Mountain Lakes Historic District
The Mountain Lakes Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2005. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2013, The Gombach Group.
The Mountain Lakes Historic District is distinguished among American residential communities in land use and landscape design. From its founding as a planned residential park, Mountain Lakes has integrated family living with man-made lakes, natural streams and springs, woodlands and wetlands. Dedicated parkland and undeveloped borough-owned lots contribute to spaciousness in both the Mountain Lakes Historic District and the larger Borough. Throughout Mountain Lakes, forty percent of land is Borough-owned open space. At critical junctures in its history Mountain Lakes Borough purchased additional undeveloped land to protect Mountain Lakes and the district from intrusive development and to preserve its original design and character as a residential park. The ability of Mountain Lakes to regulate its growth and maintain continuity in both landscape design and architecture has been characterized as unique in assessments of recent American city planning. Its original housing stock — much of which remains today — was strongly influenced by the Arts and Crafts Movement in the United States. By their location on natural rather than graded terrain, and, the use of local building materials, the Craftsman-influenced homes closely connect to nature and critically contribute to Mountain Lakes' identity as a planned residential park and lake suburb. Containing hundreds of existing historic homes, the Mountain Lakes Historic District has one of the largest and most distinguished collections of Craftsman style homes in a suburban park and lake community in the United States. The presence in the Mountain Lakes Historic District of at least several homes based on Gustav Stickley's house designs published in "The Craftsman" magazine establishes a direct linkage between Stickley, the leading American figure in Craftsman home design and furnishings, and historic Mountain Lakes architecture. The Mountain Lakes Historic District is significant in the areas of community planning and development, landscape design and architecture.
Historical Narrative — The Early Years of Mountain Lakes
The physical boundaries of the Mountain Lakes Historic District are defined by Herbert J. Hapgood's early development of the Borough beginning in 1908. That year, developer and entrepreneur Hapgood began acquiring land to found Mountain Lakes as a planned suburban residential park in Morris County, New Jersey. In 1908-1909 the completion of railroad tunnels and the Hudson and Manhattan Railway through them connecting New York and New Jersey heralded a new era in the development of suburban New Jersey. With such transportation innovations, daily commuting from city to more rural New Jersey locales became feasible. Families could depend on income generated in New York City yet enjoy the benefits of year-round country living. Marking a new era in New Jersey suburban real estate development, communities such as Highland Park in Middlesex County and Mountain Lakes in Morris County evolved as a result of rapid transit access.
Boonton surveyor Lewis Van Duyne brought to Hapgood's attention the large, rural wooded area that would become Mountain Lakes. Van Duyne surveyed most of the land for the future Mountain Lakes and in 1908 began to facilitate land purchase from local families. Van Duyne believed that this land — located near a branch of the Lackawanna Railroad — could become a prime location for residential development. Recently having developed a planned residential park in Shoreham on Long Island, Hapgood also recognized the potential in New Jersey for a new commuter town with man-made lakes nestled among the contours of the hills and lowlands of forest and wetlands. Within these New Jersey woodlands, first inhabited by Lenape Indians and later settled by Europeans in the first half of the eighteenth century, some English and Dutch homes remained from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. These included the Righter House (99 Pocono Road), the oldest house in Mountain Lakes, and the Grimes Homestead that once served as a station on the Underground Railroad. By damming wetlands, the Fox Lakes Ice Company had created Birchwood, Crystal and Sunset Lakes in the late nineteenth century. In 1910 Hapgood also began using dams to create six more lakes: Olive, Shadow, Cove, Reservoir, Mountain and Wildwood. They provided scenic beauty, recreation central to community life, and a design center around which houses were built. Man-made lakes provided a similar scenic and recreational function in American parks such as Central Park in New York City and Prospect Park in Brooklyn, New York. The lakes also served to distinguish Mountain Lakes as "the first year-round residential lake community in northwestern New Jersey." Hapgood and his landscape engineer Arthur T. Holton sought to attract New York families to the developers' vision of a healthy middle- and upper-middle class lifestyle in a community of large, comfortable homes situated in a natural, park-like setting that featured man-made lakes. Early twentieth century real estate marketing made promotional appeals to potential buyers by advertising the wholesome effects of country living newly available to families through rail and tunnel innovations.
