200 Years of History
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
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.