Stillwater

by Jane Dobosh

The best known feature of the Stillwater area is probably Swartswood Lake State Park—the 1,774 acre state park, located on the shores of both Swartswood and Little Swartswood Lakes, features many activities all summer, as well as facilities for picnicking and camping. But there are myriad treasures throughout the rolling hills and three villages in that corner of Sussex County.

The lake was a major resort in the early 1900s, and weekenders took the train into nearby Blairstown through the 1940s. Although many of the local families took in borders throughout the summer, there were other places to stay. The North Shore Inn, visible across the lake, was once a booming hotel, as was The Casino and The Dove Island Inn, now a private home. Later, weekenders stayed in summer cabins. The Paulinskill River was dammed in the 1920s to create Paulinskill Lake, now primarily a year-round community, but which was for many years a collection of summer residences.

The history of the area started long before it was discovered by Brooklynites looking to escape the city heat. A map and driving tour guide is available at the township municipal building in Middleville and is a must for lovers of old houses. Some of the highlights are the Stillwater Mill and the nearby Casper Shafer house, a stone structure with an ornate porch. Shafer was one of the first three inhabitants of Stillwater. Whitehall, nearer the center of the village, is a large house surrounded by a white fence. It was built by Nathan Armstrong Shafer (son of Casper) and once owned by poet Joyce Kilmer's widow. The Presbyterian Church is the most prominent feature in the village. Opposite the church is the former Stillwater Academy, an old schoolhouse, now the historical society museum, which is open on Sunday afternoons all summer.

Like all communities settled in the 18th Century, Stillwater is the subject of many tales and legends. Grace Van Horn of Fredon, a lifelong area resident, is quick to debunk one of those stories: there is no Hessian cemetery in Stillwater. There is a very small private graveyard on the property owned by the Van Horn family from 1808 to 1965. Tales have circulated that Hessian soldiers are buried there, but the Van Horns know of no such burials. Many of the early settlers were German and there may have been some Hessian prisoners of war held nearby after the battle of Princeton, but there are no records of burials. The cemetery is still private property, Van Horn says. The legendary Ice Cave is also on the former Van Horn property. Roof says there is a cave in the mountain that is so deep there is always ice in it.

Although Stillwater Township is still a farming community, the village has a number of shops and businesses of interest to the visitor including antiques and collectible shops and galleries, as well as nearby restaurants

Like most farming communities in this region, the Stillwater area was dotted with lime kilns. Most are not accessible from the public roads and many are in disrepair, but you can find a wonderful example of an intact kiln on Millbrook Road a little more than two miles from Stillwater village. Frequently stones have been removed from the kilns for later construction projects or trees have grown up within them. But the Millbrook kiln has escaped both fates, according to Donald Robbins, a local expert on lime kilns. Whether walking through the village or driving through the entire area, the visitor feels that history is still alive in Stillwater Township.

Nearby accommodations and attractions

  • Float the Wild Side on the Wallkill River
  • , Sussex

  • Sterling Hill Mine Tour and Museum
  • Step Into Earth Science! Mining museum with underground mine tour and over 30 acres of indoor & outdoor displays and historical buildings. Recent additions include expanded fluorescent display at Thomas S. Warren Museum and the Million Dollar display at the Oreck Family Mineral Gallery. Gift shop with a collection of world wide minerals.

    30 Plant St., Ogdensburg 07439, 973/209-7212

  • Lake Hopatcong Historical Museum
  • Thousands of photos and artifacts document the lake's long and illustrious history. Open every Sunday through June, 12-4pm, October thru May. Free admission, parking.

    323 Lakeside Blvd., Hopatcong State Park, Hopatcong 07843, 973/398-2616

  • Tomahawk Lake Waterpark
  • Water park, swimming in 20-acre crystal clear lake, picnicking, waterslides, boats, golf, catering under circus tents, beer garden in summer. Come celebrate our 65th Season!

    Tomahawk Trail, Sparta 07871, 973/398-7777

  • High Point Mountain Motel
  • Pet friendly, AAA-rated motel offers all the comforts of home on seven country acres on a spectacular hillside location minutes from High Point State Park and Appalachian Trail. Cozy, warmly decorated rooms with up-to-your-door parking offer free Wi-Fi and flat-screen TVs, plus microwaves and minifridges. Kids age 12 and under stay for no extra charge.

    1328 Route 23, Wantage 07461, 973/702-1860

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