The Mountain (Lakes) Are Alive with the Sound of Music

by Erin Feith, Research Assistant
April 30, 2024

Perth Amboy Evening News, April 1, 1924. The chorus of the MacDowell Club competed in events, like one held in Newark by the NJ State Federation of Women’s Clubs.

Ahead of its incorporation (100 years ago April 29th), Mountain Lakes hit a high note with the composition of the MacDowell Club. Devoted to the study and performance of music and related arts, the club’s would-be founders were immediately attracted to the area by advertisements promising an oasis tucked into the Morris County landscape.  Evolving in tandem with the community of Mountain Lakes, the MacDowell Club reflected the changes within the borough over the course of a century.

Edward MacDowell (1860-1908) was an internationally acclaimed pianist who became one of the most notable American composers of the 19th century.

By 1916, the well-established allure of Mountain Lakes drew many wealthy city dwellers who sought the open air of the country. Mrs. Lazelle Crooks Whitmore, a member of a long-standing musical family and student of Arthur Leonard, organized a group of 21 women who would be committed to the study of music soon after her arrival. The club elected former Metropolitan Opera Orchestra singer, Katherine Fleming Hinrichs, president and named themselves after notable composer and Hinrichs’s personal friend, Edward MacDowell. Though initial membership required musical talent, it was quickly broadened to all community women who desired to learn more about music. Supplemented by charitable work, these early members devised lively programs on a variety of musical styles and composers, as well as arranging a chorus.

When Mountain Lakes became a borough in 1924, the MacDowell Club similarly reached new milestones in its memberships and engagement. Indeed, they became one of the primary cultural forces in the area, offering a wide-range of musical entertainment that was otherwise only available in New York City. With their efforts, well-publicized in local outlets, interest in the MacDowell Club grew and the influx of newcomers to Mountain Lakes caused membership to climb into the hundreds. During this period, the club also became affiliated with the MacDowell Colony, an artist’s retreat run by his widow, Marian MacDowell in Peterborough, NH. Fundraising for the colony as well as their own causes, the MacDowell Club of Mountain Lakes expanded their concerts to a broader audience, cultivating wider interest in their endeavors.

The close of the Second World War ushered in change for the MacDowell Club, as Mountain Lakes experienced rapid growth.  With such growth, an influx of new organizations created competition for the Club, whose membership was simultaneously affected by the rise of the radio, among other factors. Despite these losses, the Club persisted and remains an active group, offering seasonal concerts. Today, the MacDowell Club of Mountain Lakes carries on the tune started a century ago.