From its beginning as a resort in the 1880’s, boats were an important part of Lake Hopatcong’s development. Steamboats met most visitors arriving by train at the lake. As cottages began to spring up, it was natural that their owners desired to own a boat. With the introduction of launches powered by naphtha in the 1890’s, attention shifted from rowboats and canoes to motorized vessels. Though relatively unsafe, these early pleasure craft stunned spectators with their speeds of eight to ten miles per hour. They were soon replaced by motor boats powered by internal combustion engines. While early models from builders like Hacker, Matthews, Dunphy and Elco were sold nationwide, many local boat builders started turning out fine wooden hulls. Such was the case at Lake Hopatcong where many early launches and runabouts were built. By purchasing from a local boat builder, customers saved shipping and other costs and could have a boat built to their exact specifications with a commercially made engine. Boat building was common at the lake over several decades, with wooden motorboats still being produced here into the 1950’s.
Boat ownership became much more common at the lake in the 1920’s, spurred by sales of such national brands as Chris Craft and Century. Indicative of this increase was the speed restriction of ten miles per hour imposed in River Styx Cove in 1922 due to “heavy traffic.” To meet the demand, many new boat yards opened. It was during this period that many of the locations and buildings we know today originated, as was the case with our oldest continuously operated marina – Barnes Brothers Marine of Mount Arlington.
Mr. and Mrs. Alpheus Fayette Barnes of Jersey City spent summers at Lake Hopatcong in the first decades of the 20th century and their two sons, Alpheus Fayette, Jr. (known as Fayette or Fay) and Orrin, grew up at the lake. They evidently enjoyed working with the new motorboats arriving at the lake and by 1917 had started to turn their interest into a business.
An advertisement in the 1921 Lake Hopatcong Breeze announced that the Barnes brothers, “better known as Fay and Barney,” were in operation at Nolan’s Point for boat and auto repairing and supplies. In 1922, the brothers moved their operation to the dock of the Kenvil Store, the location known for many years as Hockenjos Boat Yard (and recently sold and renamed Katz’s Marina in the Cove.) It was during this period that the Barnes’ apparently constructed their first motor boat. In April 1923, the Lake Hopatcong Breeze reported, Keeping step with the progressive era at Lake Hopatcong the Barnes Brothers, who have had their shop equipped with steam heat and modern facilities for the construction and repairing of boats, have under course of construction one of the classiest speed boats that ever delighted the eye of a connoisseur. The boat is being built for the Decker boys, owners of the famous Flapper. She is 32 feet over all, 7-foot beam, copper screw and rivet fastened, and will have a natural mahogany finish. The Barnes Brothers are justly proud of their accomplishment and invite anyone to come and view the craft in any stage of its development. The frame work is now completed and the planking well under way. Besides this boat the Barnes have completed over a dozen rowboats.
In 1924, the Barnes brothers were able to acquire a place of their own by purchasing the lot next to the Mount Arlington public dock and constructing a new facility. This was a time before electric hoists and forklifts so, as was the practice at the time, the new facility was fully equipped with “marine railways.” These consisted of a set of tracks running from the building into the lake with a cradle used to bring boats out of the water for repairs and winter storage. Following a storm in 1925 which collapsed their new storage building, the Barnes’ built the core of the marina that still stands over 85 years later.
Boat building was a big part of the Barnes’ early business, keeping the staff busy during the quiet winter months at the lake. In 1925, the Breeze was reporting that “the Barnes Brothers have laid the keel and started the framework of a new 26-foot V bottom runabout which will be launched in the spring. They are also working on a couple of ice boats which will be suitable for knockabout sails and rigging.”
In 1928, the Breeze reported that “an attractive addition to the Barnes Bros. Boat Garage...is their new show rooms in the corner store of the Schafer Block in Mt. Arlington, near the road entrance to their boat yard. The Barnes Brothers have here an attractive display of their Dodge Watercars, Century Kids outboard speedboats, engines and accessories. One of the novel watersport accessories is the new aqua skees which provides one of the most thrilling of water sports, and which is becoming very popular on the lake.” The storefront was at the road and the operation near the lake was mainly for repairs and boat building.
