Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Forge House History: The Forge Company Years

1870 buuell 1897 P418 1 Map Old Forge village026In October 1895, Victor Adams assembled a group of investors together in Little Falls and secured an arrangement with Garmon and Crosby to purchase a 50% interest in the Forge Tract properties. The group’s business plan was to enlarge and improve the Forge House, to build a two-mile railroad from Fulton Chain Station to the Forge House dock and to begin development of the tract into a resort town.  They would eventually also establish a transportation company that would buy the independent public steamers on the lower four lakes.

The name of the syndicate would be The Old Forge Company, often referred to as the Old Forge Improvement Company.  In addition to Garmon, Crosby and Adams, the directors would also include Nelson R. Gilbert, J. Judson Gilbert, Homer P. Snyder and Hadley Jones.  Samuel F. Garmon was the company’s first president and Titus Sheard was a director in the new railroad company.  The company soon completed surveys of the Forge Tract, laid out the first streets named after most of these individuals in Spring 1896 and filed the first village map with the Herkimer County Clerk’s Office.

The Old Forge Company owned the Forge House until it was sold to the Thomsons in 1915. The Company would undergo several changes in corporate leadership during this period.  The Old Forge Company’s corporate life and dealings are a topic unto itself and are dealt with extensively in another narrative.  The Company did determine to hire an on-site superintendent to oversee the operations of the Forge House, the new Fulton Chain Railroad and the Crosby Transportation Company.  Before returning to the hotel’s proprietors, a brief mention of the people in this management layer who did have some say in hotel operations seems appropriate.

1897ab P1149 Forge House Dock station  182In 1896, the “superintendent” was Capt. John Crowley, a prominent Little Falls government buildings superintendent whose son published the Little Falls Times. Subsequent superintendents would concentrate on the railroad and steamer companies.  He was succeeded in May 1897 by Harry G. Dale, a long time station agent for the New York Central in Little Falls.  In March 1899, Dale was succeeded by Clarence Rivenburg, a conductor on the Mohawk & Malone railway between Montreal and Utica.  Rivenburg performed this function for the Old Forge Company until the railroad and steamers were sold to Dr. Webb in April 1901.  He continued with the Fulton Navigation Company until his resignation in March 1902.

The first meeting establishing the Old Forge Company was held in February 1896 and the syndicate determined to raise funds to enlarge the Forge House, doubling the footprint constructed in 1890-1891. In a transaction dated April 13 1896, Garmon and Crosby conveyed the Forge Tract’s 1358.62 acres to the new Company, excluding thirty lots totaling 16 acres previously sold to residents prior to the October 1895 meeting, for $1.00.  Earlier, the Richfield Springs Mercury in November 1895 reported that Adams paid the two men $25,000 for his 50% interest in the Company.  The deed still included the illegal right to raise the dam taken over by the state in 1879.

1897 Old Forge HouseContractor Charles D. West of Little Falls directed the Forge House construction team’s forty workers. A new wing was built, matching architecturally the renovated wing rebuilt by Garmon & Crosby.  Broad piazzas were built to surround the hotel’s front and sides.  Every room was repainted, repapered and refurnished.  The new dining room was finished by July 1896 when Alexander Briggs added a collection of rare plants.  A new electric plant was installed to operate 250 incandescent lights.  New docks were built and a park made of the land south of the hotel with a dancing pavilion.  Newspaper reports claimed the enlargement cost $20,000.

The Company retained Alexander and Nellie Briggs for the 1896 season and the couple remained at their posts, to the Company’s consternation, longer than expected. The Briggs’ lease with the Old Forge Company, in Nellie’s name, expired December 31 that year.  But Alexander refused to turn over the premises until certain sums due from the hotel’s construction were paid to him.  The Company filed ejectment proceedings against Briggs, claiming that Briggs was indebted to the Company.  Briggs then claimed a misunderstanding, that they were merely awaiting arrival of the new lessee to take over the hotel.  They left accordingly and filed a separate suit to settle the claims issue.  Alexander and Nellie Briggs then became the first proprietors for the new Eagle Bay Hotel in May 1897.  In February 1898, the Briggs also purchased the Osgood Hotel in Ilion for their son Charles to manage. While operating the Eagle Bay Hotel, the Briggs’ case seeking payments from the Old Forge Company was heard and settled “amicably” in June 1899.

