A Brief History of Lake George

By Dr. Patrick L. Cooney

1609 – Samuel de Champlain sailed down Lake Champlain. He and his Algonquin guides overpowered the resident Iroquois near Ticonderoga.

1642 – Father Isaac Joques and two others, paddled over Lake George, making them the first white men to set eyes on Lake George. They were attacked and captured by the Mohawks but Father Joques escaped and returned home to France.

1646 – Father Joques was sent by the French Governor on a political embassy to the Iroquois in relation to a treaty of peace. He reached the foot of Lake George on the Festival of Corpus Christi and renamed the lake 'Lac du Saint Sacrament.' Father Joques died a martyr at the hands of the Mohawks.

1730 – soldier-farmers from New France colonized an area on the west side of Lake Champlain (Fort Saint Frederic, now Crown Point). The Lake George area became a no-man’s land between the French to the north and the English to the south.

1755 – an expedition against the French planned to extinguish French rights to America. Albany was selected as the rendezvous point and troops from all the colonies gathered there. Major General William Johnson advanced from Fort Edward to Lake Saint Sacrament with a force of 2200 colonial troops and 300 Indians, encamped at the head of the lake and re-christened it Lake George, in honor of King George II.

But the French beat him to the punch. Under Baron Dieskau the French ambushed the English just south of Lake George. It was at this time that the Battle of Lake George took place with its three engagements: Bloody Morning Scout, Battle at Lake George and Battle at Bloody Pond. General Johnson hurried to strengthen defenses at the head of the lake. He erected a fort which he named Fort William Henry in honor of the Duke of Cumberland, brother of King George II.

There is a monument in Battleground Park of General William Johnson and King Hendrick of the Mohawks (killed at the Battle of Lake George) commemorating this battle.

1755 – the governor of New France, Marquis de Vaudreuil, had a fort (Fort Carillon, later Ticonderoga) constructed that would guard the water passage between Lake George and Lake Champlain.

1757 – A force of French and Indians, led by Marquis de Montcalm, secured the surrender of the Fort William Henry after a six day siege. The defenders were promised safe passage to Fort Edward, but the Indians became unruly and a bloody massacre ensued. The fort was then torn down and the logs set on fire. This campaign was used by James Fenimore Cooper as the background for his famous novel, 'The Last of the Mohicans'.

1758 – British General James Abercromby with 15,000 men moved from the site of old Fort William Henry to attack Fort Carillon. Second in command, Lord Howe, was killed in an early skirmish. The British had to retreat.

1758 (March)  --  Robert Rogers (given created for being the founder of the army's special forces) and his men were forced back from Ticonderoga by a large force of Canadians and Indians. Legend says that Rogers and 20 of his men escaped to the safety of Lake George by scrambling down a  100 feet plus precipice that today is known as Rogers Rock in Rogers Rock Campground on Lake George.  

1759 – 11,000 men under British Lord Jeffrey Amherst besieged Fort Carillon. The French retreated after setting fire to the fort. The British established the massive Fort Ticonderoga.

Fort Ticonderoga saw no further action until the American Revolution.

1775 – Battles of Lexington and Concord.

1775 – one month later Fort Ticonderoga was seized from the English by Ethan Allen, Benedict Arnold, and the Green Mountain Boys. The fort fell without loss of a single life and was the first American victory of the Revolution.

1775 – in November, General George Washington sent General Henry Knox to bring cannon from Fort Ticonderoga to Boston. They were dragged to Fort George by scow and then over the snow by sled to Boston.

Today there are markers at six mile intervals tracing the route which General Knox followed that winter. Fort Ticonderoga was restored by the Pell family and is now open to the public.

1777 – the British under General John Burgoyne take back Fort Ticonderoga after they fortify Mount Defiance (overlooking the fort) with cannons.

1791 – Alexander Macomb owned almost four million Adirondack acres.

1799 – Town of Bolton organized, the oldest of the Lake George towns.

early 1800s – to the great benefit of the timber industry, legislation that declared New York rivers public highways launched the great age of the Adirondack river drive.

1807 – Robert Fulton made the run from New York City to Albany aboard his steamship the Clermont. Soon afterwards, stage coaches started operating between Albany and Lake George.

1810 – the town of Caldwell (now Lake George Village) founded and named by founder James Caldwell. The name lasted until 1962.

1825 – Erie Canal opened for business. Many Adirondack pioneers pushed on to the west.

1826 – James Fenimore Cooper’s The Last of the Monica published with its setting around the Lake George area.

1840s – the privately owned plank road built between Glens Falls and Lake George.

1850 – New York led the nation in timber production.

1855 – Fort William Henry Hotel opens in Caldwell (now Lake George village) to service affluent travelers.

1860-1880 – the curing of leather was an important Adirondack industry.

1862 – about 15,000 guests stayed or passed through the town of Caldwell.

1869 – rail service began from Fort Edward to Glens Falls.

1869-1882 – the golden age of stagecoaches. Fort William Henry Hotel in Lake George village (then called Caldwell) became the center stage for the stagecoaches.

1870-1910 – the Adirondacks were a hot tourist destination.

1874 – Rogers Rock Hotel built.

1876  -- by this date there were 20 hotels clustered around the southern end of Lake George.

1882 – the train arrives in Lake George. This was the death knell for the stagecoach age.

1883 – the Philadelphia-born Green Island Improvement Corporation (with John Boulton Simpson as president) builds the Sagamore Club House on Green Island.

1885 – establishment of the Adirondack Forest Preserve (covering 42 percent of what later became the Adirondack Park).

Late 1880s - 1957 – Frank Carney and later his family operated the Sabbath Day Point House at Sabbath Day Point.

