History of Wawayanda Lake

Hewitt, New Jersey

By Elizabeth Blauvelt Shaw


As it appeared in the

October 11, 1933


Transcribed by Yvonne Bauer for the Warwick Valley History website

November 2004


Reproduced with permission of the Warwick Dispatch


(This paper was done by Ms. Shaw,  member of the Graduation class of 1936 of Warwick High School who won the First Prize in the Essay contest sponsored by the Warwick Historical Society)


Foreword:  In chosing the topic “Wawayanda”, for my senior essay, I had two main reasons; namely, I shall always hold in my heart a picture of Wawayanda in its primeval beauty and fascination; (The research and study associated with the writing of this theme, have been a source of infinite pleasure to me).  Then, too, the history of Wawayanda is closely linked with the history of our own Warwick; time and again we find events which bind the two together.  This, perhaps, will make the perusal of the paper more engrossing to the reader.  My essay is original, that is to say, I have not intentionally copied from any book or paper without indicating the fact by quotation marks, but one cannot be original to the extent that he improvises upon history.  Therefore, I list the only printed source of information to my text: “Indian Geographical names,” by E. M. Ruttenber; “Colonial History of New York”, “History of Sussex and Warren Counties,” compiled by James P. Snell, and “Scouts of 76” a true story by Charles E. Willis.


            Wawayanda Lake, in the early days was known as a bewitching sequestered beauty spot nestling in the New Jersey Mountains.  Prior to the Revolution historical facts embellished by legends gave the information that the Leni-Lenape Indians, led by their Chief, Black Eagle, frequented the shores for hunting and fishing.  Since that time, many people from all walks of life have visited the lake, lured by its strange call and have succumbed to its native charm and enchantment.


            There are many different conceptions of the origin of the name “Wawayanda”.  Authorities do not agree on the derivation of the name but the “Colonial History of New York” says that it came from a town, a stream of water, and a large tract of land known as the “Wawayanda Patent”.  Before 1906, the “Warwick Advertiser” printed the following, taken from E. M. Ruttenber’s book,  “Indian Geographical names” —“An affidavit made by Adam Wisner at a hearing in Chester, on May 19, 1785, stated that he had lived on the “Wawayanda Patent’ since 1715, that he had learned the Indian language when he was a young man, and that the Indians had explained to him that “Wawayanda” signified “egg-shaped”.  Adam Wisner was an interpreter of the local Indian dialect; he is mentioned as such in the records.  Another story of the name is interesting.  Mr. B. B. Sayer happened to meet a Jesuit Priest who was working among the Iroquis Indians.  During their conversation, Mr. Sayer mentioned Wawayanda, and the priest, who seemed to be familiar with the place, told him that “wawa” meant “Wild goose”, and “yanda”, — “the way”.  “The way of the wild goose” is indeed both a fanciful and fitting cognomen.  Still other authors claim that “Wawayanda” means “winding around many times”, or even “Away-over-yonder”, which last can hardly be acknowledged as authentic:  At times, the lake has been called “Double-Pond”, because of its peculiar contour, almost forming two separate ponds or lakes.  The lakes were formed in the glacial period, and remained unchanged for centuries until an enterprising company enlarged the lower lake and built a dam at the northern extremity. 


            The first inhabitants of the lands surrounding Wawayanda were Indians of the “Wolf” branch of the “Leni-Lenape” or “Delaware” tribes[1].  Leni-Lenape” signified, in the Indian tongue, “The original people”, a title which they had adopted under the claim that they were descended from the most ancient of all Indian Ancestry.  It is stated in the “Scouts of 76”, that the tribe migrated to “Long Pond”, or Greenwood Lake, where they established a camp.  From here, in 1762, thro a gap in the mountains to the westward, they traveled on a foot-path of four or five miles to Wawayanda.  Black Eagle, the chief whose name we hear most frequently in connection with Wawayanda, was one of the few chiefs who supported Washington in the Revolution.  He and His son, Serpent, remained true to the cause of liberty and tried to save our Orange County militia from the defeat at Minisink.  One day, Serpent, returning to the Indian encampment saw his father sitting on a rock at the edge of the lake, lost in thought.  It is generally conceded that this rock is the site of our present “Black Eagle” Boy Scout camp.  Several of Warwick’s oldest inhabitants remember the Indian burial grounds on the sand-shore, and today traces of the Leni-Lenape tribes can be found in arrow-heads and flints picked up along the trails.  Indians have always been known for their love of beautiful surroundings, and so for that reason they must have chosen Wawayanda as a camping site..  There was also an Indian village and orchard in Warwick, situated between Thomas Welling’s present home[2] and the Mistucky brook.  One of those Indians, whose name is familiar to Warwickians, is Chief Chuckas, who lingered in the valley long after the rest of the tribe had moved on, and who died on what is known as Chuck’s Hill, on the Ball farm.[3]  This tribe of Indians did much hunting and fishing, at Wawayanda Lake, curing and smoking the fish in crude fashion to preserve them for winter. 


