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A Century of Boating

By Marty Kane I May 03, 2022

Old boats during the 19th century on Lake Hopatcong, NJ

From its beginning as a resort in the 1880s, ats 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 1890s, attention shifted from rowboats and canoes to motorized vessels. Though relatively unsafe, these early pleasure craft stunned spectators with their speeds of 8 to 10 miles per hour.

They were soon replaced by motorboats 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 into the 1950s.

Boat ownership became much more common at the lake in the 1920s, spurred by sales of such national brands as Chris-Craft and Century. To meet the demand, new boatyards opened at the lake.

And so it was 100 years ago that two brothers opened a boat business at Lake Hopatcong.

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, started tinkering with them in the 1910s and, in 1921, an advertisement in the 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. Their business was thereafter simply known as Barnes Brothers.

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 now Katz’s Marina at the Cove). It was during this period that the brothers apparently constructed their first motorboat.

The April 14, 1923 edition of the Lake Hopatcong Breeze reported that in “keeping step with the progressive era at Lake Hopatcong” the brothers had equipped their shop with steam heat and modern facilities for the construction and repairing of boats and were in the process of building “one of the classiest speed boats that ever delighted the eye of a connoisseur.” Adding that the duo had completed over a dozen rowboats, the Breeze went on to say the brothers were “justly proud” of this new 32-foot vessel and “invite anyone to come and view the craft in any stage of its development.”

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 that collapsed their new storage building, the brothers built the core of the marina that still stands today.

Boat building was a big part of the brothers’ early business, keeping their staff busy during the quiet winter months at the lake. The December 19, 1925 edition of the Breeze reported that the brothers had “laid the keel and started the framework of a new 26-foot V-bottom runabout” to be launched in the spring and were also working on “a couple of ice boats which will be suitable for knockabout sails and rigging.”

For the 1928 season, the brothers opened a boat showroom on Altenbrand Avenue where they displayed Dodge Watercars, Century Kids outboard speedboats, engines and accessories. The business soon became the Lake Hopatcong representative for Gar Wood boats.

While the showroom was at the road, the facility on the lake concentrated on service, repairs and boat building. Custom built boats could always be arranged. The facility also sold gas and was eventually outfitted with new Texaco gas computing pumps in 1937, eliminating the need to measure each sale manually.

In 1931, Orrin Barnes bought his brother’s share of the business, but Fayette remained at the lake and still often worked with him. During the 1930s, Barnes Brothers tried its hand at racing boats, building numerous 225-cubic-inch racing hydroplanes. Its “Baby Toots” competed around the U.S. 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.”

Like many businesses, Barnes Brothers’ operation changed drastically during World War II. The shop was converted to support the war effort by working on small assembly parts for radios, airplanes and many other items, including plastic lipstick cases, rouge packs and razor blades. With the end of the war, while still doing some outside work, Barnes Brothers was able to get back to building boats. The marina used the slogan, “Come in and see them being built” in its advertising.

During the early 1950s, Barnes Brothers started construction of a series of three boats. In 2011, antique boat enthusiast Joan Brack described these two 19-foot and one 17-foot double cockpit crafts for Woody Boater magazine as “teardrop style” which were “very rounded and barrel nosed with torpedo sterns.”

Barnes Brothers also accepted orders for tour boats during this period, building 40-foot “Water Omnibus” or “Barnes Brothers Waterbuss” boats for Bertrand Island Park. Some readers will remember the large “Maggie” and “Jigs” tour boats at the park. Barnes Brothers also built a ferry for a proposed Halsey Island development around this time." "After conducting interviews with several former employees, Brack concluded that Barnes Brothers 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, owner of the lake’s two Katz’s Marina locations. When restored, they will be the first Barnes boats seen on the lake for many years.

Orrin Barnes sold the business in the early 1960s and retired. He still visited the old marina in later years. He died at age 87 in 1988. Fayette had passed two decades earlier in May 1963.

The marina changed hands a few times and was owned by Jimmy Grimes for a number of years before being bought by Ralph Migliaccio in the mid-1980s. Ed Alonge, who managed the business for many years and became a co-owner, took the helm after Migliaccio’s passing in 2019.

The footprint of the business has grown considerably as the land behind the marina was cleared and leveled and a large boat storage operation was constructed. A salesroom was installed in the front of the building in what was originally a work area.

There is no doubt that Orrin and Fayette Barnes would be quite proud of the business that still bears their name.

The Barnes Brothers boatyard, circa 1955.

A 1955 publicity photo showing the three styles of Barnes boats.

Orrin Barnes framing a Barnes Cra at the company’s marina, circa 1955.

Outboard mechanic Charlie (last name is unknown), Bob Begraf and Orrin Barnes at the Barnes Broth oat yard in 1961.

Motor Boating magazine ad, February 1927.

“Baby Toots,” dockside at Barnes Brothers. Driver is believed to be Warner Steinbach, circa 1939.


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