Hapgood's Mountain Lakes project was notable in that he was both the subdivider as well as the builder. Hapgood formed two companies to develop Mountain Lakes. Mountain Lakes Incorporated held title to the land and Oak Ridge Company constructed the houses, roads and related structures for Mountain Lakes, Incorporated. Building was underway by 1910. From its earliest years, Mountain Lakes was identified as a residential park, joining other park suburbs established during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in England and the United States. The Arts and Crafts architecture known as "Craftsman" influenced Hapgood's building designs. This movement first emerged in England as a reaction to industrialization's cheaply produced machine-made goods and the mechanization of production that treated workers poorly. From a design standpoint, the Arts and Crafts style also countered the excesses of the Victorian era. The Arts and Crafts Movement sought to revive the crafts tradition and stressed simplicity of design, quality workmanship, the uplifting effects of hand labor, the use of natural materials, and the integration of architecture with nature and the rustic environment. Hapgood's choices for architecture and landscape design were made when the Arts and Crafts Movement was at its peak of influence in America under the leadership of Craftsman furniture and home designer and builder Gustav Stickley. Hapgood's houses — ranging from small bungalows to large estates — exhibited Craftsman features through their boxy shape and functional design, extensive use of local, natural materials such as wood, stucco and boulderstone, and placement to fit the contours of the landscape. Public structures were constructed similarly. Hapgood's earliest homes were designed for upper-middle class living.
Lawrence W. Luellen and his family became the first residents of Mountain Lakes to live in a Hapgood-built house when, on St. Patrick's Day 1911, they moved to 46 Dartmouth Road. James M. Macfarland, who in 1913 moved to Mountain Lakes as a young child, characterized the early years as a suburban "adventure in living, calling for courage and sustaining optimism." Community life began in 1911 as soon as homes were occupied. The Community Church was founded that same year. The congregation met first in the home of John J. Houston and later at the home of Dr. Charles S. Macfarland. The first school sessions were held in the house located at 8 Larchdell Way. The Railroad Station was built in 1912 and Hapgood and Van Duyne designed an adjacent park that became known as "The Esplanade." Railroad companies customarily built public parks around suburban train stations that were under the jurisdiction and care of stationmasters; in this case the park was conceived and implemented by the developer/builder. Former New York City residents living in Mountain Lakes may have seen the Esplanade as a reminder of Central Park. The completion of the Mountain Lakes Railroad Station encouraged settlement, and by the end of 1912 approximately two hundred Hapgood homes had been built and occupied. That same year, the Mountain Lakes Association became the first of many town organizations to organize. It was founded to preserve and maintain property rights, general welfare and security, and to promote social relations among residents. Building construction intensified in 1914, resulting in several institutions essential to the community life of the settlement that still exist today — the Community Church, the Schoolhouse that later became known as the Lake Drive School, the Mountain Lakes Club, and Yaccarino's Grocery. The grocery is now called the Mountain Lakes Market and referred to locally as "The Market."
Mountain Lakes provides an example in the early twentieth century of a "restricted community" defined by John Stilgoe as "an increasingly popular sort of real estate development," that consisted of an "engineered, precisely restricted configuration of single family homes" on their respective lots. According to Stilgoe's analysis of Francis H. Bulot's 1916 American City article, "Developing A Restricted Home Community," restrictions "written into every deed limited use of the property and specified the siting of houses 'relative to the front and side streets' and the number of residences per lot." These restrictions combined with house design and the use of building materials in harmony with the local environment, aimed to create a model residential neighborhood or community. In the Mountain Lakes Historic District, individual historic house deeds contain restrictive clauses that, for example, allow only for the building of "a single family private dwelling house to cost not less than $5,000 and not to be located within 30 feet of the front line and 25 feet of the other boundary lines of said property and a private family garage of a design suitable to said property. Deeds, such as this example from 1911, present evidence of the Mountain Lakes Historic District's early attempts at self-regulation and planning to create and sustain a residential park. Provisions for garages from the very beginnings of this commuter suburb underscore the importance of automobiles to its development.
