A new book by Jon Bowers, Legend of Lake George “El Lagarto” and the Men That Made Her Great, is set to be published in the next few weeks, and is now available for pre-order.
Bowers says the book “sets record straight” on the story of the famous wooden Lake George speedboat owned by George Reis. Bower’s grandfather, Anderson “Dick” Bowers, was the mechanic who worked with and for Reis over the lifetime of El Lagarto. » Continue Reading.
After Gar Wood won the 1915 Gold Cup Race on Long Island and carried the cup home to Detroit, A.L. Judson said, “I’m going to bring the Gold Cup back east. That’s where it belongs.” Judson meant that it belonged on Lake George.
A president of the American Power Boat Association (APBA) and a commodore of the Lake George Regatta, the sponsor of the lake’s first motor boat races on the lake, Judson is, nevertheless, a relatively obscure figure. » Continue Reading.
For some folks, the bright notes they hear whenever Shoreline Cruises’ Adirondac circles Bolton Bay have a familiar ring.
That’s because they’re piped from an old fashioned brass steam whistle that once belonged to the Pamelaine, the private steamboat of Bolton Landing’s own Mason ‘Doc’ Saunders.
The Adirondac’s pilots blow the whistle in honor of Saunders, who died in 2006. Back in the day, that is, in the 1960s and 70s, Lake George experienced something of a steamboat revival, and Mason Saunders quickly became its ringmaster. » Continue Reading.
If all goes as planned, in September of 2015 a fleet of vintage race boats will take to the waters of Lake George in a nostalgic tribute to a bygone era in power boating’s classic past. For the first time in over 80 years the shoreline in Bolton Landing will echo the roar of the exhausts from a fleet of Gold Cup replicas and vintage boats.
Norm Dasher, Teri Hoffman, Bob Phillips and Buzz Lamb are the founding members of The Gold Cup Committee of Lake George and they aim to re-create what was then power boating’s most prestigious race. » Continue Reading.
Water-skiing was invented in Minnesota in 1922, coinciding generally with the surging popularity of motorboats. Since that time, it has been enjoyed by natives and visitors across the Adirondacks. Another water sport, wakeboarding, is cited as originating around 1980. But eight years before the birth of water-skiing, a sport strongly reminiscent of wakeboarding took the nation’s watery playgrounds by storm.
With hundreds of lakes and thousands of summer visitors wealthy enough to own motorboats, the Adirondack region did much to popularize the new sport.
Aquaplaning is sometimes cited as beginning around 1920, but it was a common component of boat shows in the US a decade earlier. In 1909 and 1910, participants attempted to ride a toboggan or an ironing-board-shaped plank, usually about five feet long and two feet wide, towed behind a boat. The boards often resembled the average house door. » Continue Reading.
On Sunday July 1, 2012 will mark the 50th annual Willard Hanmer Guideboat Race commemorating Willard Hanmer the preeminent Guide Boat builder of his era. The race has been celebrated every year since 1962 on the Sunday closest to the 4th of July. This year, to celebrate the craftsmanship of this uniquely Adirondack craft, the organizers are planning a display of over 50 guideboats in a guideboat parade on Lake Flower prior to the race.
Following the parade will be guideboat, canoe and kayak races. This year the one-person guideboat race will follow the traditional route on Lake Flower, carry around the dam and down the Saranac River to the Fish and Game Club where there will be food, refreshments ands festivities for the whole family. Canoes and kayaks will be following the one person guideboat course, also going down the river. For those wishing to race in either the guideboat, recreational canoe or kayak classes contact: firstname.lastname@example.org. » Continue Reading.
In August, 1914, following the victory of Baby Speed Demon over Ankle Deep in the first Gold Cup race to be held on Lake George, the Lake George Mirror reported that “C.C. Smith Company has been commissioned to build a hydroplane for a prominent member of the summer colony who is located at the far end of the lake. This boat is very similar to the winner of the Gold Cup.” The Lake George Mirror itself offered the Mirror Cup for hydroplanes in the Lake George Regatta Association’s races later that summer. The winner was a young George Reis, who would bring the Gold Cup races back to Lake George in the 1930s.
