West Orange Town Historian to Present Forgotten History of Crystal Lake and Eagle Rock Park

August 2, 2013 at 10:05 PM

WEST ORANGE, NJ - West Orange Historian Joseph Fagan will present a one-hour pictorial powerpoint on West Orange's former resort area, Crystal Lake, and its close relationship to Eagle Rock Park.  The presentation will be held in the West Orange Public Library's Meeting room on Thursday, August 8, from 7:00-8:30 pm.

Joe explains the presentation in this way:

     When looking back at West Orange's recent past, it becomes evident that a picture is truly worth a thousand words. The powerpoint presentation will include rarely seen vintage postcard displays offering a visual narrative of Crystal Lake as a resort area and depicting an often overlooked history. Included in the presentation will be a short 26 second  film from 1898 offering a glimpse of Crystal Lake from a bygone era.

Sign Up for E-News

      I have always contended that Crystal Lake remains one of the most forgotten aspects of West Orange history  Today, all that remains is Crystal Lake, neatly tucked away at the end of a parking lot next to a bowling alley just off of Eagle Rock Avenue. 

     Crystal Lake is now practically unknown. Sadly the site today offers no hint or  evidence of its once glorious past.

     In the 1870s, the Eagle Rock area of West Orange had begun to establish itself as a resort area on top of the Orange Mountains. Original entries in vintage surveyor's log books are part of the program confirming this.  Eagle Rock offered itself as an accessible rural setting and a pleasant distraction from the  hectic pace of city life. At that time several small hotels and cottages dotted  the landscape on what today is the big open field at Eagle Rock. In 1894, a  trolley line opened to the base of Eagle Rock on present day Mountain Avenue. From there one would have to walk up the famous 100 Steps across from the hotel at the trolley terminus to reach the top of Eagle Rock.

    The new trolley line  brought the crowds and helped establish the Eagle Rock area, which gained in both popularity and  accessibility. In doing so it also brought the crowds to Crystal Lake, just a  short walk from Eagle Rock.

     As early as 1890, a hotel opened at the entrance to Crystal Lake on Eagle Rock Avenue when the lake was just a pond used for harvesting ice. With the growing popularity and increased  accessibility, the trolley line offered Crystal Lake as a secondary destination. The lake offered additional outdoor recreation and boating not available at Eagle Rock. Crowds flocking to Eagle Rock now also found their way to Crystal Lake. The picnic grounds were located in shaded areas, providing relief from the summer heat and sun. In winter, ice skating was popular.  Both Eagle Rock and Crystal Lake were soon considered one destination.

     After the acquistion of Eagle Rock by the newly formed Essex County Park Commission in 1895, most of the hotels began to disappear by 1910.  As its resort appeal declined, trolley service ceased in 1924, partly due to the emergence of the automobile.

     Crystal Lake, however, continued on as a small amusement park replete with rides and a handsomely crafted carousel. During the late1920s and early 1930s West Orange Commissioner George McDonough sponsored an annual outing known as McDonough Day, where children were bused from local playgrounds to the lake, offering them a day of free food, boating, entertainment, and unlimited rides.  This brightened the children's lives from the darkness of the Depression, and was truly the Golden Age of Crystal Lake.

     In the 1950s, development eroded the  once rural setting of Crystal Lake and a  steady decline began. The  Mountain Crest Swim Club operated at Crystal Lake from approximately 1954 until  its closure around 1975,but by the end of 1970s Crystal Lake was mostly abandoned and neglected. In the 1990s, townhouses were  built near the west shore and the developer refurbished the lake and cleaned up the property, helping save a forgotten legacy.

The West Orange community, old and young; lifelong residents or recent homebuyers, will all learn about the fascinating history of Crystal Lake and Eagle Rock, gaining a new appreciation for the rich history embedded into the fiber of the township.

For more information on Joe Fagan and West Orange History, visit his website at, or by email at JosephFagan@WestOrangeHistory.


TAP Into Another Town's News:

TAP Into Another Town's News:

Sign Up for E-News

West Orange

Montclair Residents Fill Buses Bound for Women's March on Washington

January 22, 2017

MONTCLAIR, NJ - Hundreds of Montclair and surrounding areas residents loaded onto buses during the wee hours of the morning on Saturday, Jan. 21 headed for Washington, DC.

Buses chartered by several organizations and individuals, including Montclair-based Blue WaveNJ left from the campus of Montclair High School at about 4:00 a.m. There was an air of excitement as ...

Upcoming Events


Mon, January 23, 6:30 PM

West Orange Public Library, West Orange

West Orange Preschool Fair



Mon, January 23, 6:30 PM

West Orange Public Library, West Orange

West Orange Preschool Fair 1/23

Community Calendar Education


Wed, January 25, 6:30 PM

The Newark Club - Metropolitan Room, Newark

ACG NJ Joint Super Networking Party, January 25th ...

Arts & Entertainment Business & Finance Food & Drink

Women's March on Washington: Why, and Why Now

January 19, 2017

As Donald Trump’s inauguration draws near, a number of groups are planning various events and rallies – perhaps most notably, the Women’s March on Washington. I have read a number of opinion pieces and spoken to many people about the March, and several questions and criticisms seem to consistently arise. I would like to address some two of the major themes.

(Q) The election ...

Junior League of the Oranges and Short Hills Presents: Murder Mystery Dinner in Livingston

January 21, 2017

LIVINGSTON, NJ — The Junior League of the Oranges and Short Hills (JLOSH), an organization of women developed as civic and community leaders creating lasting community impact, is hosting a Murder Mystery Dinner on Feb. 11 at 7 p.m. at Cedar Hill Country Club, 100 Walnut Street, in Livingston.

Event attire is cocktail and complimentary valet parking will be ...

Andy’s Family Music Showcases Shayne Apple on Guitar

LIVINGSTON, NJ — Andy’s Family Music Center of Livingston is proud to highlight Shayne Apple, a fifth grader at Riker Hill Elementary School with an aptitude for drums.

Shayne also plays trombone in the school band and participates in the school choir. According to his mother, Sharon, Shayne was inspired to pick up guitar not long after his father decided to learn the same ...

Step Right Up

Let’s make America the Greatest Show on Earth Again.


I was very sad to learn that after 146 years of big-top entertainment the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus is folding its tent and leaving town.


This comes a year after the circus, due to mounting pressures from animal rights activists, got rid of the elephants.


It is not really ...