From 1912 to 1924, civic progress was made through the Mountain Lakes Association's cooperation with developers. This era's accomplishments included upgrading an artesian water supply through a private company, constructing new roads and an electrical lighting system to replace kerosene street lamps, installing hydrants, and creating a health board, and police and fire departments. Sewage disposal consisted of septic tanks and cesspools. In 1914, the Mountain Lakes Woman's Club, with 100 donated books, started the first town library in the Lake Drive School Building. In 1916, the library was incorporated and in 1920 governance was turned over to a board of trustees. In April 1917 a town newspaper, the "Mountain Lakes News," began publication. By 1923 Hapgood had built 482 structures in Mountain Lakes.
From the early years, extensive tree plantings significantly contributed to residential park design. Although many original trees were razed to make room for the construction of Mountain Lakes, replacement trees were planted — especially oaks — that in maturity now provide the park-like quality of the Mountain Lakes Historic District. The over-grown quality of many plantings and extensive use of boulderstone in foundations and walls also contribute to the original plan of a residential community that harmonizes with the natural landscape. A distinctive row of trees borders the main thoroughfare through town — the Boulevard — on its west side. Sequentially planted in the 1930s, these trees consist of five different species. They are set between the roadway and the pathway, the latter being the former site of the trolley line.
Early travel throughout Mountain Lakes and to neighboring towns was facilitated by a trolley line that came from Morristown. It was owned and operated by the Morris County Traction Company. Hapgood planned for a grand street or boulevard through his town and went to great expense to obtain a trolley line for it. According to Norman Grimes, whose family sold farmland to Hapgood for the development of Mountain Lakes, the Morris County Traction Company originally intended "to run a spur to Boonton, using Denville as a junction." Grimes described how the trolley, traveling from Denville to Boonton was to cross Bloomfield Road, now "Route 46 to the right side of Lake Arrowhead Inn, and cut a bank of perhaps a hundred yards in that side of Route 46." Hapgood's vision for a Mountain Lakes planned residential park prompted him to offer significant inducement to the trolley company to abandon, at considerable cost, about one mile of already-laid track and shift it toward the central street of the new community. The 1910 plan for Denville and vicinity showed a trolley route in Mountain Lakes. It became a single-track, electric trolley that ran along the north side of the Boulevard with stops at major intersections such as Crane Road, Lake Drive, Briarcliff Road and Glen Road. On March 1, 1914 trolleys began running for the first time throughout the entire system of the Denville/Boonton Trolley Line. In existence before automobiles became commonplace, the trolley was essential, inexpensive and convenient. Not only did residents rely upon it, but the trolley helped move workers to building sites. However, the trolley's transportation service, while vital during the early years, did not endure. New technology, such as the automobile, and critical financial and management difficulties brought the trolley to an end on February 4,1928.
Historical Narrative — Community Planning and Development
Problems persisted in spite of developmental milestones. One was the community's presence in two towns — Boonton and Hanover — and the inability to control its own services. For example, the lake dams were insecure and the water supply was inadequate as also was the schooling of Mountain Lakes children in nearby towns. Compounding these problems were the financial difficulties of the developer. Hapgood overextended himself in widening Bloomfield Avenue to become State Route 6, now known as Route 46. In 1923, Hapgood went bankrupt and his company collapsed. The bank holding the mortgages on undeveloped properties established the Belhall Company to continue development. Hapgood left for Australia in 1923 where he later died. To protect against any outside group that might gain control of land held by Hapgood's troubled Mountain Lakes, Inc., and to prevent the possibility that land could be auctioned without the property restrictions that residents desired, 100 property owners led by Joseph Nicchia developed a plan to take over the liabilities and assets of Mountain Lakes, Inc. These difficulties and challenges also contributed to the establishment of Mountain Lakes as its own distinct municipality.