            The first record of the Wawayanda title is found when the English crown granted it to the Duke of York, who in 1683, passed the deed on to James Earl of Perth, Subsequently, the land came into the possession of the Rutherford family, and after an effort to operate a saw mill under the management of a man named Longwell, in 1838 [this number is hard to read on the microfilm of the article; it could be 1833 instead—sg] John Rutherfurd sold the title to the Ames Company of Boston.  Oliver Ames and his son were speculators; they bought the lake and surrounding tract because of its mine deposits.



Oliver Ames (1779-1863) 
From William L. Chafin,

History of the Town of Easton, Massachusetts, 1886


            In 1845, the Ames Company[4] built a huge blast furnace which was run by charcoal, and which depended for its supply of this material upon a tract of woodland embracing approximately five thousand seven hundred acres, from which charcoal was burned.  A magnetic ore mine generally known as the “Acker Mine’, situated about two miles from the furnace, near the road leading from Wawayanda to Warwick, furnished the principal portion of the ore consumed in the business.  The power was supplied by “Double-Pond.” The pig iron was delivered by a mule team, comprised of four or six mules which dragged the wagons to Woodport, at the head of Lake Hopatcong, whence the iron was shipped to market via the Morris Canal.  Later, the iron was delivered by mule teams from Wawayanda Lake to Newburgh, thence to the Hudson River, and eventually, by river, to its destination.  Often the iron was taken through Warwick to Chester, and piled in the triangle near Frank Durland’s store.  Here other teams loaded up and completed the transport to Newburgh.  The late Mr. Joel Crissy used to relate, with relish, tales of the mule teams.  When he was a boy ten years old, he attended school at the old stone school house, (now demolished) located near Wisner, and when, once or twice a week, the mule teams passed on their way to Chester, it was as big an event with the pupils as a circus parade would be with the students of modern times.


            In 1853, the “Green Mine” was opened, and was found to contain very rich ore.  Immediately, a plank road was built from the mine to the furnace, and the mine was worked until 1868.  In 1880, it was opened again and worked until 1888.  However, in 1856, the blast furnace was out of commission, and so following this date, the ore was shipped without being smelted.  In 1884, the “Wawayanda Mine” was opened and worked at intervals until 1891.  After the Warwick Valley Railroad, (now “the Lehigh and Hudson River Railway”)[5] was built the ore was delivered by wagon to a point on the lawn about opposite from Ogden’s present store, from whence it was shipped for smelting.  The dam at the foot of Wawayanda was built by by the Ames Company shortly after the Civil war.


