The Windlass Restaurant can trace its roots back to the 19th century when Lake Hopatcong was just starting to rise in prominence as a great northeast resort. On September 6, 1882, the Central Railroad of New Jersey ran the first passenger rail service to Nolan’s Point. On June 25, 1883, the Central Railroad commenced regular passenger service and the tourist boom at Lake Hopatcong was on.
Passengers arriving on the Central Railroad’s new “excursion” trains to Lake Hopatcong found a large attractive body of water whose shoreline was almost entirely undeveloped. The railroad quickly recognized that a day in the country, by itself, would not be enough. Arriving passengers needed activities to keep their interests and amuse themselves during their visit. This led the railroad to lease out land at Nolan’s Point so that an entertainment pavilion could be constructed. The Lake Pavilion Hotel was opened by John L. Allen in 1887. In addition to an orchestra every afternoon and evening, the pavilion offered an ice cream soda fountain, confectionary, souvenirs, photograph studio and amusements such as a shooting range and carousel. It also hosted a hotel which could accommodate some 50 guests who paid $9.00 per week. As the center of early lake life it was also the locale for early regattas as well as annual lake functions such as the annual Orchestra Ball and the Lake Hopatcong Steamboat Men’s Ball. By 1900, as business prospered the pavilion became known simply as Allen’s Pavilion to most lake visitors and residents.
In 1902 the pavilion was advertising “four dozen handsome skiffs & twenty fine fishing boats” in addition to billiards & pool parlors, rifle ranges, barber shop, grocery confectionary and what was then a rarity at the lake – long distance telephone service. It claimed to be in the midst of best fishing grounds at the lake and called itself “The Coolest Joint on Lake Hopatcong.”
In 1903 a separate bathing pavilion was opened just up the lake on what is today Nolan’s Point Park Road. The Lake Hopatcong Breeze reported that the water was “not over six feet deep at any point, and the Lake bottom is very sandy instead of the rocks in most parts of the Lake. Here a person can hire a suit and enjoy a delightful swim, and come from the water feeling like a new man very much invigorated.” In between the main pavilion and the bathing area was a pleasant picnic grove.
Allen’s was destroyed by fires in 1894, 1908 and 1919, but each time was rebuilt larger and more modern. In the interim, another large pavilion had been built just south at Nolan’s Point (where the Jefferson House Restaurant is currently located) and several hotels had opened on the hill above Nolan’s Point. This tremendous activity during the summer at Nolan’s Point led many people to consider it, both favorable and negatively, as “Lake Hopatcong’s Coney Island.”
The Allen family continued to operate the pavilion and in 1924 advertised it as “The Oldest Amusement Centre in Northern New Jersey.” However, change finally came in 1928 when the Allen family, after 41 years of ownership, sold the pavilion and the property officially became part of Nolan’s Point Amusement Park. While assorted amusements had been present at Allen’s Pavilion for many years, Nolan’s Point Amusement Park was opened as direct competition to Bertrand Island Park. Covering the lakeshore at Nolan’s Point all the way south to the current Jefferson House property, it featured a roller coaster, “aeroplane” swing, whip, dodgem cars and carousel. It sought to cater to the nation’s big band craze and featured the music of Frank Daly and his Meadowbrook Orchestra in a dance pavilion that was advertised as seating 1,000.
Nolan’s Point Amusement Park was largely dependent upon visitors arriving by train. However, automobiles were rapidly replacing trains as the preferred method of transportation. As the Central Railroad of New Jersey’s train service to Nolan’s Point declined, so did business at the park. With limited parking and poor road access, the Park was not able to accommodate the growing automobile trade as did Bertrand Island. The other problem for Nolan’s Point Amusement Park was the economy. As America struggled through the Depression, and some 75% of America’s amusement parks were forced to close, it became apparent that Lake Hopatcong could not support two parks. Nolan’s Point Amusement Park went bankrupt in 1931. It briefly re-opened under new management, but closed for good in 1933.
Following its closure, Frank Crater took over the Nolan’s Point Amusement Park property including the former Allen’s Pavilion. Crater had long been involved at Nolan’s Point, running the billiards parlor, barbershop and boats at various times for Allen’s Pavilion. In 1935 he had the dance hall, dining room and tavern, picnic grove and beach back open again. In 1936, with business suffering the effects of the Depression, the dance floor was converted into Lake Hopatcong’s first roller rink. Throughout this period, he continued to welcome large crowds to the picnic grove and beach. However, the end of railroad service in the late 1930’s brought an end to the organized groups who would charter trains to Nolan’s Point. This spelled the end for the picnic grove and beach.
In 1948, a very heavy winter of snow at Lake Hopatcong caused some six feet of snow to pile up. There was significant damage throughout the area. In February 1948, Crater’s second floor roller skating rink collapsed. Crater was able to salvage part of the building and the smaller structure became Crater’s Tavern. It continued as Crater’s until sold in 1963 to Ralph Spinelli, Sr. and his wife, Amelia who renamed it the Windlass and opened it as a luncheonette for fisherman and boaters. Together with their son, Ralph, Jr., they transformed the luncheonette into a full-scale Italian restaurant, which quickly became a Lake Hopatcong favorite.
The “Italian Garden,” a lakefront outdoor dining area was added in 1981 and is a popular summer pastime at Lake Hopatcong. Ralph Jr. has taken over the helm and, along with his wife Rina and his mom, continue to carry on the tradition of serving quality food at reasonable prices. The Windlass has now been in the Spinelli family for almost 50 years, adding a whole new chapter to Lake Hopatcong’s history! Come visit the Windlass Restaurant soon and be sure to browse at some of the wonderful historic photographs and postcards on its walls. Then sit down and “mangia.”
Copyright 2009 Lake Hopatcong Historical Museum