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In Search of Lake Hopatcong’s Lost Hotels

By Marty Kane I May 03, 2022

Old photo of The Jefferson House, located in Lake Hopatcong, NJ
The Jefferson House, Lake Hopatcong, NJ

From the 1880s to the 1930s, Lake Hopatcong was a major northeast resort with hotels of all sizes operating on its shores. During the 1925 season alone, there were some 36 locales, ranging in size from 10 to 250 rooms. One question commonly asked at the Lake Hopatcong Historical Museum is, “Do any of the hotel buildings still stand?”

While the large hotels are all long gone—many having been destroyed by fire—a small number of former hotel buildings survive that bear witness to the era when Lake Hopatcong competed with the likes of Asbury Park and Atlantic City. All of them found alternate uses after the hotel era passed, and several were small enough to transition to private homes.

The largest of the surviving hotel buildings is the Jefferson House. The original building that occupied the site was known as Lee’s Pavilion.

Built in 1899 to serve visitors arriving at Nolan’s Point via the Central Railroad of New Jersey, the pavilion was greatly enlarged and expanded over the next two decades. It featured numerous stores and services, a dance hall and some 20 hotel rooms. 

The Hendersons Sister Island on Lake Hopatcong, located on the largest lake in New Jersey
Henersons Sister Island, Lake Hopatcong, NJ

Tragedy struck on the night of October 27, 1924, when the entire structure was destroyed in a fire that wiped out 13 buildings on Nolan’s Point. A new Lee’s Pavilion arose from the ashes, opening in 1927 with 42 hotel rooms and featuring a large dance pavilion.

In 1929, Lee’s Pavilion was sold and renamed Kay’s Hotel. It featured a restaurant with dancing and entertainment every night. Operating through the Depression, Kay’s used the slogan “Where Good Fellows Get Together” and promised “never a dull moment.”

In 1938, Kay’s became the Colony Club, a short-lived, restricted Christian establishment with a membership plan. In 1941, the Jefferson House premiered, billed as one of the lake’s finest dining and dance spots. The Jefferson House had several owners, including Joseph Langley, who operated the hotel for some 10 years before selling to Herb Spencer in 1962. Spencer renamed the business the Jefferson House Boatel and ran it as both a hotel and marina. For the 1964 season, Spencer introduced Broadway musicals featuring such hits as “Anything Goes” and “No, No, Nanette.”

Spencer sold in September 1967 to Herman Orth, who owned and operated a garage as well as the sightseeing boats from Bertrand Island and Hopatcong State Park. Orth intended to use the Jefferson House as a marina, but he passed away just nine months later. His sons Billy and Allan took the Jefferson House in a new direction. Together with their mother, Ida, the Orth brothers would transform the Jefferson House in the years that followed, greatly modernizing the facility. After trying out a few different names and themes along the way (such as the Club New Orleans and the Pirate’s Den) the Orths eventually settled back on the Jefferson House. The business became a Lake Hopatcong institution owned and operated by the Orth brothers. Billy passed away in November 2020.

An old photo of the Henderson's family from Lake Hopatcong, NJ

While the Orths made many changes and renovations to the Jefferson House over the years, some of the original hotel rooms survive in the back of the building and have been used as apartments for decades.

Justamere Lodge operated as a hotel on Lake Hopatcong for some 50 years, run by the Huber family for much of the time. It was built on Point Pleasant facing towards the State Park in 1910 at a cost of $25,000.

A small hotel with 21 rooms, in the 1940s it advertised rates of $30 per week, which included home-cooked meals. The hotel operated into the 1960s and was then converted into a private residence, which it remains today. In recent years, there has been significant renovation work on the building and grounds. A shuffleboard court from the hotel days is still barely visible and the owners still have doors with room numbers stored away.

The Boulevard House, also known as the Hotel Boulevard, was located on Howard Boulevard in Mount Arlington and had about 12 rooms. The property is located next to the firehouse. The hotel operated from the 1890s until the 1940s and for a time was run by the Chaplin family. Conveniently located on the main street in Mount Arlington, the structure was converted to commercial use after World War II. During the 1990s, it operated successfully as the Arlington Restaurant and for the past two decades has served as a martial arts studio.

Angler’s Retreat was a small hotel or rooming house that was opened on Cow Tongue Point by Thomas Henderson in 1894. It catered mainly to fishermen and operated for 20 years.

In 1914, the building underwent extensive renovations and became the new home of the Maxim Park Yacht Club, whose first officers included inventor, scientist, author and explosives expert Hudson Maxim and Rex Beach, one of America’s most successful authors of the time.

The club opened on August 14, 1915, with a parade of 75 boats. The Maxim Park Yacht Club closed in the 1920s and the former hotel was converted into a private home. It has been in the same family ever since and remains one of the lake’s most picturesque residences.

Sister Islands was the name given to three small islands along the western shore of Byram Cove. In 1905, a cottage, boathouse and icehouse were built across two of the islands. In 1912, the summer cottage was sold to Thomas Henderson, owner of Angler’s Retreat, who converted the property into the Sister Islands Hotel. It operated through the 1910s, after which it was converted back to a private residence.

Carl Sherman, a former attorney general of the state of New York, bought Sister Islands in the 1940s and converted the icehouse into a second home. Both houses remain on Sister Islands today. They had fallen into disrepair in recent years; it is great to see renovations to the buildings began this fall.

Playhouse Park, located in Great Cove, was billed as “The Bungalow Retreat” when built in 1919 by Fred H. Buck. It was located on the hill behind where Katz’s Marina at the Cove is now located. Consisting of separate cottages, each with three to five rooms, Playhouse Park included a restaurant for its guests.

By 1924, Playhouse Park had grown to 25 cottages. A 1925 brochure explained that “the concept for Playhouse Park is to eliminate as much housework as possible, but to preserve the freedom of home life impossible at a hotel. Each bungalow contains a large living room, kitchen and one to three bedrooms. The furniture is plain but sufficient. Each has a delightful living porch with extensive lake views framed by old oak trees. Artesian well water piped to each, electric lights, garage, dock with private beach.

May be rented by week, month or season.” Playhouse Park continued to operate through the 1950s and many of the original buildings survive today as private homes. The Old Orchard Inn was built in Woodport in 1910. Bradley J. Bloodgood had worked for many years in the hotel business before coming to Lake Hopatcong, where he bought over 25 acres of property. He constructed a very rustic hotel built of logs, which he expanded a few times. Located just off Route 181, the Old Orchard Inn building survives today as part of Willow Lake Day Camp, which has occupied the site since 1961.

Parts of other hotels also survive: the Bon Air Lodge in River Styx (where the Arrowcrest is now located) and the Hopatcong House (where the Liquor Factory in Hopatcong is now located) both had substantial garage buildings. These garages did not burn down as did the hotels that built them. Over the years they have both been converted into small apartment buildings.

In addition, a few individual cottages, boathouses and other small structures survive that were formerly part of hotel properties. They were either large enough to convert into private homes or have been left as auxiliary structures on residential properties that replaced the hotels.

In addition, staircases, beaches and foundations from past Lake Hopatcong hotels remain in numerous locations. Look closely, and you can still find links to a very colorful part of Lake Hopatcong’s past!

Justamere Lodge, 1930s. Happy guests at Angler’s Retreat, circa 1905. Henderson’s Sister Islands Hotel, circa 1915. Boulevard House on Howard Boulevard, circa 1900. Today it’s a martial arts studio.


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