Summer Through the Ages: Burnham Park and Lake Hopatcong

Burnham Pond, circa 1900, Morristown, NJ.

Jeffrey V. Moy, North Jersey History and Genealogy Center

Summertime in Morris County means looking forward to longer days and warmer weather, although families have spent the season in different ways at various points in time. Some enjoyed vacations at country estates or took day trips to the lake, while others worked long hours just as they would any other day of the year. Over the following weeks we will examine some of the photos, postcards, and letters New Jerseyans saved as mementos of their summer activities.

Postcard of Burnham Pond, circa 1900, Morristown, NJ. Before it was a public park, Frederick Burnham leased the rights to the winter ice from his pond to ice harvesters who stored blocks until warmer months when households and businesses needed them for refrigeration. NJHGC collections.

Morristown’s Burnham Park has long been a destination for those seeking relief from the summer sun. Even before the park itself was created, children and adults enjoyed the pond’s cool water for swimming and boating.

A very busy Burnham Park swimming pool on July 7, 1929. Photo from NJHGC collections.

In 1911, Frederick Burnham and his wife donated 30 acres of land to create a public park in which local residents could fish, boat, and enjoy the outdoors. In 1928, the Town built a pool on the site of the pond which included a sandy beach, a newly fashionable feature shared by many county lakes.

Lake Hopatcong, New Jersey’s largest lake, offers many recreational opportunities: swimming, boating, lakeside restaurants, picnicking, and its own beach. In 1910, additions to Morris County’s trolley system gave residents the ability to travel directly from the Morristown Green to Bertrand Island by way of a leisurely two-hour trip that cost 35 cents (about $9.35 in 2018).

Morristown children boarding the trolley for an outing to Lake Hopatcong, August 4, 1926. Trolleys departed every 30 minutes and offered an efficient route to neighboring towns to those without access to horses or automobiles. Photo from NJHGC collections.

Longtime New Jerseyans remember Bertrand Island as one of the state’s great local amusement parks, which like Palisades Amusement Park in Bergen County and Olympic Park in Irvington, dazzled visitors with a mix of rides, concessions, games, and beach activities. On this site Newark schoolteacher, Louis Kraus had originally opened Camp Village with his wife Elsie in 1908 as an affordable campsite for families.

The Basket Pavillion in Bertrand Island – seating 500 people, the Pavillion was free to both customers of the concession stands and picnickers alike. Photo from NJHGC collections.

By the 1920s, Bertrand Island grew to include many attractions familiar to those lucky enough to experience the golden age of American amusement parks: dance halls, rides and roller coasters, games, boat tours, hot dog and ice cream stands, as well as water slides, boat tours, and a large artificial beach. In addition to welcoming local residents, Bertrand Island attracted visitors from as far away as Connecticut and New York City.

Bertrand Island Boardwalk, ca.1920, showing a small part of the boardwalk with its midway of games. In the distance, the Ferris Wheel and roller coaster are visible. Photo from NJHGC collections.

The park continued to grow under the new ownership of Ray D’Agostino in 1948 and for decades thrilled visitors every summer with new attractions and activities. By the 1970s competition from larger theme parks in Orlando and ballooning real estate prices made older amusement parks less profitable; nevertheless, Bertrand Park outlasted Palisades Park and Olympic Park, until finally closing in 1983.

Despite the lure of road trips to the shore and daily flights to all points around the globe, Morris County’s diverse collection of parks and lakes continue to attract thousands of fun seekers with a variety of activities and events on sunny summer days.

Bonnie-Lynn Nadzeika, Postcard History Series: Morristown, Charleston, SC; Arcadia Publishing, 2012, pg116-117.

Martin and Laura Kane, Images of America: Greetings from Bertrand Island Amusement Park, Charleston, SC; Arcadia Publishing, 2000, pg22.

Kane, 71.

Kane, 123.

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2 COMMENTS

  1. Hello Mary,

    We don’t know much about Mrs. N. Geary, and the postcard simply lists her address as Castine, Maine. The postage cancellation stamp is difficult to make out, but this appears to have been mailed on July 9th, 1910 by Elizabeth Mosby[sic?], who does not appear in the city directories from this period, indicating she was simply in town on vacation.

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