The Boonville Herald reported in late December 1896 that a Buffalo native, Franc E. (“Ed”) Schenck, signed a 5-year lease of the Forge House beginning January 1897.  As with the Briggs, Schenck’s wife Augusta probably signed the lease.  The Schenck Family included his wife and daughter Irene.  In Buffalo, the Schencks operated the Erie Railway Depot restaurant in Buffalo.

In March 1895, the Adirondack League hired the Schencks to run the Mountain Lodge Club House at Little Moose Lake. With the Forge House opportunity, Schenck left this position and was replaced by H. Dwight Grant.  F. E. Schenck also signed a one year lease to be the proprietor of the Kushaqua Lodge for the 1897 season.

The Kushaqua Lodge was a few rods from the Lake Kushaqua Station, midway between Paul Smiths and Loon Lake. The property was sold in 1902 and the Stony Wold Sanatorium for tuberculosis patients was soon completed.  Stony Wold operated until 1955, one year after Trudeau’s in Saranac Lake, when more modern treatments became available.  The White Fathers purchased it for a seminary and sold it to the state in 1974.  Its buildings were soon torn down.

The Schencks, under Augusta’s signature, also became proprietors of William Moshier’s Inlet Arrowhead Hotel (formerly Hess Inn) in June 1899, an arrangement that lasted one year. The Schencks hired Charles Moll as manager and Fred Warner as clerk for the Fourth Lake hotel.  At the end of December 1900, the Schencks ended their Forge House lease after four years and leased the Park Hotel in their native Buffalo.  This hotel was newly built to coincide with the Pan American Exposition, hosted by Buffalo that year.  President McKinley was assassinated at the exposition in September 1901.  The Schencks were soon replaced.  Ed may have become ill and was dead at the time of the 1910 census, which has Augusta listed as a widow with daughter Irene at Batavia.  Augusta’s occupation was “Manager, Hotel”.

While the Schencks were operating the Forge House, the Old Forge Company was involved in high profile court cases involving the Crosby Transportation Company’s controlling of steamer docking and fighting Collis Huntington to prevent the Raquette Lake Railway from being built. The Company lost to the Railway which destroyed their steamer and railway monopoly of Fulton Chain traffic.  Also, legal fees and several unpaid mortgages were now becoming due.  In 1900, the state finally asserted its ownership of the ten acres by the dam.  State attorney Virgil Kellogg and Herkimer sheriff Daniel Stroebel evicted George Deis’s sawmill and the Parsons’ boatshop on the north side of the dam.

The Little Falls investors sold out to Lowville businessmen John Haberer and Eugene Arthur.  These individuals arranged the sale of the steamers and railroad to Dr. Webb in April 1901.  The Company properties would now be only the Forge House and the unsold lots on the Forge Tract.  The Company new focus would be on selling village lots.

1901 Forge House with Cows at Hardware site P1075As mentioned earlier, the Schencks left the Forge House at the end of 1900. The Company hired John Gilbert Hoffman, captain of the steamer C. L. Stowell, to manage the Forge House beginning January 1, 1901.  He had just married Pearl Wakely, the daughter of John Wakely who owned the Wakely House in Fulton Chain, afterwards moved across the street and today’s Van Auken’s Inn.  However, Hoffman’s stint as manager was brief; he would be replaced in March and returned to his pilot duties.  Hoffman was born in Martinsburg on June 27 1875 and died in May 1926.  He was a pioneer lumberman, working for George Deis & Son and Pullman Brothers as well as for the Old Forge Hardware Company.  Retiring from the hardware company in 1925, the Hoffmans became proprietors of the Moosehead Hotel.

In March 1901, the Company rehired Alexander and Nellie Briggs, who continued as proprietors of the Eagle Bay Hotel.  In a 1950 interview, Moses Cohen described opening his mercantile operations upon arrival in Old Forge in two rooms rented from the Briggs before moving to the hotel’s barn.  He recalled that the site of the Old Forge Hardware Store was a pasture with grazing cows.  The Old Forge Bank building site was the vegetable garden of the hotel.  In 1902, Cohen began building his first hardware store building on a lot purchased from the Company.