            Wawayanda was sold in 1867 to the Thomas Iron Company of Pennsylvania, and it was with the advent of this new company on the shores of the lake, that a period of feverish activity and industry began in the Mountains.  (Incidentally, the price paid for this stretch of wilderness, with mineral rights, was one hundred twenty-five thousand five hundred dollars).  At once the Thomas Iron Company began to develop its purchase.  The dam built by the Ames Company was raised and repaired.  (In 1872), and a village of more than six hundred inhabitants spring from the soil where, a century before the redskin and trod.  The settlement consisted of a post-office, saw-mill, grist-mill, cheese-box factory, creamery, ice house, black-smith shop, general store, brick school house, spindle factory, charcoal pits, shovel factory, a long mule barn stabbing forty mules, and several homes.  There was a building called the “long house”, which housed six or eight families. This custom of housing several families in one building tho in separate compartments was undoubtedly handed down from the Iroquis Indian tribes.  Thus, even in the earliest stages of its existence, America had its apartment houses.  The spindle and shovel factories figure prominently in the tales spun by old-timers of Warwick.  The spindles were made from dog-wood because this was very plentiful around Wawayanda, and moreover, dogwood made the best kind of spindles used in the textile industry.  Mr. Thomas DeKay now treasures a shovel which was made at the Wawayanda factory.  The superintendent’s house, more pretentious than those in the vicinity, was built by the Ames Company, and Mr. Wm. Ames first lived there.  The house later occupied by the John VanGelder family was a familiar landmark to travelers in the mountains.  It was burned in 1918.  The general store was run by superintendent George Gustin.  He is remembered by B. B. Sayer, T.W. Sanford, and others as being a large man with long black whiskers.  Gustin was a well-known character with whom the fishermen and hunters enjoyed chatting before their return to Warwick.  Many miners traded in Warwick at the store managed by Mr. William Hynard’s Uncle Albert Hynard which was then located between the Fanny Cowdry house and the stone house of W. B. Sayer.[6]  Some of Warwick’s inhabitants recall with clarity the Saturday night brawls of the Wawayanda miners.


            The year 1891 again saw a change of hands in the ownership of the property Victor A Wilder purchased the land from the Thomas Iron Company in what is known as a “shoe-string” buy: that is to say, he paid only five thousand dollars down, with a promise to make up the deficit in the future.  During the time Wilder owned Wawayanda, no improvements were made.  The mines had been closed, the village abandoned, and the factories destroyed.  Mr. Wilder employed a hunch-backed Englishman name Acker, as caretaker, and the place was kept extremely private.  Acker resided in the former home of the superintendent.  John Vail, a hunter, was also at the lake in the employ of Wilder.  Under instructions from the owner, he sowed rice seed on the east shore, at the part of the lake known as “Wing-Dam.”  The rice seed was planted for attracting wild fowl in duck season to improve shooting.


            About this time Sumner F. Dudley and George Alden Sanford of Warwick started the first Y.M.C. A. boys’ camp in America on “Beach” or “Big” Island at Wawayanda.[7]  There were twelve boys in the camp, and their enthusiastic reaction to the life was a motivating force in the widespread practice of group camping in the East.  In 1897, a Mr. Scott started the New Jersey Boys’ Y.M.C.A. camp on the east shore and the first island, opposite.


            In a few Years, Mr. Wilder lost his money and was not able to meet the bond to the Thomas Iron Company and so his attorneys were forced to deed Wawayanda back to its former holders.  In 1905, the Thomas Iron Company bid Adieu forever to their once prosperous mining community, and sold the entire tract to Nelson Z. Graves for private use, at Seventy-five thousand dollars.


            Graves was a Philadelphian.  The president of a paint and varnish manufacturing company.  He was industrious and prosperous (those words seem to go together) and acquired the lake for a summer home.  It is interesting to learn how this gentleman purchased the lake.  For the first time visiting Wawayanda, he arrived at the sand-shore and stood there a few moments, enchanted by the captivating beauty of that long expanse of blue framed in dark green and the azure slope of the heavens.  Turning from the scene Graves exclaimed to a companion, “I’ll buy it!”  Beach Island particularly fascinated Mr. Graves.  Here he erected the log house which stands today in all its rustic charm.  He originally intended to build two more houses on the island for his two sons, but the project was never carried out.  It has been said that the Philadelphian intended to have built a bridge from Beach Island, across Rock Island to the mainland, and a road from this point across Wing Dam to join the main road leading from Wawayanda to Warwick.  However, for all his aspirations, Mr. Graves failed to carry out his plans, or ever to visit the lovely spot again.  In the year 1914, the property was sold to Charles E. Downs, as Mr. Graves had suffered financial reverses in a Cape May enterprise.


            In 1915, the Reverend Taber Knox, of Warwick, established the first Boy Scout camp in the vicinity on Black Eagle Rock.  The camp has continued each summer for twenty-one years and is the best loved feature of the Warwick Boy Scouts’ varied program.  Mr. Knox’s influence has been an invaluable asset to many boys’ lives: evenings spent in the hollowed circle of the camp-fire, the morning chapel service, and the days of association and good fellowship in the company of Mr. Knox, have left an indelible mark on many of Warwick’s young men.  It is a service the community can never repay.


