Almanack Contributor Anthony F. Hall

Anthony F. Hall

Anthony F. Hall is the editor and publisher of the Lake George Mirror.

Anthony grew up in Warrensburg and after an education that included studying with beat poet Gregory Corso on an island in the Aegean, crewing a schooner in Hawaii, traveling through Greece and Turkey studying Byzantine art and archeology, and a stint at Lehman Brothers, he returned to the Adirondacks and took a job with legendary state senator Ron Stafford.

In 1998, Anthony and his wife Lisa acquired the Lake George Mirror, once part of a chain of weekly newspapers owned by his father Rob Hall.

Established in the 1880s, the Mirror is America’s oldest resort newspaper.



Friday, April 30, 2010

Lake George: Layers of History From Fort’s Well

In the two centuries that followed the French destruction of Fort William Henry in 1757, the only visible reminder of the fort was the old well on the grounds of the hotel.

“The French,” wrote Seneca Ray Stoddard in his 1873 guide to Lake George, “burned whatever they could not carry off. They could not steal or burn the ‘Old Fort Well’ however, and it still remains, partially filled with stones and rubbish.”

It was rumored that the British hid their gold and silver in the well during the seige of 1757. After the surrender of the fort to the Marquis de Montcalm, the officers’ wives who had been told that they would be granted safe passage to Fort Edward threw their jewelry into the well “having a premonition of disaster,” according to one account.

According to Stoddard’s tale, “On the night of August 9, 1757, as the Indians went about the fort, killing and scalping the sick and wounded, two women were thrown headlong down the well after having been scalped.”

Despite that rich history, the well has been excavated only twice; in the 1950s and again in 1997, under the supervision of archeologist David Starbuck.

The well was dug in late 1755, after Sir William Johnson defeated the French at the Battle of Lake George and began building Fort William Henry. Rogers’ Rangers, it is believed, actually dug and built the 40 ft deep stone well.

At least one source has it that the completion of the well was commemorated with a dance and a ration of rum for all.

Approximately one hundred years after the destruction of the fort, the first hotel was built on the site.

“Honeymoon couples would walk by the well and throw silver coins into it, believing that this offering to the legends of the ghosts which have been said to inhabit the walls of the old report, would bring them good luck, and future happiness,” the Lake George Mirror reported in 1955.

When reconstruction of the current replica fort began in 1953, the bottom was only 19 and 1/2 feet from the curb, indicating that that in the intervening years about 20 feet of of dirt and debris had accumulated.

According to David Starbuck, archaeologists were unable to dig deeper than 23 feet before hitting water when excavating the well in 1960. In 1997, Starbuck began a new archaeological dig at the fort, part of which was an excavation of the well. With the aid of sections of steel culvert with which to line the well and prevent it from collapsing, Starbuck himself was able to reach a depth of 30 feet.

“Since 1960 the well had been the center of attention for every school child who visited the fort,” Starbuck wrote in his “Massacre at Fort William Henry.” “They left us with a forty year legacy of tourist memorabilia.”

Starbuck and his assistants found toys, sunglasses and a lot of bubblegum.

At 27 feet from the surface, Starbuck made a discovery that completes our knowledge of the well’s construction. “The well had been lined at its bottom with vertical wood planks, creating a water tight barrel that prevented silt from washing in,” Starbuck reported. “(Each of the planks) was three inches thick, and twelve inches wide. Massive and tightly joined, the boards were waterlogged and swollen, and groundwater could seep into the well only by running over the tops of the planks through knotholes.”

Fort William Henry’s Archaeology Hall includes a full scale recreation of the well, enabling viewers to experience for themselves Starbuck’s sensations as he stood at the bottom of the well, sending up buckets of earth, debris, and the thousands of coins visitors have tossed into the well over the years. (The treasure, we assume, went elsewhere.)

Gerry Bradfield, the fort’s curator at the time, installed a video camera within the well’s shaft and taped the entire process.

The Archaeology Hall and other rooms throughout the Fort contain thousands of artifacts discovered on the grounds of Fort William Henry since the 1950’s, when the reconstruction of the fort began. Recent discoveries, such as pre-historic pottery shards as well as buttons from the uniforms of American soldiers in the War of Independence, suggest that the site was used before and after the fort was burned in 1757.

The exhibits are part of a larger “Living History Program” designed to enable visitors to better understand the history of the colonial era. The program includes tours led by guides in authentic costumes, the firing of 18th century muskets and cannons, recreated scenes of life at the fort and scenes from the events that took place there, as well as visits to dungeons, a powder magazine and a crypt of the victims of Montcalm’s 1757 massacre. Visitors can also view the 1936 film version of Cooper’s “Last of the Mohicans,” believed by many to be the best and most graphic portrayal of Montcalm’s siege and the ensuing massacre.

The Fort William Henry Museum is open from May through October.

Photo of Old Fort Well, circa 1959, Lake George Mirror files

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Friday, April 23, 2010

Inez Milholland Portrait Restoration Planned

A portrait of Inez Milholland hanging over a mantelpiece in the Sewall-Belmont House and Museum in Washington DC will be restored if a committee established in March is able to raise $4,000.

Milholland’s name is known today primarily by historians of the crusade to win for women the right to vote.

That crusade acquired crucial public attention on March 4, 1913, the day Woodrow Wilson was inaugurated for his first term. Women from every state gathered in the capital and staged a great parade down Pennsylvania Avenue. Leading the parade on a white charger was Inez Milholland, then 25 years old.

She was, literally and figuratively, a figurehead of the nascent women’s rights movement. » Continue Reading.


Friday, April 16, 2010

Lake George: Guy Lombardo’s Speed Boat Racing Stunt

Gar Wood and George Reis excepted, Gold Cup racing produced no amateur racer more famous than Guy Lombardo, the director of the dance orchestra at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City.

