This is part two of my look at the History of Seventh Lake.
According to a deed dated May 2, 1898, Duane Norton purchased sublots 48,49, 50, 51 & 52, lots 49-50 and part of 51 in Great Lot 8 and part of lot 51 and all of 52 in Great Lot 19, all being still then referred to as the “Munn Tract” purchased by James Galvin’s group in 1889.
An additional 5 acres were purchased by Norton to the rear of these lots. Who was Duane Norton?
Duane Norton was born in Turin and had been a well-known farmer and lumber mill operator in Greig when he bought the land from James Galvin. His first wife Emma Johnson (age 32) died in 1880 and Norton remarried Carrie Corwin a year later. Before Norton remarried, he had the care of four children: two daughters (Allie and Nellie) and two sons (Raymond and Clifford). He later suffered the death of one of the daughters, a bride of one year, in 1897. Two additional children (Maude and Louis) were born from his second marriage.
Shortly after the Galvin purchase, the newspapers reported on the new Fulton Chain hotels: Hess’s Hotel (soon to become Hess Camp, then the Wood and presently the Woods Inn), Charles Williams of Watson’s Lake View Hotel at Big Moose Lake and Duane Norton’s Seventh Lake hotel. Norton’s hotel was described as the “main part to be thirty-two by sixty feet, with a wing thirty-four by forty feet, the whole structure two and half stories high.” Norton’s sons Clifford and guide Raymond D. Norton were part of the construction team. New furniture purchased for $1,000 from Lowville’s George Haberer was received in June. The Seventh Lake House opened July 1, 1898. Norton’s primary competition for public lodging during the inaugural season in newspaper ads was Charles Traffarn’s summer cottage.
During the 1898 season, Thomas Edison, Jr., son of the famous inventor, temporarily camped at Seventh Lake, though using the newly named Arrowhead to communicate with his New York offices. He experimented with a chemical process that saturated sponges with a sulphuric acid compound, attaching them to the piazza posts of hotels to exterminate the black flies. He with three chemists hoped this would work to keep the bugs at a distance of 100 feet. Unfortunately, they could not solve one problem: the solution induced the hotel patrons to sleep.
Just a year after opening, the Lowville Journal and Republican reported in September 1899 that several lawyers were in court regarding Duane Norton and the Seventh Lake House. The First National Bank of Rome filed a mechanics lien foreclosure against Norton, Peter Ossont, Edward Sholes, Christopher VanArnam, John Sprague, Henry Utley, Dwight B. Sperry, Carthage Savings Loan and Building Association, John Gasser and Herman Chapman. A State Supreme Court proceeding decreed a property auction, which was held in August 1900 at Hess Camp, with the Carthage Savings and Loan Building Assoc. acquiring title with a bid of $4200. Under the bank’s ownership, Duane Norton and son Raymond continued to operate the Seventh Lake House until February 1903.
In a transaction dated February 13, 1903, the bank sold the hotel property to Charles Williams of Big Moose Lake and Frank Williams, his brother, became proprietor. Raymond Norton continued as guide to service the guests. Duane Norton returned to his Lewis County farm and mill operations, also becoming the first Game Warden for that County. He died at Otter Creek in 1935. After working at the Seventh Lake House for a few years, Raymond leased camps at Fifth Lake and Limekiln Lake (later the site of Delmarsh Inn), continuing service as a well-known local guide and camp caretaker. Raymond died in 1919.
Among Frank Williams’ first improvements was assisting with the July 1903 installation of a telephone line from his brother Charles’ hotel to Eagle Bay station, Hess Camp, Sixth Lake Dam house to the Seventh Lake House.When Frank advertised the Seventh Lake House in 1903, the only road was through the new town of Inlet to the Sixth Lake dam. He was still offering the same directions Norton gave for the hotel: Raquette Lake Railroad connection to Eagle Bay Station, two miles by stage to Sixth Lake, then one mile by steamer (J.G. Moshier) to the hotel. But road improvements soon changed positively, though temporarily, for the hotel and eventually negatively for the steamer company.
Before selling the hotel, Norton petitioned the new town of Inlet in 1902 to build a bridge over the Seventh Lake outlet to improve access. The town approved the building of a bridge for year round traffic over the outlet of Seventh Lake in October 1904 and Charles Williams was given the task for expanding the road from Sixth Lake Dam to the Seventh Lake House. The bridge was in place by 1906 when newspaper accounts reported A.H. Barber using his launch to reach his camp, coming up through the channel and just under the bridge at the outlet. The Seventh Lake House added a new boathouse for the1906 season.
In early July 1906, a major fire occurred at Seventh Lake. Esther and Edwin Sherwood were rescued in time from the balcony of their father’s burning camp. This fire destroyed both Dr. Sherwood’s and the neighboring Charles Traffarn camp. The children were saved by Woodholme’s William Wood who used a ladder to reach the children in time. Wood later died in 1941; his obituary noted his operating Woodholme for 26 years.
In November 1906, Frank Williams would join several other Inlet residents in testifying at the Chester Gillette murder trial for the Grace Brown murder on July 11, 1906 at Big Moose Lake.
According to Frank, Gillette came to the Seventh Lake House on the day after the murder with a boat rented from the Arrowhead boat house. After paddling around the lake, Gillette wanted dinner at the hotel and signed the hotel register, “Chester Gillette, Cortland”, the register page being Exhibit 47 for the court. Frank testified that Gillette was seeking two young ladies from his town. Gillette later climbed the trail to Black Bear Mountain to take pictures.
