MOUNT ARLINGTON – For 40 or so second-graders from the Edith M. Decker School in the borough learning about the local history of Lake Hopatcong is almost a right-of-passage.
Every spring for the past seven years, the second-graders have walked out the front door of their school, crossed over Howard Boulevard and assembled in the parking lot in front of the historic pavilion at Lee’s County Park for their first lesson about the past life at the lake.
The group then makes its way past the county marina docks, up the very steep Hopatcong Avenue to Edgemere Road and onto the driveway of the 22-room Lotta Crabtree house, built in 1886 for the renowned nineteenth century actress. After a brief stop at the front door, the group makes its way back onto Edgemere, walking 200 yards down the road and onto the remaining concrete steps of what used to be the famed Breslin Hotel, which is tucked
between two residences across the street from the lake.
The final destination is a historic boathouse, built in the early 1890s, that was once part of the Breslin Hotel property, now owned by Lloyd and Carol Kitchen.
Long-time resident Carol Kitchen has been leading these field trips, contributing her knowledge of local history, volunteering her time and ultimately her historic boathouse, for sixteen years, the first nine years with the sixth-graders from the Mount Arlington School. The sixth-graders were bussed to her house. Budget costs forced a change in the program which ultimately led to the second-grade getting to participate in the program. The field trip takes place at no cost to the school district.
The short walk from the cascading steps of the Breslin leads the group across the street, onto the Kitchen property to the living room of the converted boathouse for a brief history about the lake and the surrounding area, interjecting some of her personal history as well. Kitchen tells the students the English translation for the Indian word Hopatcong—honey waters of many coves. Her lesson is brief but concise, beginning with the Indians, leading into the mining industry, tourism, the hotels and the famous people who summered at the lake. Throughout she shares a collection of post cards, photos, maps and memorabilia with the students.
Students and the parental volunteers are split into groups to participate in five workshops that touch on lessons that include earth sciences, art and sailing. Water samples are taken from the lake to look for living organisms. Water temperature is taken—62 degrees on this particular day. Students forage the yard, peaking under plants and bushes looking for any living creature. They even learn to tie a sailor’s knot. Students are encouraged to touch, to smell, to explore.
For second-grade teacher Reva Gomer, the field trip, her seventh, is a highlight of the school year, from the history lessons to the science lessons and including the walk to and from the boathouse.
“This is such a lovely event,” said Gomer who also praised Kitchen for her enthusiasm and her generosity.