The widower ex-President Benjamin Harrison and part of his extended family came to the Fulton Chain in the summer of 1895. By the following summer, his summer home Berkeley Lodge would be built on a peninsula between First and Second Lakes for him and for a new wife. Our story starts with the election of 1888.
At the age of 55, Benjamin Harrison became the 23rd President in the first election where the electoral college vote went contrary to the popular vote. Besides his wife, Caroline Scott Harrison, the White House family included son Russell Lord, his wife Mary and their daughter Marthena; daughter Mary Scott and husband J. Robert McKee and son Ben (“Baby McKee”); and Caroline’s 90 year old recently widowed father Rev. John Scott. Later in the term, it included niece Caroline’s widowed 30 year old niece, Mrs. Mary Scott Lord Dimmick.
Prior to the election, Mrs. Dimmick was ill, living in Washington, D.C., and was invited by the Harrisons to their home in Indianapolis and regained her health. When her mother, Caroline’s sister, died shortly after the inauguration, she lived with her sister’s family the Parkers (he was a naval secretary) in Washington. She would visit the Harrisons and be assigned social duties by Mrs. Harrison until the Harrisons deemed it practical for her also to move in.
Near the end of Harrison’s term in 1892, Caroline contracted tuberculosis and he took her to Loon Lake for recuperation. By September, her condition was so grave that Dr. Trudeau and others felt she couldn’t get worse and permitted her return to Washington on September 20. She died in the White House on October 25. Out of respect for Caroline and Benjamin, who was often at Caroline’s bedside and chose not to campaign, Grover Cleveland also did not campaign. Cleveland was reelected in 1892 after a 4 year interlude.
Harrison returned to his Indianapolis home but remained in the political news as a possible candidate for the1896 election. Mrs. Dimmick, who had shared Mrs. Harrison’s social duties and walks frequently with Harrison during the White House years in place of the sickly Caroline, moved also to Indianapolis briefly, but then to New York to live with her sister, Mrs. J. F. Parker. Harrison would then find reasons to visit New York City. Besides Mrs. Dimmick, Harrison’s son Russell, daughter Mary and their families also lived there.
In June 1895, political scuttlebutt increased when Gen. Harrison attended a dinner in his honor that included William McKinley and Governor Levi Morton. Harrison refused to voice any intentions. He wanted to avoid politics, the press and civilization. Though his Postmaster John Wanamaker had given the Harrisons a Cape May, N.J. beach mansion, Harrison found Dodd’s Camp. Harrison later paid Wanamaker $10,000 for the mansion amidst newspaper complaints..
In the same July 1895 newspaper that informed readers that Julia deCamp was seriously ill, Harrison’s arrival at Old Forge on or around July 16 was described. Harrison boarded David Charbonneau’s carriage at the Fulton Chain (Thendara) Station, sharing it with another couple and two reporters. Harrison passed the new schoolhouse with its steeple bell ringing welcome and other new flag-draped buildings along the Browns Tract road section later to be named Harrison Avenue.
Reaching the water’s edge in front of the Forge House, the Little Falls Victor Adams gun squad fired a cannon salute of 10 guns. Landlord Samuel Briggs and the Forge House guests were cheering loudly. Harrison’s private secretary Tibbitt introduced Little Falls dignitaries who wanted a speech. Harrison declined but did step onto the porch and shook hands. When the procession ended, Harrison took his grandson Ben out the back door to the dock and boarded David Pierce’s steamer Fulton, awaiting the loading of his luggage. He told reporters he came here for rest and relaxation. They could visit his camp; he did not “fancy any critical inspection”. He watched little Ben bouncing about and exploring the steamer. He let a couple take a picture of Big Ben and Little Ben. The two along with private secretary Mr. Tibbitt then sat for the ride.
Sitting on the bow with his grandson, the Harrisons did not move until the Fulton reached Dodd’s camp dock. Dodd’s Camp was leased by Samuel Dodd of St. Louis and A. W. Soper of New York, and owned by William deCamp. “The house is a frame structure, a story and a half in height…The house faces the east and a broad veranda extends across the entire front. The house stands upon high ground rising abruptly from the water. It commands a wide view and is so far out of the steamboat channel as to furnish the seclusion that the occupants may desire.” The camp had a separate building (“armory”) where hunting and fishing supplies were stored. Frank Sperry would be Harrison’s guide and Mrs. Sperry had a dinner waiting. A hired cook was added. Harrison planned to stay until September 1.
