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 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.
Though the park was set aside as an area for outdoor recreation, it is also rich in history, encompassing significant Native American archeological sites and structures from the early Dutch settlement during the colonial period. The entire region was a frontier of the French & Indian War. Historic rural villages from the 18th and 19th centuries remain intact on the New Jersey side, which still retains much of the flavor of 100 years ago. Still standing today are Mountain Side House (Coppermine Inn) at Turtle Beach, Delaware View House at Wallpack Bend, and Hotel Ferncliff in the center of Bevans, now called Peters Valley.
Remnants of the railroad days can be seen in several areas. A small section of the Delaware Valley Railway bed is now part of Railway Avenue Trail in Bushkill, Pennsylvania, and just under a mile of the New York, Susquehanna, and Western Railroad bed is now the Karamac Trail in New Jersey. The Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railway’s single track is still in use through the Gap between the river and Route 611, and occasionally an excursion train from Steamtown National Historic Site will reach Point of Gap Overlook.
More landscapes of past settlements and buildings are scattered throughout the park. Some of these include:
Millbrook Village – In 1832, a local farmer built a grist mill along the newly-finished Columbia-Walpack Turnpike where it crossed a stream known as “Van Campens Mill Brook.” By 1875, Millbrook had reached a peak of 75 inhabitants and about 19 major buildings. However, by 1910, the mill, store, and hotel closed their doors. Today, only a handful of original Millbrook buildings remain. Other buildings have been moved from other sites or are newly built to help depict village life in the valley during the late 19th and early 20th century. Several buildings are open on summer weekends.
Minisink Archeological Site – Located in Sussex County, New Jersey, and Pike County, Pennsylvania, this site was once occupied by Munsee-speaking Lenape tribe, who lived here for the majority of the 17th and 18th centuries. Hundreds of early stone tools recovered at the site and the site is one of the most extensive, best-preserved, and most intensively studied archeological locales in the Northeast. The site was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1993.
Village of Bevans – Now called Peters Valley, this once charming farm village has been adapted as the Peters Valley School of Craft. Self-guided tours of the historic grounds and studios are available during the summer on Saturday and Sunday afternoons.
Foster Armstrong House & Neldon-Roberts Stonehouse – Built in the late 1700s, the Foster Armstrong House in Montague, New Jersey boasts a beehive oven and a fireplace in every room. Just a few miles away, the Neldon-Roberts Stonehouse was once a schoolhouse and still sports its original wide-wood plank flooring, fireplace, and deep windows. Volunteers staff the two houses on select summer Sundays. The Foster Armstrong House was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in July 1979.
Walpack Center & Van Campen Inn – The village of Walpack Center, New Jersey was once a bustling community. Today, the Walpack Historical Society maintains a small museum in one of the oldest town buildings, the Rosenkrans House. The Van Campen Inn is located on the other side of Walpack Ridge. Originally built as a farmhouse, the Van Campen Inn offered shelter for travelers during Colonial times. Volunteers from the Walpack Historical Society staff the Van Campen Inn along Old Mine Road and the Rosenkrans House in the historic Walpack Center on summer Sundays.
Old Mine Road – Constructed in the mid-1700s, Old Mine Road connected the Hudson River in New York and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to the Pahaquarry Mines in New Jersey and provided an important conduit for New Jersey farmers taking crops to area markets, making it one of the oldest commercial roads in the country. Today, Old Mine Road stitches together sections of several roads into the park’s main passage in New Jersey and still retains much of the flavor of 100 years ago, making it a popular driving and biking route. At Fort Carmer, the Van Campen Inn, and at the Hamilton Ridge Trail near Millbrook, visitors can still walk on the original unpaved roadbed once traipsed by Dutch farmers, by colonial Americans, and by soldiers of the French & Indian and Revolutionary Wars.
Pahaquarry Copper Mine – An abandoned copper mine located on the west side of Kittatinny Mountain in Warren County, New Jersey. Active mining was attempted here for brief periods during the mid-18th, mid-19th, and early 20th centuries but it was never successful despite developments in mining technology and improving mineral extraction methods.
These are just a few of the historic sites in the National Recreation Area. In Pennsylvania, others include the Zimmermann House and Farm in Pike County and the Ramirez Solar House in Milford, the Turn Store and Tinsmith’s Shop in Bushkill, Dingmans Ferry Dutch Reformed Church in Dingmans Ferry, the Metz Ice Plant in Milford, and several others. In New Jersey visitors can see the Andrew Snable House and Shoemaker-Houck Farm in Walpack Center, the Millville Historic District north of Montague, and more.
Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area
1978 River Road
Bushkill, Pennsylvania 18324