The independent Borough of Mountain Lakes, incorporated on Feb 26, 1924, acted decisively with the development company to retain the character of Mountain Lakes as a residential park. The establishing of Mountain Lakes' boundaries that extended to the Denville border on the west and to Intervale Road on the east underscored Borough leaders' commitment "to permit continuity in development." The newly constituted Borough also worked to secure more adequate and safe water supplies, to improve roads, and to expand educational opportunities for Borough children. The clear establishment of Borough boundaries in the 1920s, along with zoning ordinances, helped secure "continuity in development." To protect and preserve the distinctive character of the community, the Borough of Mountain Lakes New Jersey Zoning Ordinance of July 28, 1927 limited residential and commercial development. These continuities can be seen even in Borough areas outside the Mountain Lakes Historic District. For example, in the 1920s the Arthur D. Crane Company also began building in Mountain Lakes. The Crane Company had purchased land from the St. Francis Health Resort for its Lake Arrowhead project that featured rustic architecture including a number of log cabins.
The 1930s culminated in another turning point in the early history of Mountain Lakes. During the Great Depression the Belhall Company also floundered financially, having paid no taxes on most of its land holdings since 1931. As a result, the titles of nearly all undeveloped land in the Borough were in question and such uncertainty inhibited further growth. The situation began to be resolved in 1937 with the creation of the North Jersey Liquidating Trust to assess and settle the assets of the Belhall Company to satisfy its creditors. Under the leadership of Mayor Halsey A. Frederick, the Borough paid only $1,700 for most of the mortgages that totaled approximately $700,000. This purchase was possible due to prior Borough tax liens on the mortgaged properties. Mountain Lakes Borough then retained the Fidelity-Union Titles Guarantee Company based in Newark to insure the titles of land parcels. The Borough's attempt to regain all lost taxes through new property sales was a success. Significantly, these sales marked the reopening of Mountain Lakes to residential development. Even more importantly was the Borough's control over the nature of future growth through its ownership of these remaining undeveloped land parcels. According to Mayor Halsey A. Frederick: "We controlled the future development of Mountain Lakes in a way which zoning laws and deed restrictions could never have controlled because we owned it."
By 1938, the Borough — that to a significant extent consisted of the Mountain Lakes Historic District — had acquired titles to most of the prime undeveloped building lots within its boundaries. This late 1930s Borough ownership of land extended and enforced the community's power to regulate new development. This worked to maintain Mountain Lakes in general, and, the Mountain Lakes Historic District in particular, as a planned residential park suburb. Therefore, 1938 was a pivotal year for solidifying and implementing community-controlled planning and for restraining and preventing developer-led planning.
During the following decades the Borough of Mountain Lakes continued to control its own destiny. In many cities and towns throughout America following World War II, the need for more housing led to an unprecedented amount of suburban growth. This suburban boom mandated planning, but in many communities the sheer volume and rapidity of development led to uneven and unpredictable results. Mountain Lakes' growth consisted of a regulated expansion. In 1946 two hundred citizens attended a Planning Board meeting to voice support for a home development plan between Intervale Road and the Lakawanna Railroad known as Midvale Acres and to oppose the erection of prefabricated homes in the Fox Hill Lakes area. The Midvale Acres development of 67 smaller homes along Midvale Road and surrounding streets was approved. Fueled by the baby boom of the late 1940s and 1950s, it became "Diaper Village" and is known locally today as "The Village." However, residential building in the Fox Hill Lakes area continued to be controversial. Continuities of self-determination and vision were sustained again in 1952 when the Borough Council authorized the purchase of 250 acres of woodland around the Fox Hill Lakes section for parkland and recreational purposes. Encompassing about 20% of the town's total land area, this purchase was intended to prevent what then was regarded as potentially substandard residential development, and to protect the planned residential park nature of the community. According to Mayor Richard M. Wilcox, this land purchase, "makes it possible for us to control our own destinies from here on — we will control the type of town we are going to be." Although the 1952 acquisitions fall outside of the Mountain Lakes Historic District, they demonstrate how the Borough of Mountain Lakes was committed to regulate its own growth and maintain continuity in planning, landscape design and architecture. By 1953, buildings in town had increased 42%, but this growth reflected the planned residential park components of the Borough's original design. Thus, through the ownership of this property, Mountain Lakes Borough could prevent new, intrusive over-development and maintain its unique and distinctive character.
In assessing the state of suburban growth in his 1969 book, American City Planning Since 1890, planner Mel Scott observed: "Most planners could cite but one community which had acquired almost all the developable land within its boundaries and which was able to regulate the tempo of its growth by marketing only a limited number of lots annually. This was the wealthy borough of Mountain Lakes, New Jersey."
