The Lake George Association is co-sponsoring a series of safe boating training courses, leading to certification through New York State Parks and Recreation. Two options are available: a single-day course on a weekend, or a three-day evening course during the week. Students who take one of the sit-down courses this spring will be able to come back in the summer for an on-lake program aboard the LGA’s Floating Classroom boat.
The courses are free and are open to adults and children 10 years of age and older. The course is required for all young boaters ages 10 – 18 and for any person in New York State who is driving a personal water craft (PWC), also known as a jet ski. People 18 and over who complete the course hours and requirements must send in a $10 fee to receive their course completion card. Instructors for the indoor training are provided by the Eastern New York Marine Trades Association (ENYMTA) and the Lake George Power Squadron. Class size is limited to 15 participants.
ENYMTA courses: Sunday, May 16 SNUG HARBOR MARINA, Ticonderoga, 9 am – 5pm Register with Bob Palandrani 518-585-2628
Saturday, June 19 SCHROON LAKE MARINA, Schroon Lake, 9 am – 5 pm Register with Craig Kennedy 518-532-7882
Saturday, July 17 ALPIN HOUSE, Amsterdam, 9 am – 5 pm Register with Kathy Andrews at 518-843-4400
LAKE GEORGE POWER SQUADRON courses: All at the Lake George Association Office – e-mail the LGA at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 518-668-3558 to register. April 26, 28 and 30 (M, W, F) – 5:30 – 8:30 pm May 10, 12, 14 (M, W, F) – 5:30 – 8:30 pm June 7, 9, 11 (M, W, F) 5:30 – 8:30 pm
Later in the summer, aboard the LGA’s Floating Classroom boat, students will experience navigating through marked channels, identifying navigational markers, and using a marine radio, GPS and radar. The LGA will also point out safety equipment, fire suppression, life-saving devices and the proper use of personal flotation devices.
The Lake George Power Squadron is the local squadron of the U.S. Power Squadrons, a nationwide nonprofit advocating boating safety and recreation. For membership information or to learn more, contact Commander Stephen W. Traver at Traver@Capital.net or visit the web site at www.LGPS.org.
The LGA is a not-for-profit membership organization of people interested in working together to protect, conserve, and improve the beauty and quality of the Lake George Basin. For more information, contact the LGA at (518) 668-3558 or check out LGA on the web at www.lakegeorgeassociation.org.
Bolton Landing’s F.R. Smith & Sons Marina is not the owner of a 867 square foot strip of land where it has stored fuel tanks for more than five decades, the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court of New York State ruled on March 11.
Rather, the property belongs to the marina’s neighbor, the Boathouse Bed and Breakfast, which is owned by Joe and Patti Silipigno.
The courts have yet to decide whether an existing tank must be removed immediately, an expensive and time-consuming procedure that could disrupt the sale of gasoline to boaters later this spring. “We acknowledge that the Appellate Court has ruled against us, and we are considering our options,” said Richard Bartlett, whose firm, Bartlett, Pontiff, Stewart & Rhodes, represented F.R. Smith & Sons.
Attorneys for F.R. Smith & Sons argued that the marina acquired the land by adverse possession before 1997, when marina owner Fred Smith and Joe Silipigno signed an agreement allowing F.R. Smith to make use of the land in return for discounts on marine services and fuel.
“I wanted to be a good neighbor to Freddy, so I agreed to allow him to continue to use the property, and he was elated,” said Silipigno, who bought the Boathouse in 1996.
“Smith’s offered to plow my driveways in winter and service my boat at a 20 percent discount, offers I didn’t take advantage of. All I asked was that I be sold gas at a set price.”
According to Silipigno, that price was $1.73 per gallon, a price he continued to receive until 2001, two years after the death of Fred Smith.
In 2001, court papers state, Smith’s staff increased the price of gasoline and informed Silipigno that the marina was not bound by his agreement with Fred Smith.
Silipigno then brought a suit against the marina in the hope of having his title to the property affirmed, a move which he said caused ill-will among some residents of Bolton Landing.
“I was told, ‘neighbors don’t sue neighbors,’ but I didn’t initiate this. I think there was feeling against me because I’m a flatlander, an outsider, and the Smiths have been here for more than a hundred years,” Silipigno said.
Silipigno said that he was also attempting to protect the integrity of the Boathouse property.
Built in the early 1900s, the boat house was owned by speed boat racer George Reis, who won the Gold Cup in 1933, 1934 and 1935.
Until his death in 1962, Reis stored El Lagarto, his prize winning boat, at the boat house. El Lagarto is now on display at the Adirondack Museum in Blue Mountain Lake.
“This is a historic property which shouldn’t be jeopardized,” said Silipigno.
The New York State Supreme Court found that F.R. Smith & Sons failed to prove that it had established title to the strip of land by adverse possession, a ruling that was upheld by the Apellate court in its March 11 decision.
Silipigno said that he did not yet know whether F.R. Smith & Sons would be required to reimburse him for his legal fees, which he estimated to be in thousands of dollars.
Photo: Boathouse Bed and Breakfast; from Lake George Mirror files.
In limited areas of the Adirondack Park, an understated excitement built gradually throughout the day yesterday as selections were made for the 2010 Adirondack Bracket.
