For many years, thousands coming to Lake Hopatcong were welcomed by the beautiful fountain flowing at Hopatcong State Park. It was like an old friend which greeted visitors each year.
However, this near century-old symbol of Lake Hopatcong has in recent years been largely forgotten. Most of the time the fountain sits idle and neglected. The few times it has been allowed to flow it was a mere trickle.
This past symbol of Lake Hopatcong is sorely in need of some TLC. However, most lake residents who remember the fountain in its past grandeur would probably be surprised to learn it was built as an important measuring tool rather than for its aesthetics.
When the New Jersey State Legislature passed legislation taking control of the Morris Canal in 1922, it was determined that the land around the outlet and lock at Lake Hopatcong, which had been owned by the Morris Canal and Banking Company, should be turned into a state park. In 1924, plans were announced for a new dam to be built on this land to replace the combination dam and lock which had transported boats from the level of the canal up some 12 feet to the level of Lake Hopatcong. Water flowing from the lake at the dam was needed to feed the Musconetcong River, for which Lake Hopatcong serves as the origin or headwaters.
However, then as now, the subject of how much water should be allowed to flow from Lake Hopatcong down the Musconetcong River was a controversial and highly charged topic.
Residents and business owners at Lake Hopatcong wanted to ensure the lake had sufficient water each year. During the days of he Morris Canal, the lake averaged more than 20 inches below high water mark by August, with the lake being down almost 4 feet on several occasions. This did not sit well with the numerous hotel and business owners or the summer residents of the lake, who were led by well-known inventor and industrialist, Hudson Maxim.
On the other side of the argument were the mill owners and others along the Musconetcong River, who claimed the right to water flowing from Lake Hopatcong.
The building of the fountain at Hopatcong State Park was the result of a compromise reached between lake residents and the Musconetcong River advocates. Designed by Cornelius C. Vermeule, consulting and directing engineer in charge of the dismantling of the Morris Canal, a 24- inch pipe was placed in the dam leading to the fountain. The fountain was placed in the center of a circular concrete basin 40 feet in diameter to catch the falling water. Vermeule’s calculations determined that this flow of water into the Musconetcong River would be equivalent to the amount supplied by the lake before the original dam was built and “would lower the lake probably not more than six inches or a foot during the season.” As a side benefit to this measuring tool, Vermeule designed the fountain so that the water would spout up to a height of about 12 feet and he purposely placed it in a central position visible from the nearby road.
As Vermeule explained in his 1925 report to the president and board of the Morris Canal and Banking Company (which was charged with overseeing the abandonment of the canal), the fountain “will discharge 12 second feet continuously to the river. This amount of water is practically a minimum to which the mill owners are entitled at all times, and has been arrived at by computation of the ordinary dry season from the lake in its natural conditions, before it was raised to be used as a reservoir for the canal.” As a result, Vermeule recommended and the Morris Canal authorities approved “that in the operation of the lake the fountain be permitted to flow at all times and that in addition thereto one of the flood gates be raised sufficiently to discharge 18 second feet the day following Labor Day, and closed the day before Christmas each year, but if the lake shall fall thirty inches below the high water mark the flood gates shall be closed at once, and only open thereafter when it is necessary to prevent discharge over the spillway and keep the lake down to its normal level.” In his report, Vermeule recognized that continuous future monitoring would be necessary and in the ensuing years the need for flexibility has been demonstrated during times of drought or flooding. The contract to construct the fountain, as well as the new dam, and the relocation of Lakeside Boulevard was awarded to the Gotham Construction Company of 60 Church Street, New York City, for $97,560. Work at the State Park began in the fall of 1924 with the concrete fountain being poured in April 1925. The fountain was completed and tested in June, and on July 16, 1925, the new Hopatcong State Park, dam and fountain were officially dedicated.
The July 18, 1925 edition of the “Lake Hopatcong Breeze” reported that, “The abandonment of the old Morris Canal, the removal of the leaky old locks and the completion of a substantial concrete dam which will hereafter guard the waters of Lake Hopatcong and maintain them at high water mark, were celebrated at noon on Thursday when the officials of the State who had this work in charge made the final inspection and dedicated the dam and surrounding lands as a State Park.” The state officials turned “on the water in the fountain, which will restore the entire outflow of the Lake to its old channel, the Musconetcong River.”
The Breeze went on to note, “The ceremonies on Thursday were the climax of a struggle which lasted many years for the abandonment of the canal and the protection of the Lake Hopatcong waters. In his talk, Mr. Maxim said that the end of the trail had been reached and that “now we may face the future with confidence. The labors of those who have fought to maintain the waters of the Lake at a high level are over and it can reasonably be expected the Lake Hopatcong will hereafter be kept at a high level.”
When the fountain was constructed there was no wrought iron railing around its center. As a result, for many years visitors enjoyed redirecting the fountain by placing a foot on it and thereby soaking nearby friends. Over the years, this was remedied with the installation of the wrought iron, which was hardly noticeable when viewing the fountain.
In recent years, state park officials decided to shut the fountain off for liability reasons, concerned that there was no lifeguard present. Since other fountains do not require lifeguards, it is hoped that a path can be found around this ruling. Also over the years, the role of the fountain in measuring the flow of water to the Musconetcong River appears to have been forgotten. One must wonder if much of the discord about the amount of water being allowed to flow out of Lake Hopatcong in recent years may have been avoided if the fountain had continued to be used for the purpose for which it was built.
The Lake Hopatcong Foundation and the Lake Hopatcong Historical Museum are now working with the State of New Jersey to review alternatives for the restoration of the fountain. Maybe one day this former icon of Lake Hopatcong could be put back into operation and once again welcome visitors to the lake.
Family visiting the fountain with Lakeside Boulevard in the background and the Fountain Inn (left) and McKeag’s Store & Real Estate Office (right) circa 1930.