1890 – John Boulton Simpson’s yacht, the Fanita, launched. It was the most palatial private yacht on the lake.

early 1890s – Harry Watrous, a well-known painter and founding member of the Lake George Club, builds a summer cottage at Hague on the west side of Lake George.

1892 – establishment of the Adirondack Park (covering 6.1 million acres)

1893 – the Sagamore Club House burns to the ground.

1894 – the second Sagamore Club House opens with many added amenities.

1895 - a 1.4 mile Otis Incline Railway built up the side of Prospect Mountain. A day trip to Prospect Mountain was a popular pastime. Visitors could eat, dance and find lodging at the Prospect Mountain House.

1901  -- founding of the Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks to protect the area from the ideas of Gifford Pinchot (chief foresters of the US Forest Service) that the forests were a renewable resource and could be logged to produce revenue for the state.

1902 – George O. Knapp, co-founder of the Union Carbide Corporation, builds his estate on a ledge of Shelving Rock overlooking Lake George.

1903 – guests of the Rogers Rock Hotel purchased the hotel from its owner and opened the Rogers Rock Club.

1903 – the Otis Incline Railway ceases operation and Prospect Mountain acquired by George Foster Peabody and later donated to the State of New York.

1904 – George Knapp buys Paradise Bay, one of the loveliest and best known of Lake George’s bays.

1908 – the Lake George Club was formally founded by prominent members of the Lake George community.

1909 – the Lake George Club, often referred to as "The Millionaires’ Club," opens. It has boat docks, tennis courts and golf course and a clubhouse with dining facilities.

1909 – the Fort Ticonderoga Museum was dedicated with President William Howard Taft in attendance. The Museum founders were Sarah and Stephen Pell.

1909 – Fort William Henry burns to the ground.

1911 – the second Fort William Henry opens.

1914 – the second Sagamore Club House is destroyed by fire.

1917 – the Knapp estate at Shelving Rock destroyed by fire.

1922 – a third Sagamore Club House opens.

1930s – well-known scient6ist John S. Apperson, or Appie became well-known for his conservationist struggles.  He opposed the Hewitt Reforestation Amendment to the State Constitution which would have opened the area to logging.  Apperson and Louis Marshall opposed the amendment until the Adirondack Park boundaries were extended by more than 1,500,000 acres by bringing in land around Lake George, Lake Champlain, Sacandaga Reservoir and the mountains north of Lake Placid and Saranac Lake.  Apperson also fought against the "Closed-Cabin" Amendment that would have allowed the State to clear Forest Preserve land in order to build buildings, such as ski lodges. Appie and the Association for Preservation of the Adirondacks enlisted the support of sportsmen's groups and conservation organizations to fight the Closed-Cabin Amendment.

1932 – the Closed Cabin Amendment defeated in a public vote by a 2 to 1 margin.

1941 – most of the Knapp estate acquired by New York State for public use.

1945 – John Apperson and Paul Schaefer fought passionately against the plan to put up a large reservoir at Higley Mountain, as well as construct other dams. In summary Apperson helped save the High Peaks from being lumbered, fought erosion of the islands in Lake George, assisted in state acquisition of the Lake George Narrows and founding of the Adirondack Mountain Club.

1946 – Apperson and Schaefer organized the Adirondack Moose River Committee to fight the dams. John Apperson also played an important leadership role in the conservation of Lake George Islands as part of the NYS Forest Preserve.

1953 – Fort William Henry was reconstructed and opened to the public as a museum.

1960s – rapid proliferation of Adirondack second homes.

1967 – completion of Interstate 87.

1974 – creation of the controversial Adirondack Park Agency (APA). It was set up to guide development on both public and private lands, because there were so many people coming up and building Adirondack second homes.

Some Members of the Lake George Club (the "Millionaires' Club):

Dr. William Gerard Beckers                  7 year term as first vice-president

Denny Brereton                                     one of the organizers of the Club; director, treasurer, 1910-1911

H. W. Guernsey                                    secretary (1912-1914), vice-president (1914), president (1915-1924)

Henry W. Hayden                                 secretary of the organization committee

Lawrence Jacob                                    founder-member, Board of Directors (1908), secretary (1909-1910)

Antonio Knauth                                     founder-member

T. E. Krumbholz                                    founder-member

Dr. Willy Meyer                                     founder-member

Charles Jones Peabody                          founder-member

Charles Samuel Peabody                       founder-member

George Foster Peabody                        with Spencer Trask he planned the building of the Lake George Club

Royal C. Peabody                                founder-member

Edward Morse Shepard                        one of the original founders

John Boulton Simpson                           first vice-president of the Club, 1910-1911

Count Henning G. Taube                       founder-member

Edward Perry Townsend                       founder-member

Spencer Trask                                       president when the Club opened August 14, 1909

Charles Tuttle                                        first vice-president of the Club, 1932-1939

E. Burgess Warren                                founder-member

Harry Watrous                                      founder-member

Martin Luther Clarence Wilmarth            founder-member

W. B. Woodbury                                   president (1929-1935)


Kathryn E. O'Brien.  The Great and the Gracious on Millionaires' Row: Lake George in its Glory.  Utica, New York: North Country Press. 

Edith Pilcher.  "Watchdog of the Forest Preserve." Jan-Feb 1984. The Conservationist Magazine. Reprinted in the Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks.  http://www.protectadks.org/1984_watchdog.html

Paul Schneider. 1998. (first published in hardcover 1997.) The Adirondacks: A History of America's First Wilderness.  New York: Owl Book for Henry Holt and Company.

A Few of the Islands and Mountain Trails of Lake George

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