The summer of 1914 was Lake George’s first introduction to boats that plane above the water, rather than moving through it. The inventor of the planing hull was Chris Smith, the founder of Chris Craft and the designer of Baby Speed Demon, who, in response to someone’s remark that his boats were not long enough to displace enough water to travel at top speed, said, “Displacement? I don’t care about displacement. All I need is enough water to cool the engines, that’s all.”
From that date forward, all Gold Cup raceboats were constructed with planing hulls. But before 1914, the fastest boat in the world was a Lake George steamboat, the Ellide; 80 ft long, and eight feet wide in the beam, she was built of mahogany and cost $30,000.
The Ellide was owned by E. Burgess Warren, a Green Island cottager and an investor in the Sagamore. In June, 1897, the Ellide made a trial run on the Hudson River, where she covered a measured mile in forty two and one half seconds. The trial was a preliminary one, and although she achieved a speed of thirty five miles per hour, she was capable of going even faster, and later reached speeds of 40 miles per hour. The engine, boiler, screw and hull of the Ellide were designed by Charles Mosher, one of the foremost designers of the day, and built in Nyack, New York by Samuel Ayres & Son. (Mosher built a number of fast yachts, among them the Arrow, which was 130 ft long.) Warren reportedly paid Mosher a bonus of $6,000 if he could make the Ellide exceed thirty miles per hour. Other reports claim that the Warren’s contract with Mosher specified that the Ellide would cost $15,000 plus $1,000 for every mile-per-hour speed that the boat was able to maintain. If the boat could travel at speeds of 40 miles per hour, the cost would have been $55,000, a remarkable sum for those days.
In July, 1897, the Lake George Mirror published a first-hand account of the Ellide‘s speed:
“If you have ever ridden on the tail of a comet, or fallen from a balloon, you may have thought you knew something about speed; but the effects produced by the above are slow and commonplace in comparison with the sensations experienced by a reporter last week in a trip on E. Burgess Warren’s fast launch Ellide, when she covered a mile in one minute and thirty -five seconds on her trial trip on the Hudson, or at the marvelous rate of thirty-eight miles an hour.
“On the dock looking down at the little flyer, one saw a highly polished hull that rode lightly on the water and the powerful engine ( Mosher’s masterpiece) was covered with a tarpaulin. It did not look formidable, so when the covering was removed, and the engineers and stokers began to get up steam the crowd of spectators , who gazed curiously down at the yacht from the string-piece, were greatly disappointed in the appearance of this highly polished mass of steel and shining brass. It resembled the average marine engine about as much as the finest Waltham watch movement does the old-time Waterbury.
“It took but a few minutes to generate sufficient steam to turn the engine over, and,at the command the mooring lines were cast off and Ellide slipped out into the stream, traveling at what was considered a very slow pace – about twenty-five miles an hour. She was traveling under natural draught, and carrying but sixty pounds of steam: she nevertheless skipped through the water at this remarkable pace without any apparent wave, and leaving a wake scarcely larger than that thrown by a good-sized naptha launch. Making a wide sweep, Captain Packard, who was at the wheel, sounded the signal to increase the speed.
“Designer Mosher, who crouched on the engine room floor, gave the word to his assistant and the throttle was pulled wide open. The second quarter was covered in twenty three seconds, making the time for the first half of the journey just forty eight seconds, a history unprecedented in the history of steam craft. When within one hundred yards of the finish line the sound of the rushing waters was drowned by the roar of hissing steam from the two safety valves, and the the midship section of the boat was hidden in a white cloud. The brass jacket of the reversing gear had become jammed, and an instant before had blown off. The accident was trifling, but the designer thought best to stop the engine to prevent more serious complications. The craft drifted over the last one hundred yards under the momentum she had gained.
During the Spanish-American War, rumors circulated that the Ellide would be sold to the U.S. government for use as a torpedo boat. Plans called for furnishing the vessel with a steel deck and with armor plates for her sides. When refitted, she would have carried a torpedo tube in her bow and a rapid fire gun.