Bracket pairings were made by combining the top 28 randomly selected entrants from two lists (a longer list of general Adirondackiana, and a shorter list of 2009’s Adirondack headliners). Four more slots were reserved for last year’s final four, including 2009 Bracket champion Stewart’s Ice Cream Shops. The remaining slots will be filled later this week by a play-in round which sets four randomly selected entrants from a list suggested by our readers, against the Bracket judges’ “Hand o’ God” choices (our favorites that somehow missed the first cut). A preview of the play-in round follows the jump. . . So here is how things stack up for this week’s play-in round:
Game one pits late 19th/early 20th Century painter Winslow Homer (who spent time throughout his career at the North Woods Club in Minerva—his last visit to the Adirondacks occurring one hundred years ago this summer, shortly before his death), against the frankenpine: that towering synthesis of artifice and nature, and itself a subject of contemporary Adirondack painting (not to mention inspiration for an excellent band).
Saranac Lake’s doyens of drill. . . the Idas of March. . . those angels of aluminum and mesh—the incomparable Lawnchair Ladies—sashay into the Bracket against an equally formidable lineup of local adirondack ski hills. This squad of impressive topography (talking about the ski hills, now), once thought to be heading downhill, fast, has made a strong comeback this winter led by Big Tupper and Hickory. The list also includes a couple cross country ski mountains, one of which boasts the only ski mountain palindrome in the Adirondacks: “O! Dewey. Aye, we do!” This match up could go either way, but one thing you can count on: Chairs will certainly be lifted, and might be thrown.
Game three features perhaps the most interesting play-in pairing, with Olmstedville’s Pete Hornbeck and his fleet of featherweight canoes taking on Lake George’s Winter Carnival, the village’s annual string of wintertime events held every weekend throughout the month of February. Any other year this would have been no contest as canoes are not much use on a solid lake surface, especially with a lot of cars and snow machines and dog sleds racing around. This year, however, warm weather forced cancellation of some carnival events, premature demolition of the ice palace and relocation of the dog sled races from the slushy lake top to safer ground inland. The Fund for Lake George reports that the lake failed to fully freeze over this winter (the first time since 2002). Though this might be an advantageous climate for a naval assault, Hornbeck will have his work cut out for him if he is to make it to a much anticipated confrontation with Senator Betty Little in the “Upstate Great Eight” round next week.
Lake George received the best reading on a measurement for clarity among 113 New York lakes in 2009, according to a press release from the Lake George Association, which follows.
Peter Leyh, an LGA member, was one of several LGA volunteers to participate in the 2009 Citizen Statewide Lake Assessment Program (CSLAP), coordinated on Lake George by the Lake George Association. On September 2, Peter was sampling water near Gull Bay on the north end of the lake, and sank a measuring disk for clarity, called a Secchi disk, into the lake. He was able to see the disk in the water at a depth of 13.55 meters, or almost 44 and 1/2 feet. No other lake participating in the CSLAP program last year could match it.
“This is great news for Lake George,” said Walt Lender, Executive Director of the Lake George Association, “but by no means does it mean we are free to relax our efforts to protect the Lake and keep it clean. In fact, it is just the opposite. This reading shows what a unique treasure we have in Lake George, and how diligently we must work to keep it that way. People need to know that this reading was taken at the north end of the Lake on a dead calm day. The clarity and cleanliness in the south end of Lake George, near West Brook, is not anywhere close to this. The water in Lake George flows from south to north, and it takes eight years for a drop to flow from the south to the north. Our challenge is to ensure that in eight years at Gull Bay our Secchi disk reading will remain at or beat 13.55 meters.”
Every summer since 2004, the Lake George Association has coordinated volunteers to assess water quality and clarity through the CSLAP program. The data gathered is used to help manage and assess trends in New York’s many lakes. The program is sponsored by the New York Federation of Lake Associations. In addition to CSLAP, the Lake George Association actively encourages adults and children to learn more about lake monitoring and stewardship aboard its Floating Classroom, a specially equipped catamaran which takes groups out on the Lake from May through September.
To learn more about CSLAP or how you can help Lake George, contact the LGA at (518) 668-3558 or visit the website at www.lakegeorgeassociation.org. Illustration: 2006 graph showing Secchi depths for various locations around Lake George; from the Fund For Lake George website.
Dr. Dean Cook, a Ticonderoga dentist, has been selected by New York State Governor David Paterson to become the newest member of the Lake George Park Commission.
If confirmed by the State Senate, Cook will replace Tom Morehouse, also of Essex County, whose term has expired.
The Senate’s Committee on Environmental Conservation voted on February 24 to forward Cook’s nomination to the Senate Finance Committee, which must also approve the Governor’s choice before it is brought before the Senate as a whole. “I’ve devoted forty years to the protection of Lake George and serving as a member of the Lake George Park Commission is an opportunity to continue that work,” said Cook.
“I’ve been heartened by the Commission’s efforts to tackle such important issues as stream corridor protections, and I know it has a great potential to contribute to the health of the lake,” he added.
Cook’s family is one of the oldest on northern Lake George. An ancestor settled in the area in 1796 and the family’s property once extended from Baldwin to Hague.
