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West Orange Town Historian to Present Forgotten History of Crystal Lake and Eagle Rock Park

Joseph Fagan, West Orange Town Historian, with Cynthia Cumming

Friday, August 2, 2013 • 10:05pm

WEST ORANGE, NJ - West Orange Historian Joseph Fagan will present a one-hour pictorial powerpoint on West Orange's former resort area, Crystal Lake, and its close relationship to Eagle Rock Park.  The presentation will be held in the West Orange Public Library's Meeting room on Thursday, August 8, from 7:00-8:30 pm.

Joe explains the presentation in this way:

     When looking back at West Orange's recent past, it becomes evident that a picture is truly worth a thousand words. The powerpoint presentation will include rarely seen vintage postcard displays offering a visual narrative of Crystal Lake as a resort area and depicting an often overlooked history. Included in the presentation will be a short 26 second  film from 1898 offering a glimpse of Crystal Lake from a bygone era.

      I have always contended that Crystal Lake remains one of the most forgotten aspects of West Orange history  Today, all that remains is Crystal Lake, neatly tucked away at the end of a parking lot next to a bowling alley just off of Eagle Rock Avenue. 

     Crystal Lake is now practically unknown. Sadly the site today offers no hint or  evidence of its once glorious past.

     In the 1870s, the Eagle Rock area of West Orange had begun to establish itself as a resort area on top of the Orange Mountains. Original entries in vintage surveyor's log books are part of the program confirming this.  Eagle Rock offered itself as an accessible rural setting and a pleasant distraction from the  hectic pace of city life. At that time several small hotels and cottages dotted  the landscape on what today is the big open field at Eagle Rock. In 1894, a  trolley line opened to the base of Eagle Rock on present day Mountain Avenue. From there one would have to walk up the famous 100 Steps across from the hotel at the trolley terminus to reach the top of Eagle Rock.

    The new trolley line  brought the crowds and helped establish the Eagle Rock area, which gained in both popularity and  accessibility. In doing so it also brought the crowds to Crystal Lake, just a  short walk from Eagle Rock.

     As early as 1890, a hotel opened at the entrance to Crystal Lake on Eagle Rock Avenue when the lake was just a pond used for harvesting ice. With the growing popularity and increased  accessibility, the trolley line offered Crystal Lake as a secondary destination. The lake offered additional outdoor recreation and boating not available at Eagle Rock. Crowds flocking to Eagle Rock now also found their way to Crystal Lake. The picnic grounds were located in shaded areas, providing relief from the summer heat and sun. In winter, ice skating was popular.  Both Eagle Rock and Crystal Lake were soon considered one destination.

     After the acquistion of Eagle Rock by the newly formed Essex County Park Commission in 1895, most of the hotels began to disappear by 1910.  As its resort appeal declined, trolley service ceased in 1924, partly due to the emergence of the automobile.

     Crystal Lake, however, continued on as a small amusement park replete with rides and a handsomely crafted carousel. During the late1920s and early 1930s West Orange Commissioner George McDonough sponsored an annual outing known as McDonough Day, where children were bused from local playgrounds to the lake, offering them a day of free food, boating, entertainment, and unlimited rides.  This brightened the children's lives from the darkness of the Depression, and was truly the Golden Age of Crystal Lake.

     In the 1950s, development eroded the  once rural setting of Crystal Lake and a  steady decline began. The  Mountain Crest Swim Club operated at Crystal Lake from approximately 1954 until  its closure around 1975,but by the end of 1970s Crystal Lake was mostly abandoned and neglected. In the 1990s, townhouses were  built near the west shore and the developer refurbished the lake and cleaned up the property, helping save a forgotten legacy.

The West Orange community, old and young; lifelong residents or recent homebuyers, will all learn about the fascinating history of Crystal Lake and Eagle Rock, gaining a new appreciation for the rich history embedded into the fiber of the township.

For more information on Joe Fagan and West Orange History, visit his website at WestOrangeHistory.com, or by email at JosephFagan@WestOrangeHistory.



 

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