Scott noted that Mountain Lakes' achievements were comparable to the long-term managed expansion exercised by many European municipalities. Throughout its history, Mountain Lakes' financial resources had united design vision with planning continuity to achieve an unprecedented degree of sustained community control over the destiny of the Borough's growth and maintenance.
As a result, the Mountain Lakes Association's early vision of the future and wish for posterity became a reality throughout the life of the community and especially in the Mountain Lakes Historic District.
Over the years some large residential lots have accommodated the building of a second home. More recently, large lots have seen the razing of the original historic home and two new homes built in its place. In some instances, one historic home has been replaced by one new house. Currently, the design of the Mountain Lakes Historic District as a planned residential park and lake community continues to be maintained. However, most vulnerable to change are the Craftsman-influenced Hapgood and Belhall homes that are integrally related to the original aesthetic vision for the Borough embodied in the Mountain Lakes Historic District.
The Mountain Lakes Historic District is distinguished by its large collection of Craftsman style homes. The Hapgoods and some Belhalls were strongly influenced by Craftsman architecture and also display Colonial Revival, Mission and Tudor influences. Hapgood's Craftsman architecture emphasized simplicity in design, authenticity in materials, and integration with the natural environment. Hapgood's community of Mountain Lakes took shape as Gustav Stickley, a leader of the Arts and Crafts movement in the United States, was building Craftsman Farms, a Utopian farm-school-estate on land that later would become part of present-day Parsippany, New Jersey. Designer Stickley lent critical intellectual leadership to the Craftsman aesthetic movement in the United States and his journal, "The Craftsman," first published in 1901 became a manifesto for the movement. Stickley's Craftsman Farms located in nearby Parsippany, New Jersey has been designated a National Historic Landmark.
The strong Craftsman influence in Hapgood's homes is illustrated by his use of natural materials such as stucco and boulderstone in walls, foundations and chimneys, oak flooring, exposed chestnut beams and trim, and brick, wood and boulderstone fireplaces. Built-ins and inglenooks also were common as simple, comfortable conveniences. The boxy house shapes and naturally-based materials project solidity as the structures snugly fit into the landscape. The front porches, deep overhanging eaves, and string courses between the first and second floors underscore the horizontally of these homes that help firmly anchor them to the earth.
Additionally, first-floor porches that frame entryways, second-floor open air sleeping porches, trellises and outdoor boulderstone fireplaces all contribute to the Craftsman ideal embraced by Stickley of outdoor living healthy benefits. Hapgood believed that houses with such features placed in a pastoral setting would attract people who valued the wholesome effects of residing close to nature. His advertisements such as "The Advantages of Mountain Lakes, Home of the Nature Lover," connected living in his development to a nature-appreciating lifestyle.
Craftsman architecture and landscape design in northern New Jersey, especially in the bungalows and cottages of lake communities, and most notably in the Mountain Lakes Historic District, are attributed to Stickley's influence. The house located at 32 Woodland Avenue in the Mountain Lakes Historic District was built in 1923 and based on a 1909 Stickley house design, No.78, described as a "Shingled Cottage Suitable for Country, Seaside or Suburban Life." Such a home was not custom-designed by Stickley, but built from his "house of the month plans" published in his periodical "The Craftsman" and available by subscription. Stickley also published collections of his most popular plans in two books, Craftsman Homes and More Craftsman Homes. While 32 Woodland Road is an example of a faithful duplication of Stickley's No.78 house design, although built at seven-eights the scale, many Stickley-based homes were customized. In the Mountain Lakes Historic District, a Hapgood house has been identified as a Stickley design with some variation. Built in 1911, the house at 137 Boulevard presents Stickley plan No. 1 of January 1904 with a dormer in the hip roof. Another Hapgood, 28 Hillcrest Road also built in 1911, is similar to a published Stickley house design of 1909.