In 1931, Orrin Barnes bought his brother’s share of the business, but Fayette remained at the lake and still often worked with Orrin. During the 1930’s, Barnes’ tried its hand at racing boats, building numerous 225-cubic inch racing hydroplanes. Their “Baby Toots” competed around the US and turned quite a few heads at the lake. In 1938, the Breeze explained that “Orrin F. Barnes, head of Barnes Brothers, is a staunch believer in the latest and most original designs, having been one of the inaugurators in this country of the direct drive, forward cockpit, with motor aft and due to this and other innovations is producing some of the best boats in Northern New Jersey.”
For the 1937 season, the exciting news was that Barnes had added “new Texaco gas computing pumps at their dock.” This eliminated the need to measure each sale manually. During this period Barnes was the Lake Hopatcong representatives for Gar Wood boats.
As was typical of many businesses, Barnes Brothers’ operation changed drastically during World War II. Some of the lake’s individuals with knowledge and skill in boat building went to work for the war effort. Henry Greene of Lakeland Marine, for example, worked during the war at the Elco Ship Yards manufacturing PT boats. For the Barnes Brothers and some others, their shop was converted to support the war effort. Barnes’ buildings were filled with machine shop equipment to perform work for other manufacturers. The Breeze reported after the war that “both brothers and Mrs. Orrin Barnes were kept very busy in their bustling shop working on small assembly parts for radios, airplanes and many other items such as plastic lip stick cases, rouge packs, razor blades, etc.” With the end of the war, while still doing some outside work, they got back to their passion – building boats.
In 1947, Barnes advertised that they were in “production of the finest stream line runabouts equipped with 125 horsepower Gray engines which has 40 miles per hour speed. Also Sportsmen’s Boat with 75 hp speed of 30 miles an hour.” Barnes’ slogan was “Come In and See Them Being Built.”
During the early 1950’s, Barnes started making a series of three boats. In her research on the Barnes brothers, Joan Brack described these as “teardrop style boats... two 19’ and one 17’ double cockpit. They were very rounded and barrel nosed with torpedo sterns.” During this period, Barnes also accepted orders for tour boats. Calling it a Water Omnibus or Barnes Brothers Waterbuss, these 40’ boats were built for Bertrand Island Park. Some of you may remember the “Maggie” and “Jigs.” Barnes also built a ferry for a proposed Halsey Island development during this period.
After conducting interviews with several former employees, Joan Brack concluded that Barnes built some 40 to 50 custom runabouts over the years. According to Brack, “the last custom Barnes Craft was built around 1955 and was a cabin boat named ‘Shangri-La.’ It had a Chris Craft engine, DeSoto dash, copper clad sheathed seatbacks, red upholstery and a linoleum floor.” Interestingly, this boat and a second Barnes craft have been acquired by Seth Katz and have now been returned to Lake Hopatcong. When restored, they will be the first Barnes boats seen on the lake for many years.
Orrin Barnes sold the business in the early 1960’s and retired. In his later years he still visited the old marina. He died at age 87 in 1988. In the ensuing years, the marina changed hands a few times. It was owned by Jimmy Grimes for a number of years before being bought by Ralph Migliaccio in the mid-1980’s. Under Ralph’s ownership, it has become the preeminent marina at Lake Hopatcong. During this time, the footprint of the business has grown considerably as the land behind the marina was cleared and leveled and a large boat storage operation constructed. A salesroom was installed in the front of the building in what was originally a work area for boats. In recent years, managed by Ed Alonge, Barnes is a picture of efficiency. There is no doubt that Orrin and Fayette would be quite proud of the business which still bears their name.
Lake Hopatcong billboard, circa 1950’s
Barnes Brothers Marina circa 1955.
Barnes Brothers Marina circa 1955.