In the spring of 1949, he paid a visit to Lake George, ostensibly to plan a record-breaking run from Lake George Village to Bolton Landing.

As it happened, the bandleader never did bring his his boat to Lake George. But never mind. The visit is one more chapter in the annals of boats and boating on Lake George.

Lombardo won the 1946 Gold Cup race on the Detroit River in his Tempo VI, a 1934 hull with an engine that still qualified for Gold Cup racing according to the rules established in 1920. Bolton summer resident Melvin Crook described Lombardo’s victory this way for Yachting magazine: “Lombardo finished by finding a good rhythm and conducted to a fine crescendo, rather like as if he were directing Ravel’s Bolero.” 1946, however, was the last year the old rules applied, and as a consequence, the boats were much faster in 1947 and 1948. Lombardo lost the Gold Cup races in 1947 and 1948, although, with a new engine, he broke a world speed record for the mile in Miami in 1948. Clearly, Lombardo was not ready to retire from racing. He hoped to break a speed record of 141.74 mph set by Sir Malcom Campbell in 1939, which his rival, racer Danny Foster, had tried and failed to do in 1946. To succeed, Lombardo needed a new boat, and a body of water suitable for record breaking speeds, or so he said.

Lombardo was performing with his orchestra in Glens Falls that month; one day, he brought two of his brothers and some members of his band and his racing crew to Lake George to see if it would be a good place to break Campbell’s records. After inspecting water conditions, docking facilities and a probable course (a 10-mile, straight course from Lake George Village to Bolton Landing), Lombardo reportedly pronounced conditions ideal.

Henry Kaiser, who had built hundreds of ships during World War II, was supposedly paying for a new boat capable of great speeds for Lombardo to use to set the new world record. She was to be built by Ventnor Boat Works in Atlantic City, New Jersey, which also built Lombardo’s Tempo VI. Kaiser, who had a summer home in Lake Placid, said that he wanted the record to be broken there. Lombardo claimed that if that was the case, he would bring Tempo VI to Lake George and, at the very least, break Gar Wood’s 1932 record of 124.915 miles per hour.

Lombardo, accompanied by Paul Lukaris and Harry Cohan, went by boat from Lake George Village to Bolton Landing, where they docked at George Reis’s boathouse and where Lombardo, it was reported “matched nautical knowledge and swapped boating information” with Reis.

The photographs taken that day are apparently all that the visit produced. Boat racer and builder Bill Morgan says that to the best of his knowledge, Lombardo never returned, and that he certainly never attempted to break a world’s record on Lake George.

Given the involvement of Paul Lukaris (who later promoted Diane Struble’s swim of Lake George), Harry Cohan (who would become New York’s boxing commissioner) and the Lake George Chamber of Commerce, one can’t help but assume that Lombardo’s visit to the lake that day and his claim that he was considering coming to the lake later in the year to set a world’s record were all part of a publicity stunt, useful for Lake George and for Lombardo himself, whose orchestra still had engagements in Glens Falls.

For more news and commentary from Lake George, subscribe to the Lake George Mirror

Photo: Guy Lombardo with George Reis, inspecting El Lagarto.


Friday, April 9, 2010

Anthony Hall: Timberdoodle Madness!

Lake George is the summer home of many people we never see.

The most reclusive summer resident, however, may not be any particular family but a migratory bird, the woodcock. As one sportsman put it, “The for-centuries extinct dodo bird is sighted about as often and by as many watchers.”

The woodcock (otherwise known as the timberdoodle, bog sucker, mud bat, big eyes, and, in the south, as becasse de nuit, or nightswipe) is a game bird that comes to Lake George in early spring; it stays no longer than six or seven months and departs before the first frost.

Typical of the summer resident, the woodcock returns to the same place every year.

Its preferred habitat is abandoned farmland. The woodcock lives on a diet of worms, which he consumes in amounts equal to his weight every day, and as boys who fish will tell you, moist, poorly drained fields are the best places to find them.

(One obvious harbinger of the woodcock’s arrival is the flock of robins that descends upon the field as soon as the sun’s heat is warm enough to draw worms to the surface.)

The nesting hen also likes the shrubby areas and young groves of oaks and maples that grow up on the edges of old fields.

I would not have known of the woodcock’s existence here had not a friend who is knowledgeable about these things told me that the woodcock’s preferences in food and shelter matched the conditions of the fields between our house and barn, alerting us to its presence.

The “peent, peent” that we hear every spring evening, it turns out, is part of the male woodcock’s mating ritual. It is the sound that he makes just before he ascends in a widening parabola through the dusk. When he achieves a maximum altitude, or perhaps just as he is about to descend, he lets loose a song that is as beautiful as any birdsong I’m familiar with. It is the only time he sings, according to John Burroughs. The naturalist adds: “Surprising it is to see this stupid-looking mud-prober transformed into an ecstatic song-bird under the influence of the mating instinct. Whoever has witnessed its hurried spiral flight in the March and April twilights, and heard its curious smacking, gurgling notes rain down out of the obscurity of a couple of hundred feet of air, has been present at one of the surprising incidents in the life of this bird.”

Actually, the woodcock does not descend so much as he falls, like a leaf at first, then like a rock dropped to illustrate the principals of gravity. He then returns to the spot from whence he came, and repeats the entire ritual. Now that the hours of daylight have increased, we have had better luck catching sight of him as he flies out of the juniper and circles the field.

There is another curious habit of the woodcock, which I have yet to see and have only read about: “If, in shooting, you meet with a brood of woodcocks, and the young ones cannot fly, the old bird takes them separately between her feet, and flies from the dogs with a moaning cry.” (This from an old sportsman’s guide; the writer is identified only as the author of “Scandinavian Adventures.”)

“All nature is so full that that district produces the most variety that is most examined,” wrote Gilbert White, the 18th century English parson who spent most of his life observing nature in one parish. White would have appreciated the fact that one of nature’s most elusive creatures can be found in our own backyards.