As late as 1904, the Ellide still held world speed records, and Warren was still exhibiting her at local regattas. After Warren’s death, she was sold to a local garage owner for $1500, who operated her as a tour boat. At a much later date she was shipped to Florida where she was also used an excursion boat until she was finally lost on some rocks.
Johnny Saris, a Bolton Central School Senior, became the youngest speed boat driver in history to win a sanctioned World Championship race when he and Jason Saris competed in the Offshore Powerboat Association’s Orange Beach, Alabama meet in October.
“Johnny raced against the best drivers in the country and he held his own, as the results show,” said Jason Saris, the team’s throttle man and Johnny’s father.
Johnny Saris has been driving powerful offshore boats for years, but usually for recreation or in local poker runs. “There’s nothing like racing; once the green flag is waved, your mind is entirely focused,” said Johnny Saris. “And you never slow down for a wave.”
Racing a new boat custom-built by Performance Marine, the team placed first in their class in the first race, held on Friday, October 15. To be named the 2010 Offshore Powerboat Association’s World Champions, the Sarises needed only to place third in Sunday’s races, but mechanical problems prevented the team from entering the boat in the second race, said Johnny Saris.
The races, held on an oval course about 150 yards off shore from beachfront hotels, attracted thousands of spectators. 40 boats, including a 50’ boat capable of 200 mile per hour speeds and a Lamborghini-powered 43’ catamaran owned by Sheikh Hassan Bin Jabor Al‐Thani, took part in the event.
Known as “Thunder on the Gulf,” the event was not expected to take place; the Offshore Powerboat Association removed the race from its schedule after last summer’s oil spill.
But according to Jason Saris, Alabama officials, anxious to revitalize tourism along the Gulf coast, persuaded the OPA to re-instate the event. “We didn’t see any ill-effects of the oil spill, and they put on quite a show for us,” said Jason. “Bon Jovi and Brad Paisley played concerts on the beach, there were good crowds and the weather was perfect.” “We had as much fun spending time with the other racers as we did racing,” said Johnny.
As one of the youngest racers on the OPA circuit, Johnny Saris attracted some of the limelight, said Jason . “When an event is covered as widely as this was, some extra attention is expected,” said Jason. “There’s another racer close in age to Johnny, and people like to play up a rivalry.”
The Sarises began racing as a team in May, 2009, when they converted a recreational powerboat and competed in the first in a series of off shore races throughout the country. “Until 2008, no one under 18 was eligible to compete,” said Jason, himself a national offshore champion racer not so many years ago. “But fortunately for us, the OPA Racing Organization, changed the rules so that someone as young as 14 can compete as long as he’s accompanied by a parent or guardian. ”
Johnny Saris’s skills as a driver have increased exponentially during his first two seasons as a professional racer, said Jason. “He has a confidence that he’s earned through experience; that makes him a smoother, better racer; he’s not apprehensive, he knows what to expect,” said Jason. And he’s won the respect of the other racers.
“They take racing very seriously, and initially they were apprehensive about racing 80 miles per hour with someone who, for all they knew, was an inexperienced amateur,” said Jason. “Now, they treat him like a colleague.”
“The racing circuit is like family; once you’re in, you’re in,” said Johnny.
For Jason Saris, the pleasure in returning to the racing circuit lies largely in the fact that’s now able to race with his son. “We’re both enthusiasts and we’ve always wanted to do this together. A father and son who enjoy the same thing, getting to do it together: it doesn’t get any better than that. By the time most kids are sixteen, they’re out of their families’ lives. Even the time spent in the truck trailering the boat to races is quality time, as far as I’m concerned,” said Jason.
Racing may be a father and son activity for the Sarises, but it’s also good for Performance Marine, the business Jason established twenty years ago with his partner, Rick Gage. Tucked between the lake and Bolton Landing’s Main Street, Performance Marine is the place where racers from all over the country come to have custom built engines and drive systems made.
“If nothing else, the race circuit is a venue where we can demonstrate our competence, ” Jason says. “Customers are confident that we know our business.” Performance Marine also builds power systems for recreational boats and maintains boats for local customers. It’s a business that Johnny Saris hopes to run himself one day. “I’ll be going to college next year, and that may cut into racing. But a good education will allow me to continue what my father started. That would be even better than racing,” he said.