Today, Cook helps maintain the family’s 250 acres near Heart Bay that were until recently part of a working farm.
That property, which includes eight guest cottages, has been hailed as a model of sustainable development.
Since returning to Lake George to join his father’s dental practice in the 1970s, Cook has served on the boards of the Adirondack Council, the High Peaks Audubon Society, the Residents Committee to Protect the Adirondacks and the Lake George Land Conservancy. “Dean Cook will be an excellent addition to the Lake George Park Commission,” said Peter Bauer, the executive director of The Fund for Lake George. “He holds Lake George and its communities near and dear to him.”
Walt Lender, the executive director of the Lake George Association, noted, “Dean Cook will be a passionate member of the Lake George Park Commission. He’s a dogged steward of the lake.”
Cook is a 1962 graduate of Ticonderoga Central School. He attended the State University of New York at Buffalo and Seton Hall before entering the University of Pennsylvania, from which he received his degree in Dental Medicine in 1971. He is a veteran of the U.S. Navy.
The Lake George Park Commission is composed of nine members from each of the three counties in the Lake George basin and a representative of the Commissioner of Environmental Conservation.
If his appointment is approved by the Senate, Cook will serve a term that ends in 2017.
Photo: Dr Dean Cook and Terrina Russell-Cook courtesy of the Lake George Land Conservancy.
Every small town has its stars. Rolf Ronning was one of Bolton’s. The only child of a wealthy, well-educated couple, he graduated from St. Lawrence University in 1966 and earned two Masters, a doctorate and a law degree before returning to his hometown in 1977.
A little more than a decade later, he was in prison, convicted of possessing and conspiring to sell cocaine.
“I embarrassed myself and my children with those drug charges,” says Ronning. “My wife and I have tried to make it up to them. My daughter is at St. Lawrence and wants to go to law school. My son wants to get his PhD and teach. I want to succeed for them. I can’t give up.” Released from prison in 1992, Ronning returned to Bolton Landing. Stripped of his license to practice law, he turned to real estate development, in which he made millions of dollars.
Now he’s lost most of those millions. Foreclosure proceedings have been brought against five of his properties, including his lakefront home.
The state of Ronning’s financial affairs is threatening to overwhelm his latest project, one that he hopes will redeem his fortune and his reputation: a ski area on one hundred acres near Exit 24 of the Adirondack Northway.
“I wish I could appear before the Town Board and the various agencies as a financially secure individual, but the rumors that I am in financial difficulty are true,” said Ronning.
Ronning concedes that title to the property, once envisioned as a residential subdivision to be called Westwood Forest, could end up in court.
“There’s litigation regarding the validity and enforceability of the mortgages,” said Ronning, guardedly and obscurely.
Some of those mortgages, he added, are held by companies controlled by “a person who loans money at high interest rates but whose name never appears on documents.”
At a Bolton public hearing on a proposal to permit ski centers in two areas currently zoned for rural and residential uses, a letter was read aloud by Supervisor Ron Conover from someone whom Ronning believes is affiliated with one of those companies.
“Rolf Ronning is not capable of handling a ski resort as he hasn’t the proper funds. He owes the investors involved in Westwood Forest over one million dollars. He is broke. It will be just a matter of time before Ronning loses all his properties,” wrote Gloria Dingee.
Ronning said he was surprised that Conover read the letter aloud, since it had no bearing on the issue before the Town Board, which at that point was nothing more than a change in zoning rules.
As Conover himself says, “the zoning change is not being undertaken on behalf of any particular project; we’re doing it to increase opportunities for appropriate development within the Town.” Nevertheless, Ronning would be its first beneficiary.
“We’ve all felt the effects of the Sagamore closing for the winter, and a ski center might bring visitors back to Bolton in winter and be good for the residents as well,” said Ronning.
According to Ronning, the ski area would consist of a 1,570 foot long double chairlift, a T-bar and a lodge.
“We’re contemplating night skiing and summer activities that would complement the nearby Adirondack Extreme Adventure Course,” said Ronning.
Snow could be made by drawing water from a nearby brook, an idea that Department of Environmental Conservation officials in Warrensburg found reasonable, according to Ronning.
As many as fifty people would be employed every winter, said Ronning.
“This is still in the conceptual stages,” said Ron Mogren of Saratoga Associates, who drafted preliminary plans for the ski area, tentatively named “Thrill Hill.”
But if he can secure at least some of the necessary permits, the investors will come, Ronning says.
Bolton’s Town Board deferred its decision on whether to approve the zoning changes for another month, but Ronning said he remained optimistic.
“I’d be unrealistic if I wasn’t concerned about how people’s views of me might affect this, but I hope that the Town Board, the Planning Board and the others will judge the project on its merits, not on what they might think of me,” he said.
After the meeting, Ronning sought out Lake George Waterkeeper Chris Navitsky to show him the plans for the ski area.
The Waterkeeper has brought several lawsuits against subdivisions planned by Ronning, and at times Ronning has publicly accused the Waterkeeper of deliberately attempting to bankrupt him.
But on the surface, the two are cordial toward one another, as is often the case in small towns, even with the most antagonistic relationships.
Navitsky, however, was non-committal.
