The three upper lakes in Mountain Lakes, Crystal, Sunset, and Birchwood, were originally called “Fox Hill Lakes”. They owe their existence to the huge market for ice in the late 19th century. All over the northeast where the winter was cold, ice was sawed into blocks and packed into ice houses amid a insulating blanket of sawdust. The ice was then shipped out in the warm months by railroad car ending up in the “ice boxes” of the urban homes and the drinks offered in New York’s best hotels.
Apparently running low on natural bodies of water, the Fox Hills Ice Company acquired the tract of land north of Pocono and Tower Hill Roads. To provide access, the company built a railroad spur extending down the southeast edge of Rattlesnake Swamp on the north side of what was eventually to be the “Fox Hill Lakes.” Crystal Lake was the first one to be built in 1893 with a handsome stone block dam unfortunately now covered by dumped earth after holding back the waters unaided for 60 years. A 100 foot long ice house was built right next to the railroad tracks on the spot now occupied by the home at 28 West Shore Road. The foundation of the ice house could still be seen in the 1930s. Several years later, Sunset Lake was created with an ice house along what is now North Pocono Road. Birchwood Lake came last in 1905.
Whereas Crystal was located in a wide swampy valley containing a sizable spring (never located in modern times) and Sunset was amply filled by the overflow from Crystal, Birchwood was high and dry and dependent on the runoff from the surrounding hills. This was not enough in 1905 and the lake was eventually filled by moving a steam-driven pump on a flat car to the end of the lake and pumping the water to fill it out of Crystal. The trick was repeated during a dry summer in the 1960s only substituting a fire engine for the steam pump. The Birchwood fire house was where the beach is now located.
The Fox Hill Ice Company did not have many more years to go. The refrigerator and ice-making equipment which could make ice year-round put an end to the lucrative natural ice business. The railroad spur was abandoned as was a plan to extend it to Dover. By 1912 Herbert J. Hapgood, the original developer of Mountain Lakes had acquired the property and plans drawn up in the next few years included roads around each of the Fox Hill Lakes. Hapgood apparently was the one who named the three lakes but the names were only on maps. The community called them Fox Hill Lake #1, 2 or 3.
In the years when the police exercised absolute control over skating on the lower Mountain Lakes lakes, the community still used its own judgment as to when the Fox Hill Lakes were safe — which extended the skating season by many days.
[This description was taken from a historic write-up by Roland Mueser, a long-time resident of Mountain Lakes, dated February 8, 1995.]
How to get there
Go west on Pocono Rd. and turn right onto West Shore Road. Go to the end and park in the Birchwood Lake parking lot. Birchwood Lake is straight ahead of you with it’s beach on the left. Crystal Lake is to your right. A trail, approximately one mile long circles Birchwood Lake and is a very pleasant walk. It begins on the right side of the lake and ends at the far end of the beach.
To get a good view of Crystal and Sunset lakes, walk back down West Shore Road about 1/4 mile. There are no sidewalks here so be very alert for automobile traffic — safety first! Pass Roberts Drive on the right and soon you will see a house on the left with a boulder beside the driveway. Just on the other side of the boulder is a trail that enters the woods. Standing here is a small shed that is the only remaining remnant of the Bell Labs sonar testing station that was once located here. Continue on down the trail until you come to the dam separating Crystal and Sunset Lakes. From here you can get an excellent view of each lake. You may return to your car by retracing your route.