For the first time in its sixty years as Town of Inlet property, Arrowhead Park this spring will have a sign providing its annual visitors with the history of the popular hotels formerly occupying this location. This article acquaints you with the Park, its history, and describes the efforts resulting in historical signage. It may also be a “lessons learned” example in project management for small nonprofits.
The Head of Fourth Lake
For those unfamiliar with Inlet’s location, the hamlet is at the Head of Fourth Lake of the Fulton Chain of Lakes in the West Central Adirondacks. Its name comes from its location at the mouth of the inlet channel flowing from Fifth to Fourth Lake of that chain. Prior to the Town’s establishment in 1902, the Head of Fourth lake was the destination for Native Americans, then guides and hunters and later vacationers on steamers traveling on the chain’s lower lakes, departing from what is today’s Old Forge location. Presently, each September, Inlet is the first takeout for participants in the annual 90 Miler Adirondack Canoe Classic.
Acquisition of the Hotel Property by the Town
In June 1963, the O’Hara family, owners of the Arrowhead Hotel property since 1907, sold its tract to the Town of Inlet. Inlet’s leaders established a public park, and over the decades since have succeeded in transforming the property into what the Town refers to as the “crown jewel” of Inlet: Arrowhead Park. The location and its beach have been the Town’s most prominent visitor venue for playgrounds, concerts, arts and crafts festivals, baseball games, classic car shows, picnics and other events. It remains a destination for multitudes of visitors by boat from the lower lakes who come to shop in town. The Town also rents three cottages built by the former hotel. The Park houses Inlet’s government offices.
At the time of the Town’s acquisition, only the 1916 Arrowhead Hotel building, its tennis courts and a few other structures remained. In April 1971, this building was demolished; its location is presently part of the modern baseball park, recently named Marleau Field. Since the 1963 acquisition, the only monument to the park’s history has been a plaque. This is mounted on a boulder and marks the purchase from the O’Hara family and the Town Board’s dedication of Arrowhead Park to the citizens of the Town of Inlet. Until now, no information has ever been displayed about the prior history of this property.
History Snapshot of the Property and its Hotels
The first hotel on the site was in 1893 when guide Fred Hess opened Hess Inn, initially naming it The Fulton Chain Hotel. This hotel was along the Fourth Lake shoreline near the inlet from Fifth Lake. After an August 1896 fire, Hess sold Hess Inn in October to frequent guests William and Charles Moshier. After Fred Hess opened his newly built Hess Camp (now The Woods Inn) next door in July 1898, William Moshier renamed the Hess Inn as The Arrowhead.
Along the channel to Fourth Lake, Charles O’Hara in 1897 opened Inlet Inn, named for its location, the inspiration later for the Town’s name. Albert Boshart owned the Arrowhead in July 1906 when Chester Gillette was apprehended in its lobby after Grace Brown’s death at Big Moose Lake. Brown’s murder and Gillette’s nationally publicized trial inspired Theodore Dreiser to author his novel The American Tragedy. In1907, Charles O’Hara acquired the Arrowhead and marketed it jointly with his Inlet Inn.
In September 1913, the Arrowhead burned, and in June 1916 O’Hara opened the New Arrowhead (“New” moniker later dropped) structurally adjoining his Inlet Inn. Other structures built following this are described on the signage, but it was this Arrowhead that remained when the Town purchased the property from O’Hara’s descendants in 1963.
The Historical Signage Project
While marketing my history publication about the area, “The Fulton Chain,” I frequently encountered visitors who had little or no knowledge of what existed on Arrowhead Park’s grounds or even where its name originated. Was it the Town’s intention to give the Park a colorful name with a Native American context? Naturally, senior residents remember the second Arrowhead hotel, and may only have read of its precursors. As President of the Inlet Historical Society in January 2022, I sent a proposal to the Town Board about the need for this situation to change and for some type of signage.
A year later in February 2023, the Town appointed me Town Historian, succeeding the late Letty Haynes who herself provided an excellent history of the Park in her “Memories of Inlet”. The Town Historian is an ex officio Society Board member. I need to note that one factor impacting my subsequent signage efforts is that my home is in Pennsylvania, but I am a summer resident in Inlet. Consequently, my communications offseason are via email/telephone.
Along with my appointment, I determined to restart my prior year’s signage efforts for the Town to provide visitors with a visual history of the location. The Town Board asked me to describe what the sign might look like. I responded that we consider installing a storyboard at Arrowhead Park, near the present boulder or by the walkway past the renovated restrooms, which informs the public about the former hotels, a Casino building, and the origins of the three rental cottages. I provided examples of storyboards and would soon speak with a designer.
For the content on the signage, I offered to provide images of the Inlet Inn, Hess Inn-Arrowhead Hotel and the New Arrowhead hotels. Additional images would be provided for the Casino Buildings and other structures. These would come from the O’Hara family and from my collection. Knowledgeable of the region, I would compose the sign’s history narrative supporting the images as well as the origins of the present rental cottages.
The Board agreed to make this a Town Project and asked that I update them as I proceeded.