In August 1902, the laundry and boiler rooms of the Forge House were destroyed by fire. 1908 a PC1414 OF Hardware and School Bldg after move 155Later that year in October, the Briggs’ only son Charles died in the Forge House from typhoid fever. Charles had been helping with hotel operations.  At the end of the year, the Company hired a new proprietor.  Still leasing the Eagle Bay Hotel, the Briggs also became proprietors for the Arrowhead Hotel in Inlet, running both hotels for the 1903 tourist season.  In December 1903, the Briggs left the Fulton Chain to become the proprietors of the Globe Hotel in Syracuse.  The Briggs vacated the Globe Hotel when suffering financial difficulties in August 1906 and leased the Baltzel Hotel in Lyons in February 1907.

In December 1902, Philo Wood signed a five year lease to run the Forge House and took possession on January 1, 1903.  Philo C. Wood was born September 1, 1862 at Turin, Lewis County.  He lived later in Constableville.  According to Cutter’s 1910 biography, Wood began his career as painter and merchant and his first job on the Fulton Chain was clerk for Fred Hess’s Hess Camp in 1898.  But in an interview in the 1940s, Wood indicated his first job was as a seasonal employee at former Forge House proprietor Charles Barrett’s Bald Mountain House that year.  In January 1900, Wood and brother-in-law George Conant became the first proprietors for the new Glennmore Hotel at Big Moose Lake built by Dwight B. Sperry.  They operated this hotel until the end of 1902.

PC1370 Forge House196In 1904, Wood constructed a $3,000 cottage by the pond north of the hotel for guests. He leased a room in the basement for M. E. deGraff to sell souvenirs, among them Forge House postcards.  The deGraff family also provided music for the guests.  Also in 1904, Charles West settled with the Company for commissions outstanding from his 1896 improvements to the Forge House plus 8 years interest.

During his lease, PhiloWood arranged for the purchase of the Hess Camp from Henry Covey in 1906, hiring Robert Cookman to manage that hotel for 1906 and 1907. In 1908, Philo Wood moved to the Hess Camp, enlarged it and renamed it The Wood.  Wood ran the hotel until its sale in 1946 to the Dunay family.  Today it is the Woods Inn.  Wood died on March 24, 1950 and was buried in Constableville.

In August 1906, Frank J. C. Steber, cashier for the Poland National Bank, purchased the Company shares held by Dr. Crosby, Garmon, Victor Adams and Homer Snyder and was soon elected Company president.  In December 1907, the Company signed the brothers Harry T. and John W. Quinn to a five year lease of the Forge House and took possession January 1, 1908.  John Quinn had run the Old Forge Barber Shop for the previous two years.  For the previous five years, Harry Quinn worked for the W. T. Cantwell Company plumbing firm in Utica and the Hammond Beef Company of New York.

The news release in the Utica Daily Press indicated that the Company would be making extensive renovations. The barber shop and pool rooms would be moved from the right wing to the left.  The grill room would be moved to an unused room between the two hotel wings where a third dining room would be located.  A new kitchen would be installed.  A large double piazza would extend across the front and the hotel now accommodated 300 to 325 people.  This number may be an exaggeration.

The first affair hosted would be the Brown’s Tract Guides banquet on January 9 and 10, 1908. In early March, John Quinn played second base in a baseball game between hotel staff and village residents on snowshoes at 10 below zero.  The Forge House won, 9-6.

But two months into the summer season, the Quinn Brothers stopped paying their rent and the Forge Company began dispossession proceedings. The Quinns refused to pay the $1700 due because the Company failed to complete the grill room, bowling alley and other improvements as promised.  Judgment for a smaller amount was allowed at the end of August. In September, the Company placed ads informing customers that the Quinn Brothers had vacated the premises, but that management was fully capable of accommodating guests.  When the Company assumed management on September 15, they learned that the Quinns had not renewed the liquor license and, not only was the weather dry, but the Forge House likewise would be “dry” for a month.

The Quinn Brothers leased the new “little” Long Lake Inn in Oneida County at White Lake Corners, three miles from White Lake Station on Dr. Webb’s railroad, in May 1909. When advertising in 1910, they publicized that they formerly ran the Forge House.  John Quinn became keeper of the North Lake Reservoir in 1915 and later was a realtor in Whitesboro, dying in the 1950s.  Harry Quinn departed from the partnership in 1911, became a prominent businessman in Utica and died in 1955.  The Long Lake Inn operated as an inn until purchased by the Boy Scouts of America and opened as Camp Oneida in 1921.  In 1952, Catholic Charities purchased the property.  In 1953, Camp Assisium moved its children’s camp operations from Inlet to this location, now called Camp Nazareth.

