History of the Lake Hopatcong Area



The name Hopatcong comes from Hokunk, "above,"peek, "body of water" atn, "hill" and saconk, "outlet."

1750s -- Lake Hopatcong called Great pond. Garret Rapalje built a dam for his forge at the Lake's outlet (called Brookland or, later Brooklyn). There was a Brooklyn Forge which was located at the head of the Musconetcong Creek at the uppermost falls near the mouth of Lake Hopatcong. 1750 -- the Brookland Forge (on land of the Hopatcong State Park) built. It operated for 30 years. A dam raised the Lake level by 6 feet. The Lake was known as Great Pond or Brookland Pond.

In 1764 Benjamin and Thomas Coe deeded one half of the forge to Garret Rapalje, an importer of iron in New York.

1768 -- Rapalje leases the works to Joseph and John Tuttle for five years.

Joseph Bonaparte, ex-King of Naples and Spain, more familiar to old Murat Row in Bordentown, landed here while on a prospecting tour. He also went to Budd Lake, once Budd's Pond. At one point he even thought of settling at Budd's Pond, but he discovered a caricature of his brother Napoleon belonging to the proprietor's daughter and he changed his mind. Beck, 206

This park contains Morris Canal remains. The Morris Canal ran for 106 miles joining the Delaware River at Phillipsburg with the Hudson River, a mule-drawn barge trip that took about 5 days. Lake Hopatcong was the Morris Canal's largest reservoir (because the canal dam raised the water level to the point that the Lake became the largest in the state).

In 1822, while fishing in Lake Hopatcong, George P. Macculloch (whose house in Morristown still exists) dreamed up the idea of what was to become the Morris Canal. The canal was chartered in 1824. It was built and enlarged at a cost of $5 million dollars.

It was designed by Professor James Renwick of Columbia College, the first American canal to climb hills. There were 23 separate inclined planes along the Morris Canal. Set in giant cradles, boats were hauled up rail tracks by chains to water levels as high as 100 feet. (Some the chains would give way, as at port Colden where a boat crashed into a woman and two children, killing them.)

The Lake was entered through a feeder of the Morris Canal. It then went to the lock at Brooklyn (a little settlement which gave the Lake the name of Brooklyn Pond.) P. 204

In this park, to the left of the beach, is a huge iron waterwheel, from Plane No. 3, which operated chains, later wire cables, pulling up the boats. At the gate control house, the visitor can see the locks under water at the edge of the Lake. Also here are the gatekeeper's and paymaster's house (built about 1826).  West of the pumping station and the turbine, the broad declivity was the basin of the old canal, which from here went to Lake Musconetcong.

1827 -- the canal company, having acquired the property, builds a new dam on the Lake and turns the Lake into a canal reservoir. Here is built a lock that raised boats to the level of the Lake. A bypass valve controlled the water flowing into a feeder canal that connected the Lake to the main canal.

1835 -- the height of the Brooklyn dam is raised four feet.

1830s -- Lake Hopatcong is the largest single source of water for the Morris Canal. A small community known as Brooklyn develops around the canal lock in what is now Hopatcong State Park. A dam raises the Lake water level 6 more feet and the Lake becomes known as Lake Hopatcong and over time the name Brookland changed to Brooklyn after NYC's Brooklyn.

1865 -- the Ogden Mine Railroad was built to carry iron ore from Jefferson Township to Nolan's Point at the north end of Lake Hopatcong, a distance of ten miles. This ore was transferred to canal boats which were towed by a steam tug across the Lake to "Brooklyn" lock. The boats went through the feeder to the main canal and then east or west depending upon the individual bills of lading. The company derived at least 50,000 to 60,000 tons of ore freight a year from this business. In 1880 the tonnage was 108,000 tons. With a boat normally carrying seventy tons, 1,543 boat loads were needed to move this cargo.

1866 -- the most prosperous year of the Morris Canal. Then it carried almost a million tons of freight. The canal atrophied when railroads took away the canal's business. (Pepper 1965:152-153)

1875 -- the railroad company orders the building of the iron steam tug "Lake Hopatcong" in Camden and it is sent to the Lake by canal.

1875 -- R. L. Edwards, the future father of Hopatcong, summers at Lake Hopatcong and is enchanted. He was a Wall Street banker who became the president of the Bank of the State of New York. He purchases a 60 acre piece of land on the west shore at Bishops Rock and Bonaparte Landing.

1878 -- Edwards builds his "cottage," known as Wildwood, only one of four houses at the time on the west shore.

1880s and 1890s - the western shore of Lake Hopatcong finally begins to develop with cottages built north of the River Styx and Lake Hopatcong becomes a major resort destination from the 1880s to the 1930s.

1880 -- as many as 1,500 boats carrying 108,000 tons of ore towed across the Lake

1881 -- much of the business was lost when the Central Railroad of New Jersey took over the Ogden Mine Railroad and connected it to the Central's High Bridge Branch in 1881.

1880s -- Morris and Essex Railroad builds a station at Drakesville.

