William A. Wood first came to the northern shore of Lake Hopatcong, known today as Woodport, in 1831. He established a store on the newly built Union Turnpike (today’s Route 181) and served as a toll taker on the road.
Wood was the son-in-law of Joseph Hurd, one of the principal investors in Union Turnpike and the man for whom Hurdtown, a section of Jefferson, was named.
Union Turnpike was built to connect Morristown to Sparta by way of Dover. Such private turnpikes were common in 19th century America with private businesses building and maintaining a road and having the right to collect fees from travelers. Locally, Union, Sussex, and Morris turnpikes all began in this way. These names still survive on parts of today’s local roads.
Wood soon figured in another major transportation project occurring at Lake Hopatcong. During construction of the Morris Canal, the dam at Lake Hopatcong (located in what is now Hopatcong State Park in Landing) was enlarged, raising the water level approximately six feet. (The lake had already been raised five to six feet when an earthen dam was built in the 1750s.)
This increased the size of the original Great Pond (essentially what is now part of Lake Hopatcong from the state park to Nolan’s Point to Byram Cove) so that it
linked with a smaller body of water to the north, known as Little Pond (now known as Lake Forrest and Woodport).
There were numerous iron ore mines as well as a zinc mine located near the northern shore of this combined lake. The Morris Canal and Banking Company was keen to provide mine owners with access to the canal through the newly enlarged lake. The canal company contracted with Wood to open a navigable channel from the north end of the lake so that ore could be loaded on boats and towed across the lake to the canal.
When Wood successfully completed this channel, new business opportunities arose. Ore being carried to the lake by horse and wagon had to be loaded onto large boats and towed by a steam-driven tug to the Morris Canal. Wood built docks and facilities for the incoming ore and the area soon became known as Wood’s Port.
Mines near the lake, which had previously languished because of an inability to transport ore, could now ship large amounts of iron on the canal. Soon, all of the major local mines — Hurd, Weldon, Dodge, Schofield, and Ogden iron mines, as well as the Stirling Hill zinc mine — were sending ore to Wood’s Port for shipment on the canal.
In the ensuing years, Wood built a hotel at Wood’s Port at the intersection of today’s Prospect Point Road and Route 181. Over the years, Wood’s Port was shortened to Woodsport and eventually Woodport. This appears to have been formalized when a post office was granted to Woodport with Wood himself appointed as postmaster in 1854.
Following Wood’s death, his family sold the hotel and, by 1882, it was under the management of Thomas Bright, the long-time superintendent of the Hurd Mine (which was located roughly where Route 15 is today near Gatwyn’s Restaurant). Known as the Woodport House, the hotel was one of only three hostelries operating at the lake when the Central Railroad of New Jersey first began service to Lake Hopatcong in 1882.
The July 14, 1894 issue of The Angler reported, “Two weeks ago the Woodport House threw open its doors and the season of 1894 began. Mr. Thomas Bright, the genial proprietor, has made many improvements during the past winter, and it is now one of the prettiest resorts around Hopatcong. The hotel is again under the direct care and management of F.J. Munson, and is too well known to most New York and Brooklyn people to require any commenting upon. The house is a modern structure and is complete in all its appointments. For lawn tennis players of both sexes, ample provision has been made. Hardy lovers of the dangerous game of croquet have had their interests attended to also. For those who would lure the speckled beauty from his lair, there are streams near the hotel where the gamey fish abound. Down deep in the depth of the Woodport House cove lurk black bass ever ready to give the fisherman a lively struggle.”
The Angler further described the Woodport House in its August 4, 1894 issue. “A sail to the upper end of the lake on the Emily [Woodport House’s steamboat] affords a very pleasant trip. This is a very desirable part of this summer resort, and many are the guests that avail themselves of its comforts. The Woodport House is situated on a little plane at the base of a ledge of rock and overlooks the lake in a most picturesque manner.
It is known for the cool breeze that is always present on the hottest days. It is plain in architecture and finished in natural wood, contains fifty rooms, and is
furnished throughout with the finest oak furniture. The rooms are large and airy, and the halls wide and neatly carpeted.
The structure is three stories above the basement with two massive piazzas where the guests can sit in the easy chairs any time of day without being exposed to the sunlight. It is heated by steam on cool days and lighted by gas. The water is supplied from mountain springs and is pure and soft. The hotel is the property of Mr. Thomas Bright, but is managed by Mr. Forbes J. Munson, formerly of Dover. A short stay at this place reveals the fact that Mr. Munson is alert to the comforts of his guests, and is lively company for young or old.”
The Woodport House remained a popular mainstay at the lake for many years. Like many large wooden structures of this era, it had to deal with the danger of fire. With the hazards posed by lighting—first gas then electric—and the fact that fire equipment had to come from Mount Arlington on poor roads, the hotel did not fare well. It was destroyed by fire in 1905, rebuilt and burned again in 1924.
In rebuilding over the years, the hotel changed architectural styles and even which side of the road it was located upon eventually returning to its spot on Prospect Point Road and Union Turnpike.
In 1932, the Bright family (Bright’s Cove, located across Rt. 181, is named after Thomas Bright) sold the Woodport Hotel, as it had been renamed, to Richard Gerhardt and his family.
In 1934, the Gerhardt’s built a dance pavilion next to the hotel. Soon, a log cabin was added and Gerhardt’s Chic-A-Doo was born. The new business featured dining and entertainment.
Later sold and renamed the Hopenack Inn and then The Lodge, this was a popular spot through the 1950s. In the 1940s Johnny Feriol purchased the hotel but the Chic-A-Doo stayed with the Gerhardt’s. Both businesses would be destroyed by fire in the late 1950s.
In the years since, a restaurant rose on part of the old Woodport Hotel foundation. In 2000, the Wearhouse Grille was opened by Tom Wear and Regina Makowski and quickly became a local favorite.
Following Wear’s death in 2008, Makowski continued operating the business, developing a very faithful clientele. The Wearhouse operated until this past summer when Regina decided it was time to sell.
Partners John Song, Patrick McKay and Ken Salmon purchased the restaurant and the Upstream Grille debuted this summer to rave reviews. Some 185 years after it was founded, Wood’s Port welcomes its newest business.