The famed “Water Gap” in Pennsylvania, a distinct notch cut into the Kittatinny Ridge, is formed by the Middle Delaware River’s passage between low forested mountains and rocky mountain ridges. The best-known feature of the park, it was once touted as a scenic Wonder of the World. The Gap is about a quarter mile wide at river level and nearly a mile wide from the top of one mountain to the top of the other.
The natural beauty of the Delaware Water Gap became an attraction to people traveling through the area and as early as 1820, visitors began staying in the village of Delaware Gap, where they roomed with local families in order to enjoy the scenery.
A local man named Antoine Dutot began constructing a small hotel overlooking the Delaware River in 1829. However, by 1832, he had run out of money and sold the incomplete building to Samuel Snyder, who enlarged and completed the hotel which he named the Kittatinny. Over the years, the hotel was enlarged, becoming the biggest hotel in the area. The success of the hotel soon led to the establishment of more lodging establishments. Local railroads helped to boost the popularity and number of visitors to the region. The Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railway first arrived at the Delaware River on May 13, 1856, with a train to New York City.
Soon, Delaware Water Gap’s popularity as a resort area had become well-known throughout the northeastern United States. The Civil War led to a decline in the budding resort industry, but afterward, it recovered and more accommodation facilities were built including the Water Gap House which opened its doors in June 1872, rivaling the Kittatinny in size and splendor. With the railroads now also promoting the Gap as a destination, 16 more hotels sprung up in the village of Delaware Water Gap by the century’s end. Additional rail lines, such as the New York, Susquehanna, and Western served the New Jersey side of the Gap.
From 1901 to 1938, the Delaware Valley Railroad ran a spur from East Stroudsburg station to Bushkill, Pennsylvania, carrying both passengers and freight. Resort-based agriculture, such as dairying, began to replace subsistence farming and remote areas between Scranton and the Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania filled with villages and farms. Church, scout, and trade groups lined the banks of the river with rustic summer camps.
By 1900, the resorts of the Water Gap in Pennsylvania reached their peak, while western New Jersey’s landscape was made up mostly of farms and villages with a handful of hotels, like the Karamac and several farmhouses-turned-guesthouses. in 1909, a guide to summer resorts in the area said:
“Its quota of hotels is second to none in the United States. They compare favorably with those in any other section of the country in size and attractiveness and are comparable only to the very finest in the matter or cuisine.”
But, the resort era wouldn’t last. The arrival of the automobile changed the way Americans took their vacations, and the staid old wooden hotels of the Water Gap went into decline. The Depression further decreased passenger traffic. The two largest hotels — the Water Gap House and the Kittatinny — both burned down, in 1915 and 1931, respectively. The large hotels were in an ideal location to benefit from the easy access that the rail lines and trolleys provided, but the railroads weren’t needed anymore. In 1940 the New York, Susquehanna, and Western Railroad gave up its bridge at the Gap. In 1952, the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railway discontinued passenger service to Delaware Water Gap, using East Stroudsburg instead. The completion of the Interstate 80 bridge in December of 1953 then cut Water Gap station off from the town it had once served.
Over the years the Poconos continued to be a major resort region, but the village of Delaware Water Gap steadily declined as a resort community. Over the years, many of the small boarding houses were converted into private residences, while most of the old hotels, fell into ruins, were destroyed by fire, were closed, or continued to operate as best they could under changed conditions. Today, most of these landmarks are long gone, but the hills continue to host vacationers.
In the 1950s, the Army Corps of Engineers began to survey the Delaware River Valley in hopes of building a dam. While the dam would provide clean water for the cities of New York and Philadelphia, it would also cover the valley with up to 140 feet of water, obscuring thousands of years of cultural and natural history in the process. However, the engineers discovered that this stretch of the Delaware River was unsuitable for such a large-scale project. The land that had been acquired through eminent domain was then turned over to the National Park Service 1960s to become a recreation area. During this time, any remaining homes or the ruins of resorts had already disappeared or were razed. The Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area was officially established on September 1, 1965.
The recreation area includes parts of Sussex and Warren Counties in New Jersey, and Monroe, Northampton, and Pike Counties in Pennsylvania. Twenty-seven miles of the Appalachian Trail runs along much of the eastern boundary of the park. The park also includes 40 miles of the Middle Delaware National Scenic and Recreational River and 67,000 acres of forested mountains, riverine valleys, and fertile floodplains. Through here, visitors enjoy more than 100 miles of hiking trails along streams, ridges, and mountaintops, several waterfalls, and 100 miles of scenic roadways. Birdwatching and wildlife viewing is also popular as people can come across deer, black bears, wild turkeys, fox, and a variety of gorgeous wild birds. Outdoor recreational activities include canoeing, hiking, camping, swimming, cycling, cross-country skiing, horseback riding, and picnicking. Fishing and hunting are permitted in season with valid state licenses.