Taking the Waters: A Brief History of Lake Hopatcong’s Resort Past

by Kat Kurylko, MCHS Research Assistant
December 2020

Attempting to escape noxious city air and dusty plough fields, many people reinvigorated themselves annually by visiting sea or lakeside resorts. As class distinctions grew, leisure travel expanded and, by 1850, over 9,000 miles of railroad had been laid primarily throughout the eastern U.S. Upscale hotels became more acceptable accommodations for sensible Victorian travelers, rather than taverns, which catered to the working class. With a new demographic to appease, towns throughout Morris County began adapting and developing to meet their needs by transforming into resort communities.

Locally, Lake Hopatcong was the first. Originally home to only four hotels, after a train line opened at Nolan’s Point in 1883, the area expanded as curious day-trippers extended their stays. Noting that roads surrounding the lake were scarce, to keep up with the seasonal influx of visitors, the local steamboat industry flourished due to the need for convenient transportation and delivery systems. Those looking to venture around the lake could count on the scheduled arrival of steamboats throughout the day. For a higher price, independent water taxis greeted people just as they left the train platform in Landing, able to whisk them away to their accommodations at a moment’s notice.

Over a period of four years, increased tourism led to the construction of the Hotel Breslin, which catered to the most “wealthy and fashionable” of the day. As a hotel promotion, stage actress Lotta Crabtree was given a home in Mt. Arlington. This tactic proved successful at enticing various patrons from notable fields. At the turn of the century, tourism surged as over 35 hotels were built on the lake. Wealthy visitors increasingly became residents, building large homes in communities surrounding the Hotel Breslin. Senator Lewis A. Thompson built his home, Rockledge in 1896, the first of many politicians to do so. Comedian Joe Cook built year-round residence, Sleepless Hollow, at the lake in 1927. He lived there with his wife and children, who attended the local school. Others of more modest means followed this example, but rather built cottage bungalows on small lots, slowly transforming Lake Hopatcong into a year-round residential area.

Although Lake Hopatcong is no longer a resort destination, vestiges of its past remain. Today, a few Lake Hopatcong restaurants still offer boat parking and summertime weekend trips invite crowds, filling up local marinas and beaches with swimmers, jet skiers, and kayakers alike. The lake community has by no means forgotten its past, but instead has once again transformed to suit the needs of its current residents and visitors.

“Historical Perspective of Lake Hopatcong.”lakehopatcong.org. Lake Hopatcong Commission. May 31, 2018. http://www.lakehopatcong.org/history%20of%20Lake%20Hopatcong.htm

Hopatcong Historama (Newark: Style Printing Company, 1955).

K, Martin. Lake Hopatcong: Then and Now 2008. Canada: Pediment Publishing, 2008.

Smith, Dwight B. (1898) 2002. Illustrated Guide To Lake Hopatcong for Season of 1898. Reprint, Lake Hopatcong Historical Museum. Citations refer to the 2002 edition.