Many of Lake Hopatcong’s most notable and recognizable historical venues (such as the Breslin Hotel, Lake Hopatcong Yacht Club, and Bertrand Island Amusement Park) and most famous residents (Lotta Crabtree, for example) were based in Mt. Arlington, the lakeside community that was known as “the jewel of the lake.” As such, the town’s historical society is closely woven with the history of Lake Hopatcong. And right now, the group is searching for two things: a new crop of members, and a permanent place to keep a trove of historical documents and photos that reflect the town and the lake it overlooks.
“We’re looking for new volunteers and members to revive the Mount Arlington Historical Society,” said president Betty Gantert. “We want to take it into new areas and aspects of history—not just relying on old post cards and slideshows, but also taking it into 2010, realizing that people who live here are still a part of the town’s history.”
As such, the group is seeking to compile an oral history of the town and the lake, talking to long-time residents and new personalities about the landscape that surrounds them and capturing those conversations in print, sound, and on video. “Things change, and we don’t realize it because we live it every day, but we don’t want to look back and say we wish we had done more,” Gantert said. “This town we’re living in is changing drastically and history isn’t just a century ago or decades ago, it’s today, too.”
The historical society itself was founded by Mt. Arlington resident and official historian Virginia Rooney, who, at 91, continues to remain active with the group. Her collection of historical paraphernalia is at the center of another major focus of the society at the moment: trying to find a place to preserve the documents and photographs and keep them safe. At the moment, two scenarios have been discussed: one would involve keeping such items at the town’s new library facility near the Ridgewood community off Howard Boulevard, and one would involve using the old library and police department building in the center of town on Howard Boulevard, though neither has been put into motion at this point.
Gantert is concerned that there isn’t enough room at the current library, but that the vacant space in the old building would be preferable. “That would be the ideal place,” she said. “It’s safe, we can store everything, and then we can set up displays to put up at different places, such as the municipal hall, library, and other places around town and in neighboring communities.”
Mayor Art Ondish said he understands the inclination for the society to set up permanent residence in the vacated building and that he envisioned it there himself. But, he said, quite a bit of money needs to be invested in the structure to bring it up to standards. “With the economic conditions that now exist, we have put aside all new capital projects,” he said. “We are struggling to pay our bills and keep the borough going. Times are very hard right now and we don’t want to raise taxes any more than necessary.”
Ondish said town leaders are forced to think outside of the box in terms of ways to generate revenue, and bringing in someone to lease the building is one possibility, though it would mean the historical society would have to find a home elsewhere. “With the new streetscape project being completed, we are attempting to draw new businesses to town to help generate revenue,” he said. The streetscape project included new sidewalks and lampposts along Howard Boulevard, and a new clock at the borough hall, sprucing up the center of town.
“I am not sure at this time where we can find a home for the historical society,” Ondish said. “We are working on it, and I am very happy to have Betty [Gantert] as the president. She is very resourceful and will work hard with us to find an answer.”
From Gantert’s point of view, the future of the society is as dependent on new members as it is on finding a permanent location. “We need volunteers to help us conduct fundraisers and programs, and to bring in fresh thoughts and ideas for the future,” she said. “The history is here, and the historical society will prevail as long as there are people who are interested in capturing it and sharing in it.”
She added that it’s important to keep the events and activities fun, and with that in mind she is focusing on capturing oral histories, as well as creating a coloring book that depicts the historical sites and can be given to the town’s youngest residents. “It’s not just a boring lecturing group,” she said.
Gantert said she herself was skeptical at first when the group launched in 1981 and she had been a resident for just a few years. “I was young and didn’t have the interest and wasn’t really aware of the history,” she said. “It’s such a part of me now, and I wish I had realized that at the time. You may move here when you’re young, but you watch the town evolve around you, and it’s important to be a part of that.”
For those seeking to become a part of the Historical Society, call Gantert at 973-663-1408973-663-1408 or the Borough Hall at 973-398-6832973-398-6832.