            To return to the chain of title in 1916, Charles E. Downs deeded Wawayanda to the Mutual Liquidation Company, an organization friendly to Mr. Graves.  The year 1917 saw the transfer of ownership to the New York Transit Company (A subsidiary of the Standard Oil), and in 1918 the New Jersey Zinc Company, the present holders, acquired five thousand acres of forest surrounding the lake and Wawayanda itself with the exception of a strip of land along the sandy shore owned by the Fancher Family, who had purchased it as part of a farm from Isaac Howard, (who originally received the farm from the Rutherfurd family).  The Zinc Company bought the land because of its rich woodlands, needing timber to use for mine props, in its Franklin, New Jersey mines, but the lumberjacks worked mostly far from the shores of the little lake, Leaving Wawayanda peaceful and undisturbed by the sound of falling timbers.  Lately, however many of the finest trees on Beach Island have been felled.


            Before I conclude this little history there are a few general facts I would like to state to complete the record.  Wawayanda Lake contains about two hundred forty acres, with a length from one and one-half to two miles, and an average width of one thousand four hundred sixty-nine feet.  The all time high water mark is one thousand hundred sixty-nine feet.  The mountains surrounding the lake are a hundred feet or so higher in places, and the air is bracing and invigorating.  There is an interesting story concerning the origin of the Warwick “Ladies Auxiliary”, connected with Wawayanda.  One time in the 1880’s, the Reverend Mr. Litchfield called on a family at the Lake whom he found to be in destitute circumstances.  He reported this to Mr. And Mrs. Thomas Burt and other of Warwick, who quickly investigated and found several families in dire straits.  To meet the need for some society to care for these cases the “Dorcas” society was founded with Mrs. Clara Cowdrey Edsall as president.  In1886 this society was formed into the Ladies Auxiliary comprised of seven members.


            In my essay, I have endeavored to show the succession of ownership to Wawayanda.  And at the same time, to include interesting incidents and tales remembered by some of Warwick’s finest old retainers.  I have attempted to show, by means of these events, the connection between Wawayanda Lake and Warwick village, and I hope that in the telling none of the flavor and picturesque quality of the lake has been lost.


            Years have come and gone.  Today Wawayanda, still a beautiful and secluded favorite of nature, smiles her Mona Lisa smile as the rest of the world goes by.  Perhaps she is dreaming of the days when Indian calls echoed around her wooden shores, and an Indian maiden sat plaiting her dark hair in the clear reflection water.  Perhaps she dreams of the time when weary miners and laborers slipped into her cool waves to bathe, and the smoke from the busy village rose above the tree-tops.  Then again she may be thinking of the future, when another generation might startle the quietness of centuries with laughter and song.  Who Knows?


            And so let us leave Wawayanda with the setting sun; the last faint glow casting delicate etchings and shadows over the smooth sheet of blue, the reflections of the cardinal flower flaunting its gay dress for all to see, the faint suggestion of hemlocks and pines wafted by the breeze and the lone call of a bird winging its way above the water.  Soon the moon in its smooth silver glory will flood in a rippling stream across the fragrant darkness, and all will be still save for the gentle lapping of the waters at the shore.  How soon will you yield, and follow the way of the wild goose?





[1] This branch of the Lenapes were the Minsi, also spelled as Munsee.

[2] The Welling homestead is on Rt. 94 about midway between the present Shop-Rite and Galloway Rd.

[3] Vicinity of Ball Rd.

[4] The Ames family collection now resides at the Stonehill College Industrial Center (Massachusettes): http://www.stonehill.edu/sihc/Pictures/amesfamily.htm


[5] The L&HRR was absorbed by Conrail and ceased operation in March of 1976

[6] Appears to be the general store which once stood at what is now the parking lot for the Key Bank (2004), corner of Colonial Ave. and Main St.

[7] According to the history of the YMCA online, this camp was in 1886, and is not strictly credited as the first, but occurred the same year as Dudley’s establishment of a camp at Lake Champlain. (http://www.ymca.net/about/cont/history.htm#everybodyplays)