After the Gold Cup races of 1914, the Ankle Deep was loaded onto a horse-drawn farm wagon and taken up the road to a corner of Count Casimir Mankowski’s estate on Northwest Bay – a humiliating end for a splendid boat, but then again, she had just suffered a humiliating defeat.
On the final day of the races, her propeller shaft had snapped. Mankowski let go of the wheel, and was sent overboard, right in front of the Sagamore. Her rival, the Baby Speed Demon II owned by Paula Brackton of New York City, went on to establish a world’s record. The Count, apparently, was too depressed to even remove the boat from the wagon. “Just leave the wagon where it is,” he told the drover. “Send me a bill for it.” And that, more or less, was the end of both the Ankle Deep and Count Mankowski himself. The Ankle Deep caught fire and burned in a race held later that summer in Buffalo. The Count left Bolton Landing and never returned.
Nevertheless, the Gold Cup races of 1914 were a critical moment in the history of boating on Lake George. Gasoline powered boats had come to Lake George only a few years earlier. Competitive motorboating began in 1906, when the Lake George Regatta sponsored a race between boats owned by LeGrand C.Cramer, W.K.Bixby and Herman Broesel. Flat bottomed, sloping gradually toward the stern, the boats traveled at speeds of 20 miles per hour or more.
The 1914 race was the largest power boating event ever to be held in the United States; the field of starters was the largest, the boats were faster than any that had competed in previous races. The crowds too were the largest that had ever assembled in one place to watch speedboat races. Some of the spectators came by a special train from Albany. The Horicon met them at the station and took them to Bolton Landing. There, the Horicon anchored inside the race course, a 6 nautical mile ellipse that stretched from Montcalm Point to a point south of Dome Island. Throughout the races, cars lined the road from Glens Falls to the Sagamore.
The Ankle Deep was the first long distance speed boat ever built. Thirty-two feet long, she had two 150 horsepower engines, and was capable of a speed of 50 miles or more per hour. After winning the Gold Cup races on the St. Lawrence River in 1913, Mankowski brought the cup – which was made by Louis Comfort Tiffany and displayed at the Sagamore – and the races to Lake George.
The first race was scheduled for July 29th, but a northwest gale forced it to be postponed until the following day. On Thursday ,at 5:00 PM, the races began. The Ankle Deep was late getting to the starting line, and finished behind the Baby Speed Demon and two other boats.
The Count made certain that he would not repeat that mistake. Here’s how the Lake George Mirror reported the Ankle Deep’s start on the second day of the races: “But a few feet back of the line and going at almost full speed she jumped like a thing of life as the Count yanked the throttle wide open, and crossed the line a shimmering streak of mahogany, soon distancing all her rivals.” By the end of the second day of racing, however, it must have been obvious that the Ankle Deep was no longer the fastest boat in the field. The Baby Speed Demon II passed her on the second lap, retaining the lead that she had established the previous day.
The Ankle Deep now had no chance of victory unless the leaders were removed from the competition by some accident or by mechanical failures. Frank Schneider, the retired industrial arts teacher who restored boats at the Pilot Knob boat shop, wrote an account of the third day of the races for the Lake George Mirror in 1964.
“I saw this race from a small motor launch. Beecher Howe of Glens Falls and I, from Pilot Knob, proceeded to go diagonally across the lake to where we could see. As we got past Dome Island, going at a speed of approximately five miles per hour, our engine stopped and we found ourselves plumb on the regatta course, stalled, while two of the contestants, Baby Speed Demon II, and the Buffalo Enquirer were bearing down on us. One of those speedsters passed us on one side and the other on the other side, and after they had long gone by us, a patrol boat approached us and hollered, ‘Get off the course!’ We finally got the engine started again, and headed for the Sagamore dock, to watch the rest of the race. We did not see the Ankle Deep in action as it had broken down at the beginning of the third heat.”
When the scores of each boat were calculated after three days of racing, the Ankle Deep was in third place, behind Baby Speed Demon II and Buffalo Enquirer.