Woodcock illustration from New York State Fish and Game Reports

For more news and commentary from Lake George, subscribe to the Lake George Mirror


Thursday, April 8, 2010

State Politics and New York’s Beavers

Like the Adirondack forest itself, New York’s beaver population had been harvested almost to the point of extinction before Albany took steps to revive it. It’s especially apt, then, that the coalition of groups lobbying to rescue the state’s Environmental Protection Fund from the Governor’s budget cuts has chosen the beaver to be its “spokesman” for the cause.

The beaver, of course, is the official animal of New York State.

A few years ago, I wrote an editorial for the Lake George Mirror about the political history of the state’s official animal. (The level of malfeasance among local governments must have been at an all-time low that week.)

I reproduce it here:

When government throws money at a problem, on occasion results ensue. Just not the results government intended.

For the second spring in a row, the state Department of Environmental Conservation extended the trapping season for beavers. As farmers and homeowners know, New York has too many beavers. Less than a century ago, however, the beaver was virtually extinct in New York State, and the legislature voted to finance a program to repatriate them to the Adirondacks. Unlike programs to restock the elk and the moose, this one worked.

In the August 1904 issue of ‘Field & Stream,’ Harry V. Radford reported, “Another measure which the writer caused to be introduced in the last Legislature, and which has just become a law through the Governor’s approval, is what has been known as the Beaver Restoration Bill. It carries an appropriation of $500, with which the Forest Fish and Game Commission is authorized to purchase wild beaver and liberate them in the Adirondacks.”

Radford was the individual most responsible for a program begun three years earlier to restock the Adirondacks with moose. Shortly after his victory on behalf of the beaver, he disappeared, reportedly in the Arctic, killed by his eskimo guides.

The Beaver, however, thrived. In 1905, three pairs were liberated, two in Big Moose Lake, which they quickly abandoned for a river twenty miles to the northeast. That same year, the Fish and Game Commission reported that the remnants of an original colony had been discovered in the marshy waters northwest of Upper Saranac Lake. The combined population of natives and transplants was roughly Forty. By 1914, that population had grown to 1,500 or even 2,000. The 1914 Conservation Commission report trumpeted: “The Adirondacks today are again entitled to their old Iroquois name, for they are rapidly becoming the country of the Beaver.”

The beaver was so successful in re-establishing himself in New York State that in 1975 he became the official state animal. Oregon objected, asserting that it had already claimed the beaver for itself. The editor of The Conservationist Magazine tried to soothe bad tempers on both sides by saying “Thanks to conservation there are enough beavers to provide state mammals for both states.” More than enough, apparently.

For more news and commentary from Lake George, subscribe to the Lake George Mirror

Photo of beaver from Lake George Mirror files.


Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Adirondack Wild West: Ned Buntline to Frontier Town

Earl Woodward, a school teacher from Ohio, decided that Warren County would be a good place to situate western style dude ranches. Art Bensen, a telephone company employee from Staten Island, was no less certain that North Hudson was a suitable location for an old west theme park, which he called Frontier Town.

If the relationship between the wild west and the southern Adirondacks strikes you as casual at best, a moment’s reflection will clarify matters.

There is, of course, as little connection between cowboys and the Adirondack native as there is between the guide-boat builder and Santa Claus and Mother Goose, sources of inspiration for other well-known Adirondack attractions. » Continue Reading.


Friday, April 2, 2010

Remembering Lake George’s Chuck Hawley

When my wife Lisa and I were considering purchasing the Lake George Mirror, among the first people we consulted was Chuck Hawley, the artist, politician and activist who died on March 9 at the age of 86.

Hawley was a part of my life for as long as I can remember. He was at my engagement party and my father’s funeral. He was Lake George’s supervisor and a member of the County board when my father published the Warrensburg-Lake George News, and the two developed a mutually useful relationship. He’d tell my father what would happen before it happened – information prized by a weekly newspaper editor when he’s competing with a daily, as I’ve learned for myself.

In 1998, I wrote a profile of Chuck for the Lake George Mirror, which I reproduce here.

About twenty years ago, some hikers on Black Mountain discovered a slab of rockface inscribed: ‘R.Rogers.’ Whether this was in fact the autograph of Robert Rogers, as the hikers believed, is still subject to debate, but there is no doubt that many people around Lake George hoped that it was authentic.

Rogers and his Rangers have always appealed to our imaginations, perhaps because they were the first identifiably American heroes. Chuck Hawley, whose painting of a Ranger is reproduced here, has done more than anyone else in our region to shape the popular image of the Rangers.

The painting was one of a series depicting the Rangers commissioned by Harold Veeder in 1966 for the newly constructed Holiday Inn. They have been republished often in newspapers, magazines and books, and reproductions are best sellers at Fort William Henry and at the Lake George Historical Association’s shop in the old Court House.

Hawley wanted the portraits to be as historically accurate as possible; he spent months in the libraries researching the Rangers’ dress, habits and weapons; he read contemporary accounts and picked the brains of historians like Harrison Bird, the author of numerous books about the era, who served with Hawley on the Lake George Park Commission.

When he began the series, Hawley was Supervisor for the Town of Lake George, and the model for the portrait reproduced here was his colleague on the Warren County Board of Supervisors, Earl Bump, the Supervisor from Horicon. Another model was Howard MacDonald, for many years a member of the Lake George Village Board of Trustees and the founder of Lake George’s Little League.

Despite the fact that he has been both a public official and a painter (as well as a graphic designer and the owner of an advertising agency) Hawley has really had only one career: Lake George. It is a career for which he was in some sense predestined. Stuart Hawley, his father, was Warren County Clerk for twenty-five years; in 1950 he was elected to the New York State Assembly and served through 1958, when he was succeeded by Richard Bartlett. Assemblyman Hawley introduced the legislation authorizing the construction of the Prospect Mountain Highway. Fred Hawley, who was supervisor of Lake George from 1918 through 1921, was Chuck’s grandfather.