A month later in March, I contacted the Adirondack Experience where from my summer tour guide experience I viewed their many storyboards around the campus. Micaela Hall recommended Mary Quinn who designed some of their visitor education signs. I spoke to Ms. Quinn about the project, and she provided a cost estimate for her design role as well as her role as a liaison with a fabricator firm. She also indicated that, being between Experience assignments, the next few months were a suitable time for our collaboration. She provided an estimate of her design charges, and we agreed to the size of the sign, 4’ x 5’. Ms. Quinn also recommended Pannier Graphics as the sign fabricator with an initial cost estimate excluding sign posts. I asked her not to proceed forward until I received approval by the Town Board and for its funding. By month’s end, I had selected images and completed draft historical narratives.
For the Board’s April meeting, I reported in writing Ms. Quinn’s cost estimates, the proposed sign size, her Pannier Graphics recommendation, and the sign’s partial cost estimates. I also expressed the need for a background map image of the Arrowhead Park property for the images and narratives to reference. In other words, my concept called for the images and narratives surrounding this map graphic to reference lettered locations on the map where those objects stood. I provided the Board with examples of Pannier Graphics storyboards.
My communication asked for the availability of a Park map to use, requested approval for the suggested signage size, a decision on my proposed installation location and for their recommendation of a local contractor for installation. I also suggested they contact Living Adk, their local grants partner, if funding assistance was needed. I requested approval to proceed with the project and its funding.
In May, I asked the Town Clerk for the status of the project, informing her I was on hold awaiting their approvals and decisions, and she indicated she would again follow up with them. I repeated these actions again in June. My absence from the area contributed to the lack of progress on the project, not arriving in Inlet until the end of July.
During July, the Town Board approved the project but also decided that the Inlet Historical Society be the lead on the Town signage project. The Board also assigned primary funding responsibility to the Society. Their grants coordinator, LivingADK, had recommended that nonprofits have a better opportunity for grant support than government entities. I now had to bring the Society’s Board into the project at its August meeting.
The project being unknown to them, I updated the Society Board about the project’s importance as part of our mission, described the signage project, my months of work from the beginning of the year, and summarized my prior discussions and delays with the Town Board concerning the project. After considerable appropriate discussion, mostly concerning the unforeseen funding responsibility, the Board agreed to cover any forthcoming payments, as well as partnering with Living ADK to attract grant support. We also affirmed we would pursue any funding shortages with the Town Board. Living Adk had already collaborated with us, and the Society applied for a grant as of July 31, containing a general description of the project. We agreed I would continue leading the project.
I now contacted Mary Quinn and informed her I had the Town’s approval, assured her funding would be available and we can now proceed. Since she could not start at present, her prior availability lapsed (March-June), but she would contact me when available.
A few weeks later at the end of August, Ms. Quinn rejoined the project and proposed using a satellite image of the Park, making it easier for viewers to visualize former structure locations. Importantly, this was also more cost effective than her composing a geographically accurate graphic image of the property grounds. Quickly approving her image draft, I provided her legend letters to point out structure locations. Additionally, Ms. Quinn also provided important feedback, from a visitor’s perspective, about my draft narratives, which I promptly revised. Additional photos with improved resolution were provided, some replacing prior selections.
During the first weeks of September, Ms. Quinn and I worked extensively and were able to complete the graphic version of the sign for the Town Board’s approval at that month’s meeting. They reacted favorably, which left one last matter for approval: the location for the signage with posts. My initial choice, beside the boulder plaque mentioned above, was changed in their August meeting to another side of the tennis courts. The Parks Commissioner, present at this meeting, recommended the vacant wall of the Park’s expanded restroom facility. This change quickly met with our approval. Furthermore, this decision reduced the sign cost by eliminating the need for posts and a contractor’s ground installation. Parks staff will install it in the spring. The total cost for the project was now approximately $2800, billed to the Inlet Historical Society. Below is a graphic of the signage.
Successful Funding Campaign
When informed about the project in early August, the Society Board was concerned about the costs payable for the signage, especially since half the signage fabrication cost, $1000, was due in advance. This was shortly after the start of the funding campaign.
At the end of September, the Society informed the public about the importance of the historical sign project for Arrowhead Park and appealed for support with this project. During the first week of December, we reported about the success of our funding efforts. Grants received were $500 (applied July 31) from The Community Foundation of Herkimer and Oneida Counties; $1000 (unexpected and unsolicited happy surprise) from the Lingafelter Charitable Fund; and $1000 from the Damon Fund for Inlet (Community Foundation of Herkimer and Oneida Counties). The Lingafelters and the Damon Fund for Inlet have been patrons of Inlet for years and we greatly appreciate their continued generosity. In addition, while awaiting the results for these grants, we received $1200 from local businesses and members who answered our published call with their donations. The funding received exceeded the signage project cost. This has permitted the Society to purchase a smaller version for our building, accompanying the presently displayed vintage hotel photos displayed.
I thank the Inlet Town and Inlet Historical Society Boards for their approval and support, Mary Quinn for her dedicated design and input to the historical content, and for the generosity of the grant foundations and public for their financial support. For my first involvement with the Town Board, I can take away that personal involvement, lines of communication and involvement with all interested parties are all critical for collaborative success.
Photos provided by the author