Gold Cup boats did not disappear from Lake George, of course. Albert Judson of Bolton Landing, a president of the American Power Boat Association, which sponsored the Gold Cup Races, owned the Whipporwhill Jr. That boat raced in Minneapolis, the Thousand Islands, Detroit, Lake Ontario, and in 1920, in England, where it competed for the Harmsworth Trophy. The driver in that race was George Reis. Reis himself brought the Gold Cup races to Lake George in 1934 ,35 and 36. Melvin Crook had the Betty IV built as a Gold Cup boat, but did not race her, although she achieved a speed of 111 miles per hour in a qualifying trial for the Hundred Mile Per Hour Club.
The Ankle Deep, however, retains pride of place as our first Gold Cup boat. As the editor of the Lake George Mirror noted after it was learned that she had been destroyed by fire on the Niagra River, “To Count Mankowski and the Ankle Deep belongs the honor of creating a new epoch in motor boatdom, and no matter how fast the boats may go in the years to come,Lake George will always remember with pride the name of the beautiful queen that carried her flag to victory on the St. Lawrence.”
Photo: Count Casimir Mankowski, center, on Lake George in 1914.
In light of recent tragic boating accidents on Lake George, the Lake George Association has compiled a list of 12 key tips for boating safety. In recent years, local lakes like Lake George have seen a dramatic increase in the use of small craft – canoes, kayaks, small sailboats and personal watercraft. When boating on any large body of water with multi-use traffic, boaters are advised to follow these tips to protect their safety, and the safety of others. Marinas and boating equipment stores are encouraged to post and photocopy these tips for their patrons.
The top four causes of boating accidents in New York State are: submerged objects, wakes, weather, and operator inattention. Follow these tips to avoid an accident. GET A PROPER EDUCATION. Before operating a motorboat, everyone should take a boating safety course. These 8-hour courses are offered regularly throughout the boating season by the Lake George Power Squadron, the Eastern NY Marine Trades Association, and the Lake George Park Commission and are packed with professional instruction on how to keep everyone safe while boating. KNOW THE LOCATION OF SUBMERGED OBJECTS. Watch for and understand navigational markers. Carry a chart or map of the water body you are on.
PAY ATTENTION TO WAKES. Know how to navigate them, and be responsible for those you create. BE WEATHER WISE. Always check the weather first. Due to the high mountains surrounding local lakes, boaters cannot always see storms coming. Before setting out, check the radar. Don’t go out in fog, thunderstorms, or anytime when the waves are rolling and the wind is whipping, as visibility is at a minimum during those times. VISION IS KEY. Motorboat operators should look over the top of the windshield (not through it). Know what is in front of you, on your sides, and behind you at all times. Keep the bow of the boat low – you should always be able to see clearly ahead. Assign a designated lookout to keep an eye out for other boaters, objects, especially small craft and swimmers. NO DRUGS OR ALCOHOL. Never use drugs or alcohol before or during boat operation. Alcohol’s effects are greatly exaggerated by exposure to sun, glare, wind, noise, and vibration. Boating Under the Influence is dangerous and illegal. BUY A COMFORTABLE LIGHTWEIGHT PFD AND WEAR IT. Too often PFDs are left behind or not worn because they are uncomfortable, especially by paddlers. Lightweight, comfortable, high-waisted and affordable life jackets are available; designed especially for kayakers, they allow full freedom of movement. MOTORBOATS: THINK CENTER. PADDLERS: THINK EDGES. Motorboats can enjoy considerably more elbow-room when they travel in the center of local lakes. Paddlers should cruise close to shore whenever possible. BRIGHT COLORS FOR PADDLERS. Place a kayak safety flag (similar to a bike flag) on your vessel. Purchase a hat and PFD with contrasting day-glow colors. Use reflective tape on your paddles. KEEP A HANDHELD HORN HANDY. Paddlers and small sailboats can carry an electronic handheld signaling device or a horn with compressed air. COMMUNICATE. Always let someone on shore know where you are going and when you’ll be back. Keep an old, discarded cell phone on board your boat that can still be used to call 911. KNOW AND FOLLOW THE ‘RULES OF THE ROAD.’ Motorized craft must give right of way to non-motorized craft, and boats being passed have the right of way. Know local speed limits. For example, the speed limit on Lake George is 45 mph from 6 am – 9 pm, 25 mph from 9 pm – 6 am, and 5 mph in no wake zones and within 100 feet of docks, moorings, anchored vessels and shore (500 feet for PWCs).