It was expected to be a lively Fulton Chain summer with increased visits from reporters and politicians expecting some decision regarding his candidacy. Saying a final goodbye to the reporters on the steamer, he said “I am here as a private citizen seeking a summer’s rest. I do not desire to say anything for publication on any subject.” He accepted an invitation to visit the Adirondack League Club.
On the evening of July 17th, the steamer Zip brought a group of Grand Army (GAR) men to Dodd’s Camp. . The Grand Army of the Republic was a fraternal organization of Union Civil War officers whose New York branch was led by a Major Poole. The party included part of a unit that fought with Harrison during the Civil War at Resaca. Baby McKee, with face striped Indian-style, was playing on the dock with Mr. Tibbitt and Gen. Harrison from the camp porch greeted them The group urged Gen. Harrison to commit to a visit to the State Fair in Syracuse, an annual affair which included a “grand army day”. Harrison would be given a special train and have to speak. Harrison turned it down, appreciated the personal invitations of the group, but had already turned down other invitations and could not in fairness accept this one. He reiterated that his only commitment was rest at camp. Even urgings to think on it a day brought a firmer negative response. Joseph Sayles of Rome asked Harrison to come to Rome the next week, but was also turned down.
A week later, Syracuse papers reported that one of the visitors stated in a telegram sent from Old Forge on July 19th that Harrison told the GAR men that he would not be a candidate for the presidency in 1896. The telegram said the source was a neighbor of one of the men, but all seven men were questioned separately; all said only the Syracuse fair was discussed.
On Thursday morning, July 26th, a large contingent of state officials, led by Secretary of State John Palmer and State Engineer Campbell Adams, and Deputy Controller William Morgan, stopped by Camp Dodd to visit Gen. Harrison. The group had just come from the Ampersand Hotel in Saranac Lake by special train and from the Forge House via steam launches on their way up the Fulton Chain. After being entertained at Webb’s Nehasane camp, they had performed an on site inspection of the Stillwater Dam and Webb’s lands being offered to the state in return for Webb dropping claims of damage from the flooding of his lands. They also feasted, fished and swam. The state later purchased the almost 75,000 acres for $600,000.
Harrison greeted them and applauded them for their efforts to make the correct judgment in this offer. By this time, his daughter Mrs. McKee and niece Mrs. Dimmick were at camp. Victor Adams introduced himself as an ex-Postmaster appointed by Harrison and, after the group had left, offered to take Harrison and his party on a private lake tour on his yacht Olgia . Harrison gladly accepted. Forest Commissioner Lyman also left a recently caught a catch of land locked salmon to Harrison.
Harrison did assent to one public appearance. On July 27, the Syracusans pulled out all stops and created a flag raising ceremony in front of the Forge House, probably hoping to change Harrison’s answer about the state fair. The group included Syracuse hotel magnate Henry Mowby, future mayor James McQuire and other dignitaries who sent the steamer Fulton to Dodd’s Camp to pick up Harrison. Harrison and his party chose to use Victor Adams’ naphtha launch with the Syracusans on board. The Victor Adams gun squad boomed salutes. Harrison walked to the Forge House with a Mr. C. Barton who thoughtfully sheltered Harrison from the rain. Mrs. Dimmick, secretary Tibbitt, Mrs. McKee and Baby McKee (Ben) joined Harrison. Victor Adams and a Little Falls syndicate would buy into the Forge House in the fall, 1895.
In front of a new 112 foot flagstaff holding a 18 x 24 foot flag (provided by Mowby) waving in a drizzle that continued through the speeches and patriotic hymns, Harrison gave a rousing, patriotic speech that was printed in the papers covering the event and would be appropriate in any Adirondack July 4th setting. It invoked not only past American history, but also the beautiful mountain setting unmarred by the weather. It also complimented the organizers for not rescheduling the event. The flag-raising ceremony had to have been the first major red letter day in Old Forge’s history. Harrison shook hands with most of the 350 plus attendees. W. Cary Sanger of Waterville also spoke. Harrison did not attend the state fair.
Mrs. Julia deCamp, one of three heirs to the Lyon lands, died during August. Her husband, William, inherited her lands and continued her stewardship of their Moose River lands.
