of Cedar Lake

Donaldson Wildlife Preserve

Robert Donaldson, with the help of John Phillips, assembled a parcel of four acres of land that has been added to Jonathan’s Woods Park as the Donaldson Wildlife Preserve in honor of Dr. and Mrs. George Huntington (Etta Beekman) Donaldson, early supporters of the development of Cedar Lake.  

George was born in Gilbertsville, NY on March 3, 1864. He graduated from Cornell University in 1888 with a Bachelor of Science degree, then from NYU in 1890 with an MA in comparative religions. He also received a Bachelor of Divinity degree from Union Theological Seminary in 1894. He was ordained a Presbyterian minister that year. He then received a PhD in Oriental Languages from New York University in1895. 

Etta was born in New York City on September 29, 1868. The couple met in New York and were married in 1891. They took a year and a half honeymoon around the world traveling through Ireland, Wales, Scotland, Holland, Belgium, France, Italy, Greece, the “Holy Lands,” Syria, Persia, Armenia, Russia, India, Burma, China, Japan, Hawaii and across the US visiting missionary families and YMCA secretaries. 

The couple built a home in Cliffside Park, NJ and settled down. George took a position teaching biology and physiology at Dewitt Clinton High School in Manhattan in 1898 after the church in Edgewater, NJ where he was pastor burned down. 

The couple decided to find property where they could establish a summer camp for retreats to study literature, science, music and religion patterned after Chautauqua, NY. After an extensive search, they selected the newly formed Cedar Lake Park because of its undeveloped state and natural beauty. In 1907 they purchased property and built Pipsissewa Lodge on Cedar Lake East. This was the first summer home structure in Denville.  

To take advantage of the spectacular views, biological diversity, wildlife, rock formations and wooded terrain, in 1908 they built Cedar Crest, the first house on Hillcrest Drive. There was no year-around water supply so they collected water from the roof runoff into a cistern. In 1914, George formed the Diamond Spring Water Company to build a water tank on Hillcrest Drive opposite Number 167. Between April 15th and October 15th each year, water was pumped from a spring and reservoir by lot 245 on Great Bear Road at the bottom of the hill. The water tank fed by gravity a number of houses on Hillcrest Drive as they were added.

The Township of Denville acquired the water company in 1929. After 1952, property owners started drilling their own wells and converting houses to be lived in all year long. The old water system was abandoned in 2012.

When Cedar Lake Park Inc. went bankrupt in 1924, George arranged to purchase all its property from the receiver in bankruptcy to hold and return to a new corporation. After Cedar Lake Property Owners Inc. was formed, the remaining unsold property including the lake bed and except for most of the lots on Bald Hill were transferred into it. The Donaldsons also donated the islands and land for the West Beach to the CLPO. Over the years up until the death of George in 1938, he was involved in more than 125 real estate transactions within Cedar Lake Park as defined by Map 301.

The family is privileged to have donated the Wildlife Preserve property to the Township of Denville on May 28, 2019 to be enjoyed by its residents and others as an extension of Johnathan’s Woods Park in ways envisioned by George and Etta. It is the highest point in the Park and encompasses a grotto and a natural slab of stone call the “Last Supper Table” and is home to deer, skunks, raccoons, red fox, black bears, blacksnakes and copperheads, and numerous varieties of birds including five types of raptors. The flora and fauna are very diverse and the site provides interesting vistas year around.

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