Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Forge House History Conclusion: Thomson Years

1870 butvauell Abstract adc from forge company003 - CopyThe Old Forge Company, Thistlethwaite now its president, sold the Forge House to Charles I. Thomson and his son, Raymond E. Thomson in August 1915.  Thistlethwaite would soon establish the Adirondack Development Corporation to which the heavily mortgaged Old Forge Company in January 1916 would transfer remaining unsold tract lots.

The new company would open a store front on today’s Point Park triangle.  Unbelievably, the deed acquired by Thistlethwaite’s company still included the 1871 right to raise the dam three feet that belonged to the state since 1879.  The state certified the dissolution of the Old Forge Company in 1919.

For the first time, the proprietors of the Forge House would also be its owners. Charles Thomson was a traveling salesman for the Wald-Kendrick Company for 15 years and had conducted the Clarendon Hotel in Holland Patent with his twin brother Ira Thomson.  Charles also assisted in managing the Maple Grove stock farm and was an expert breeder and judge of cattle and horses.  Charles’s wife was Anna Reed whose family dated to the Mayflower.  Her sister Minnie was married Charles’s brother Ira.  Raymond was a Utica dentist who now opened an office at the Forge House.  He married Sue Lindsay of Yorkville at the beginning of the Thomsons’ first summer season in June 1916.

The Thomsons helped make the Forge House and Old Forge the entertainment capital of the Fulton Chain. Their official opening events occurred May 20, 1916.  Thistlethwaite’s real estate ads promoted baseball, tennis and “movies” on the Forge House grounds.  Brown’s Tract Guides conventions, state associations and other local events were held at the hotel.  Charles’ wife Anna Thomson would die in July 1918.  In 1919, “modern” soda fountains were installed and an automobile cover was built with “sleeping rooms” overhead.

A second red letter day for the Forge House, and Old Forge, occurred on June 21, 1919, when upstate attention was drawn to the location by a much advertised trip by the first airplane “ever seen in the Adirondacks”. The pilot dropped the Utica Daily Press on the town in bundles.  The pilot performed stunts along the lakes and then landed on the new deCamp “landing field” in Fulton Chain, a year later to be renamed “Thendara”.  He then ceremoniously delivered mailbags to the Forge House where village residents crowded in a country fair atmosphere.

In October 1920, Raymond leased the Rio Vista Hotel in Smryna, Florida that was a popular winter vacation spot for Uticans. On May 29, 1923, the Thomsons officially opened the new Thomson Theater (today’s Strand) and adjoining ballroom; they also opened the Pavilion Theater in Inlet.  Pictures and dances were held in both locations four times a week.  The Williams-Freeman colored orchestra were popular performers.  When Ed Lenhardt resigned as village president in May 1924, Raymond Thomson was appointed pro tem in the position.

1924a scan0004On July 2, 1924, the Forge House burned. Photo postcards depicting the fire with bystanders watching the fire on the roof being swept by the winds later became popular.  The fire spreading, staff concentrated on saving the furniture on the lower floors.  Initial reports put losses at $200,000 covered by only $30,000 insurance.  The Thomson Theater and Casino buildings were not harmed.  Three months later in October, the Forge House barn storing the saved Forge House furniture burned.

Though capital bonds were planned and town leaders spoke of rebuilding a major hotel on the site, the Thomsons soon placed their Old Forge properties on the market. Papers reported that the Thomson Theater was sold to Marks & Wilcox.

In March 1925, the Thomsons purchased the Canandaigua Hotel in the Finger Lakes. Raymond continued his dental practice in Utica and was village president of Old Forge for several years.  He remained connected with the Canandaigua Hotel from 1925 to 1932 and then returned to dentistry in Waterville.  He retired in 1950, ran the Thomson Hotel in Yorkville and died on April 29, 1952 at age 71.  Charles Thompson also managed the Canandaigua Hotel with his son, participated as  a judge of stock at county fairs over 40 years and died on January 23, 1945, two days shy of his 87th birthday.

photo 3At the beginning of his chapter on the Forge House, Joseph Grady wrote: “The hotel won its way to financial success, and even to fame, but with few exceptions the profits derived from the development idea proved almost as negligible for all concerned as they had on previous efforts (Herreshoff) to wrest a fortune from Adirondack land.”  If you visit the busy triangle today, you can view the forge relics formerly used as landscaping for the Forge House for over fifty years.

Photographs and map courtesy of Town of Webb Historical Association; photo of present day relics by the author.


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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 is the president of the Inlet Historical Society and presents summer programs on Inlet history at the Town Hall in Arrowhead Park in Inlet, NY. His book, The Fulton Chain-Early Settlement, Roads, Steamboats, Railroads and Hotels, was published in May 2017. More information is available at . During 2023, Herr was appointed Inlet Town Historian.

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