Hopatcong, N.J.: ‘We Name It Lake Life’

Hopatcong, N.J.: ‘We Call It Lake Life’

Hollie Howard discovered Lake Hopatcong when she looked out the window of an airplane on her way to Newark Airport five years ago. A search for aerial photographs of lakes soon revealed that she had flown over New Jersey's largest freshwater lake. With a little more research, she learned that the lake was about 40 miles west of New York City, where she lived and appeared on Broadway shows.

For the next two years, Ms. Howard, a former musical theater actress who is now the sales director for a music production company, spent weekends renting cars and going to the lake that stretches between Sussex and Morris counties to look at houses there. In June 2018, she bought a four-bedroom lakefront home and dock in the Hopatcong neighborhood for $ 500,000. Since then, she's been transforming the 1890s house – once full of small, wood-paneled rooms – into an open-plan space with the help of her friend Ryan Morville, whom she met after moving in.

“I met the man of my dreams and this place has become my Broadway show. It's my everything, ”said Ms. Howard, 46, of the multi-year renovation production. But when Covid hit, Ms. Howard's show literally became as she was joined by theater buddies who fled town for nightly serenades on her dock.

"An artist wants to perform and suddenly we had no audience," she said of the regular song and dance performances that received applause from passing boaters and later served as a fundraising fund for the Lake Hopatcong Foundation.

For Joel and Tracy Beckerman, life in Hopatcong was less like putting on a show and more like telling a story. Or rather, to continue an already detailed story. In May, the couple paid $ 1.4 million for one of the borough's most iconic homes, Sleepless Hollow, owned by vaudeville star Joe Cook in the 1920s and 30s. There, Mr. Cook entertained celebrities like the Marx Brothers, Ginger Rogers, Babe Ruth, and Frank Capra, who enjoyed the house's built-in pranks, including the fake doors and suspended floors, as well as the basement whisper bar and theater.

"We looked at houses, but it felt more like we found a story to live in," said Mr. Beckerman, a television and commercial music composer. He and Mrs. Beckerman, a syndicated columnist, plan to restore the property to its former size.

The Joe Cook era marked the glory days of Hopatcong as vacationers in the early 20th century. As air travel opened up more exotic locations, the area got into difficult times and many of the old houses and hotels burned down or were otherwise destroyed. But the lake is now enjoying a second act as more and more people discovered its vacation-like charm during the pandemic.

"The lake is more successful than ever in my life," said Martin Kane, 65, the district historian who has seen the lake through many ups and downs since he came to the area 60 years ago when his family bought it a lakeside cottage for $ 16,000. “People are putting more money into their homes than ever before. It's in a very good mood right now. "

One such investor is Lawrence Rubinstein, a partner in an asset management firm in Princeton Junction, N.J., who was visiting a friend by the lake eight years ago and had made offers on several homes by the end of the weekend. He and his wife, Camille Rubinstein, now live in the lakeside home they bought for $ 737,000 in 2013 and have since completely remodeled it and spent an additional $ 1.5 million.

“You wake up in the morning and see the sunrise on the lake,” said Mr. Rubinstein, 61. “You are going to dinner by boat. Everyone at the lake is your neighbor. It's a different way of life. We call it sea life. "

Lake Hopatcong is nine miles long, five kilometers wide, and up to 65 feet deep, and is surrounded by the townships of Jefferson and Roxbury and the counties of Mount Arlington and Hopatcong. Hopatcong takes up most of the west bank and claims the largest lakefront section with about 900 of the 2,200 lakefront homes in the area, Kane said. The lake's rugged shoreline – 45 miles of it – is dotted with bays and coves, and offers plenty of options for residents and boaters alike.

“You can live on the main part of the lake where it is very active. Or you can take a dip in one of the bays, which is much quieter, ”said Kathleen Courter, real estate agent at Re / Max who lives in Roxbury.