Hawley’s deep roots in the area (his own family came to Lake George a few decades after Rogers departed at the end of the French and Indian Wars) may have helped to make him an unusually farsighted public official.

He believed that the health of the tourist economy depended upon the protection of the lake, and the orderly development of the village and the shores. The businessmen who came to make a quick dollar, he has said, “can’t see past August. They’re the shortsighted ones. The visionaries see as far as Labor Day weekend.”

In 1997, Hawley gave up his seat on the Lake George Park Commission, which he had occupied for thirty years, ten of them as chairman.

In the late 1970s, worried that heavy development along the shores would cause the lake to lose its famous translucent clarity, and frustrated by the Park Commission’s lack of authority and funding, Hawley campaigned for the creation of a task force that would study the challenges facing Lake George and suggest approaches for meeting them.

In 1984, the Task Force for the Future of the Lake George Park was organized, with Hawley as a member. Of its 200 recommendations, the most significant were those urging the Governor and the legislature to enhance the Park Commission’s regulatory powers and to provide it with a reliable, independent source of funding. Hawley wrote to Governor Cuomo, “New responsibilities and powers for the Commission are vitally necessary to save Lake George. At this late date there is no alternative.”

Former Lake George Park Commission Chairman Carl DeSantis says of Hawley’s tenure: “He wasn’t afraid to take a stand, even if his position wasn’t popular with business. We’ve been good friends since the 1940s, and we both remember when the lake was a lot cleaner. Chuck has dedicated his life to protecting Lake George.”

Although Hawley has retired from official life, his interest in Lake George is undiminished. At his home on Pine Point, the lake is never out of view, and it has survived better than he expected. He’s pleased that the experimental use of sonar is under consideration, having fought to use that means to eradicate milfoil since the late 1980s. In 1971 he wondered aloud to a reporter from the Lake George Mirror why the Lake George business district faced away from the lake; in the late 1950s he and the late Alex Muratori developed a plan to build a boardwalk along the lake. He’s glad that one is underway.

And, of course, he still paints. Hawley’s landscapes of an unspoiled Lake George have been powerful tools for its preservation.

Illustrations:

Chuck Hawley’s painting of Robert Rogers, based on Warren County Board of Supervisors Chairman Earl Bump.

Hawley receiving Lake George’s Wilbur Dow Award from Dow’s son Bill, president of the Lake George Steamboat Company, in 2002.

Two landscape paintings of Lake George by Hawley: “Black Mountain in Spring” and “Down the lake in Spring.”

For more news and commentary from Lake George, subscribe to the Lake George Mirror


Friday, March 26, 2010

Going Solar:Another Way to Help Save the Adirondacks?

If global warming is ever to be reversed, or even slowed, Americans must consume less of the energy produced by coal fired power plants.

Wind and solar power are among the alternatives New York State is promoting, said Adele Ferranti, a Queensbury resident who’s a project manager at New York State’s Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA).

“Every little bit helps,” Ferranti said. “The potential for reducing emissions is tremendous; we can make a significant dent in the consumption of energy.”

More and more people are taking advantage of alternative technologies, Ferranti said.

“They’re doing it because it’s the best thing they can do for the environment,” said Ferranti. “They’re replacing the energy made by burning fossil fuels with clean, natural power.”

Among the Lake George residents reducing carbon footprints are Rebecca and Candida Smith. The daughters of the late sculptor David Smith, they live part time at the home and studio he created in the hills above Bolton Landing.

A few years ago, they contracted with GroSolar, a Vermont company recommended by author-turned-environmental activist Bill McKibben, to install solar energy systems in the property’s three buildings.

“Global warming caused by human activities was a problem I had been aware of for a long time but it was too big, complicated and scary for me to bear thinking about for long,” said Rebecca Smith.

But after recent visits to Australia (“where I was relatively close to the ozone holes in Antarctica and actually felt how much stronger the effect of the sun was down there — it burned into my eyeballs painfully at times”) and Great Britain (“where climate change was an accepted, observable reality that government was starting to do something about”) as well as extensive reading on the subject, Smith said she became “interested and excited about the new technologies and decided to see what could be done at my family’s home in Bolton.”

Smith adds, “One person can’t do much, but there are many, many people out there doing lots of things and I am inspired by being part of that effort.”

According to NYSERDA’s Adele Ferranti, New York State offers financial incentives to homeowners like the Smiths to encourage the use of alternative energy. “Our goal is to build an infrastructure that will not only make solar power more affordable but reduce the consumption of fossil fuels,” Ferrante said.

Eliot Goodwin of GroSolar says that New York State will pay 40 to 50% of the costs of installing a solar energy system in the form of a rebate. “The homeowner is also eligible for a 25% state income tax credit and a 30% federal tax credit,” said Goodwin. “This works out to be about 60 to 65% of the costs paid for by outside sources.”

Nevertheless, the initial investment is expensive. Whether an alternative energy system is cost-effective depends upon how one determines value, groSolar’s Eliot Goodwin suggests.

“Is a car cost effective? Is a marble countertop cost effective? Is a pool cost effective? Is a hot tub cost effective? Is it cost effective to have no mountain tops left from coal mining? Is it cost effective to no longer have clean air to breathe?” he asks.

Still, Goodwin said, “With solar, no matter what, the system will pay for itself in its lifetime. You can usually expect a 7-11% return on your investment and you can also expect the house to increase in value by as much as the system costs.”

Short-term costs are offset by long-term savings, and, of course, by environmental benefits, said Rebecca Smith.

“By my calculations, it will take about 9 years to pay for the solar panels (which are under warranty for 25 years).” said Smith. “I don’t regard this as a money-saving strategy in the short run but as an investment that will pay off in dollars and environmental benefit in the long run. The satisfaction of making a difference is a really great feeling and it inspires me to do more.”