The Central Railroad enjoys success with its service to Nolan's Point.

The Lackawanna Railroad later acquires the Morris and Essex Railroad. Steamboats would wait on the Morris Canal in Landing for the passengers to disembark from the train.

1886 -- the Lake Hopatcong Steamboat Company commonly known as the Black Line, founded. The company provided service from the railroads to all areas of the Lake. Later came the Hopatcong Steamboat Company, known as the White Line. The White Line did not have access to the Morris Canal so it dredged the swampy area at the southernmost part of the Lake, thereby creating Landing Channel which made it possible for White Line steamboats to come within a block of Landing Station.

1890s -- the Jersey Central carried 50,000 persons every summer to Nolan's Point when amusement and picnic parks were in existence. The railroad has tracks that followed the shore of Nolan's Point and then swung into Minisink and Morris County Junction.

Hopatcong never had its own railroad station. Passengers either took the Central Railroad of New Jersey to Nolans Point or the Lackawanna Railroad to Landing. Upon arrival, passengers went via steamboats to their destinations around the Lake.

They had a fleet referred to as the Hopatcong Navy. Its members were enlisted from crews of the pleasure boats that plied the Lake as well as workers on the Morris Canal.

There was a system of black and white ships identified launches by black and white flags respectively. Also the Black Line were painted black and was mostly identified with work from the Canal. The White Line was strictly for travel on the Lake itself. If a passenger wanted a black ship, he or she hoisted a black flag. The black flag was for a small boat, a swingle-decker. A white flag was for a double decker. The boats made connections with the trains. Or the boats could give you a ride up and down the Lake. The boats had such names as the Mystic Shrine, the G. L. Bryant, the Andrew Reasoner, and the Fanny. Beck, 215

The Nolan's Point Villa was said to have been the best of the hotels, costing $2.00 per day.

The Hotel Breslin was the most popular. It had terraces, large flower beds, and intimate glimpses of "Lotta, the actress." Beck, 203

More than three thousand people came here just to cut ice in days before modern refrigeration. There were ice plants all around the shores of the Lake -- at Nolan's Point, Callahan's, Hurdtown, and Donald Pond. Beck, 216

At times more than 500 people arrived all at the same time at the train station at the end of the Lake.

1895 -- the Drake family build the cottage Katrina in Davis Cove. Dr. George Van Wagonen, one of the founders of the Prudential Insurance company, builds Castle Sans Souci between Elba Point and Davis Cove.

1898 -- Hopatcong breaks away from Byram Township and establishes its own municipality, the Borough of Brooklyn. The landowners felt they were not receiving sufficient attention and resources from the township. Brooklyn had three hotels, no churches and no stores. Edwards elected first mayor and stayed in that position for 18 years.

Only a few families were here. One of these was the Sutton family on a farm in Sperry Springs, one of the most celebrated springs at the Lake.

1900 -- by this time there were over 40 hotels and rooming houses to handle the tourists. The Lake became a popular destination for Vaudeville and Burlesque stars who had time off in the summer when many theaters closed. A section of Northwood became known as the "actor's colony." The actors associated with the area as residents or tourists included Bert Lahr, Joe Cook, Jeanette MacDonald, and Bud Abbott.

1901 -- to avoid confusion, the Borough changes its name from Brooklyn to Hopatcong.

1903 -- prominent early surgeon from Brooklyn, NY, Dr. Lewis S. Pilcher builds the cottage Eagle's Nest at Davis Cove next door to the cottage Katrina.

1904 -- Hudson Maxim built his main house that came to be known as Maxim Park. Maxim was the inventor of smokeless powder, along with shells and torpedoes. Many famous people came out to visit Maxim. One such visitor was Annie Oakley. Another was the poet Edwin Markham.

1905 -- Edwards a driving force in forming the Lake Hopatcong Yacht Club. Early meetings held at Wildwood.

1910 -- clubhouse for the Lake Hopatcong Yacht Club built on Bertrand Island.

1910 -- lock tender at canal lock in what is now Hopatcong State Park was Rube Messinger.

By the teens -- the steamboat companies were out of business.

1920s and 30s - the Lackawanna Railroad route is the predominant rail link to Lake Hopatcong.

1920s -- the Mad House opens during Prohibition, known for it two bars, live music and dancing..

1922 -- the villages of Byram Cove and Northwood join Hopatcong.

1924 -- abandonment of the Morris Canal. Vaudeville comedian Joe Cook, known as a one man vaudeville show, comes to the area.

1925 -- the current dam is built.

1929 -- a monument in honor of Hudson Maxim erected at Hopatcong State Park.

Post World War II -- center of social life was on both sides of the River Styx Bridge. The most known of the places was the Mad House. (It burned down in 1970.)


Beck, Henry Charlton. 1964. Tales and Towns of Northern New Jersey. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.
Kane, Martin. 1998.  Images of America: Hopatcong: A Century of Memories.  Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing.
Macasek, Joseph J., 1997, "Guide to the Morris Canal in Morris County." Morris County Heritage Commission