Eunice B. Lamberton sold the 1,358 acre Forge Tract in 1888 for $10,000 to Dr. Alexander Crosby and Samuel Garmon.
Dr. Crosby was born in Martinsburg in 1836. He began his medical practice in 1862 and moved to Lowville in 1867. He rapidly built up a large practice and was for many years considered one of the most skilled physicians and surgeons in the state, often called in to testify at criminal cases. In 1875, Crosby was elected to the State Assembly, was later a Democratic Party state chairman and was on both the State Board of Charities and Lewis County pensioners’ board. Crosby died in 1911.
According to Franklin Hough’s 1883 History of Lewis County, Dr. Crosby’s grandfather Jeremiah lived on the John Brown’s Tract in 1805-6 where Dr. Crosby’s father Hopkins was born in 1806. Shortly after, the Crosby family exited the failing settlement, as other early settlers did, and relocated to Martinsburg.
Samuel F. Garmon was born in the town of Watson in 1840. He was a Civil War veteran and often referred to as “Col. Garmon”. He was Watson town supervisor in the 1860s and 1870s and was superintendent of the Black River Canal (1874-1877) and later appointed State Forest Warden for the first 1885 Forest Commission. Garmon died in 1913 shortly after being elected Old Forge village president.
Garmon and Crosby wanted to develop the Forge Tract and its anchor would be the Forge House. They hired Joseph Harvey as proprietor and he took over in the spring of 1888. Harvey was born in 1842, had been a Watson town supervisor (1873-1874), and served two terms as Lewis County school commissioner. He was also Garmon’s brother-in-law, having married Samuel’s sister Ellen.
Garmon & Crosby teamed with G. H. P. Gould and built the “Peg-Leg Railroad” from Moose River Settlement that ran from 1889 to 1892, assisted by the right-of-way to Minnehaha purchased from Mrs. Julia Lyon deCamp. From there, the deCamp steamer Fawn carried passengers and freight to present day Thendara.
Garmon & Crosby confiscated and rebuilt the sawmill on the state’s land, and leased it to George Deis. They let a portion of the building to Theodore Seeber for a boatshop. They began to sell lots for homes and businesses to men like Josiah Wood, Theodore Seeber, Sylvester Wetmore, Fred Rivett and John Sprague.
They also undertook the first major renovations of the Forge House since 1872, when the second wing was built. In April 1889, Garmon & Crosby hired Sylvester Wetmore of Watson to enlarge the building, raise the roof for three stories and add a veranda along the front to face the pond. With the mill in full operation, lumber no longer needed to be transported from Lowville. Electricity was added for hotel lighting.
But, the popular Joseph Harvey contracted an undisclosed illness that forced him to resign as proprietor in early 1891. Harvey would be elected Wilmurt town supervisor in February 1894 and engineered the creation of the Town of Webb in January 1896. Appointed interim supervisor briefly for the new town, Harvey lost the Town’s first election to Alexander McIntyre in a court-ordered resolution over incorrectly completed ballots. He became a leader in establishing the first schools in the Town of Webb. Harvey died in 1898.
The Utica Weekly Herald of March 24, 1891 announced and then a retracted the news that John Studer had been selected as the new Forge House proprietor. Studer was a hotel proprietor in Watson and had reached a verbal agreement with Dr. Crosby, but Garmon had signed a one-year agreement with partners George B. Kitts of Boonville and Mortimer D. Alger of Rome.
Kitts was experienced in running hotels at Boonville and later at Rome where he may have met Mortimer D. Alger. After the one year Forge House lease, he ran the Lewis Hotel in Fulton and then the Doolittle Hotel in Rome. While at the Lewis Hotel in 1895, Kitts invested in a company manufacturing fire alarm systems for hotels. At the time of his death of tuberculosis in 1913, he was the proprietor of the Orlando Hotel in Corning.
Mortimer D. Alger ran a popular hardware store in Rome for many years until early summer 1891. After his stint at the Forge House, Alger concentrated on his camp at Big Island on Fourth Lake. Originally, camp builders erected a camp for guide Fred Rivett and his brother Peter. They sold their squatters’ rights to Sarah Clarke who sold them to Mortimer Alger. His complex there was called “The Pines” and it remained in the family for many years. Shortly after the couple celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in 1915, two of their sons died: George of typhoid fever in 1916 and Burt in 1919. Another son, Ollie, would later take over the island camp. Mortimer Alger died on June 26, 1927. In 1950, the island’s owners sold it to the state and Alger Island today is a popular stopover for canoers on the Old Forge to Saranac Lake route.
Alger’s Forge House register is at the Goodsell Museum. George Goodsell was a Forge House manager. The Boonville Herald reported in November 1891 that Alger and Kitts hired Goodsell to manage the hotel over the winter. Goodsell would later build a house in 1900 – today’s Goodsell Museum.
