The Jefferson House Restaurant is located on the site of one of Lake Hopatcong’s great early pavilions. Following the introduction of rail service to Nolan’s Point in 1882, this area of Lake Hopatcong really began to develop. John Lee, a popular photographer from Philipsburg, New Jersey, first came to Nolan’s Point around 1887, establishing a studio at Allen’s Pavilion (formerly located in the area where the Windlass Restaurant is located today).
After some 15 successful season with his photography studio, Lee decided to expand his operation for the 1903 season. Acquiring land a bit further south on Nolan’s Point, he established “Lee and Company on Lee’s Point.” The store featured groceries, souvenirs, confectionary, soda fountain, boats for hire, as well as continuing to offer full photographic services. In 1904, Lee advertised that they were open until 11:00 PM all summer.
Lee’s venture was successful and in 1905 a major addition was added. A wide porch was built along the entire lakefront creating Lake Hopatcong’s second major pavilion. Advertising itself as a department store, Lee’s Pavilion had a wide variety of merchandise, but also included hotel rooms, an orchestra with dancing, and a new photo studio under the direction of fellow photographer WJ Harris. Lee’s Pavilion would continue to grow and expand – adding a barber shop in 1906, a butcher shop in 1907, a bakery in 1908, pool and billiards in 1909, and “moving pictures” in 1910.
By 1918, the advertisements for Lee’s Pavilion listed accommodations for 50 (for which you paid $10 to $15 per week), a dance floor with orchestra playing music in the morning, afternoon and evening, a department store, meat and vegetable market, photo studio, moving picture theatre, souvenir shop, ice cream fountain, bakery, pool room and barber shop. Lee’s was truly your spot for one-stop shopping at Lake Hopatcong. In 1920, the lake’s first Chinese-American restaurant opened at Lee’s Pavilion.
In the fall of 1922, while waiting on a customer at the store, John Lee suffered a fatal heart attack. An era at Lake Hopatcong had ended. His son, Andrew, operated the pavilion for the following season, but decided to sell in the fall of 1923. Receiving over $100,000, a very large sum in the 1920’s, Lee sold to a group of businessman from Paterson. The new group immediately moved out with improvements for the 1924 season. The Idle Hour Movie Theatre was closed and the space was converted to additional hotel rooms. That Decoration Day (now known as Memorial Day), the pavilion reopened featuring a hotel, department store, Hawley’s Restaurant, the Harris Photo Studio, Lehman’s Food Store, Bake-rite Bakery, Hillman’s Barber Shop, Johnson’s Taxi Service, Lee’s General Store, Lee’s Gift Shop, a seven piece orchestra with dancing, and that fairly new invention – public telephones.
Tragedy struck on the night October 27, 1924 when the entire Lee’s Pavilion was destroyed in a huge fire that destroyed 13 buildings on Nolan’s Point. Following the fire, several of the merchant rebuilt their stores separately at Nolan’s Point. Louis & Aiello built a vegetable and meat market. Jack Lake built an eye cream parlor and restaurant on land owned by his Sunnyside Hotel. Lake’s building included a boathouse with a store run by Peter Dow, which included a selection of boats, canoes, bait, fishing tackle, etc. It was not until 1927 that Lee’s Pavilion itself was rebuilt. Calling itself Lee’s Dancing Pavilion, the 1927 season featured Frank Daily & his Meadowbrook Orchestra.
The 1929 season saw Lee’s Pavilion sold and renamed Kay’s Hotel. It featured a restaurant as well as dancing and entertainment every night. Operating through the Depression, Kay’s Hotel used the slogan “Where Good Fellows Get Together” and promised “Never a dull moment.” Kay’s ran events such as bathing beauty contests, amateur nights, boxing exhibitions, celebrity nights and dance contests to bring folks out in difficult economic times. The hotel also advertised newly decorated rooms, each with running water!
In 1938, change occurred as Kay’s became the Colony Club and the locale now became a restricted Christian club under a membership plan. The Colony Club immediately ran into difficulty. By August they were advertising 21 rooms at $1.00 per night and they did not reopen for the 1939 season. In 1939, the hotel was bought by Frank Decker, considered at the time to be one of the world’s foremost mediums. The hotel was renamed Camp White Eagle. In 1940, the spiritualist camp opened for its second season. Evidently, they did attract individuals from all over the country but this was not enough to make for a successful enterprise and the hotel was again sold for the 1941 season.
In 1941, the Jefferson House premiered. Billed as one of the lake’s finest dining and dance spots, the new establishment still courted “a restricted policy.” The restricted policy was apparently dropped after the War and the Jefferson House went through a several owners until Joseph Langley bought the hotel and operated it for some ten years before selling to Herb Spencer in 1962. Spencer renamed the business “Jefferson House Boatel,” running it as part hotel and part marina. For the 1964 season, Spencer introduced Broadway musicals featuring such hits as Anything Goes and No No Nanette.
Herb Spencer sold to Herman Orth in September 1967. Orth, owned and ran the sightseeing boats from Bertrand Island and the Hopatcong State Park and intended to use the Jefferson House as a marina for his boats. However, Herman Orth died just nine months later and his two sons, Billy and Allan took the Jefferson House in a new direction. Together with their mom, Ida, the Orth boys would transform the Jefferson House in the years which followed. They greatly modernized the facility and established it as the largest and most modern venue at Lake Hopatcong. Trying a few different names and themes along the way (remember the Club New Orleans or the Pirate’s Den?) the Orth’s have been a mainstay at the lake for over four decades. The view from their docks and ballroom is one of the finest at Lake Hopatcong. Come visit the Jefferson House soon and experience a true Lake Hopatcong tradition.
Copyright 2009 Lake Hopatcong Historical Museum