The story of Cupsaw Lake is very much a story of Ringwood. It begins with the activities of Cornelius Board, agent for the British Lord Sterling, who in 1736, was the first to realize the potential of the North Jersey Highlands. Board erected a small furnace for the manufacture of iron from the rich deposits discovered by friendly Indians. Ringwood had it all — the iron ore, the water power, and the virgin forests which fueled the iron works. Board sold some of his holdings to David Ogden of Newark, who formed the Ringwood Company in 1742.
In 1764, Peter Hasenclever, a German agent for a London-based company, bought the holdings of the Ringwood Company. He imported German iron workers, forgemen, furnacemen, charcoal burners, and masons to work in this new country. The names of some of these craftsmen — Mann, DeGroat, Van Dunk and De Freese — remain a part of present-day Ringwood.
Recognizing Ringwood’s potential, Hasenclever’s ambitions soon outstripped the money supply of his backers. In 1767, he was replaced by Robert Erskine, who was sent by the London company to straighten out the company’s tangled affairs in Ringwood, Greenwood Lake, and other locations. Erskine was a Scottish mining engineer and cartographer who cast his lot with the Americans during the Revolution. He became Surveyor-General to General George Washington during that time, and under his direction the iron mines produced products essential to the Continental cause.
After the Revolution, the iron mines lay idle. And then, in 1807, Martin J. Ryerson of Pompton bought the Ringwood mines. Unfortunately, after his death in 1839, his sons, who inherited the ironworks, went into bankruptcy. In 1853, the Ringwood iron mines and furnaces were purchased by Peter Cooper, the New York industrialist who founded Cooper Union. He was the owner of the Trenton Iron Company, managed by Abram S. Hewitt. Together they erected a company town consisting of a general store, a tavern, a church and multifamily clapboard dwellings for the employees. It was this reactivation of the Ringwood iron industry that drew the Ramapo Mountain People and colored pioneers from Hackensack into the Wanaque River Valley. During the Civil War, Cooper, Hewitt & Company supplied gun carriages for the Union army. However, the difficulty of shipping out of the area would prove to be the ultimate downfall of the company’s iron business.
In the nineteenth century, while the iron mines were still operating, several wealthy families built large estates in Ringwood. Abram Hewitt built the present Ringwood Manor House near the first manor house built by Peter Hasenclever. Francis Lynn Stetson, a corporate lawyer for JP Morgan, built the current Skylands Manor. These estates and the farms around them attracted more of the Ramapo Mountain people, as they supplied work while the iron mines were declining.
In 1905, the Ringwood Company was officially incorporated to provide for the administration of its large properties, now included in the Erskine Preserve. The Ringwood Company, seeing the transformation of the area from colonial iron plantation to nineteenth-century millionaires* estates to possible suburban development, was concerned that this *only suburban sector* of the New York Metropolitan district remain unexploited and unspoiled, and grow and develop in such a way as to promote its maximum possibilities for recreational and residential use. It began to oversee the development of the area, using as its base its old office in the Ringwood Manor.
In 1927, the Ringwood Company, under the leadership of Ogden Blackfar Hewitt, was a true real estate holding firm, and began to put into operation a plan to capitalize on its tremendous land holdings. A dam was built at the overflow of what was called Tice*s Pond in the vicinity of the Small Community House (now called Little Beach Clubhouse), thus creating Lake Erskine, an enlarged natural lake of about 90 acres.
Cupsaw Lake and Upper Lake came into existence around 1932. Dams were built, creating a 33-acre lake at Upper and a 65-acre lake at Cupsaw. In the late 1920*s and early 1930*s, the Ringwood Company began advertising lakefront lots for vacation cabins. The Ringwood Company*s own sawmill, located on Lake Erskine, supplied the logs, hauled by oxen, which were used in building the first log cabins.
In 1932, metropolitan papers carried the Ringwood Company’s advertisement: ‘Lakefront lots, $2000 each.’ In Greenwood Lake, beautiful lots were going for only $95, but property in Ringwood was special and worth the extra.
Erskine Lake was touted as the sportsman’s paradise. Here were small cabins for the man who liked to hunt in the autumn or fish in the spring from the brooks that gushed with water from the winter snows. Cupsaw attracted its share of sportsmen, but it was also noticed by those who were interested in relaxation and comradeship. It was like a private club where there were no fences and no clearly defined boundaries.
The predecessor of Erskine Lakes Property Owners’ Association was the Erskine Lakes Country Club. It was formed in 1926 to promote good fellowship and recreation among the residents of the Erskine Lakes. The people who settled here, building and improving their summer homes, were chiefly middle class business and professional people who were able to afford two homes. They were generally well educated and helped to give the lakes a sense of stability and prestige. The Ringwood Company had an agreement with the Country Club that the Company would still own the property called ‘Erskine Lakes’, but residents were permitted to use it and the facilities upon it, such as the New Community House, the Old Community House, tennis and beaches.
In 1930, Ringwood’s total population hovered around 1,000, and at that time there were 13 bungalows in the Erskine area. By 1933, the Country Club boasted of 100 members from Cupsaw and Erskine.
Up to 1935 there was always a gateman present at the Erskine entrance along Ringwood Avenue to ask the destination of travelers coming into the lakes. For several years, a sign bearing the notice ‘Restricted Christian Community’ stood at the entrance. This was removed in 1939 due to political events in Europe.