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.
The Lake George Association is co-sponsoring a series of safe boating training courses, leading to certification through New York State Parks and Recreation. Two options are available: a single-day course on a weekend, or a three-day evening course during the week. Students who take one of the sit-down courses this spring will be able to come back in the summer for an on-lake program aboard the LGA’s Floating Classroom boat.
The courses are free and are open to adults and children 10 years of age and older. The course is required for all young boaters ages 10 – 18 and for any person in New York State who is driving a personal water craft (PWC), also known as a jet ski. People 18 and over who complete the course hours and requirements must send in a $10 fee to receive their course completion card. Instructors for the indoor training are provided by the Eastern New York Marine Trades Association (ENYMTA) and the Lake George Power Squadron. Class size is limited to 15 participants.
ENYMTA courses: Sunday, May 16 SNUG HARBOR MARINA, Ticonderoga, 9 am – 5pm Register with Bob Palandrani 518-585-2628
Saturday, June 19 SCHROON LAKE MARINA, Schroon Lake, 9 am – 5 pm Register with Craig Kennedy 518-532-7882
Saturday, July 17 ALPIN HOUSE, Amsterdam, 9 am – 5 pm Register with Kathy Andrews at 518-843-4400
LAKE GEORGE POWER SQUADRON courses: All at the Lake George Association Office – e-mail the LGA at email@example.com or call 518-668-3558 to register. April 26, 28 and 30 (M, W, F) – 5:30 – 8:30 pm May 10, 12, 14 (M, W, F) – 5:30 – 8:30 pm June 7, 9, 11 (M, W, F) 5:30 – 8:30 pm
Later in the summer, aboard the LGA’s Floating Classroom boat, students will experience navigating through marked channels, identifying navigational markers, and using a marine radio, GPS and radar. The LGA will also point out safety equipment, fire suppression, life-saving devices and the proper use of personal flotation devices.
The Lake George Power Squadron is the local squadron of the U.S. Power Squadrons, a nationwide nonprofit advocating boating safety and recreation. For membership information or to learn more, contact Commander Stephen W. Traver at Traver@Capital.net or visit the web site at www.LGPS.org.
The LGA is a not-for-profit membership organization of people interested in working together to protect, conserve, and improve the beauty and quality of the Lake George Basin. For more information, contact the LGA at (518) 668-3558 or check out LGA on the web at www.lakegeorgeassociation.org.
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.
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)
“Hall’s Boat Corporation is not just a center for wooden boat conservation, but a center for wooden boat lovers,” says Steve Lamando, the owner of the historic Lake George marina.
Every month, Reuben Smith, who oversees wooden boat building and restoration at Hall’s, offers free wooden boat clinics, and every summer members of the Antique and Classic Boat Society (based in Clayton) gather at the marina for receptions and banquets.
Hall’s staff reaffirmed its commitment to the preservation of wooden boats and to those who prize them in mid-November, when it hosted a tour of the Adirondack Museum’s boat collections with curator Hallie Bond. “Reuben Smith, Hallie Bond and I were talking about how we could foster a stronger relationship between Lake George and the Adirondack Museum, and we decided this trip would be a good start,” Lamando said.
Hall’s Boat Corporation views the museum as an educational resource, said Reuben Smith, whose father, boat builder and novelist Mason Smith, is married to Hallie Bond.
“It’s a resource for our customers, for our wooden boat builders, and, as we develop into an educational center, for students,” added Lamando.
According to Hallie Bond, the Adirondack Museum owns “one of the largest, finest collections of inland pleasure craft anywhere. It’s a very nice, representative collection, but we specialize in boats made and used in the Adirondacks. In the 19th century, the Adirondack region was where it was at for small rowing pleasure craft.”