With about 15,000 residents over 12.35 square miles, Hopatcong is the third largest of the communities around the lake. While waterfront homes are the most sought-after homes, there are more modest homes inland, some of which are granted beach rights through neighborhood associations. (There are no urban beaches in Hopatcong; the only public beach is Hopatcong State Park at the southern end of the district, which fills up early on a sunny summer day.)

Two condominiums have been built in the district in the past five years: one near the River Styx Bridge and another in Mariner & # 39; s Pointe. Across the lake is Mount Arlington on the site of a former amusement park that closed in 1983.

At the end of July, Hopatcong had 154 homes on the market, from a one-bedroom condominium near the lake for $ 75,000 to a four-bedroom lakefront home with boathouse, built in 2005, for $ 1.895 million is noted. Off the lake, there were several ranch houses and split-level homes for sale, ranging from mid-range $ 200,000 to $ 300,000.

The average retail price for a single-family home in the district was $ 338,251 from August 2020 to July 2021, a significant increase from $ 255,865 the previous year, according to the Garden State Multiple Listing Service. Of these, the 64 lakeside homes sold for a much higher average price: $ 647,086, compared to $ 523,070 for the 38 lakeside homes sold the previous year.

Many activities in Hopatcong revolve around the lake: boating and swimming in summer; Ice skating and ice fishing in winter when the lake freezes over. So when the state officially closed the lake and Hopatcong State Park in the summer of 2019 due to high levels of cyanobacteria, it had just as noticeable an impact on the area as the decline in tourism during the pandemic.

“People here still swam and went out in their boats, but when the state closed the lake it really hurt. Covid also harmed the lake, "said Karen Foley, an agent for Prominent Properties Sotheby’s International Realty, who lives in Mount Arlington. "But we're in a really great position this summer."

There are two yacht clubs on the lake, and Nolan's Point in Jefferson has grown into a hub for water activities, including water biking and dinner cruises.

Across the lake, Hopatcong has focused on elderly residents, who make up about 40 percent of the county's population, said Bradley Hoferkamp, ​​a Hopatcong city councilor. Pickleball courts have been added to the recently renovated tennis courts near the senior center, offering lunch for $ 2 daily and sponsoring numerous activities, including a Christmas party, which Hoferkamp says is "as good as any wedding."

Students in Hopatcong go through the public school system together, from Durban Avenue Elementary School for pre-kindergarten through first grade, Tulsa Trail Elementary School for second and third grades, Hopatcong Middle School for grades four through seven, and then Hopatcong High School, where 513 students were enrolled in the 2019/20 school year.

Last year, the average high school SAT scores were 536 in reading and writing and 511 in math, compared to the national average of 536 each.

The high school has an award-winning marching band and offers 13 advanced placement courses. It also has a Future Teachers Academy for those interested in teaching and has a partnership with Sussex County Community College to allow students to earn college credits.

Private schools in the area include two Catholic options: St. Therese School in Succasunna for pre-kindergarten through eighth grade and Pope John XXIII Regional High School in Sparta.

Hopatcong is about 45 miles west of Manhattan and the drive into town takes about an hour and 20 minutes, depending on traffic.

There are no train stations in Hopatcong, but New Jersey Transit trains run from Mount Arlington and Roxbury to Penn Station, with connections in Dover or Newark. Trips take anywhere from 90 minutes to more than two hours, and cost $ 16 each way or $ 451 for a monthly pass.

Lakeland Bus Lines' bus service has been suspended since the pandemic began.

At 900 feet above sea level, Lake Hopatcong represented the summit of the Morris Canal and served as the largest water supply for transporting coal and iron eastwards from mines in Pennsylvania and New Jersey to New York along the canal from 1824 to 1924. The canal's success spurred the construction of a railway line, and tourism followed suit. By 1900 more than 40 hotels and guest houses surrounded the lake, and the area became a popular destination for actors, Vaudevilians and burlesque stars.

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