The Zabriskie Dam and Sylvan Lake

Zabriskie Dam 1862

The Zabriskie Dam was located across from the present day pos toffice (Ho-Ho-KusPark) between Franklin Turnpike and Brookside Avenue. The first dam known to have existed on this site was made of wood and stone. It was destroyed in a large flood in 1862. John J. Zabriskie rebuilt the dam in1862 .It was constructed of cut brownstone block, weighing a ton or more. The keystone weighed between three and five tons. The dam was built in the form of steps 60 feet high and 200 feet across. This type of design allowed the water to trickle over and down the steps. People came from all over the area to visit the dam’s picnic grounds and the beautiful lake which formed behind it.


The second dam, that John J. Zabriskierebuilt, was destroyed by three days of steady rain. It burst on Saturday, September 24,1882. Early Saturday morning four smaller mill dams above stream washed away.This let flow a volume of water six feet over the top forcing it to bulge in the center and making the keystone give away. The breaking of the dam was a calamity for the town. First, the water destroyed surrounding buildings, bridges ,roads, farmland, and livestock. Second, the cotton mill business ended. Third, it did away with picturesque Sylvan Lake and the tourism. Investigation of the collapse revealed that the block stones were simply laid upon each other, some cement was pasted over the seams where there should have been solid masonry and cobblestone and boulders were irregularly dumped in as fill.


Mr. Zabriskie drowned in Sylvan Lake in 1876, and the property was in the hands of the Life Assurance Society. They had recently sold the factory and the dam to Dodge and Sinclair of New York, but possession had not been given when the dam broke.


A large segment of the dam remained until 1948, at which time the Ho-Ho-Kus Road Department began removing the stone blocks, which were used to build the road thatleads to the Saddle River Park on Hollywood Avenue. But local residents interceded and stopped any further destruction.


Sylvan Lake 1862

 There once was a large man-made lake in Ho-Ho-Kus that stretched from the business district to the edge of Hollywood Avenue and under the railroad viaduct. Its function was to provide water power to the Zabriskie Cotton Mill located in the area of today’s railroad station’s lower level parking lot. The lake covered about 70 acres and was over 70 feet deep in many areas except at the dam were it was 60 feet in depth. At its widest point the lake was over 300 feet across and one third of a mile long.


From the mid 1800’s to early 1900 a walkover bridge existed crossing the Zabriskie Dam and Sylvan Lake. It extended over 200 feet from the Zabriskie factory to the area opposite the present day Post Office.


In addition to providing power to the mill, the lake developed into a recreation center and a tourist attraction. At the base of the dam a picnic ground and recreation area was formed. People came from miles around to visit and enjoy the view and to picnic. A walkway of some size, extended from the dam along the eastern shoreline to Hollywood Avenue. Remnantsof this pathway still exist today. The path allowed people a wonderful view of the lake and cliffs in addition to providing a park like setting. This area of the lake was known as Knollwood Park. Some of the properties were even developed for housing.


At the north end of the lake there was a pavilion for band concerts, exhibits and dancing. In addition, a beach area provided for boating, fishing and swimming. The Erie Railroad advertised the area as a tourist attraction and ran special trains to the Ho-Ho-Kus Train Station, which was at Hollywood Avenue in those days. People came to stay for weekends and holidays. They would stay at the Ho-Ho-Kus Hotel near the railroad station.


The beautiful lake disappeared shortly after 4 P.M. Saturday afternoon, September 24, 1882 after a very intense three-day rain storm. Several mill dams failed up stream causing undue pressure on the Zabriskie Dam.


If one wishes to understand the magnitude of the lake’s size, terrain and depth they should walk along Knollwood Drive and view the west side into the ravine.