The dam that created Lake Hopatcong from Great Pond and Small Pond. Credits: By Jane Primerano
The Lake Hopatcong Historical Society Museum is a repository of the history of the resort hotels, tourist courts and entertainment pavillions formerly on the lake. Credits: By Jane Primerano
Hopatcong Borough shoreline on the lake. Credits: By Jane Primerano
Monday, August 6, 2012 • 1:02pm
HOPATCONG, NJ – The beginning of the history of Hopatcong is approximately 12,000 years ago when early Native Americans discovered Great Pond, a rich source of game in the surrounding woods and fish in the waters.
These primitive people, historian and Lenape descendant Andrew Drysdale of Belvidere said, would later coalesce into tribes and become the Lenape who named Lake Hopatcong (water of many coves), but even before tribes existed, the natives found the lake.
Great Pond was the largest lake in New Jersey even then. The lake was 12 feet below the current water level, according to Lake historian Marty Kane.
When European settlements began in the iron-rich hills of northern New Jersey, mining was king.
The settlers named Great Pond Brookland Pond, according to a history on the Lake Hopatcong Historical Society Website. In the 1830s, the spelling was changed to Brooklyn, to match the city on New York’s Long Island.
On April 2, 1898, a section of Byram Township seceded and became the Town of Brooklyn. On March 22, 1901, it was renamed the Borough of Hopatcong. In 1922, residents of Northwood, Byram Cove and other areas to the west of the original borough voted to leave Byram Township. At that time, the current borders of the borough were established.
Besides Northwood and Byram Cove, the sections of the borough are Hopatcong State Park (some of which is in the Landing section of Roxbury Township), the Fountain, Point Pleasant, Ingram Cove, River Styx, Sperry Springs, Bear Pond and Pine Tree Point, according to the August 1979 issue of the Lake Hopatcong Breeze.
The lake was dammed for the Morris Canal in 1824. Designed to bring coal from Pennsylvania to Jersey City and then on to New York City, the canal could also transport iron ore mined in Franklin and Ogdensburg. So railroad lines were built to intercept the canal boats at the lake, the highest point on the canal. And railroads could carry passengers as well as freight.
In the years after the railroads but before air conditioning, tourists were seeking someplace to stay cool in the summer. Old timers still speak of the “Morristown shift,” a drop of 10 degrees or so in temperature heading north and west of Morristown.
The lake became a destination. Hotels and “tourist courts” appeared around the lake.
Soon, the wealthy discovered an ideal place for summer fun.
The most famous resident of Hopatcong Borough was inventor Hudson Maxim who spent the last 25 years of his life in Hopatcong.
Maxim, who lent his name to the Maxim Silencer, developed types of gunpowder and other munitions. He did many experiments at his home on the lake, first called Maximhurst, later Maxim Park.
Anna Travers, longtime editor of The Lake Hopatcong Breeze, discovered a journal entry from Maxim about one of his experiments in throwing aerial torpedoes from a 4-inch cannon. After five were fired, “the sixth was loaded into the fun, ready to be discharged, when a passenger train on the Jersey Central Railroad hove in sight, and was passing us about a thousand feet away as the gun was fired.”
Maxim and his assistants did not think there was any danger because the other torpedoes had fired where they were supposed to. The sixth torpedo glanced off the sand-butt and veered in the direction of the train. Fortunately for Maxim, the torpedo passed over the train.
Maxim purchased land in the borough in 1901,near Sharp’s Rock. The mansion was built in 1904 and in 1906 Maxim built a Venetian-style boathouse which dominated the lake shore for the next 50 years. According to Kane’s history, it wasbuilt of stone and wood with steel girders that “projected over the water and looked like a medieval fortress.
Maxim Park included a laboratory, tennis courts, a combination observatory/ice house (which still stands) and several guest houses. He donated the land for the Byram Bay Christian Church, Maxim Park Yacht Club, Modick Park and Maxim Glen.
After Maxim’s death, his widow, Lillian Durban Maxim lived at the lake until her remarriage.
The main house and iconic boat house were torn down in the 1950s.
Another famous resident of the borough was Vaudevillian Joe Cook who lived at “Sleepless Hollow” in Davis Cove from 1924 to 1941. Among his frequent guests were Bud Abbot, Bert Lahr and Milton Berle.
The height of tourism at the lake was in the Nineteen Teens and Twenties. Prohibition was a boon to many places off the beaten path.
It started to decline during the Depression. By the 1970's, tourism was largely gone and Hopatcong Borough was primarily a year-round community, with 15,147 people as of the 2012 Census.
Growth was spurred by Route 80, Councilwoman Estelle Klien said. She moved to the borough 55 years ago when the major thoroughfares were Routes 46 and 10.
Klein said the lake was just as busy during the summer as it is now. “There were just as many boats as today.”
One thing that has changed is the pedestrian traffic.
“There was a lot more walking around the borough,” she said. “Nan Pratt’s was the destination for everything. Everybody went to Nan Pratt’s. She had the most wonderful pies you can imagine.”
Councilman John Young calls himself, “a lifer.”
“It’s probably a minority of the population that is native, we are such a transient society,” he said.
He is a graduate of Sparta High School.
“Hopatcong High School started in the school year 1970-71,” he said. “There was no graduating class in 71, the seniors stayed in Sparta to graduate.”
Young laughs about parents who complain their children have long bus rides.
“We had a 45 to 50 minute bus ride each way. And there was only one late bus. I lived by the Hob Nob, so I was the last one off the late bus.”
He pointed out, “Kids never care about the bus ride, it’s always the parents.”
Although the restaurant has changed hands often in recent years, Young noted, “everybody remembers the Hob Nob,” a destination for full-time residents of the lake communities for many years.”
Many residents still live in converted summer homes that exhibit interesting quirks, like the family who moved to Washington, NJ, and found the children astonished they did not have to walk through one bedroom to get to another.