According to Fred Brown, the property’s year-round caretaker, approximately 80 flat solar panels were installed on the roofs of three buildings last spring.

“The system is comprised only of solar panels and an inverter,” said Brown. “ The panels produce direct current (DC) electricity which is steered toward the inverter where it’s converted into the Alternating current (AC) electricity, the same kind of power you get from the power grid.”

The power is not stored, but, rather, either used immediately or sent backwards through the meter, creating dollar for dollar credits in a process known as net-metering.

“We send power to the grid and the meter runs backward,” said Brown.

“During the summer solar panels create more energy than the owner can consume and the utility is required by law to buy it from you and credit your account,” said Rebecca Smith. “The power companies now depend on the small percentage of solar owners to feed in a critical extra margin of energy during the peak summer months.”

For Rebecca Smith, the environmental benefits of using alternative energy are local as well as global.

“If warming trends continue, there won’t be maple trees in the Adirondacks for our grandchildren,” she says. “I decided that it was better to be part of the solution than part of the problem.”

Every year, more New Yorkers are adopting that attitude, said Eliot Goodwin.

“We have approximately 75 installations in New York under the current programs. There’s probably another 2-300 installations in the state divided amongst 30 other installers. People care about the world they’re leaving to their children.”

Photo: A solar-powered workshop on the David Smith estate in Bolton Landing.

For more news from Lake George, subscribe to the Lake George Mirror


Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Gaslight Village: County Faces Deadline for Decision

Warren County’s Supervisors may be wavering on whether to preserve or condemn the two buildings that remain standing at Gaslight Village, but the time for a decision is fast approaching.

A $200,000 grant has been awarded to the three environmental organizations that own an easement on all but 2.5 acres of the Lake George property to demolish Charleys Saloon and some smaller structures this summer, and the county must decide whether it wants that grant to also pay for the demolition of Gaslight Village.

“I know there will be unhappy people whichever way we go,” said Supervisor Bill Kenny, who chairs a committee of Supervisors monitoring the project, which will include a park and water pollution controls.

Warren County, the Town and the Village of Lake George have until the end of May to reach a decision, said Warren County attorney Paul Dusek.

By then, Requests for Proposals will have been issued soliciting bids for the demolition of some or all buildings.

If the Calvacade of Cars building and the Opera House are omitted from the bids, they will remain standing.

Should the municipalities decide at a later date that the buildings are too costly to repair (the engineering firm of Clark Patterson told the Supervisors that it would cost at least $1.5 million to restore both buildings) the municipalities will have to pay for the demolition themselves

The Opera House, which Warren County Superintendent of Public Works Bill Lamy characterized as “not safe” and structurally unsound, was expected to be designated for destruction by the Warren County Board of Supervisors at its February meeting.

In fact, a resolution had been drafted for the Supervisors to approve agreeing to the demolition of the Opera House.

Instead, and despite Lamy’s analysis, the Supervisors voted to retain both buildings.

That decision pleased Lake George Supervisor Frank McCoy, the director of the Lake George Chamber of Commerce and local businessmen like John Carr, who told the Board, “these buildings are usable.”

The vote dismayed Lake George Village Mayor Bob Blais and several Lake George residents and business owners, including Lake George Steamboat Company president Bill Dow, who favor the demolition of the buildings. [Ed. – Read comments from two residents, Betty Spinelli and Joe Stanek, at the Lake George Mirror].

Dow, Fort William Henry Corporation president Bob Flacke and the Lake George Citizens group prefer a plan presented by Mayor Blais at another meeting of county supervisors, held a week later.

Blais argued that both buildings should be demolished.

“Four engineering studies have indicated that the costs to renovate the buildings into usable meeting space is extensive,” he said.

The open space should be used for parking, at least until a study has been undertaken that would identify the best use for the site. If the study recommended the construction of a new building or a pavilion, grants could be sought, said Blais.

Lake George Village has been awarded approximately $4.5 million in grants for similar projects in recent years, Blais said.

Regardless of the county’s decision about the Gaslight Village buildings, demolition of Charley’s Saloon on the parcel south of West Brook will start in mid-June, following the conclusion of Americade.

“New York State’s Department of Transportation will contribute the first $600,00 toward the construction of a storm water treatment complex on the historical wetlands, but the construction schedule has to coincide with work DOT is planning for Route Nine,” explained Peter Bauer, the executive director of The Fund for Lake George.

According to Bauer, the demolition will be completed by mid-summer; construction
of the storm water management complex will begin after the Adirondack Nationals Car Show in early September.

Kenny’s committee held a public hearing on to solicit opinion about the future of the Opera House and the Calvacade of Cars buildings on March 22.

It will meet again on April 12 before making a recommendation to the Board of Supervisors.

For more news from Lake George, subscribe to the Lake George Mirror

Photo: Buildings at the former Gaslight Village Property in Lake George Village (John Warren photo).


Friday, March 19, 2010

Court Rules Against Marina in Bolton Property Dispute

Bolton Landing’s F.R. Smith & Sons Marina is not the owner of a 867 square foot strip of land where it has stored fuel tanks for more than five decades, the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court of New York State ruled on March 11.

Rather, the property belongs to the marina’s neighbor, the Boathouse Bed and Breakfast, which is owned by Joe and Patti Silipigno.

The courts have yet to decide whether an existing tank must be removed immediately, an expensive and time-consuming procedure that could disrupt the sale of gasoline to boaters later this spring.

“We acknowledge that the Appellate Court has ruled against us, and we are considering our options,” said Richard Bartlett, whose firm, Bartlett, Pontiff, Stewart & Rhodes, represented F.R. Smith & Sons.

Attorneys for F.R. Smith & Sons argued that the marina acquired the land by adverse possession before 1997, when marina owner Fred Smith and Joe Silipigno signed an agreement allowing F.R. Smith to make use of the land in return for discounts on marine services and fuel.