During 1891 and 1892, the business prospects mixed for Garmon and Crosby. While they were experiencing operational problems with the Peg-Leg Railroad, another much larger railroad was rapidly progressing to the Forge Tract. Dr. William Seward Webb’s railroad reached Fulton Chain Station in June and would be completed in October 1892. The partners contracted with Dr. Webb to provide lumber from their mill for construction of the Fulton Chain Station at today’s Thendara.
The improvements to the hotel had been completed, also helped by the nearby sawmill on state land. Its veranda was 80 feet long with a view of the lake. It contained a large sitting room with a prominent fireplace. Deer approached the hotel from the woods and delighted the guests. The opening of Dr. Webb’s railroad promised increased business for the hotel which accommodated 100-150 guests.
In June 1892, Garmon and Crosby hired the Springsteens as proprietors of the Forge House for the summer. Arthur H. Springsteen was born in Lewis County in 1865 to Savillian and Luvan Springsteen. Springsteen learned the hotel business from his father who moved the family to Orwell, Oswego County and ran the town’s hotel. The younger Springsteen, on harmonica, would accompany his father on violin in a trio that sometimes included a talented organist, Miss Julia Thompson. He became an accomplished coronet player and played with local orchestras. Springsteen’s life would include both success and family tragedy.
The Orwell Hotel burned in May 1888. After marrying Julia Thompson on December 27 that year, his father died in December 1889 at the age of 48. With Julia having just given birth in April 1891, Springsteen was soon forced to temporarily leave his new position as manager of the Underwood House in Dexter to join his wife in burying their month old infant son.
After the summer, the Springsteens returned to Orwell to manage the “Hotel de June” which they quickly renamed Pulaski House. After three years, the couple moved to Little Falls where Springsteen operated a grocery concern. In February 1898, they moved to West Carthage where Springsteen was again a grocer and was elected village treasurer, but they soon returned to Orwell in 1903. Julia Springsteen contracted tuberculosis and died in February 1905. Arthur soon remarried and this marriage produced a daughter, Julia, in 1907, and a son, Savillian, in 1909. But his son and second wife both died within a week of each other in February 1912. Springsteen later married widow Mary Monihen (Moniken?, Monahan?) who had a daughter. The Springsteens moved to Port Royal, Pennsylvania and Arthur would return periodically to visit remaining family and in-laws. His Port Royal residence would also be home to aged Orwell relatives. He remained in the hotel business in his new locale and lived his remaining days at that location.
With the new railroad bringing in the largest traffic yet seen to the Fulton Chain, Garmon and Crosby hired an experienced couple for the 1893 season: Alexander (“Sam”) M. and wife Nellie Ambrose (N. A. Briggs).
Alexander was born in 1837 in Sauquoit, enlisted during the Civil War in 117th NY regiment, was wounded, recovered and entered the hotel business in 1866 in Cassville. Nellie was born in 1849 in Clayville and married Alexander in 1868. The couple conducted the Mansion House in Herkimer and a summer hotel, the West End, in Clayton. After this stint, they conducted hotels at Yorkville, Whitesboro and Mohawk before signing a lease in the spring of 1893 for the Forge House. Nellie was signatory for the couple’s contracts with hotel owners. Quite often, N. A. Briggs would be referred to in the newspapers with male pronouns.
In June 1893, lightning struck the Forge House, tearing away a bearing wall to the basement and destroying the barroom and laundry. The Ogdensburg Advance reported that it blew the shoes of the laundry woman, but she was not seriously hurt. The hotel advertised the comfort of its steam heat. The relics of Herreshoff’s forge were now placed close to the hotel as a tourist attraction. The Utica Daily Press noted that the village now comprised twenty families “industrious and thrifty”.
The “Old Forge” boasted its first red letter day when former President Benjamin Harrison, his extended family and entourage rented Dodd’s Camp on First Lake for the summer. Two weeks after an extensively covered arrival, Nellie raised a huge (18 x 24 feet) flag on July 27, 1895.
For the occasion, the normally private Mr. Harrison gave a lengthy, patriotic speech with historical and forest metaphors while the gathered crowd applauded spiritedly in the rain. The summer’s press coverage of Harrison’s camp visitors helped advertise the Forge House to the nation.
Victor Adams, a major civic and business leader, and former Harrison political appointee, from Little Falls provided Harrison with transportation on the lakes in his launch. His Little Falls gun squad fired salutes during the flag raising ceremonies. Victor Adams purchased a camp on Fourth Lake but envisioned a larger investment opportunity.
Photographs courtesy of the Town of Webb Historical Association.
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