Gen. Harrison was visited by politicians during August, such as Charles L. Knapp of Lowville who was a former state senator, had been appointed as consul to Montreal by President Harrison and later elected to Congress. But these individuals honored the Harrison “cone of silence” about what was said.
Harrison shot a deer while “night floating” after several attempts. This procedure was also called “jacking” because the method involved blinding a deer with a lantern in the front of a drifting boat, enabling a still target. The practice was later banned. It was considered a “murderous method of taking the citizen of the forest”. His hunting success brought publicity against the practice and the Republican party. He did not like to hunt in the woods for fear of accidentally being shot.
The additional time spent with Mrs. Mary Lord Dimmick and at Camp Dodd resulted in rumors that by October, though Harrison had not mentioned a second Presidential term, possibilities grew about a second marital term. He started discussions in September with W. Seward Webb on purchasing 10,000 acres near Big Moose Lake. Webb’s damage claim issue with the state prevented that; instead Webb offered a neck of land between First and Second Lakes near the “Little Moose trail” north of Dodd’s camp, which Harrison accepted. After his stay, he spent time with daughter Mrs. and Baby McKee in Saratoga.
By April 1896, Harrison’s Berkeley Lodge was being built and Harrison, the oldest living ex-President at the time, had married his niece, Mrs. Mary Scott Lord Dimmick, 25 years his junior. Her brother-in-law Lt. J. F. Parker gave her away. Though Mrs. Dimmick was admired by Caroline Harrison and spent much time at her side during her fatal illness, the family was estranged at this turn of events. His two children did not attend; Harrsion cut them out of his will. Russell Lord legally changed his name to Russell Benjamin Harrison.
The Harrisons spent their honeymoon during 1896 at the new Berkeley Lodge. In February 1897, a daughter, Elizabeth, was born. During the years 1896 to 1900, the Harrisons, with private secretary Tibbitt, spent summers at Berkeley Lodge, Frank Sperry continued as his guide, Harrison attended the Presbyterian Church, being rowed to services by his guide, and played golf. He made extensive renovations in 1900 hoping to continue this tradition for years.
Reporters would remember that, at Berkeley Lodge, he would not discuss politics and would initially salute the larger boats with a wave of a handkerchief. Later many prying eyes and “camera fiends” forced him to hide behind the trees shielding the camp, even while steamers unloaded supplies on his dock. He would often be seen seated near the shore with daughter Elizabeth. When attending church, he wore a traditional woods costume of brown with a soft shirt.
Benjamin Harrison, the great-grandson of a signer of the Declaration of Independence, died on March 13, 1901 of pneumonia. His grandfather, William Henry Harrison, who was the oldest serving President until Ronald Reagan took office, had also died of pneumonia a month after his inauguration resulting from the weather on that day.
Though not mentioned in the article covering the funeral, Old Forge had prominent representation at the Indianapolis funeral. Rev. Samuel J. Niccols was co-officiator, read from Corinthians I, chapters 35-38, parts of John, chapter 14 and the first chapter of Revelations, and gave the final address at the service. Rev. Niccols also conducted the burial service. The Old Forge Community Church of Old Forge would be named for him after his death in 1918.
The Harrison family spent summers in 1901 and afterwards at Berkeley Lodge. The camp was sold to Horace deCamp, son of William and Julia deCamp, in 1909 and papers reported on his extensive renovations in July 1916.
In closing, I found an interesting historical note about the Scott and Harrison family names. One looking at the Harrison and Scott family histories will find the Scott name used by Harrisons and vice versa. Papers assumed there was some blood relationship. After her death, an 1892 Washington Post article provided the history of Caroline Lavinia Scott’s family back to the times of George I, their migration to Pennsylvania and participation in the Revolution. This helped Caroline get elected first president of the Daughters of the American Revolution. One of the Scotts, a Dr. John Scott, settled in the Kentucky territory and had a “romantic relationship-a love passing that of brothers” with William Henry Harrison, later a president. As youths, they promised to honor their loyalty to each other by perpetuating in their offspring that the eldest son of Harrison would be named Scott and Scott’s would be named Harrison. Many years after, Benjamin Harrison chose a wife introducing into his family as a Christian name her surname of Scott.
Benjamin Harrison and his party at the Old Forge Dock. Courtesy Town of Webb Historical Association.