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200 Years of History

200 Years of History

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Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV
Part V
Part VI
Part VII
Part IX
Part X
Part XI
Part XII
Part XIV
Part XV
Part XVI
Part XIX
Part XX
Part XII: William J. Harris: Photographer in Jefferson Township
By R. Richard Willis

William J. Harris, the photographer has preserved our history in Jefferson as well as other areas in Lake Hopatcong. Little did Mr. Harris know that his “post cards and photos” would last for generations!

Mr. Harris and his family arrived from England in 1870 and settled around Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. By the time William graduated from high school he was considered a good artist. He began his own business in Wilkes-Barre and by 1890 the Harris family moved to West Pittston, not far from Wilkes-Barre. William continued his photography business, at this time in history, photographers would travel to their customers as well as have a studio. Many of Harris’ early photos in Pennsylvania were of local views, coal-mines and the coal miners.

By the nineteenth century railroads linked most populated areas in the northeast. William took advantage of this and traveled to mountains, lakes and cities. He eventually arrived at Lake Hopatcong in the summer of 1898. By then the Lake had become a summer playground of the prosperous. The “summer cottages” were abundant in Mt. Arlington and other places around the Lake. Mr. Harris rented a piece of land in Mt. Arlington from the Frothingham Estate (first mayor of Mt. Arlington), and set up his portable photo studio. With this portable studio he was limited on how many customers that could reached. He then built his famous “Photo Float” a floating studio. This gave him mobility where he had the option of going to his customers. The Photo Float was towed to all sections of the Lake; quite often the steamboat “Richard J.” was used. This studio had all the comforts: a sales area, kitchen, studio and darkroom. With the use of mirrors and prisms, sunlight could be directed into his “Photo Float” for processing his work. In 1902 a peaked roof and tower was added. With the tower more light could be utilized. Many of the locals would say, “here’s come the floating church”. The Photo Float did not last more than three years. The Float was constructed from knotty pine and one day, a knot popped and the Photo Float didn’t float! The studio was brought up and placed on the Breslin’s dock in Mt. Arlington for the rest of its life.

By 1910 William J. Harris opened his new studio at Lake Hopatcong, located between Lee’s Pavilion and the Idle Hour Movie Theater. Mr. Harris also had another portable studio in the Castle Rock section of the Picnic Grove. Business was booming, with shots of the lake, houses, islands, skies, airplanes, boats, canal and people. In the summer William and family was at Lake Hopatcong and in the winter his family would pack their “RV” and head for St. Augustine, Florida, where he had his winter photographic business. The trip took him only 5 days according to his business card. By the fall of 1924 there was a devastating fire at Lee’s Pavilion. Thirteen building burned that night, including Mr. Harris’ Studio. This was the end of his photo business in Jefferson. Although his son Carver carried on for many years doing photographs in many areas. Mr. C. E. Engelbrecht, who ran a Photo Studio in the grove near Allen’s “Lake Pavilion”, he took the balance of the photographic business after the fire. Mr. Engelbrecth took the famous photos of the Lee’s hotel 1924 fire.