“It looks interesting, Rolf,” was the extent of his comments.
“I’m trying to do the right thing,” said Ronning. “Every day I wake up and promise myself I’ll do my best. Day by day, that’s how I keep going.”
Editors Note: The Lake George Mirror rents office space from Bell Point Realty, which is owned by Rolf Ronning.
A few weeks ago, while trudging across Chapel Pond on our way to climb some obscure ice route, I stopped to gaze at the black, slick surface of the lake.
The wind had swept the lake clear of snow, except where it had collected in a few wispy areas. It was what drivers call “black ice,” but it was far from black.
It was dazzling, this frozen surface. A week earlier, hit by the late January thaw, it had been covered with brown runoff. But on this day it was more than a foot thick. A galaxy of bubbles were trapped in its various, transparent layers. Cracks ran across its surface, the thin ones bisecting the ice like ghosts, the thicker spaces filled with snow. Ice formation is complex. According to one Web site: “ice has a hexagonal crystal structure with a longer ‘c’ axis and three identical ‘a’ axes (called ‘a1’, ‘a2’ and ‘a3’). The simple ice form is a hexagonal prism with the vertical direction being the ‘c’ axis direction.”
Uh, right. And we thought it was just a matter of water getting cold enough.
On Chapel Pond, the three of us paused over this surface, taking in the temporary beauty of winter. Bare ice like this in the Adirondacks is often rare, soon to be covered by snow. And it attracts visitors. Drive across Cascade Lakes at the right time and you might see locals skating across the long, narrow surface as late-afternoon snow whips across the pass.
On Lake Champlain when it finally freezes, some die-hard Vermonters skate out on Nordic Skates, a Scandinavian invention (of course). These are extra-large skates that attach to cross-country ski boots that allow for huge strides and marathon expeditions. This has its own dangers—big lakes have pressure ridges, areas of open water and the possibility of thin ice due to unseen currents. Practitioners of this sport wear garden rake-like claws on a rope around their neck, so that if the unthinkable occurs they can haul themselves out of the water before hypothermia sets in. Brrr.
Adventurers on motorized equipment are attracted to big water ice too. Ice on lakes like George and Champlain is strong enough to support snowmobiles, motorcycles with spiked wheels and even pick-up trucks. But they should be wary—occasionally, such drivers never return.
Whatever beauty the ice offers, it is gone now. The storms of last week have covered all but the windiest areas with blankets of snow. That means the ice will last longer this spring, thanks to a nice layer of insulation.
Snow adds its own interesting problems to travel over ice. Some say the weight of snow can push lake ice down, squeezing the water up through the cracks to saturate the lower layers of the snow. That means an unpleasant surprise for x-c skiers or snowshoers trudging through such glop.
So perhaps it’s too late this year, but if you happen to be traveling over bare lake ice, take a moment to stop and look. There’s magic between you and the water.
It’s so conservative it appears radical (at least for Lake George): small houses on small lots. According to Mary Alice Leary, that’s her family’s vision for the 14 acre parcel at the mouth of English Brook that will be divided into 13 lots.
The sweeping lawn, tennis courts, lake front and clusters of towering trees, already mature when Albany lawyer Edward S. Rooney purchased the estate in the 1940s, will remain common areas owned by a homeowners’ association, which has yet to be created. Five of the lots will become the properties of Rooney’s children – Leary and her four siblings; the majority of the remaining lots will probably be sold to members of the next generation.
For months, rumors have circulated around Lake George about plans to subdivide the estate, which surrounded a mansion built by E.M. Shepard in 1911 and demolished in 1961.
It was generally assumed that as many McMansions as possible would be wedged into the grounds.
To be sure, the proposal has been in front of the planning and zoning boards of Lake George Village and the Town of Lake George for months.
And at one of those meetings, Mary Alice Leary’s sister, Ellen Breslin, explained that the subdivision was conceived so that the property could remain within the family for future generations.
Nevertheless, said Leary, her family was reluctant to discuss the subdivision until all the necessary permits had been awarded.
Not all permits have been granted, but one major hurdle, a permit from the Lake George Park Commission to build docks large enough to accommodate 13 boat slips, was surmounted last fall.
In a prepared statement to the Commission, Ellen Breslin said, “The slips will not all be constructed at once. They will be built in phases as lots are sold and houses are built. It could be several years before the entire dock structure is built.”
There are no immediate plans to build the additional eight houses, Leary explained, because, as of now, only one of Edward S. Rooney’s grandchildren has expressed an interest in purchasing a lot.
But that grandchild’s interest sparked the family’s discussions about how best to protect the property, said Leary.
“You can only subdivide once, so rather than creating and selling one lot to one member of the third generation, we decided we would complete the subdivision now and sell the lots over time,” said Leary.
The property is currently owned jointly by Rooney’s children through Lochlea, LLC. (Lochlea was the name given the mansion by John English, who bought the property from Shepard’s family.)
“We currently hold the property as tenants in common, sharing expenses, and, by mutual agreement, each one of the five family members occupies a specific cabin that is considered their cabin,” the Lake George Park Commission was told by Ellen Breslin, who is the wife of State Senator Neil Breslin.
