On the south shore of Fourth Lake near the Herkimer – Hamilton County boundary is Holl’s Inn. According to a real estate ad in the Adirondack Express, the three story hotel on the six-acre parcel closed in 2006. However, Holl’s Inn continued to advertise rooms and meals as late as 2008 and housekeeping cottages until 2009 in the local summer guides. The hotel sold in 2013.
Operating as Holl’s Inn since 1935, the hotel and its property has had a long history beginning with the first travelers to the head of Fourth Lake. One of those travelers was Charles Pratt of Brooklyn, NY.
Up until the middle of the 19th Century, whale oil had been the predominant fuel for lamp lighting, its success due to its cheapness, despite it being quick burning and with a strong odor. But in the 1850s, kerosene, distilled from coal and shale, was being developed on a wide scale. Its longer burning and better smelling properties quickly made it a popular replacement for whale oil.
In midcentury, Charles Pratt (1830-1891) worked initially in Boston, then New York City, for companies specializing in paints and whale oil products. Recognizing the growing potential of lighting fuel from petroleum distillates, he became a pioneer in the new industry with the advent of new wells established in Western Pennsylvania.
In 1870, Pratt and his partners formed the Astral Oil Works in Brooklyn, advertising kerosene that was “pure”, “unexplosive” and “free from objectionable odor”. Competition with John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil resulted in Rockefeller’s suggestion of a merger, which occurred in 1874, with Pratt and his partners becoming officers and very wealthy. By the time this occurred, Pratt had discovered the Fulton Chain.
According to Joseph Grady, Jack Sheppard and Sam Dunakin built a camp for Charles Pratt in 1870 next to the Sheppard Camp on the south shore of Fourth Lake. The Pratt Camp would be the fourth of what Grady termed the first four Fulton Chain “permanent” camps (the others being Snyder’s Cold Spring, Stickney’s and Albert Buell’s, later Bald Mountain House, camps). Traveling authors such as A. Judd Northrup and George Washington Sears witnessed the Pratt Camp being occupied by guides, guests and caretakers over the years. Pratt summered with his family at the camp for years until his death in 1891. But Charles Pratt evidently did not have title to his camp’s land.
Originally included in a patent from the state in 1844 by Farrand N. Benedict and Marshall Shedd, Jr. for speculative purposes, the “Pratt lot” was part of a more than 6,000-acre portion of Moose River Tract Township 3 that was later owned by Permelia Munn and her heirs for over twenty years. On March 13, 1889, James Galvin, Ephraim Myers, Allen Kilby, Charles Emery and Theodore Basselin signed an agreement as equal partners in the purchase of the Munn Tract, acreage encompassing a rectangle including the head of Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, two thirds of Seventh Lakes and a portion of Limekiln Lake’s shores. For convenience purposes, the investors entrusted James Galvin to sign documents for this and subsequent land sales as their agent. In a transaction dated May 1, 1889, the Munn estate (Permelia died in 1876) sold the tract to the group for $10,000. The buyers planned to form a preserve called the Fulton Chain Club with membership rules similar to the neighboring Adirondack League Club.
To legitimize his ownership of the family camp of twenty years, in January 1890 Charles Pratt reportedly had purchased from Galvin twenty acres of lot 55 whereon his camp was located. Surveyor Earl Phelps and guide Richard Crego would soon arrive on site to perform the necessary survey. However, the report of the purchase also indicated an unnamed party had offered to purchase the Pratt Camp lot but had been refused by Galvin. The public and Charles Pratt would soon learn that party was Theodore Basselin.
The desired oblong-shaped 20-acre Pratt Camp lot was located on 80 acres of Lot 55 presumed to be in Herkimer County, and that the state comptroller had ruled in 1855 to be in default for taxes. After due notice, advertisement and auction by law, the acreage was sold in 1866 to a Hiram Buck who never redeemed the deed certificate. Galvin’s group only learned of this after the May 1889 purchase from the Munns and wanted clear title to complete the sale to Charles Pratt and receive payment. Their purchase from the Munn Estate had included a $7,000 mortgage on which they quickly wanted to begin payment.
