The story of the railroad station at Landing goes back more than 100 years to a time when Lake Hopatcong was a vibrant and growing resort. The train station was a gift to Lake Hopatcong from the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad (commonly known as the Lackawanna Railroad) as part of the massive Lackawanna Cutoff project.
The original route of the Lackawanna meandered through the hills of western New Jersey, making it difficult for visitors to get to Lake Hopatcong and for the Lackawanna to compete with other rail lines for traffic to the west. The Lackawanna’s solution was one of the largest construction projects ever undertaken at the time and cost $11 million.
The Lackawanna Cutoff was built in an almost straight line between Hopatcong Station and the Delaware River. Three years in planning and another three years in construction, the Cutoff pioneered the use of reinforced concrete and was compared at the time to the Panama Canal. Its use of bridges, tunnels and viaducts removed curves, grades, and railroad crossings, allowing trains to travel at 70 miles per hour over almost the entire route from Lake Hopatcong across the Delaware River. As a result of the time saved on the route to Buffalo and points west, business on the Lackawanna boomed for many years.
While the actual Cutoff started just west of the lake, a new station for the resort was included in the Cutoff’s budget and was meant to be a showpiece for visitors
arriving at Lake Hopatcong. The modern station opened on May 28, 1911 —
seven months before the completion of the Cutoff, and in time for the summer season at the lake. Construction costs for the building were reportedly $13,000.
Built of native rough stone with cement trimming, it featured a green glazed tile roof and an oak and plaster interior that included a ticket office, main hall and baggage room. Elevated walkways with large elevators transported passengers and baggage to street level and to steamboats waiting across the platform to take passengers to Lake Hopatcong via the Morris Canal. These accompanying structures reportedly cost the railroad an additional $75,000.
The station at Lake Hopatcong was very unique in that three forms of transportation crossed at its doors. When the Lackawanna first laid tracks through Landing in the 1850s it placed them right alongside the Morris Canal. In those years, there was no station at Landing. Passengers had to exit the train at Drakesville (now Ledgewood) and take a stagecoach over rough roads to the lake.
In the 1870s, passengers could exit the train at a “siding” (a small shelter and a sign along side the track) in Landing. It was not until the 1880s that an early station was built. Arriving passengers could then exit the train and walk across the platform to a waiting steamboat from the Lake Hopatcong Steamboat Company. These “Black Line” boats, as they were commonly known, would proceed westward on the canal into the Lake Hopatcong feeder canal through a lock located where the State Park dam is today and out onto the lake to deposit passengers at hotels, cottages and camp sites.
A trolley also traveled past the Lake Hopatcong station. Chartered in 1899, the Morris County Traction Company introduced trolleys to northwestern New Jersey. At its peak, the company’s service stretched from Newark and Elizabeth to Lake Hopatcong, utilizing some 50 miles of tracks across the state.
The first section built was along Blackwell Street in Dover in 1904. Service began between Dover and Wharton that same year, and soon expanded to Rockaway. The trolley line headed west from Dover through Wharton, Mine Hill, Kenvil, Succasunna, and Ledgewood, reaching Landing in 1908. At Landing, the trolley passed directly in front the railroad station before crossing over the railroad tracks (on the same bridge which passes over the railroad at Landing today) and ended its route by the steamboat dock at the foot of Lake Hopatcong (near today’s Landing traffic light).
Like trolley lines throughout America, the Morris County Traction Company was looking for ways to increase usage, particularly on weekends.
Nationwide, many amusement parks and recreational facilities were established at the end of trolley lines for just this reason. The Morris County Traction Company found its amusement destination by expanding service from Landing to a beach, which had been constructed at Bertrand Island. Trolley service to Bertrand Island began on Decoration Day (now Memorial Day) in 1910, making it accessible to large numbers of people in northern New Jersey.
By connecting to this beach, the Morris County Traction Company trolley set in motion the chain of events that would result in the development of Bertrand Island Amusement Park.
When it opened in 1911, the Landing train station saw thousands of passengers pass through every week. The Lackawanna envisioned the station as a showcase for the railroad and an impressive entry point to Lake Hopatcong. The July 1, 1911 edition of the Lake Hopatcong Breeze reported that “most of our people come to the Lake via the DL&W [Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroad] and as they stop at Landing, the best possible thing that could be done for the Lake would be to give the visitors a good impression at first sight.”
Up until the 1950s, the Landing station provided a significant link to the lake for visitors and residents alike. As rail service diminished over the years, the building was allowed to decline and it was finally sold off in the 1970s by then owner Conrail, which had removed the deteriorated walkways and elevators.
For many years the building served as a real estate office and later housed a succession of businesses including a hardware store, interior furnishings and furniture restoration shop, and, most recently, a hobby and gaming store. Empty and for sale for some time, the future of this iconic structure was looking dim, as some of the uses being explored for the site could have resulted in the gutting or demolition of the station building. This all changed in November 2014 when the building was purchased by the Lake Hopatcong Foundation as the site of its future home and as a community center for Lake Hopatcong.
The Lake Hopatcong Foundation is currently working with Mount Arlington builder Bob O’Donnell and numerous local craftsmen and businesses to plan the restoration of the station, which is amazingly intact. For example, parts of the original plaster walls still exist in the departure hall. The baggage area was of a simpler design, featuring interior fieldstone walls that have now been revealed. The smaller windows throughout the building and the bathroom doors are original. The Lake Hopatcong Foundation envisions a multi-stage program that would ultimately restore the original trim and return a tile roof to the building.
More than 100 years after it was constructed, the Lake Hopatcong Station has been given a new mission and a new life.