All but one of those residences – the estate’s gate house – are log cabins. One of them once served as the estate’s bath house. Under the terms of the subdivision, each of the five families will become the sole owners of their homes, two of which are occupied year-round.
The houses will also serve as the models for any new homes that are built, said Mary Alice Leary.
“We’re envisioning Adirondack-style houses tucked into the woods with views of Lake George and English Brook,” said Leary. Leary said the family had rejected proposals from commercial developers interested in acquiring the estate, at least in part, from a concern for Lake George.
That concern is a long-standing one, Ellen Breslin told the Park Commission, and guided the design of the subdivision.
“We have always been good stewards of the land and have done what we can to protect the waters of the lake. There has been little or no change to the property in the 60 years we have lived here. No old growth trees have ever been taken down and no fertilizers have been used on any of the lawns. Maintaining the water quality of Lake George is our highest priority. Our family expects to be in residence on the property, swimming in and enjoying Lake George, for many years to come,” said Breslin.
The Lake George Land Conservancy (LGLC) is seeking support with fund-raising for what it’s calling the “Last Great Shoreline Preserve” in Putnam, Washington County by offering an opportunity to win naming rights to the preserve’s eastern overlook trail.
Until February 24, each gift of $100 entitles the donor to entry in LGLC’s Name the Trail drawing. The drawing winner will be given the exclusive opportunity to name the eastern overlook trail as well as receive a picnic for six at the overlook this summer. The new name will be displayed on trail markers and in the preserve’s trail guide, available at the trailhead kiosk and from the LGLC website. LGLC acquired the Last Great Shoreline nearly one year ago, on February 27, 2009, while also taking a leap into debt in order to finance the purchase. The cost of the land was $4 million with another $300,000 of project expenses.
Though much of the mortgage’s Phase 1 payment has been raised with the support of private donations, LGLC still needs to raise $34,000 by the payment deadline of February 27, 2010. If this deadline goal is not met, the mortgage interest can by contract grow tenfold, from 0.6% to 6%, increasing the overall cost of the land purchase by $144,000 each year over the life of the loan.
In his proposed 2010-2011 budget New York State Governor David Paterson suggested a moratorium on land acquisition by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). By reducing the Open Space Land Acquisition line item to zero, Gov. Paterson eliminated any spending from the Environmental Protection Fund (EPF) for land acquisition, ostensibly for at least two years. When LGLC purchased the Last Great Shoreline property in 2009 (a culmination of twenty years of negotiations) LGLC says it was led to believe that it would be purchased by New York State within three years. Now, the proposed moratorium in the governor’s budget threatens to postpone the state’s purchase of the property into a distant and uncertain future, according to the LGLC.
The Lake George Land Conservancy’s is says “the purchase of the Last Great Shoreline project… was a crucial step in the protection of the Lake George watershed.” 351 acres and 2,357 feet of shoreline were acquired as a preserve, and 70 acres and 1,613 feet remain in private ownership that is now protected by a deed restriction. LGLC has already built over a mile of trails to lead hikers through a diversity of ecological systems, from the Sucker Brook wetlands, to the lichen covered rocks on the western shore of Lake George.
The land contains approximately thirty-five acres of wetlands (reportedly including a rare white cedar swamp) which which the LGLC says provide important food and breeding sites for amphibians, birds and mammals. These Sucker Brook wetlands provide a natural filtration system, according to the group, contributing to the pristine water quality of Lake George. In addition, the legendary Jumping Rock, rising approximately 30 feet above the lake, is situated on the northern shore and will be preserved forever as an LGLC preserve.
Those who wish to learn more about the Last Great Shoreline Challenge, the trail naming opportunity, or the Lake George Land Conservancy’s work, are invited to visit www.lglc.org, email email@example.com, or call 518-644-9673.
Photo: Last Great Shoreline eastern overlook. Courtesy the LGLC.
Not long after my father purchased the Warrensburg News and its old printing plant in 1958, he found in a box of papers a small booklet entitled “Guide to Schroon Lake and Vicinity,” with Marcus E. Granger listed as the author.
The booklet had been printed in the shop eighty years earlier. Although numerous guidebooks to the Adirondacks had been published before Granger’s, his was unique in two respects. His was probably the first guidebook devoted to Schroon Lake. Dr. Durant’s Adirondack Railroad had been completed in 1872, and the station at Riverside, or Riparius, brought Schroon Lake within reach of tourists for the first time. Second, and even more remarkable, was the fact that it was written entirely in heroic couplets. » Continue Reading.
At the time of her death at the age of 92 in April, 2008, Helen Thatcher Thomson was the steward of thousands of paper and glass negatives of photographs taken by her grandfather Jule Thatcher and her father Fred Thatcher.
From the 1870s to the 1960s, the Thatchers photographed Lake George, documenting events great and small and capturing the changing social, economic and natural landscape. It was natural, therefore, that local historians feared the collections would be dispersed, scattered among hundreds of antique dealers across the country. But thanks to the generosity of Helen Thomson’s children, Fred Thomson and Dr. Patricia Smith, the entire archive will be donated to the Bolton Historical Museum. “The family has agreed in principle to donate the material to the Bolton Historical Museum,” said Michael Stafford, the attorney representing Thomson and Smith. “We’re now in the process of drafting the necessary papers.”