Planned Residential Park Communities In Comparative Context
The Mountain Lakes Historic District should be assessed comparatively with other planned residential park communities in the United States. These communities include Llewellyn Park, New Jersey; Lake Forest, Illinois; Chestnut Hill [see Chestnut Hill Historic District], Philadelphia; Riverside, Illinois; Short Hills, New Jersey; Tuxedo Park, New York; Shaker Heights, Ohio; Forest Hills, Queens; Hillside Colony, California; Shoreham, Long Island; and, Radburn, New Jersey. Early suburbs were located at considerable distance from cities and usually followed transportation innovations, such as new train lines. As a result, suburbs were usually marketed to upper-middle class buyers who could afford both the cost of commuting and high real estate prices.
"The Advantages of Mountain Lakes, Home of the Nature Lover," Hapgood Brochure, n.d. Mountain Lakes Archives.
Beecher, Catharine. A Treatise on Domestic Economy, For Young Ladies at Home and School. New York, 1847.
The Boonton Times.
"The Borough of Mountain Lakes, New Jersey Zoning Ordinance of July 28, 1927," Mountain Lakes Archives.
Crane, Fred A. "A 'Cultured Community': 'Who's Who' Men Predominate In This Unique North Jersey Town." Jersey Life, 20 May 1938, 8.
Downing, Andrew Jackson. A Treatise on the Theory and Practice of Landscape Gardening. New York, 1859.
"Forgery On Note Charged," The New York Times, 20 November 1923, 6:1.
Grimes, Norman, "Oral History." Mountain Lakes Oral History, Historic Preservation Committee. www.mtnlakes.org/History/Oral/OH.Grimes.htm.
Grimes, Norman V., Pre and Early History Of Mountain Lakes,The Times-Bulletin, 3 May 1962; 17 May 1962; 24 May 1962; 31 May 1962; 7 June 1962; 28 June 1962; 5 July 1962 ; 11 July 1974; 14 July 1974; 18 July 1974; 21 July 1974; 25 July 1974; 1 August 1974.
"Historic Map — 1910 'Property of Mountain Lakes, Incorporated, in Boonton, Rockaway and Hanover Townships, Morris County, New Jersey.' "
"Historic Map — 1924 'Map of Mountain Lakes, Morris County, New Jersey, Prepared for the Belhall Company, March 1924.' "
Lake Arrowhead Club Yearbook, 1932.
"The Making of Mountain Lakes," The Citizen of Morris County, 3 July 1974 Mountain Lakes House Deed for 11 Hillcrest Road, 1 June 1911.
"Mountain Lakes Backs Nicchia Plan: About 100 Residents Attend Meeting Friday Night and Endorse Proposition." Mountain Lakes News, 6 September 1917, 1.
"Mountain Lakes, N.J. A Thousand Acre Residential Community," Hapgood Brochure, n.d., Mountain Lakes Archives.
The Mountain Laker, December 1930.
The Mountain Lakes News.
Mountain Lakes Yearbook 1934.
Mountain Lakes Yearbook 1939.
"1000 Acre Park Near Boonton Developed from Wild, Wooded Hills Into Unusually Attractive Colony," The Boonton Times, 8 May 1914.
"A Restricted Residential Park at Mountain Lakes New Jersey Mountain Lakes Inc," Hapgood Brochure 1915. Mountain Lakes Archives.
"Shoreham Long Island: A Book of Views Shore Front Homes." New York: Shoreham Agency, n.d.
Special Supplement to The Citizen of Morris County Commemorating the Golden Anniversary of the Borough of Mountain Lakes Its Life and Times 1911-1961, 1 June 1961.
Stickley, Gustav, ed. The Craftsman on CD-Rom. 1901-1916. Interactive Bureau, 1997.
________. Craftsman Homes: Architecture and Furnishings of the American Arts and Crafts Movement. New York: Craftsman Publishing Co, 1909; First Dover ed, 1979.
________. More Craftsman Homes: Floor Plans and Illustrations for 78 Mission Style Dwellings. New York: Craftsman Publishing, 1912, First Dover ed., 1982.
Stringer, Arthur. "Wouldst Be A Blue Domer?" L. Bamberger & Co., n.d. Mountain Lakes Archives.
The Times Bulletin.
Vaux, Calvert. Villas and Cottages. New York, 1853.
† Maria T. Iacullo-Bird, Ph.D.,/Historian and Joan P. Nix, R.A., Architect, Mountain Lakes Historic District, Morris County, NJ, nomination document, 2005, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.