Hopatcong’s Industrial Age

In the years that shadowed America’s independence, little development occurred in the area around Lake Hopatcong. Although iron had already been found and mined in the vicinity, the difficulty of getting it to market caused the industry to flounder. Following the War of 1812, the U.S entered a great era of canal building. It was in this era that the idea of the Morris Canal was conceived.

Every mule driver that pulled a canal boat from 1831 to 1924 walked on the 102-mile meander across northern NJ, from Phillipsburg to Jersey City; it also served as a route for recreational rambles. Like any canal, the Morris Canal required considerable amounts of water. Lake Hopatcong was looked upon to be its solitary major feed. In fact, the story has been told that George McCullough, the driving force behind the Morris Canal, got the idea for it while fishing one day at Lake Hopatcong. At over 900 feet above sea level, Lake Hopatcong was situated at the summit of the canal. Water could therefore be fed down both east and west. Along the way, other sources of water were linked – such as the Musconetcong and Passaic Rivers and Greenwood Lake. The Stanhope Reservoir (now known as Lake Musconetcong was created when more water was eventually needed.

The Morris Canal prompted the building of a railroad to connect several mines in the area to the Lake. During its setup, the Ogden Mine Railroad supplied a significant amount of the cargo being shipped on the Morris Canal. In 1881, the Central Railroad of New Jersey entered into a lease agreement with the Ogden Mine Railroad and in August 1882 completed a connection from its main tracks to the Ogden Mine Railroad terminus at Nolan’s Point.

It did not take long for the Central Railroad of New Jersey management to realize that there was great passenger potential for this newly formed line. Here was a direct rail link to a large lake just over one hour from numerous large cities, as well as New York City itself. In September 1882, the first passenger excursion train arrived at Nolan’s Point and the tourist boom at Lake Hopatcong was on!

During the era of the Morris Canal, the Lake increasingly became called Lake Hopatcong. While the origin of the word “Hopatcong” is unknown, it is believed that the word comes from the Lenape word “hapakonoesson,” meaning pipestone. It is impossible to know the exact context in which the Lenape may have used this word in referring to the Lake. It may have been a reference to the soapstone and other soft stone found in the area that was used in pipe making. It has also been suggested that the term referred to the jagged shape of the Lake’s shoreline.

The one thing of which we are sure is that “Hopatcong” does not mean “honey waters of many coves” or any similar derivative. This definition was invented at the turn of this century by individuals seeking to evoke a romantic image of Lake Hopatcong that would help to promote the developing tourist trade.

Arriving passengers needed activities to busy themselves. This led to the building of a pavilion at Nolan’s Point to entertain the tourists. One-day excursions soon led to a desire for longer stays at this pleasant locale causing quite a construction boom.

Prior to the Central Railroad reaching the Lake, only three small hotels existed at the Lake. By 1900, over 40 hotels and rooming houses were operating at the Lake. Many of these early hotels and rooming houses were concentrated around the railroad at Nolan’s Point, but building soon spread to other areas of the Lake.

Since early roads at the Lake were humble or nonexistent, the main source of passage was water. As soon as tourism was established so was the boating service. Rival steamboat companies met arriving passengers and took them to all parts of the Lake. Most goods and services were delivered by boat.

For this reason, islands such as Halsey and Raccoon developed simultaneously with the mainland. At the same time that the Lake was becoming a large hotel resort, other development was also occurring. Many early visitors camped were learning of the Lake and building grand Victorian “cottages,” including an entire millionaire’s community around the grand Breslin Hotel in Mount Arlington. This growth soon spread to the western shore of the Lake that was then part of Byram Township. (Modick Park and Maxim Glen were originally named Byram Park. Hudson Maxim donated that property to the Borough in 1926).

The story has been told that George McCullough, the driving force behind the Morris Canal, got the idea for it while fishing one day at Lake Hopatcong.


1 comment for “Hopatcong’s Industrial Age

  1. Devin Bellotti
    May 22, 2014 at 5:05 pm

    I personally am quite fascinated by the history of this town and I am really excited to see articles about it here. I go boy scout camping on the Morris Canal every year and it is quite a good time. I am waiting in anticipation for more articles about this subject.

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