Our mission is to collect, house and preserve artifacts and documents relating to the civil, political, social and general history of Lake Hopatcong and to encourage the education and dissemination of information about Lake Hopatcong's history.
Major Archival Topics
The Lake Hopatcong Historical Museum maintains collections on the following topics and individuals relating to Lake Hopatcong's history:
- Ans Decker & Decker Fishing Lures
- Barnes Brothers Boats
- Bertrand Island Park
- Bette Cooper, Miss America 1937
- Breslin Park
- Central Railroad of New Jersey
- Cornelia Gilissen
- Francis Himpler
- Fred Jacoby & Jacoby Boat Works
- Garret Hobart
- George G. Green
- Hudson Maxim
- Ice Houses & Harvesting
- Joe Cook
- Lackawanna Railroad
- Lake Hopatcong Angler & Breeze Newspapers
- Lake Hopatcong Yacht Club
- Lakeside Theatre
- Lotta Crabtree (Miss Lotta)
- Morris Canal
- Morris County Traction Company
- Mount Arlington
- Nolan's Point
- Nolan's Point Amusement Park
- Ogden Mine Railroad
- Owen McGiveney
- Palace Theatre, Netcong
- P.J. Monahan, Illustrator
- River Styx
- Sam Goodman, Lifeguard
- Skate Sailing Association of America Archives
- William Harris, Photographer
History of the Museum
Since 1955, our organization has housed, cared for, and displayed items relating to the unique history of New Jersey’s largest lake. With over 800 members, it is one of the largest historical groups in the State of New Jersey. Our four major programs regularly sell out at 200 attendees and our museum has been recognized as one of the finest small museums in the state.
The concept for a historical organization at Lake Hopatcong took shape in spring of 1955 when an article in the Lake Hopatcong Breeze declared “It has been suggested that we have a museum at Lake Hopatcong to house the many interesting treasures pertaining to the history of our lake and vicinity….” The July issue reported much interest in the idea of a museum and the Lake Hopatcong Businessmen’s Association asked Alice Apostolik, editor of the Lake Hopatcong Breeze newspaper, to continue investigating the concept. The interest fostered led to the formation of the Lake Hopatcong Historical Society on August 10, 1955. With eight people in attendance, an organizational meeting was held at Langdon Arms (where Gatwyn’s Restaurant is now located on Route 15). Dues were established at $2.00 per year with life membership set at $20.00. Langdon Arms was set as the society’s official headquarters, but it was agreed that the monthly meetings should be rotated to other areas of the lake, such as the Hopatcong House, a hotel formerly on Lakeside Boulevard in Hopatcong where The Liquor Factory’s building is now located.
The first regular meeting of the newly formed historical society was held in September 1955 at the Ehrlich’s “rathskeller,” which originally served as famed inventor Hudson Maxim’s observatory and ice house and is the small stone tower which still stands off Sharp’s Rock on the west shore of the lake. From the beginning, the goal was to establish a museum for the lake. In the late 1950’s, a group of members had dreams of buying Hudson Maxim’s house shortly before it was torn down. Alas, the plan to purchase the property for $11,000 failed by a single vote of the officers and trustees. In the early 1960’s, an effort was made to buy the old Landing Post Office building, an odd octagonal structure which once sat near the traffic light at Landing between the new RE/MAX real estate offices and the railroad tracks. This plan also failed and while the Lake Hopatcong Historical Society was an active organization during these early years, it would take some ten years from the organization’s founding before a suitable building could be located and agreement reached.
In the early 1960’s the State of New Jersey moved forward with plans for a new administration building at Hopatcong State Park. The park had been founded on land which was previously owned by the Morris Canal and Banking Company. When the canal was abandoned in the 1920’s, the 98 acres around the Lake Hopatcong dam were set aside as a state park. The Messinger family which had long operated the Morris Canal lock at this site, lived in the stone house just above the lock and dam. With the removal of the canal lock in 1924 and the construction of a modern dam, Rube Messinger became the first dam and park superintendent. He and his family continued to live in the same house. Following World War II, the park began to be more formally developed. Cottages along the lakefront were removed, the beach was greatly expanded, and a new entrance and parking lot were added. The old locktender’s house was converted into an office for the state park, but as the popularity of the park grew, it became apparent that a larger and more modern building was needed for administration. In July 1963, plans were announced for the construction of a new $125,000 administration building.
At first it appeared that the old locktender’s house would be torn down. The Lake Hopatcong Historical Society swung into action to acquire use of the building for a museum. After a prolonged negotiation, agreement was finally reached on a lease with the State of New Jersey in the spring of 1965. Volunteers from the Lake Hopatcong Historical Society then gave the building the tender loving care it desperately needed and set about collecting memorabilia and artifacts from the community to fill their new building. On September 11, 1965, the dream of a museum at Lake Hopatcong was realized as the public was invited to an Open House celebration. Over the ensuing years, the museum collection has grown through wonderful donations and acquisitions so that it now totals over 11,000 images and several thousand other items of memorabilia. The sensational Franklin Schaffer Lenape collection, consisting of hundreds of Native American items found around the lake, was donated in 1967 (and some of these items will be going back on display when the museum opens its fall 2015 season). The Hopatcong High School wood shop class and Lake Hopatcong Rotary teamed to build display cases for the museum in 1990. The museum’s second floor saw a major renovation in 1992, and the “Jewel of the Mountains,” “Famous Folks,” and “Greetings from Bertrand Island” exhibits opened in 1993. That same year, Wally the Whale, Shorty from the Shooting Gallery, and the Model-T, all former residents of Bertrand Island Park, came to reside at the museum. It was also during this era that the organization changed its name to the Lake Hopatcong Historical Museum. Significant additions to the museum continued in the new century. The amazing piano of former Vaudeville and Broadway musical comedy star Joe Cook, signed by hundreds of celebrities during the 1920’s and 1930’s when they visited his house in Davis Cove, joined the museum in 2004. A wonderful carousel horse from Bertrand Island Park arrived in 2010.
Before the museum opened, the Lake Hopatcong Historical Society held frequent meetings at local restaurants, hotels, and community rooms. There were also outings and trips for members. Once the museum opened, the organization began hosting many events in their new building. As the organization grew, outside venues were once again needed. In the early 1990’s the museum settled on four major programs per year with featured venues over the years including the Jefferson House, The Arlington, Lake Hopatcong Yacht Club, St. Jude’s Church, and the Palace Theatre. Programs started selling out in the late 1990’s and have continued their popularity since. One thing that has changed is the cost. Dinner programs in the early 1970’s were $6.00 per person!
From the eight individuals who attended the first meeting in August 1955, the society had grown to some 150 members by the time the museum opened. Today, with over 800 members, the organization remains loyal to its mission “to collect, house and preserve artifacts and documents relating to the civil, political, social and general history of Lake Hopatcong and to encourage the education and dissemination of information about Lake Hopatcong’s history.”