“I wanted to be a good neighbor to Freddy, so I agreed to allow him to continue to use the property, and he was elated,” said Silipigno, who bought the Boathouse in 1996.

“Smith’s offered to plow my driveways in winter and service my boat at a 20 percent discount, offers I didn’t take advantage of. All I asked was that I be sold gas at a set price.”

According to Silipigno, that price was $1.73 per gallon, a price he continued to receive until 2001, two years after the death of Fred Smith.

In 2001, court papers state, Smith’s staff increased the price of gasoline and informed Silipigno that the marina was not bound by his agreement with Fred Smith.

Silipigno then brought a suit against the marina in the hope of having his title to the property affirmed, a move which he said caused ill-will among some residents of Bolton Landing.

“I was told, ‘neighbors don’t sue neighbors,’ but I didn’t initiate this. I think there was feeling against me because I’m a flatlander, an outsider, and the Smiths have been here for more than a hundred years,” Silipigno said.

Silipigno said that he was also attempting to protect the integrity of the Boathouse property.

Built in the early 1900s, the boat house was owned by speed boat racer George Reis, who won the Gold Cup in 1933, 1934 and 1935.

Until his death in 1962, Reis stored El Lagarto, his prize winning boat, at the boat house. El Lagarto is now on display at the Adirondack Museum in Blue Mountain Lake.

“This is a historic property which shouldn’t be jeopardized,” said Silipigno.

The New York State Supreme Court found that F.R. Smith & Sons failed to prove that it had established title to the strip of land by adverse possession, a ruling that was upheld by the Apellate court in its March 11 decision.

Silipigno said that he did not yet know whether F.R. Smith & Sons would be required to reimburse him for his legal fees, which he estimated to be in thousands of dollars.

Photo: Boathouse Bed and Breakfast; from Lake George Mirror files.

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Friday, March 12, 2010

Conservationist Picked for Lake George Park Commission

Dr. Dean Cook, a Ticonderoga dentist, has been selected by New York State Governor David Paterson to become the newest member of the Lake George Park Commission.

If confirmed by the State Senate, Cook will replace Tom Morehouse, also of Essex County, whose term has expired.

The Senate’s Committee on Environmental Conservation voted on February 24 to forward Cook’s nomination to the Senate Finance Committee, which must also approve the Governor’s choice before it is brought before the Senate as a whole.

“I’ve devoted forty years to the protection of Lake George and serving as a member of the Lake George Park Commission is an opportunity to continue that work,” said Cook.

“I’ve been heartened by the Commission’s efforts to tackle such important issues as stream corridor protections, and I know it has a great potential to contribute to the health of the lake,” he added.

Cook’s family is one of the oldest on northern Lake George. An ancestor settled in the area in 1796 and the family’s property once extended from Baldwin to Hague.

Today, Cook helps maintain the family’s 250 acres near Heart Bay that were until recently part of a working farm.

That property, which includes eight guest cottages, has been hailed as a model of sustainable development.

Since returning to Lake George to join his father’s dental practice in the 1970s, Cook has served on the boards of the Adirondack Council, the High Peaks Audubon Society, the Residents Committee to Protect the Adirondacks and the Lake George Land Conservancy.
“Dean Cook will be an excellent addition to the Lake George Park Commission,” said Peter Bauer, the executive director of The Fund for Lake George. “He holds Lake George and its communities near and dear to him.”

Walt Lender, the executive director of the Lake George Association, noted, “Dean Cook will be a passionate member of the Lake George Park Commission. He’s a dogged steward of the lake.”

Cook is a 1962 graduate of Ticonderoga Central School. He attended the State University of New York at Buffalo and Seton Hall before entering the University of Pennsylvania, from which he received his degree in Dental Medicine in 1971. He is a veteran of the U.S. Navy.

The Lake George Park Commission is composed of nine members from each of the three counties in the Lake George basin and a representative of the Commissioner of Environmental Conservation.

If his appointment is approved by the Senate, Cook will serve a term that ends in 2017.

Photo: Dr Dean Cook and Terrina Russell-Cook courtesy of the Lake George Land Conservancy.

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Friday, March 5, 2010

A Mountain of Dreams:Developer Seeks Redemption in Proposed Ski Area

Every small town has its stars. Rolf Ronning was one of Bolton’s. The only child of a wealthy, well-educated couple, he graduated from St. Lawrence University in 1966 and earned two Masters, a doctorate and a law degree before returning to his hometown in 1977.

A little more than a decade later, he was in prison, convicted of possessing and conspiring to sell cocaine.

“I embarrassed myself and my children with those drug charges,” says Ronning. “My wife and I have tried to make it up to them. My daughter is at St. Lawrence and wants to go to law school. My son wants to get his PhD and teach. I want to succeed for them. I can’t give up.”

Released from prison in 1992, Ronning returned to Bolton Landing. Stripped of his license to practice law, he turned to real estate development, in which he made millions of dollars.

Now he’s lost most of those millions. Foreclosure proceedings have been brought against five of his properties, including his lakefront home.

The state of Ronning’s financial affairs is threatening to overwhelm his latest project, one that he hopes will redeem his fortune and his reputation: a ski area on one hundred acres near Exit 24 of the Adirondack Northway.

“I wish I could appear before the Town Board and the various agencies as a financially secure individual, but the rumors that I am in financial difficulty are true,” said Ronning.

Ronning concedes that title to the property, once envisioned as a residential subdivision to be called Westwood Forest, could end up in court.

“There’s litigation regarding the validity and enforceability of the mortgages,” said Ronning, guardedly and obscurely.

Some of those mortgages, he added, are held by companies controlled by “a person who loans money at high interest rates but whose name never appears on documents.”

At a Bolton public hearing on a proposal to permit ski centers in two areas currently zoned for rural and residential uses, a letter was read aloud by Supervisor Ron Conover from someone whom Ronning believes is affiliated with one of those companies.