Needing managers on short notice, the Company hired Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Lampkin.  They made many friends, held numerous events and were given a farewell banquet in April 1909.  The party began at the Wood, Harney &  Foley store and were paraded, led by the “Old Forge Band Orchestra”, to the Forge House.  The employees gave the couple a silver set.  I could only find that they were from Utica; Joseph Lampkin was in the Utica 1910 census as a butcher at a saloon.

In May 1909, the Company hired another short term manager, Lew C. Fuller.  The Utica Daily Press reported that L. C. Fuller was from New York City and connected with several hotels there for years, most recently as manager of the Hotel Irving at Gramercy Park.  Fuller had first come to the Adirondacks in the days of buckboard from Boonville and continued to return over 35 years, sometimes guided by Sam Dunakin to the Fulton Chain lakes.  John Roberts, the Company’s secretary also hired the overqualified Alexander Briggs to assist L. C. Fuller.

1910 Forge HouseIn March 1910, the Company leased the Forge House to Laurence Charbonneau.  Laurence (often spelled Lawrence, sometimes named “A. Lawrence”) was Old Forge’s David Charbonneau’s brother.  Charbonneau was born in St. Eustache, Canada and came with his family to Forestport in 1856.  His hotel career began at Boonville’s Hulbert House in 1885.  He became a clerk at Utica’s Baggs Hotel in 1890, worked briefly at the Butterfield House, then returned to Baggs in 1899.  He worked at the Globe Hotel in Syracuse around 1900 and then the Osgood House in 1901.  In 1904, he worked for the Lee Chair Company and resigned from this position to manage the Forge House.  Laurence was manager of the Forge House when Daniel Stroebel of Herkimer and William J. Thistlethwaite purchased majority shares of the Forge Company in October 1910.  Laurence’s lease ended in December.

Laurence returned to Utica in May 1911 and assisted George Baer in the management of the Tha-On-Da-Ne-Ga Hotel at Summit Park in the Mohawk Valley. He soon left this to manage the Hotel Martin until October 1912 when he began management of the newly renovated, then historic, Yates Hotel of Utica.  After this ended, he soon returned to the Baggs Hotel as head clerk, retired in 1931 and died at the age of 81 in April 1941.

Thistlethwaite, the Company’s new secretary, hired Alexander and Nellie Briggs to manage the Forge House beginning in 1911.  Being their third term as its proprietors, the Briggs knew Old Forge, the hotel and its operations better than anyone previous.  The Forge House installed “all night service” electric lights, a new concrete and steel kitchen and refurnished the dining rooms.  The menu featured fresh milk, eggs and vegetables from the hotel’s dairy and gardens.  In June 1911, workmen repainted interior and exterior walls and added a west side piazza.  The Briggs were assisted by L.C. Fuller who had managed the hotel previously. The Briggs were the hotel’s proprietors until the Company ended its twenty year ownership of the hotel in August 1915.

A September 1915 announcement expected that the Briggs would retire. Always active in hotel management, the Briggs leased the Willard House at Weedsport, Cayuga County in February 1916.  In October 1918, they leased the Thurston House in Frankfort for a year until health problems for both forced retirement to Utica.  Alexander died at age 84 in September 1920 and Nellie Ambrose, so often referred to as “his” or “he”, died in February 1924.  Old Forge should have a street named Briggs.

Photographs courtesy of the Town of Webb Historical Association.


Charles Herr

Since the early 1980s when Charles Herr purchased a camp in Inlet he has been interested in the history of the Fulton Chain region of the Adirondacks. He has been contributing history articles about the times and people of the Fulton Chain, covering transportation, steamboats, hotels and most importantly, the people to the Weekly Adirondack of Old Forge since November 2006.

His ambition is to uncover local and regional Fulton Chain history about people and events prior to 1930 and little covered in the histories of the region. He was the first president of the Inlet Historical Society and presents summer programs on Inlet history at the Town Hall in Arrowhead Park in Inlet, NY. His first book, The Fulton Chain-Early Settlement, Roads, Steamboats, Railroads and Hotels, will be available May 2017. More information is available at www.facebook.com/herrstory .




2 Responses

  1. adkDreamer says:

    Mr. Herr – Great read! Who would have known how much drama could be packed into a relatively short period of time – what with all the changing of management in many cases seasonally. Great pictures!

  2. Heather says:

    Nellie Briggs was the sister of my 3rd great grandfather. I always knew she and her husband operated hotels but that was about it. Thank you for the great information you are sharing.