Fred Thomson said, “We’re very pleased that the collection will be preserved for the benefit of the community. We look forward to working with the Bolton Historical Society to ensure that my family’s legacy will serve to enrich the public’s appreciation of our region.”
Mike Stafford noted, “I spent many hours with Helen Thomson at her kitchen table, and the legacy of the Thatchers and the future of the collection was very much on her mind in her last years. She would be delighted with this first step to ensure the collection’s preservation.”
According to Stafford, the collection also includes cameras used by the Thatchers and well-maintained logs of assignments that can be used to identify almost every photo.
“We’re grateful to the Thomson family for their public spirit and their generosity,” said Ed Scheiber, the president of the Bolton Historical Society. “The preservation of this collection in one place will be a lasting tribute to the Thatchers, Mrs. Thomson, her children and grandchildren.”
According to Scheiber, the museum’s objective is to arrange for the photos to be scanned and catalogued.
Revolving displays will feature large prints of some of the images, the cameras and biographical information about the Thatchers.
At some points, prints may be made and sold and reproduction rights licensed to help fund the preservation of the collection, said Scheiber.
The historical society also hopes to work with a publisher to produce a book of the Thatchers’ photographs, said Scheiber.
“It would be a valuable contribution to the collective knowledge of Lake George’s history and help re-introduce the work of two of our greatest photographers to a wider public,” said Scheiber.
“This collection will be an incredible asset for the Bolton Historical Museum,” said Bill Gates, a historian of Lake George and a member of the museum’s Board of Directors.
Considered as a whole, the work of the two photographers constitutes a unique archive of Lake George history.
Jule Thatcher’s best known photos are of Green Island, of the Sagamore, of wealthy cottagers like John Boulton Simpson and E. Burgess Warren, their houses, their families and their yachts.
Fred Thatcher, whose studio was turned into the Sky Harbor restaurant at the corner of Beach Road and Canada Street, was a pioneering post card photographer, creating thousands of images of the lake, of boats and regattas and of visiting celebrities to be sold to tourists who came to Lake George in the wake of the wealthy cottagers.
According to the Thatcher family, Jule Thatcher was born in Ticonderoga in 1856. He took his first photographs at the age of 11 (at about the same time Mathew Brady was photographing Abraham Lincoln) and at one point worked for Seneca Ray Stoddard. He worked in a store in Lake George that made tintypes and in 1874, he opened a studio in Bolton Landing. That studio was in the Kneeshaw hotel on Main Street. A few years later he opened a studio on the Sagamore Road, near the Green Island Bridge. He died in 1934.
Fred Thatcher, born in 1881, married a Bolton native, Maud Abells, and settled in Lake George.
“He was a very special man,” Helen Thomson recalled in 2002.”He was not only a photographer, he was a builder, a businessman, and so involved in the community. He served as mayor, assessor, justice of the peace, village trustee and treasurer of the fire department.”
Mrs Thomson continued, “He took pictures of so many people: from Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin Roosevelt, from famous wrestlers to Madame Sembrich and her students, from Governors and every other notable who visited Lake George to every child in the village.”
And, Mrs Thomson said, he knew everyone, including Alfred Steiglitz and Georgia O’keeffe. “O’Keefe was very statuesque. Steiglitz was always dressed in black. My father developed film for him. Harry Thaw , he had his portrait made. Alma Gluck and Efrem Zimbalist, Sr. had a house on West Street. When Alma Gluck was expecting her child, she’d come and rock his baby son to get used to holding a child.”
Thatcher’s first studio was on the corner of Canada Street and McGillis Avenue, the second became Sky Harbor restaurant. Thatcher alao owned a stretch of lakefront property, which he leased to a flying service, later operated by Harry Rogers and George McGowan, Sr. Fred Thatcher died in 1969 at the age of 88.
“The Thatcher photographs are treasures,” said Henry Caldwell, a member of the Bolton Museum’s Board of Directors. Bolton “Lake George has captivated many photographers: Seneca Ray Stoddard, Jesse Wooley, Alfred Steiglitz, Francis Bayle; all of them among the most gifted photographers of their times. The Thatchers belong in that company.”
Photo: Theodore Roosevelt at the Fort William Henry Hotel, Lake George. By Fred Thatcher. (Date unknown)
Lake George resident and regular Almanack reader Enid Mastrianni has offered for Black History Month this enlightening piece on a trip by Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and Jefferson’s enslaved servant James Hemings, to Lake George and their reactions to Prince Taylor, a free black man living just south of Ticonderoga:
Many a booster of the Adirondacks has cited the famous Thomas Jefferson quote, “Lake George is without comparison, the most beautiful water I ever saw; formed by a contour of mountains into a basin… finely interspersed with islands, its water limpid as crystal, and the mountain sides covered with rich groves… down to the water-edge: here and there precipices of rock to checker the scene and save it from monotony.” » Continue Reading.
Last year, for the first time in decades, sales tax revenues in the Lake George region declined in every one of the year’s four quarters. Revenues dropped by as much as 15% over the summer. That’s not only an indication that resorts, restaurants and shops saw less trade in their busiest season than in years past; the drop in revenues left local governments scrambling to fill gaps in their budgets. According to Warren County Treasurer Frank O’Keefe, 1.5% of the 7% sales tax collected by New York State in the county is distributed to local towns.
