Many a romance has sprouted, nurtured and grown among the waters and shores of Lake Owassa. And why not - what other locale could offer the serenity and ambience to promote romantic aspirations. Beautiful orange sunrises burning red through rising morning mists; swans, herons, ducks and mergansers frolick in their seasons. Sunsets over the Kittatinny Ridge bring closure to days spent enjoying the company of friends and loved ones on the Lake.
Perhaps the seed of romantic notions was originally sown on the Lake by the Reverend G.W. Lloyd. And whom might that be you may be tempted to query? Why none other than the infamous pastor of the Branchville Presbyterian Church from 1857 through 1866. As it turns out, when the pastor first arrived in Branchville our cherished Lake Owassa was known by the rather mundane name of "Long Pond", verified in an original deed of 1693. This deed was validated in 1931 as evidentiary material in a suit brought by the Fidelity Union Trust Department against 77 property owners on the lake in that same year.
In 1903, the Reverend Lloyd was 83 years old and had led an interesting life, including an incident where he had been shot at (and missed) while in the pulpit delivering the regular Sunday service. But that is another story. The Rev. wrote a poem of 28 verses for the Sussex County Sesqui Centennial detailing the courtship of Indian Brave "Lenno" and the object of his passion, the squaw " Owassa". Several verses refer to a nearby lake as "Lake Owassa" and the name simply stuck. The poem is an idyll tale of their tribal escape, subsequent courtship along the shores of the lake and their settling to a peaceful life on Lake Owassa.
In 1904 a new fungal infection of North American Chestnuts was discovered on the trees surrounding the Bronx Zoo. Speculation has it that a nursery in Yonkers brought in what became known as the "Chestnut Blight" on Chinese chestnut trees. During the 1800's the North American Chestnut was a predominant tree species in the Appalachian range, the Kittatinny ridge was one such covered range. By 1920, the chestnut trees on the ridge had been completely devastated. Two enterprising brothers of Indian descent, who lived on Owassa, collected the standing deadwood and built several cabins on the Lake, some of which still stand with their characteristic chinked logs and stone fireplaces. During this era most dwellings were summer use only - there was no electricity. Most property owners would take a train from N.Y. into Branchville and from there get a carriage ride from local farmers, stopping at the general store on their way to their cabins.
During the legal suit of 1931, the Trust, acting on behalf of the Perry Estate tried to eject the docks and floats of 77 named residents, claiming trespass. A landmark US Supreme Court Decision of 1923 had established that all water to be the property of the State, however the Perry Estate owned the land "under" the Lake and so claimed trespass of those above their land. The Perry Estate was unsuccessful in their legal battle as the courts ruled in favor of the residents, some of which testified to having floats, docks and boats on the water for 40 years or more. The Estate approached the residents as a group in an effort to sell them the land under the lake for $50,000, an absolutely huge sum in the 1930's.
In August 1947 sixty-seven property owners met at the Culver Lake Country Club with the intent of forming a lake-wide association. The driving force was a move by the Perry Estate to impose an assessment for use of the Lake. Eleven men with the names; Campbell, Peterson, Barry, Bostater, Fay, Barthlen, Bimson, Hoffman, Hawkins, Baker and Poe were formed as a steering committee for the purpose of representing the other residents in negotiation with the Estate. By 1949 the impromptu group had become the Lake Owassa Community Association (LOCA) complete with officers, a loose organizational structure and a roster of community social events. What is now a home at the end of the "G" cove was once a General Store with dances, ping-pong and 'Other Entertainment' and the first telephone installed on Lake Owassa in 1951. Come to the annual picnic and ask some of our seasoned citizens about the dances.
In early 1952 eight members of the Board of Governors met to quickly react to news that the Perry Estate, having been unsuccessful in their attempt to sell to the Owassa residents and subsequently the State Division of Fish and Game, had become delinquent in paying property taxes and the land would be sold at tax sale on August 23, 1952. The eight members: Lester Mahr, Ernest McDowell, Edward Fay, Clement Lawson, William Bonning, Gilbert Anthony, Theodore Rights and A.M. Bimson pooled $125 each and set off to purchase the tax lien. Minutes of the 1952 general meeting verify the above and further stated that of 234 homes on the Lake, 99 were paid members. Member dues were set at $3 per year and all were encouraged to join.