Frank began the tradition of advertising the hotel as, in addition to its amenities, being the highest at 1820 feet on the Fulton Chain. In 1909, the hotel added an annex named Rockledge Cottage. By 1910, the hotel advertised the availability of four “rustic” cottages as well. Lodgers could be met at Eagle Bay station and taken 3 ½ miles through Inlet over a “good road” to the hotel.
The needs of new automobile traffic encouraged Inlet to install a steel bridge to replace the original wooden works, approved by the town in 1911. In October 1913, A. H. Barber represented the Seventh Lake camps in meetings at The Wood hotel with the County Commissioners in a futile petition for a “shore road” at the lake. It advanced far enough that valuations were made for obtaining the necessary right of way. But other county residents were against the expense to taxpayers for a road benefiting only a few private land owners. In 1915, the State funded the bridge’s replacement near Frank Williams’s hotel.
By 1916, a new paved state road in took travelers to the steel Seventh Lake outlet bridge. But if you missed this turn and stayed right you shortly found “a long lane cut into the heart of the wilderness…pocked with great holes in which pieces of roots still lie, twisted and shattered, attesting to the power of the blast that blew the foundations of forest giants from the place of their birth and growth.”
In April 1916, Frank’s first wife Jennie Scribner Williams died and a year later Frank married Mrs. Emma Sasbaker Smith. Later that year, in a transaction dated October 1, 1916, Frank’s brother Charles conveyed the hotel property to him for $5,000.
Frank Williams continued to operate the Seventh Lake House until 1922. During his management, the hotel continued to attract lodgers who enjoyed the remoteness and beauty of the surroundings. The hotel’s attractions included a new car garage (1921), cement tennis courts, a dance hall in the boat house and orchestra music. Dinners were enhanced by fresh milk and vegetables.
A long sufferer of heart trouble, before dying in 1924, Frank sold the hotel back to his brother Charles Williams in a transaction dated January 29, 1922, with Charles assuming outstanding mortgages on the property including Frank’s 1916 mortgage for Frank’s original purchase and another mortgage. Subsequent to this transaction, Charles and Margaret Williams conveyed the properties to Frank Breen on April 29, 1922. Frank lived summers with his brother Charles at Lake View Lodge until dying in Utica in 1924.
Frank Breen and his wife Barbara Kline Breen had worked 13 years for William Dart at his camp at the lake named for him. Often they drove William Dart and his family to the Darts’ winter home in Florida. Sometime after 1925, the architecturally impressive round adjoining dining room was added to east side of the hotel building. Frank also erected supposedly the first electric fence locally for purposes of keeping away deer.
In 1924, the hotel’s builder Duane Norton returned at age 80 to view the changes at the hotel built when he was a “young feller” of 52! He remarked that “the same boards were in the counter at the desk that he had put there and also the clock was one which had been put on the wall when the hotel opened” in 1898. The writing room still contained a table built by Norton with logs from the trunks of small trees of the same shape and size which took him considerable time to find. He was accompanied by his grand- and great-grandchildren.
Frank Breen was one of the Inlet residents chosen for the jury that convicted guide Ernest Duane for the murder of Eula Davis in 1927, a trial which received as much local attention as the Gillette trial.
In 1929, the highway ending at Seventh Lake was finally extended to Raquette Lake, Blue Mountain Lake and points northward. The extension of the state road followed the aforementioned turn to the right that stopped abruptly in 1916 and directed drivers onward through the woods past Raquette Lake. Tourist traffic now travelled north past the turn for the Seventh Lake Bridge and the Seventh Lake Hotel.
Breen’s health forced him to return the hotel ownership, including a large mortgage to Charles Williams to Charles’ son Fred Williams in February, 1944.
Later in 1944 Fred sold the hotel to J. Perry (Pitt) Smith who operated the hotel until 1954 when he sold his interests to Joseph Spiotta. Pitt’s daughter Lynda Smith Kellogg recalled that, during her father’s management, a highlight of the summer season was the weekly cookout on Buster Bird’s boat “Osprey”. The food included steak, fried potatoes, corn on the cob and a dessert, cooked by guide Red Perkins. Elizabeth “Nibs” Williams, Pitt Smith’s wife, was the granddaughter of Charles Williams, the 1903 purchaser of the hotel from Duane Norton. Her mother, Mary Breen Williams, was the sister of Frank Breen.
In 1956, Joseph Spiotta sold the buildings and property to Charles Vosburg and the hotel was auctioned on August 4, 1956. A description of the property given was “300 acres of land with a 1500 foot front including a bathing beach and boat pier. There are five furnished lake front cottages with fireplaces. The five service buildings house the laundry, coolers, garages, a shop and employee dormitories. The hotel building has 30 sleeping rooms and several bath and service rooms.”
Shortly after the auction, the hotel building was taken down (some say burned), the property was subdivided and the original buildings either have been remodeled or have suffered the same fate. The lawn and building to the rear in this 2013 photo was the site of the Seventh Lake House.
The Seventh Lake House suffered the same fate as many of the large hotels built by the turn of the 20th century. Vacationers who used to take trains and steamers to reach the lake resorts, staying a month or so, now drove from destination to destination staying a day, a weekend or a week, or even now owned a camp with all of the conveniences of home. With the automobile, they stayed at smaller “motoring hotels” with parking lots for their vehicles, later called motels. Large hotels like the Seventh Lake House were no longer sufficiently profitable while being expensive to maintain.
But for its time, the hotel was a popular destination at a mostly private location on, even today, a still somewhat remote lake. To those current camp owners and others who have given me assistance with this article, I wish to express my thanks and appreciation.
Images from 1910 Fulton Chain Booklet, Willard Press, Boonville; photo collection from the Goodsell Museum, the Bonifield Collection Goodsell Museum, and the author’s collection.