And, as O’Keefe explains, “The sales tax is apportioned on the basis of a town’s share of the collective value of the property in the county.”
Lake George, Bolton and Hague represent approximately a third of the value of all property in Warren County, and the lion’s share of sales tax revenues are returned to those towns and to Queensbury, where more than 32% of the assessed value of the county is located.
At the start of 2009, Warren County expected to receive approximately $45 million in sales tax revenues; instead, it received only $42 million, a drop of more than 8%, O’Keefe said.
Newly-elected Town Supervisors in Lake George and Bolton now find themselves with less revenues, and less flexibility, than their predecessors had.
The Town of Bolton received $3.2 million, approximately $333,000 less than it had received the previous year.
“That could have been devastating,” said Bolton Supervisor Ron Conover, who said he had carefully observed the previous administration’s budget making process before he himself took office in January.
“Whenever there’s a drop in sales tax revenues, there’s additional pressure on property taxes,” he said.
While the town’s tax rate did rise by 2.5%, that increase was much less than one that hit residents of Lake George, where municipal taxes rose by 26%.
“The members of the Bolton Town Board were very careful, knowing that sales tax revenues would be impacted by the recession. They knew this was no time for wishful thinking,” said Conover. “The Board went over every expenditure. The result was a good budget that allows the town to operate without reducing existing levels of service.”
Warren County estimates that Bolton’s share of sales tax revenues will rise in 2010, but Conover says the town will continue to follow a prudent course.
“Sales tax revenues may rebound, although not to the historically high levels of the past; but if the economy picks up, it will take some pressure off the property-owners’ taxes,” he said.
Although Bolton will watch its expenses, it will continue to maintain and improve its infrastructure of parks, beaches and public docks, said Conover.
“These are assets that we need for economic development and tourism,” Conover said.
In Lake George, according to Supervisor Frank McCoy, sales tax revenues dropped by 12%, leaving the town with $300,000 less than it had anticipated, said McCoy,
The market for recycled paper and plastic also crashed, costing the town another $100,000 in revenues, said McCoy.
But those losses in revenue were not wholly responsible for the 26% increase in property taxes, McCoy said.
For the past several years, the town had drawn from its reserves rather than raising taxes; by mid-2009, those reserves were all but exhausted.
“From 2004 to 2009, we chipped away at the reserves,” McCoy acknowledged. “Instead of using the reserves, we should have increased taxes incrementally, by 3% a year.”
The increase in property taxes will enable the town to rebuild its reserves, McCoy said.
“We’re on the road to recovery,” said McCoy. “We’ll watch the pennies, we’ll review finances monthly and meet with department heads every quarter to make certain we’re on track, just as any business would.”
No reductions in the town work force are planned, said McCoy.
Any new positions would be part-time posts, he said.
“Last August, when the sales tax revenues dropped, we went into an austerity mode,” said McCoy. “We’re still in an austerity mode.”
“Hall’s Boat Corporation is not just a center for wooden boat conservation, but a center for wooden boat lovers,” says Steve Lamando, the owner of the historic Lake George marina.
Every month, Reuben Smith, who oversees wooden boat building and restoration at Hall’s, offers free wooden boat clinics, and every summer members of the Antique and Classic Boat Society (based in Clayton) gather at the marina for receptions and banquets.
Hall’s staff reaffirmed its commitment to the preservation of wooden boats and to those who prize them in mid-November, when it hosted a tour of the Adirondack Museum’s boat collections with curator Hallie Bond. “Reuben Smith, Hallie Bond and I were talking about how we could foster a stronger relationship between Lake George and the Adirondack Museum, and we decided this trip would be a good start,” Lamando said.
Hall’s Boat Corporation views the museum as an educational resource, said Reuben Smith, whose father, boat builder and novelist Mason Smith, is married to Hallie Bond.
“It’s a resource for our customers, for our wooden boat builders, and, as we develop into an educational center, for students,” added Lamando.
According to Hallie Bond, the Adirondack Museum owns “one of the largest, finest collections of inland pleasure craft anywhere. It’s a very nice, representative collection, but we specialize in boats made and used in the Adirondacks. In the 19th century, the Adirondack region was where it was at for small rowing pleasure craft.”
In addition to telling the stories of how people lived, worked, relaxed and made art in the Adirondacks, the Adirondack Museum is, Bond said, an “inland maritime museum,” a fact made evident in the lobby itself, whose focal point is an Idem class sloop, built in the early 1900s for racing on the St. Regis Lakes.
Bond’s tour began in the building housing the museum’s boats and boating collection.
Naturally, the collection is dominated by Adirondack guide-boats, those light-weight, portable boats indigenous to the region, which also happen to be one of the region’s greatest contributions to civilization.
But Adirondack boating is not limited to guide-boats, as Bond’s tour made clear.
The collection includes, for instance, the kayaks and canoes whose near-universal popularity began with the American Canoe Association’s gatherings on Lake George in the 1880s, which the museum highlights in one of its exhibits.