Of particular interest is the reason the Division of Fish and Game was not interested was the fact that there was/is no public access to the Lake. Many "paper streets" exist from a grand development plan, however these streets were never accepted by the township and therefore are in a curious limbo state. Neither the town nor the adjacent property owner can claim actual ownership of the paper street by so-called quit claim deeds though many have tried over the years. By August 12, 1955 foreclosure was complete and ownership was transferred to the Association. This combination of circumstances puts our lake and association in a rather unique position of Owner of the land under the lake and no public access to the lake. This gives our association the power to either allow or deny access to the lake exclusively in accordance with our By-Laws.
The By-laws themselves are an interesting story. In the summer of 1953 a young attorney from New York purchased a modest cabin on the lake and brought up his family. The LOCA President at the time was Floyd Hoffman whose 'real job' was the Director of the NJ Office of the Milk Board (a lofty state position at the time). For this reason he was fondly referred to as the "Titular Head of NJ". Within a mere two weeks of moving in Floyd approached the newcomer and convinced him to become the Lake Attorney. Sam Wiener gladly accepted the position and has faithfully served until this day. Sam's first job was to draw up a complete set of By-laws; those writings are still the guiding document for all LOCA business with only minor modifications over the years. Sam was also instrumental in the foreclosure procedures and defense of lake rights in several legal actions.
With our newfound ownership came a new set of responsibilities. In 1955 there was significant flooding in the area, Mr. Jules Marron was concerned that the Beaver Dam may not be sufficient to hold back a second flood occurrence and suggested looking into the construction of a "real dam". His concern was that since we owned the Lake (misnomer on his part) we could be held liable for any damage a breached dam could cause downstream, and that a breach would "drain the lake". These comments spurred the interest of Mr. Les Holland, who took exception to the concept of a dam and the statement that the lake would "drain". As a result Les began a survey of the bottom of the Lake by dropping weighted measuring chains through holes in the ice and finding the bottom. Les drew a contour map of the lake bottom which still exists, the job took over 3 winters to complete and the original reference point is still used today to determine the water level.
Committee work continued to explore building a dam and land was purchased at the Island and an extension of Drake Road was built. Quotes were solicited which came in at the $650,000 to $850,000 range in 1957 dollars. Several interesting facts came about from Les's survey; our Lake is 275 acres, 1.12 billion gallons, our deepest point is approximately 24', our watershed is roughly 2,105 acres which means for each inch of rain the lake should rise approximately 8.5 inches, each inch of surface water level is approximately 7 million gallons. Even if the Beaver Dam were to be completely removed, our water level would drop about 3.5'. We now know from current experience of local lakes which have "real dams" that the Beaver Dam precludes LOCA of all liability should a breach occur as it is a natural construction. Local lakes with concrete structures have been held accountable and have had to suffer state inspections and sometimes exorbitant maintenance bills. Of course this comes with a price in instability, our lake varies from high to low of a 2 1/2' range over the last 36 years for which we have recorded data.
Notes from a general meeting in August 1963 states that there were 248 "homes," 196 paid members and 267 boats with motors up to 75 Hp though now our limit is 50Hp. The Lake Owassa Community Association held dances, dinner parties, sailboat races, swim races for adults and kids, canoe races and canoe jousts. Stories abound of various mischievous actions which occurred by the young population on the lake. It has been and continues to be a great place to spend summers, and if you are really lucky a great place to call home. There are currently 277 active members on our roster, approximately 1/3 of these are full time homes with the balance being summer residences.
A study by the New Jersey State Department of Environmental Protection was commissioned in 1972 and samples were taken in April, June and August of that year. Several sites were selected and a full chemical and biological analysis was made. Many of these same tests were carried forward to present day, we have chemical data for 7 distinct locations from 1972 to 2002 covering several months for each year, again Mr. Les Holland is responsible for initiating this program and data, the program continues with the actions of volunteer members. In summary the study indicated that our water is of excellent overall quality with 8 varieties of algae which do sometimes bloom when the nitrogen levels are high. We also have 7 varieties of diatoms which are principally responsible for our tea color. Our coliform counts are typically in the single digits; these measurements are taken bi-weekly over the summer every year and analyzed by an independent laboratory. Weed control is primarily for Bladderwort and Eurasian Milfoil both treated with weed specific DiQuat by a licensed limnologist. The study describes Lake Owassa as a "contained in a glacially formed depression" overlying "Martinsburg Shale formations" deposited by the " Wisconsin Glaciation" with a "recessional moraine of the glacier comprised of a hummocky mixture of clay, sand, gravel and boulders which extends from the Kittitinny Ridge to the west most end of the lake".
History written by: Jim Hammell C-21
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