Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The Hidden Gem at Rock Lodge

The Hidden Gem at Rock Lodge

Tucked away in the woods behind wooden gates is one of New Jersey's lesser-known historic buildings. A castle-like structure sits on a knoll, surrounded by dense forest, cottages, and a man-made lake. Constructed in 1907, the Stone House in Stockholm, Sussex County, New Jersey was built to be fire-proof. It has stood the test of time and is now associated and cared for by a group who also has an interesting history - the Rock Lodge Club, a family-oriented nudist club.


The Stone House was built as a model fire-proof farm house by Abraham Lincoln Himmelwright. Himmelwright was born February 7, 1865 in Milford, Pennsylvania. His parents named him in honor of President Abraham Lincoln, who was assassinated the year he was born. Himmelwright authored many books and articles, including one in 1894 about a hunting trip in the Bitterroot Mountains of Idaho as part of the Carlin Hunting Party, which he was part of, and a first-hand account of the famous Johnstown flood in Pennsylvania, which was published in Harper's Magazine in September 1933. In most of the works he authored, he went by the name "ALA Himmelwright." Himmelwright was also an expert marksman and published numerous books on the subject. He served as president of the U.S. Revolver Association from 1904 to 1906 and won the Association's inaugural national revolver shooting championship match in 1900.

A trained civil engineer, he also worked from 1895 to 1910 as the General Manager of the Roebling Construction Company, responsible for the main office in New York City, twelve branch offices in various parts of the country, in Mexico City, and Montreal, Canada.

Original holding tank on the third floor of the 1907 Stone House.
In 1904, Himmelwright purchased forty-seven acres of land that is now part of the Rock Lodge Club. The land had previously been used for timber and agriculture. Between 1904 and 1907, what is now called Rock Lodge Pond was dredged; the lake is fed by seventeen underwater springs. The dam was completed August 8, 1905. Upon a rocky knoll on the property, he built a three-story fireproof home of local granite, which features a poured concrete roof, five stained glass bullseye windows, a full basement, and what was then a state-of-the-art water supply system which pumped water from a spring to a holding tank on the third floor. When completed, the home had sixteen rooms and two bathrooms. All of the interior walls were constructed of brick or cement. It was considered a very safe and sanitary structure. A two-car fire-proof detached garage was built not far from the house. The home and garage were completed at a cost of $10,200.

Himmelwright authored a book in 1913 entitled, A Model Fire-Proof Farmhouse, which went into great length about constructing this type of house. The book, dedicated to his son who drowned in the lake in 1911, detailed every aspect of construction; site selection, grading, room dimensions, materials, layouts, furnishings, and all the costs for materials and labor, which ranged on the low end from $4,650.57 to a high price of $5,886.07. Himmelwright was inspired to construct a home that was fire-proof after he travelled to San Francisco in 1906 and witnessed the the damage from the 1906 earthquake and resulting fires. He published The San Francisco Earthquake and Fire which discussed ways to mitigate the effects of these types of disasters.

A view of the 1907 Stone House during its time as the A.G.A. Health Resort.
Source: Rock Lodge Club.
In order to make the property profitable, Himmelwright leased the idyllic landscape to a training camp for boxers and a retreat for those looking to be cured by the "healing waters" of its springs and man-made lake in the early 1900s. A 30x96 foot bungalow (now the clubhouse) was built circa 1919 and featured an indoor handball court and coal heat, a fireplace, a living room, ten single bedrooms, and a men's room. Two needle-shower baths with the latest mixing devices were installed. In 1920, the property was leased to the Rock Lodge Health Farm and later Sylvan Springs for a short time. A brochure from Sylvan Springs period touted the area as the "Adirondacks in New Jersey" and "Drink generously the healing waters of the famous Sylvan Springs." The lease to Rock Lodge Health Farm indicated that the property included the stone house, "a new Bungalow of fourteen rooms, unfinished; a fire-proof Garage; the old seven room frame cottage, unfurnished; the old frame barn, and all other buildings on the Premises."

During the Great Depression the property was leased to the American Gymnosophical Association (AGA), under the proprietorship of Herman Shoshinsky, who established a nudist club at Rock Lodge. Previously, the AGA had been renting gymnasium space in New York City but there came a time when the group was no longer welcome. Looking for a new, outdoor location in a pristine setting, they settled upon Rock Lodge. An advertisement from the 1930s touted, "City electricity, big bath-tubs, hot and cold showers, flush-toilets, steam-heat in the mansion and hot-water heat in the bungalow in winter are among our modern conveniences." Meals were served in the stone house, where a chef prepared them and were served to guests by waitresses. Trailer space and tent sites could be rented on the grounds for a modest fee, creating a true tent colony.

Source: Rock Lodge Club.
However, Rock Lodge was not the first nudist colony in the United States. In the 1920s, America saw the birth of the modern nudist movement, which originated in Germany. The movement can be traced to Kurt Barthel, who established the American League for Physical Culture in 1929. The League had its first outing, consisting of three women and four men, most of whom were in their twenties, later that year in New York. In addition to founding the League, in May of 1932 Kurt Barthel also established America's first official nudist camp in Liberty Corner (Basking Ridge), New Jersey called "Sky Farm." Sky Farm also continues to operate to this day.

In the late 1930s, after Himmelwright's death in 1936, the property was purchased by Dr. DePaolo, a chiropractor who lived across Rock Lodge Road. In 1938, the club hosted the National Nudist Convention. In 1942, Dr. DePaolo and Herman Shoshinsky had a falling out, and the AGA moved to nearby Newfoundland.

An early view of Rock Beach with club members. Source: Rock Lodge Club.
That year, Rock Lodge began as a cooperative nudist club with a one year lease. In 1946, a ten year lease was negotiated and small cabins and pre-fab, or kit homes, were built throughout the property. Two Hodgson House pre-fab homes still exist at Rock Lodge Club. Eleven years later, in 1957, a forty-year lease was negotiated and housing throughout the site blossomed. The site continued to evolve with the addition of new amenities. The dormitory building was converted into rooms for rent and a clubhouse, complete with common areas, a sauna, and mens' and womens' restroom facilities. Meals are no longer served at the Stone House, which is now strictly rooms for rent. The Stone House maintains many of its original features, however the only surviving piece of furniture from Himmelwright's time there is one small table.

The Club has been host to some notable people including Percival Wilde, an author and playwright, John Ericson, a German-American actor and film and television star, 1940s pinup model Annie Andrews, and Karel Koecher, a mole known to have penetrated the CIA.

In the late 1980s, the forty-year lease ended and members of the club organized Rock Properties in 1990 to purchase the site's thirty-five acres. In 1995, an additional 110 acres was purchased, for a total of 145 acres of woodland, streams, and open space. In 2007, the Stone House celebrated its centennial. The club members are dedicated to keeping the history of Himmelwright and his stone house alive for many years to come.


Additional photos of my trip to the 1907 Stone House at Rock Lodge Club on Pinterest

For More Information
Rock Lodge Club


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