Shipwrecked in New Jersey    .

By Henry. M Holden

A recent photo of the steamboat (courtesy Marty Kane Lake Hopatcong Foundation)

The remains of a large vessel were discovered recently, at the bottom of Lake Hopatcong, in Landing, during the 5-year drawdown of the lake water.

The discovery was made on November 4, 2023, in Landing Channel according to Hopatcong Foundation, chairman, Marty Kane, also the  local historian. 

“Every time we do a drawdown, something surprising pops up,” said Kane. “For example, a walkway to Liffty Island, and the long-forgotten dock at Nolan’s point. These are things that people normally don’t pay attention to but every five years you get a break, and something shows up temporarily.”

Kane wonders why have these remains sat for over 100 years, and nobody has discovered them until now?

‘For the last three or four drawdowns, it has been covered in muck.

We provided a treatment to that section of the lake, which is basically a clay like substance that sinks to the bottom. It made the vessel much more visible than it would have been for many years. 

“We spoke to many longtime residents, and they said they knew it had been there all along. It’s hard to say because we didn’t really have ground imaging radar to help us. The team was ready with the equipment, but they needed the lake to freeze first and then they could use their equipment but before they had a chance the lake rose 4-feet in about three-weeks.

“We weren’t able to find any artifacts around it because it was too muddy, and we don’t have the appropriate permits from the state. We’ll have to look at it in five years and perhaps build something around it so that we can get a better archaeological look. So, it’s on the shelf for another five years before we can do anything.”

He was curious as to why the boat remains were never notice before, despite routine drawdowns of the lake, something done about every five years primarily to enable dock repairs. Kane noted the lake level has been lowered by as much as 12-feet in the past.

“It is located just off the shoreline at 22 Kingsland Road, but you will not see anything now,” Kane said. “This is an area where the old White Line steamboats were moored and then abandoned when they stopped running (circa 1907). Judging from the large size of this wreck, it is most likely the remains of one of those vessels.

“My guess is one of these steamboats sank, and they let the hull remain on the bottom when they conducted the clean-up in the winter of 1909-1910,” Kane said. “Here it is, over 116 years later.”

One theory relates to the 2020 use, in Landing Channel, of Phoslock, a clay-based product that sinks to the lake bottom and locks phosphorus in as a way of curtailing algal blooms.

“An unexpected result seems to be that, by consolidating the sediment … it locked down the bottom allowing the boat hull to protrude,” Kane theorized.

Steamboats cruised the lake from the 1880s until about 1910. “During their heyday, there were about a dozen steamboats in use,” Kane said.

In the early 1880’s the Lackawanna Railroad built a Passenger Station at Drakesville (modern day Ledgewood). Horse drawn carriages would then take people up the bumpy road to the lake.  

By 1886 the Landing/Lake Hopatcong Railway Station on the Lackawanna Line was built. Steamboats would wait on the Morris Canal in Landing for the passengers to disembark from the train.

In 1886, the “Lake Hopatcong Steamboat Company”, commonly known as the Black Line, was founded. The company provided service from the “new” Landing railroad station to all areas of the Lake by means of a ‘feeder canal’ that traveled from the Lake at the area of the State Park and connected to the Canal around the current Landing Shopping Center. (The Canal ran parallel to the RR tracks in this area) From there the boats used the Canal to come right up to the Rail station platform, where passengers simply crossed the platform to board the boat sitting in the Canal. (the south end of the Lake was extremely shallow at that time with only rowboats able to pass). The trip back to the Lake took them through the Canal Lock, where the boat was raised to the Lake’s higher level.

In the 1890’s, this era saw the blossoming of Lake Hopatcong as the summer resort of choice by both the wealthy and the newly middle-class. The wealthy would rent large furnished houses, on the water’s edge. The middle-class would often set up large canvas tents on wooden platforms and dwell in these for a week or more. All would enjoy the cool “mountain air” afforded by the advertised “1,200-foot elevation of the Lake” (an exaggeration of its’ actual 926-foot elevation), a welcome summertime relief from the sweltering cities. Many would come up for the weekend and stay in one of the hotels or rooming houses that sprang up around the Lake. Most everyone traveled to the lake via train, The roads were poor to non-existent, and besides, the steamboats were part of the attraction of the lake! 

Kane said his suspicion about the boat’s identity is based largely on a July 2, 1910, item in a publication called The Lake Hopatcong Breeze. The author noted that the “dilapidated steamers of the old White Line, which had been drawn up on shore at Landing for several years, were removed”

“My guess is one of these steamboats sank, and they let the hull remain on the bottom when they conducted the clean-up in the winter of 1909-1910,” Kane said.

“It is unlikely that any real study of this site can be conducted until spring, but the museum will contact a few experts to see if it might be possible to use any ground penetrating radar or metal detection devices,” said Kane. 

Every time we do a drawdown, something pops up such as a boardwalk to the Liffty Island, which you always see every five years and got a lot of attention. before that it was the dock at Nolan’s point, these are things that people normally don’t pay attention to but every five years you get a break and something shows up why have these remains sat there for over 100 years and nobody has discovered them until now?

For the last three or four drawdowns, it has been covered in muck.

Lake Hopatcong provided a treatment today at lake to that section of the lake, which is basically a clay like substance that coach the bottom of it, and it made the steamboat much more visible than it would have been for many years. 

“We may have to wait another five years to look at it again. “During their heyday, there were about a dozen steamboats in use,”  Kane said.

“The steamboats boats were eventually replaced by vehicles, but steamboat service was very active from the 1880s until about 1910 when travel to steamboat was the only way to get around” Kane said.

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