When Budd Lake beach officially reopens to bathers this summer, its new visitors may have no idea that a thriving restaurant, which was part of a rich history, once stood where they’ve set up their beach chairs.
For a time, the CasinO was one of many iconic landmarks dotting the landscape around New Jersey’s largest natural lake.
“The word casino means ‘meeting place’ and it was supposed to be a higher class than other bars and dance halls in the area. The guys wore uniforms and there was valet parking,” explained local historian Thea Dunkle.
“They’d have excise classes, host regattas, swim clubs and boating. They’d have baby contests and all kinds of activities going on.”
For half a century Budd Lake was a desirable resort destination, drawing vacationers from New York City to Philadelphia looking to escape the city heat.
Hotels, country mansions, night clubs and family-friendly attractions such as Forrest House, The Oasis, Budd’s Pavilion, and even a merry-go-round kept many visitors coming back year after year.
Today, these places which were so integral to Budd Lake’s formation, are long gone. Destroyed by natural causes such as fire or the inevitable changes that come with time and urbanization.
Budd Lake may be most well-known for its fun, but the area was first developed in the early 1800’s by the Budd, Sharp and Wagner families, who established several mills and an ice company on the lake’s east side.
Shortly thereafter a community began to emerge. According to the 1868 Atlas of Morris County, a Post Office and summer hotel were constructed along Sandshore and Goldmine Roads.
A RESORT TOWN TAKES SHAPE
By the turn of the 20th century Budd Lake was undergoing a major transformation. Tent colonies sprung up to house the influx of summertime visitors.
((PICTURE: pg. 40 Images of America, Mount Olive))
Those early accommodations were far from glamourous, a described by Henry Hosking in a letter written in 1915:
“We had ‘deluxe’ tent quarters, three rooms: living and sleeping, kitchen, and in between an open dining area. We had wooden floors underneath, homemade ice boxes and a kerosene stove,” he wrote.
“An event was when we took up the floors in the fall—we usually had to chase away the mice who lived under us in the summer.”
The original platform tents were soon replaced by cottages and hotels as the area became more popular.
According Dunkle, demand for a place to stay near Budd Lake was so high, that year-round locals would rent out rooms in their homes just to take advantage of the flood of people, which caused the population to swell to nearly 6-thousand during summer months.
HOTELS OF THE PAST
One of the first and most well-known boarding houses on Budd Lake was Forrest House, which was built in 1856 by a son-in-law of the Budd Family. It was the largest hotel in the area, hosting up to 200 guests within its large, white 3-story structure and surrounding annex buildings. The main building had a large front porch lined with rocking chairs. On the shoreline was boat house with docks for patrons to use.
The wealthy also made Budd Lake their summertime playground, building large estates along the east shore. One example was Pinecrest Mansion. It was built in 1883 by Judge Mann of Newark, who reportedly spent what would be nearly $715-thousand dollars in today’s money to plant pine trees around the property to make his wife, a Maine native, happy.
SWIMMING BY DAY
During its heyday, most visitors were normal families, taking the train to Netcong station and a taxi to lake.
“Summers at Budd Lake during World War I and the early 20’s were country summers with plenty of swimming, hayrides, canoe trips across the lake,” wrote sisters Florence Pfalzgraf Kern and Beatrice Pfalzgraf Darlington.
For 20 years, the lake was home to an old fashioned wooden merry-go-round, owned by the Sharp family. Pictures show children riding the enclosed carousel, which was meticulously maintained by the Sharps until it was lost to a fire in 1957.
((PICTURE—pg 110 Images of America, Mount Olive))
During its existence, Budd’s Pavilion was to Budd Lake what Jenkinson’s amusement complex is to Point Pleasant on the Jersey Shore. Swarms of visitors packed its large boathouse, stopped for a treat at the ice cream parlor or cooled off by taking a dip at its swimming wheel. The pavilion was also home to a small bowling alley and despite a lack of electricity, the Budd Family figured out a way to offer movies three times a week.
((picture: pg 109 Images of America, Mount Olive))
The location changed ownership and names, but remained popular until the late 1950’s, said life-long Budd Lake resident Jim Smith, whose family connection to the area dates back to early 1700’s when his mother’s side was gifted tracks of land by the King of England.
“Memorial Day and Labor Day parades used to end there,” he said. “As kids, we would get soda and the adults would get beer.”
DANCING BY NIGHT
There was also very active nightlife scene, remembered Smith. His uncle would tell him stories of spending days on the lake and evenings in the dance halls listening to music and hoping to meet girls.
“In the 20’s and 30’s if you had a big band, you played as part of the circuit on Budd Lake. We had many venues, including the Oasis and the Wigwam.”
Where today commuters stop for a morning coffee or Slurpee, young adults once danced to the music of some of the day’s most popular entertainers. Jackie Gleason, the Glenn Miller Orchestra and even rock and roll hall of famers the Everly Brothers all made appearances at the Wigwam, which is now the site of a 7-Eleven.
Dunkle recalled a story told to her by a woman from Brooklyn, who as a teenager would walk miles to spend the day at the lake only to go back home, get dressed up and head out once again to go to the dances.
A NEW CHAPTER BEGINS
While its glory days may be behind it, Budd Lake continues to be a popular location for sports fisherman, kayakers and sailors.
It is also beginning a new chapter in its history. After being officially closed to swimming by Mount Olive Township in 2015, the beach will reopen this June, with some much needed structural improvements.
Thanks to an anonymous donation, admission onto the beach will be free for town residents.
At its busiest time in recent history, the beach saw up to 400 visitors daily on weekends. While it remains to be seen how many of them will come back, one thing is for certain. Budd Lake’s glistening waters will be ready.