Some thirty or forty canoeists attended the first Canoe Congress on Lake George and virtually every type of modern canoe was represented; canvas, wooden, clinker-built and smooth skinned; some were decked and sailed. There were contests for racing, paddling, sailing, and dumping, the latter being a contest in which the canoeist paddles out to and around a stake boat and on the return, at a given signal, dumps his canoe, rights it, and gets back in.
The prize for winning a race open to canoes of all types was a canoe built by St. Lawrence River boat builder John Henry Rushton.
Rushton saw the Lake George congress as an opportunity to attract new business and develop new ideas. One of those ideas came from Judge Nicholas Longworth, who wanted a better sailing version of Rushton’s Rob Roy, the decked wood canoe whose design was derived from the kayak. The result was the Diana, a Princess type of sailing canoe, commonly regarded as one of Rushton’s most beautiful boats.
The Diana is also on exhibit, in a display called the “Poor Man’s Yacht.” On top of the Diana is a striped, cotton canvas canoe tent, also from Rushton’s shop, demonstrating how the canoes were used not simply for cruising, but as portable camps.
At about the same time that he was building boats for the founders of the American Canoe Association, Rushton built the first of several lightweight canoes for George Washington Sears, whose articles in “Forest Stream” published under the name of “Nessmuk” would popularize both wilderness paddling and Rushton’s own canoes.
The most famous of those canoes, the Sairy Gamp, is also on display.
According to Hallie Bond, Rushton said of the 10.5 pound canoe, “if Nessmuck tired of it as a canoe, he could use it as a soup dish.”
Bond was responsible for persuading author Christine Jerome, who retraced Nessmuck’s route through the Adirondacks in 1990, to use a Kevlar replica of the Sairy Gamp made by local boat builder Pete Hornbeck. That boat, too, is on display.
The group then examined George Reis’s El Lagarto, the Lake George speedboat that won Gold Cups in 1934, 1935 and 1936, before entering the museum’s storage facility.
The museum owns more than 200 boats, only a portion of which can be displayed at any one time. The rest are stored in the Collections Storage and Study Center, located near the museum but difficult to find. “We didn’t want it to be too conspicuous,” said Bond.
The facility contains boats too large to be displayed, such as the beautifully restored 1927, 30 ft Fay and Bowen runabout that once belonged to Camp Echo on Raquette Lake, as well as boats that may never be restored but are preserved for research.
Those boats include a Lake George rowboat built by Henry Durrin and the Hornet, a 28 ft ice boat built on Lake Champlain and brought to Lake George in the 1930s, as well as Merle and Elisabeth Smith’s 23 ft long Yankee class ice boat built by John Alden Beals.
Bond also showed the group a boat that I’ve waited years to see, less for its aesthetic qualities than its historical interest: a fiberglass guide-boat built in the Adirondacks in the early 1960s.
By the 1960s, it appeared to many that the only way to ensure the survival of the Adirondack guide-boat was to turn to synthetic material.
John Gardner, in many ways the father of the wooden boat-making revival, wrote in the 1963, “The guide boat might seem to be nearly finished, a thing of nostalgic memory and a museum piece were it not for its recrudescence in plastic.”
At the time Gardner was writing (the piece appeared in the Maine Coast Fisherman) the only wooden guide boat maker still working was Willard Hanmer. A year earlier, Tom Bissell opened the Bissell Manufacturing Company in Long Lake to make what he called Adirondack Fiberglass Boats.
He had grown up with guide boats made by one of the region’s most renowned guides and boatbuilders, Warren Cole. His grandfather opened a Long Lake hotel called Endion in 1888 across the lake from Cole’s boat shop; where his father spent hours as a young boy watching Cole work. He still owns one of Cole’s boats purchased by his grandmother in 1900.
Bissell bought the fiberglass boat company from Fox Connor, whose family owned one of the region’s oldest great camps and was who manufacturing them in Ossining at the family-owned Allcock Company, makers of have-a-heart traps. Their model, which Bissell continued to make, was based on a boat designed by Wallace Emerson for fishermen in Connor’s family.
Bissell, now in his seventies, a retired school teacher and former supervisor of Long Lake, left the guide-boat business early, despite support from Gardner and people like Kenneth Durant, who devoted the second half of his life to researching the history of the guide-boat. At the time, Bissell recalled, working with fiberglass posed health hazards.
But his effort kept the guide-boat alive as a functioning vessel rather than just a museum piece, and helped ensure that people were still rowing them when young craftsmen like Reuben Smith’s father, Mason Smith, and his uncle Everett Smith emerged to revitalize wooden boat building.
The Adirondack Museum’s collection of guide-boats played no small role in that renaissance, and according to Reuben Smith, it remains a source of inspiration for builders – and future owners – of boats of all types.
Photo: George Reis driving El Lagarto. Courtesy of Adirondack Museum
Yesterday, Almanack contributor (and Adirondack Explorer editor) Phil Brown pointed out the existence of Special Management Areas at the back of the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan (pdf). The areas are broken into Scenic, Geographical, Historic, and Natural “Illustrative Special Interest Areas”. The historic list includes a sometimes strange selection of 14 places of special historic interest on state forest lands.
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