of the ore boat dock are visible from the Jefferson House when the lake is at its lowest. The stone foundation has claimed the occasional propeller at times of low water.
Using the lake and canal for transport was not a year-round project, Kane said. In 1882, the Central Railroad of New Jersey extended its line to Nolan’s Point, connecting the lake to the main line. The railroad carried more than iron. Ice harvested from the lake all winter was transported to the iceboxes in the Eastern cities.
The Lackawanna Railroad stopped at Landing, bringing people the rest of the way to the lake via a trolley. The bridge over the railroad tracks was constructed for the trolley.
Trolleys were built in places people wanted to go on weekends. The bathing beach at the end of the trolley tracks became Bertrand Island. In the early twentieth century, tourists wanted to swim in a clean lake rather than a dirty pool, Kane said.
In these pre-air conditioning days, residents of the crowded cities sought relief from the summer heat to the north and west.
Bertrand Island eventually had 20 major rides and a game arcade and dance hall.
The first Nolan’s Point development consisted of two pavilions. Lake Pavilion, also known as Allen’s Pavilion, was located where the Windlass is now. Nineteenth century photos looking toward Castle Rock show a very different lake without the landfill that became East Shore Estates and without Brady Bridge connecting East Shores with Prospect Point. The complex included a movie theater, photography studio, and the area’s first Chinese restaurant, run by two Irishmen, Kane noted.
Lee’s Pavilion was where the Jefferson House now stands. It burned in 1924.
The Jefferson House was built two years later.
Rich people who ventured to the lake wanted to stay in fancy hotels, Kane pointed out. The biggest was the Hotel Breslin, a 250-room behemoth towering over Breslin Park in what was originally the Mt. Arlington section of Roxbury Township.
“It was a WASP-y crowd,” Kane explained.
The Breslin was a private club for five years in the 1890s before returning to a hotel. The Breslin changed owners and names in 1918. It was the Alamac until it burned in 1948. There are still seven homes that belonged to the millionaires of the Gilded Age in Breslin Park, including the Lotta Crabtree house, designed by famed Philadelphia architect Frank Furness, who also designed the Breslin Hotel.
Not the biggest, but surely the most distinctive hotel was Castle Edward, which was built in three parts between 1908 and 1913, Kane said. The Lakefront castle burned in 1931.
Lake Hopatcong had three hotels before the railroad and more than 40 by the 19-teens. Other notable structures were Zuck’s Lakeview in Mount Arlington, later the site of stables, where the houses on Floyd and Hover Roads are now and the Hopatcong House on the site of the present-day Liquor Factory.
Most of the hotels burned, Kane said. The one “fireproof” hotel was the Colonial Inn, which was destroyed by a gas explosion in 1911 before it opened.
It was gas lighting or early electricity that took most of the buildings, Kane noted. They were made of wood and there were no fire companies organized in the early days. Some of the later fires were more suspicious.
LHF employee Holly Odgers asked where the hotel help came from. Kane noted they provided great summer jobs. He noted most of the hotel employees were Irish and said several of the area Roman Catholic churches were built for the Irish help.
Many famous people visited Lake Hopatcong, but the most famous full-time resident was Hudson Maxim. Some of the buildings in Maxim’s compound are still standing, but his elaborate boathouse was torn down in the 1950s, when people didn’t appreciate old thing, Kane said.
Another famous resident was comedian Joe Cook, who’s “Sleepless Hollow” was a well-known gathering place for other entertainment celebrities.
Milton Berle was a frequent guest at the Alamac and other visitors included Babe Ruth, Ginger Rogers, and Rube Goldberg.
The Great Depression started the decline at Lake Hopatcong after it had been a major resort for 60 years. People also started traveling by car so they could go places not served by the railroad, such as the Catskills.
After the World War II gas rationing, the trend in summer resorts turned to rented summer bungalows with the mother and children staying “up the lake” all week and the father joining them on the weekends.
Social life centered around River Styx, Kane said, with taverns featuring entertainment every night.
President Eisenhower’s Interstate Highway System marked the end of the resort era. The residents thought the construction of Route 80, which was planned in the 1960s, would increase the number of summer residents. They never dreamed people would move there full time and use the highway to commute.
But they did and, one after another, summer homes on tiny lots were converted for year-round use. And, slowly, Lake Hopatcong became what it is today.