To redeem the certificate for the 80 acres, Galvin sent Samuel Garmon in July 1889 to Albany for the purpose of obtaining the tax redemption certificate for the deed. Galvin knew Garmon from the years they worked as superintendents of the Black River Canal. But Garmon, a new co-owner of the nearby Old Forge Tract, was also the appointed State Warden whose boss was none other than Theodore Basselin, one of three newly appointed State Forest Commissioners.
So, Garmon purchased the transfer and obtained the comptroller’s certificate but instead of delivering it to Galvin, he followed instructions from Basselin and handed it to him. Galvin and the other partners believed Basselin ignored Galvin’s agency because Basselin wanted the lot, possibly to personally gain from the sale to Pratt. Subsequent events proved this to be true, though we may never learn Basselin’s side of the story.
Since the matter was not settled by the time of the Pratt transaction, January 1890, the members filed a pendency suit early in February to (1) compel Basselin to deliver the certificate and (2) to have Basselin’s possession of it judged to be in the same trust as in Galvin’s hands. The group also met with Garmon that same day to reimburse him for the transaction costs with interest from the prior July ($185) plus $20 expenses. Garmon refused the money and refused to retrieve the certificate from Basselin. Galvin then deposited Garmon’s funds in a local bank subject to Garmon’s demand.
Basselin quickly had the transfer recorded by Hamilton County, legally acquiring the land. The court’s judge then ordered that Basselin could receive the deed but could not make disposition of the property until the “pendency” was settled. In September, Basselin conveyed back his share of the Munn tract purchase, cut ties with the association who then transferred the 20 acre Pratt lot, now determined to be solely in Hamilton County, to Basselin. Basselin then sold the tract to Pratt a month later for $200.
Charles Pratt died in 1891. Since the 1870s, Pratt’s family and later that of his son, Charles Millard Pratt, also a director of Standard Oil, would summer annually at the property until 1905. Galvin also sold adjoining parcels to the Pratts in the late 1890s. In July 1903, the son’s camp burned while his children in the care of servants were having dinner at Cedar Island. It was believed that an oil stove left burning in one of the camp’s rooms had exploded. However, according to the news account Pratt’s original log cabin, 150 feet from the son’s camp, was not harmed. Pratt’s son later had a camp built in 1909 at Little Moose Lake at the Adirondack League Club preserve.
Before his death, Charles Pratt had founded and endowed the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn in 1886. The wealthiest man in Brooklyn, Pratt, recalling his early lack of education, felt that rapidly changing industrial needs required a work force trained in special skills and trades. With plans being made for a more private, new Adirondack camp elsewhere, the Pratt family in 1907 donated the Fourth Lake camp and buildings to the Pratt Institute.
To manage the exclusive camp, the Pratt Institute formed an organization called the Pratt Camp Association. Membership ($3 a season) in the Association was limited to Pratt Institute instructors, students and graduates. Members paid $5 weekly “table board” and $12 travel for the round trip from Brooklyn. While there were attendants, guests were required to take care of their rooms and bring linens. Food served would be prepared by trained “domestic science students.”
A 1907 report described the existing main camp as having a large living room, fitted in “real mountain camp style with large fireplace, wood rafters and furniture and hangings.” The camp included the dining room, kitchen and three bedrooms. The boathouse was equipped with eight “St. Lawrence skiffs”, five of which were newly provided by Pratt’s son Charles. A new camp building containing eleven bedrooms was nearly completed. The Pratt Institute planned that the Association’s income from dues would cover maintenance and other camp costs, not wanting the camp to rely on support from the Institute’s endowment. But this would not turn out to be the case.
The new owner would be a prominent Inlet hotel owner named Charles O’Hara.
Photographs from the Goodsell Museum, Old Forge, N.Y.; map from the Hamilton County Clerk’s Office; postcard of Pratt Camp from author’s collection, Astral Oil ad from Google Books.