Historic Significance of Borough Architecture

The period in which Herbert Hapgood designed was one of eclectic architectural styles, but his work shows a consistent debt to Craftsman architecture, tempered by a Colonial Revival influence.  Craftsman architecture was one of several related styles that developed out of the English Arts and Crafts movement of the 19th century.  Like the English movement, Craftsman architecture emphasized a simple approach to design, with an honest expression of the materials used.  This truth and simplicity was a reaction against what was called the “excesses” of Victorian design.  Or, as Gustav Stickley, the American proponent of the movement, stated in his monthly journal, “beauty does not imply elaboration or ornament.”

Hapgood took many features of Gustav Stickley’s Craftsman architecture and philosophy and adapted them to his own designs.  His houses were solid and boxy in appearance.  They were large yet non-ostentatious homes with variations of colonial or neo-classical detail.  All showed a clear relationship to the natural environment and promoted outdoor living.  They were made to fit into the landscape, located on natural rather than graded terrain.  Narrow roads were curved to fit the contours of the land.  The houses were designed to appeal to upper middle-class people who wanted to raise their families in a wholesome country environment filled with recreational opportunities and neighbors who would share their values.

An early advertisement features three distinct types of houses which were built on lots near the banks of Wildwood and Mountain Lakes.  Hapgood named them the Manor House, the Semi-Bungalow and the Swiss Chalet.  These styles were actually adaptations of the Foursquare House common in American towns in the early part of the twentieth century.  In an article entitled, “The American Foursquare,” in The Old House Journal (February 1982), the architectural historian, Renee Kahn, defines the Foursquare as a two story house with “a square boxlike shape, and a low hipped roof with broad overhanging eaves.  The exterior is unadorned, relying for impact on its shape and proportion.  There is usually a porch extending the full width of the front elevation.  Most often, there is a dormer in the roof facing front; sometimes there will also be dormers on the two side planes of the roof.  Occasionally there will be a bay window or other architectural feature that breaks up the absolute flatness of the sides.”

The choice of materials used in the Lakers reflected both local availability and the fashion of the times.  The fieldstone of the chimneys, walls and foundations was deposited regionally by the Wisconsin glacier ten thousand years ago.  Chestnut paneling, ceiling cross beams and oak flooring were cut from trees at local sawmills using the timber cleared from the construction sites.  The Craftsman attitude towards natural materials is apparent in Hapgood’s use of stucco, boulderstone exteriors with exposed wood details, and interiors characterized by sturdy oak floors, exposed beams and trim, chestnut paneling, and large brick and stone fireplaces.  Built-ins and inglenooks are typical — comfortable, simple conveniences.  These houses have a sense of volume to them and sit snugly into the landscape.  The abundance of surrounding porches contributes to the emphasis on the horizontal, which keeps these houses so solidly anchored to the earth. Around 1910, builders began to show increased interest in stucco.  Renee Kahn states, “Although its initial cost was slightly more than wood, it required little or no maintenance, and could be tinted delicate pastel colors when wet …  A soft beige/brown appears to have originally been the most popular color.”

As is generally the case in planned communities, most of the trees and plants were removed for ease of construction.  Trees and bushes which have sprung up since reflect the natural, informal landscaping that was prevalent at the time.  The mountain laurel and rhododendron, for example, are specifically adaptive to the acid soil.  Other decorative outdoor structures consisted of garden trellises, pergolas, gazebos, boathouses and tennis courts designed to enhance the enjoyment of the outdoors.

National Register of Historic Places Designation
In 2005, the majority of the Borough became an historic district listed on the State and National Register of Historic Places.  The National Register of Historic Places is the Nations’ official list of cultural resources worthy of preservation. To qualify for listing, properties must be significant in American history, architecture, archeology, engineering, or culture.

Mountain Lakes qualified as an historic district under the primary criteria of significance of community planning and development as a planned residential park suburb.  The secondary criteria are significance in architecture, for the concentration of Craftsman style homes.  Unlike other old communities that have lost their cohesive look and feel, the planned residential park suburb that is Mountain Lakes has been maintained.  New houses have been built, many in the Laker style, the narrow, meandering streets are still flanked by houses set well back from the road, and the abundance of stonework is still clear.  As of 2010, out of an original 482, there are 451 remaining Hapgood houses and 57 Belhall homes out of approximately 60 originally built.

This designation is a source of immense pride for the Borough, but there are also additional benefits.  Historic district status serves to protect the Borough from some kinds of intrusive development and building owners may qualify for some grants especially if they are a non-profit or an owner of a business.

The nomination to become an historic district was prepared by the Borough’s Historic Preservation Committee (HPC) at the request of the Borough Council.  The preparation took from 2001 to 2005, and involved approximately five dozen volunteers.  The community volunteers and HPC committee members spent countless hours documenting the Borough in words, photographs, maps and slides, and in researching the town’s history.  A copy of the full nomination can be found at the library and at Borough Hall.