by Erin Feith, Research Assistant
April 18, 2023
In pre-Revolutionary Morris County, a trip to Schooley’s Mountain was thought to keep the doctor away. Chalybeate (iron salt) mineral springs had long made the area a notable health destination as iron-rich waters were believed to provide relief from a variety of illnesses. However, the fresh air and untouched landscape soon began to attract more vacationers than patients, and Schooley’s Mountain gained national prominence as a resort community, a status it retained for over a century.
Professed to remedy maladies from skin conditions to kidney issues, the Schooley’s Mountain Springs were first used by the Lenape for their healing properties. Beginning around the mid-1700s, the springs attracted European colonists who sought to bathe in or drink its waters, though access and accommodations left much to be desired. In fact, eager patients initially had to travel by coach over difficult terrain and sometimes impassable roadways to reach Schooley’s Mountain. Upon arrival, their choices were to pitch tent or arrange to stay at the homes of local residents, as there were no lodgings for visitors to the springs.
Aided by the 1810 completion of the Washington Turnpike, the Schooley’s Mountain Springs achieved popularity not only as a destination for recuperation but also for recreation among the well-to-do. Resorts were constructed for their enjoyment and comfort with two achieving particular prominence: the Heath House and Belmont Hall. Built in 1799, the Heath House expanded numerous times over its lifespan, increasing from 100 guest rooms in 1814 to nearly 400 by 1855. Its 100-foot music room, tennis courts, and bicycle track kept visitors of all ages entertained. Belmont Hall, purchased and enlarged by Conover Bowne in the 1820s, likewise offered spacious accommodations along with dining supplemented by local produce and an orchestra of New York musicians who performed daily. Renamed the “Dorincourt” in 1889, it provided guests with the latest technology, boasting gas lights and electric bells in each room.
By the 20th century, the same roads and rails that had carried vacationers to Schooley’s Mountain also connected them more easily to farther destinations along the shore. Usurped as a preferred destination, hotels at the springs shuttered, with the Heath House razed in 1907 and the Dorincourt closing its doors in 1911 (razed 1938). However, in the traces that remain, ripples of the resort past at Schooley’s Mountain can still be felt today.