“Rolf Ronning is not capable of handling a ski resort as he hasn’t the proper funds. He owes the investors involved in Westwood Forest over one million dollars. He is broke. It will be just a matter of time before Ronning loses all his properties,” wrote Gloria Dingee.

Ronning said he was surprised that Conover read the letter aloud, since it had no bearing on the issue before the Town Board, which at that point was nothing more than a change in zoning rules.

As Conover himself says, “the zoning change is not being undertaken on behalf of any particular project; we’re doing it to increase opportunities for appropriate development within the Town.” Nevertheless, Ronning would be its first beneficiary.

“We’ve all felt the effects of the Sagamore closing for the winter, and a ski center might bring visitors back to Bolton in winter and be good for the residents as well,” said Ronning.

According to Ronning, the ski area would consist of a 1,570 foot long double chairlift, a T-bar and a lodge.

“We’re contemplating night skiing and summer activities that would complement the nearby Adirondack Extreme Adventure Course,” said Ronning.

Snow could be made by drawing water from a nearby brook, an idea that Department of Environmental Conservation officials in Warrensburg found reasonable, according to Ronning.

As many as fifty people would be employed every winter, said Ronning.

“This is still in the conceptual stages,” said Ron Mogren of Saratoga Associates, who drafted preliminary plans for the ski area, tentatively named “Thrill Hill.”

But if he can secure at least some of the necessary permits, the investors will come, Ronning says.

Bolton’s Town Board deferred its decision on whether to approve the zoning changes for another month, but Ronning said he remained optimistic.

“I’d be unrealistic if I wasn’t concerned about how people’s views of me might affect this, but I hope that the Town Board, the Planning Board and the others will judge the project on its merits, not on what they might think of me,” he said.

After the meeting, Ronning sought out Lake George Waterkeeper Chris Navitsky to show him the plans for the ski area.

The Waterkeeper has brought several lawsuits against subdivisions planned by Ronning, and at times Ronning has publicly accused the Waterkeeper of deliberately attempting to bankrupt him.

But on the surface, the two are cordial toward one another, as is often the case in small towns, even with the most antagonistic relationships.

Navitsky, however, was non-committal.

“It looks interesting, Rolf,” was the extent of his comments.

“I’m trying to do the right thing,” said Ronning. “Every day I wake up and promise myself I’ll do my best. Day by day, that’s how I keep going.”

Editors Note: The Lake George Mirror rents office space from Bell Point Realty, which is owned by Rolf Ronning.

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Friday, February 26, 2010

A Lake George Subdivision Without the McMansions

It’s so conservative it appears radical (at least for Lake George): small houses on small lots. According to Mary Alice Leary, that’s her family’s vision for the 14 acre parcel at the mouth of English Brook that will be divided into 13 lots.

The sweeping lawn, tennis courts, lake front and clusters of towering trees, already mature when Albany lawyer Edward S. Rooney purchased the estate in the 1940s, will remain common areas owned by a homeowners’ association, which has yet to be created.

Five of the lots will become the properties of Rooney’s children – Leary and her four siblings; the majority of the remaining lots will probably be sold to members of the next generation.

For months, rumors have circulated around Lake George about plans to subdivide the estate, which surrounded a mansion built by E.M. Shepard in 1911 and demolished in 1961.

It was generally assumed that as many McMansions as possible would be wedged into the grounds.

To be sure, the proposal has been in front of the planning and zoning boards of Lake George Village and the Town of Lake George for months.

And at one of those meetings, Mary Alice Leary’s sister, Ellen Breslin, explained that the subdivision was conceived so that the property could remain within the family for future generations.

Nevertheless, said Leary, her family was reluctant to discuss the subdivision until all the necessary permits had been awarded.

Not all permits have been granted, but one major hurdle, a permit from the Lake George Park Commission to build docks large enough to accommodate 13 boat slips, was surmounted last fall.

In a prepared statement to the Commission, Ellen Breslin said, “The slips will not all be constructed at once. They will be built in phases as lots are sold and houses are built. It could be several years before the entire dock structure is built.”

There are no immediate plans to build the additional eight houses, Leary explained, because, as of now, only one of Edward S. Rooney’s grandchildren has expressed an interest in purchasing a lot.

But that grandchild’s interest sparked the family’s discussions about how best to protect the property, said Leary.

“You can only subdivide once, so rather than creating and selling one lot to one member of the third generation, we decided we would complete the subdivision now and sell the lots over time,” said Leary.

The property is currently owned jointly by Rooney’s children through Lochlea, LLC. (Lochlea was the name given the mansion by John English, who bought the property from Shepard’s family.)

“We currently hold the property as tenants in common, sharing expenses, and, by mutual agreement, each one of the five family members occupies a specific cabin that is considered their cabin,” the Lake George Park Commission was told by Ellen Breslin, who is the wife of State Senator Neil Breslin.

All but one of those residences – the estate’s gate house – are log cabins. One of them once served as the estate’s bath house.
Under the terms of the subdivision, each of the five families will become the sole owners of their homes, two of which are occupied year-round.

The houses will also serve as the models for any new homes that are built, said Mary Alice Leary.

“We’re envisioning Adirondack-style houses tucked into the woods with views of Lake George and English Brook,” said Leary.
Leary said the family had rejected proposals from commercial developers interested in acquiring the estate, at least in part, from a concern for Lake George.

That concern is a long-standing one, Ellen Breslin told the Park Commission, and guided the design of the subdivision.

“We have always been good stewards of the land and have done what we can to protect the waters of the lake. There has been little or no change to the property in the 60 years we have lived here. No old growth trees have ever been taken down and no fertilizers have been used on any of the lawns. Maintaining the water quality of Lake George is our highest priority. Our family expects to be in residence on the property, swimming in and enjoying Lake George, for many years to come,” said Breslin.

Lake George Mirror photo by Clea G. Hall

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Friday, February 19, 2010

Marcus Granger: Warren County Fiddler, Poet, Hotelman

Not long after my father purchased the Warrensburg News and its old printing plant in 1958, he found in a box of papers a small booklet entitled “Guide to Schroon Lake and Vicinity,” with Marcus E. Granger listed as the author.

The booklet had been printed in the shop eighty years earlier. Although numerous guidebooks to the Adirondacks had been published before Granger’s, his was unique in two respects. His was probably the first guidebook devoted to Schroon Lake. Dr. Durant’s Adirondack Railroad had been completed in 1872, and the station at Riverside, or Riparius, brought Schroon Lake within reach of tourists for the first time. Second, and even more remarkable, was the fact that it was written entirely in heroic couplets. » Continue Reading.


Friday, February 12, 2010

Trove of Historic LG Photos Donated to Bolton Museum

At the time of her death at the age of 92 in April, 2008, Helen Thatcher Thomson was the steward of thousands of paper and glass negatives of photographs taken by her grandfather Jule Thatcher and her father Fred Thatcher.

From the 1870s to the 1960s, the Thatchers photographed Lake George, documenting events great and small and capturing the changing social, economic and natural landscape. It was natural, therefore, that local historians feared the collections would be dispersed, scattered among hundreds of antique dealers across the country. But thanks to the generosity of Helen Thomson’s children, Fred Thomson and Dr. Patricia Smith, the entire archive will be donated to the Bolton Historical Museum.

“The family has agreed in principle to donate the material to the Bolton Historical Museum,” said Michael Stafford, the attorney representing Thomson and Smith. “We’re now in the process of drafting the necessary papers.”

Fred Thomson said, “We’re very pleased that the collection will be preserved for the benefit of the community. We look forward to working with the Bolton Historical Society to ensure that my family’s legacy will serve to enrich the public’s appreciation of our region.”

Mike Stafford noted, “I spent many hours with Helen Thomson at her kitchen table, and the legacy of the Thatchers and the future of the collection was very much on her mind in her last years. She would be delighted with this first step to ensure the collection’s preservation.”

According to Stafford, the collection also includes cameras used by the Thatchers and well-maintained logs of assignments that can be used to identify almost every photo.

“We’re grateful to the Thomson family for their public spirit and their generosity,” said Ed Scheiber, the president of the Bolton Historical Society. “The preservation of this collection in one place will be a lasting tribute to the Thatchers, Mrs. Thomson, her children and grandchildren.”

According to Scheiber, the museum’s objective is to arrange for the photos to be scanned and catalogued.

Revolving displays will feature large prints of some of the images, the cameras and biographical information about the Thatchers.

At some points, prints may be made and sold and reproduction rights licensed to help fund the preservation of the collection, said Scheiber.

The historical society also hopes to work with a publisher to produce a book of the Thatchers’ photographs, said Scheiber.

“It would be a valuable contribution to the collective knowledge of Lake George’s history and help re-introduce the work of two of our greatest photographers to a wider public,” said Scheiber.

“This collection will be an incredible asset for the Bolton Historical Museum,” said Bill Gates, a historian of Lake George and a member of the museum’s Board of Directors.

Considered as a whole, the work of the two photographers constitutes a unique archive of Lake George history.

Jule Thatcher’s best known photos are of Green Island, of the Sagamore, of wealthy cottagers like John Boulton Simpson and E. Burgess Warren, their houses, their families and their yachts.

Fred Thatcher, whose studio was turned into the Sky Harbor restaurant at the corner of Beach Road and Canada Street, was a pioneering post card photographer, creating thousands of images of the lake, of boats and regattas and of visiting celebrities to be sold to tourists who came to Lake George in the wake of the wealthy cottagers.

According to the Thatcher family, Jule Thatcher was born in Ticonderoga in 1856. He took his first photographs at the age of 11 (at about the same time Mathew Brady was photographing Abraham Lincoln) and at one point worked for Seneca Ray Stoddard. He worked in a store in Lake George that made tintypes and in 1874, he opened a studio in Bolton Landing. That studio was in the Kneeshaw hotel on Main Street. A few years later he opened a studio on the Sagamore Road, near the Green Island Bridge. He died in 1934.

Fred Thatcher, born in 1881, married a Bolton native, Maud Abells, and settled in Lake George.

“He was a very special man,” Helen Thomson recalled in 2002.”He was not only a photographer, he was a builder, a businessman, and so involved in the community. He served as mayor, assessor, justice of the peace, village trustee and treasurer of the fire department.”

Mrs Thomson continued, “He took pictures of so many people: from Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin Roosevelt, from famous wrestlers to Madame Sembrich and her students, from Governors and every other notable who visited Lake George to every child in the village.”

And, Mrs Thomson said, he knew everyone, including Alfred Steiglitz and Georgia O’keeffe. “O’Keefe was very statuesque. Steiglitz was always dressed in black. My father developed film for him. Harry Thaw , he had his portrait made. Alma Gluck and Efrem Zimbalist, Sr. had a house on West Street. When Alma Gluck was expecting her child, she’d come and rock his baby son to get used to holding a child.”

Thatcher’s first studio was on the corner of Canada Street and McGillis Avenue, the second became Sky Harbor restaurant. Thatcher alao owned a stretch of lakefront property, which he leased to a flying service, later operated by Harry Rogers and George McGowan, Sr. Fred Thatcher died in 1969 at the age of 88.

“The Thatcher photographs are treasures,” said Henry Caldwell, a member of the Bolton Museum’s Board of Directors. Bolton “Lake George has captivated many photographers: Seneca Ray Stoddard, Jesse Wooley, Alfred Steiglitz, Francis Bayle; all of them among the most gifted photographers of their times. The Thatchers belong in that company.”

Photo: Theodore Roosevelt at the Fort William Henry Hotel, Lake George. By Fred Thatcher. (Date unknown)

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