In addition to telling the stories of how people lived, worked, relaxed and made art in the Adirondacks, the Adirondack Museum is, Bond said, an “inland maritime museum,” a fact made evident in the lobby itself, whose focal point is an Idem class sloop, built in the early 1900s for racing on the St. Regis Lakes.
Bond’s tour began in the building housing the museum’s boats and boating collection.
Naturally, the collection is dominated by Adirondack guide-boats, those light-weight, portable boats indigenous to the region, which also happen to be one of the region’s greatest contributions to civilization.
But Adirondack boating is not limited to guide-boats, as Bond’s tour made clear.
The collection includes, for instance, the kayaks and canoes whose near-universal popularity began with the American Canoe Association’s gatherings on Lake George in the 1880s, which the museum highlights in one of its exhibits.
Some thirty or forty canoeists attended the first Canoe Congress on Lake George and virtually every type of modern canoe was represented; canvas, wooden, clinker-built and smooth skinned; some were decked and sailed. There were contests for racing, paddling, sailing, and dumping, the latter being a contest in which the canoeist paddles out to and around a stake boat and on the return, at a given signal, dumps his canoe, rights it, and gets back in.
The prize for winning a race open to canoes of all types was a canoe built by St. Lawrence River boat builder John Henry Rushton.
Rushton saw the Lake George congress as an opportunity to attract new business and develop new ideas. One of those ideas came from Judge Nicholas Longworth, who wanted a better sailing version of Rushton’s Rob Roy, the decked wood canoe whose design was derived from the kayak. The result was the Diana, a Princess type of sailing canoe, commonly regarded as one of Rushton’s most beautiful boats.
The Diana is also on exhibit, in a display called the “Poor Man’s Yacht.” On top of the Diana is a striped, cotton canvas canoe tent, also from Rushton’s shop, demonstrating how the canoes were used not simply for cruising, but as portable camps.
At about the same time that he was building boats for the founders of the American Canoe Association, Rushton built the first of several lightweight canoes for George Washington Sears, whose articles in “Forest Stream” published under the name of “Nessmuk” would popularize both wilderness paddling and Rushton’s own canoes.
The most famous of those canoes, the Sairy Gamp, is also on display.
According to Hallie Bond, Rushton said of the 10.5 pound canoe, “if Nessmuck tired of it as a canoe, he could use it as a soup dish.”
Bond was responsible for persuading author Christine Jerome, who retraced Nessmuck’s route through the Adirondacks in 1990, to use a Kevlar replica of the Sairy Gamp made by local boat builder Pete Hornbeck. That boat, too, is on display.
The group then examined George Reis’s El Lagarto, the Lake George speedboat that won Gold Cups in 1934, 1935 and 1936, before entering the museum’s storage facility.
The museum owns more than 200 boats, only a portion of which can be displayed at any one time. The rest are stored in the Collections Storage and Study Center, located near the museum but difficult to find. “We didn’t want it to be too conspicuous,” said Bond.
The facility contains boats too large to be displayed, such as the beautifully restored 1927, 30 ft Fay and Bowen runabout that once belonged to Camp Echo on Raquette Lake, as well as boats that may never be restored but are preserved for research.
Those boats include a Lake George rowboat built by Henry Durrin and the Hornet, a 28 ft ice boat built on Lake Champlain and brought to Lake George in the 1930s, as well as Merle and Elisabeth Smith’s 23 ft long Yankee class ice boat built by John Alden Beals.
Bond also showed the group a boat that I’ve waited years to see, less for its aesthetic qualities than its historical interest: a fiberglass guide-boat built in the Adirondacks in the early 1960s.
By the 1960s, it appeared to many that the only way to ensure the survival of the Adirondack guide-boat was to turn to synthetic material.
John Gardner, in many ways the father of the wooden boat-making revival, wrote in the 1963, “The guide boat might seem to be nearly finished, a thing of nostalgic memory and a museum piece were it not for its recrudescence in plastic.”
At the time Gardner was writing (the piece appeared in the Maine Coast Fisherman) the only wooden guide boat maker still working was Willard Hanmer. A year earlier, Tom Bissell opened the Bissell Manufacturing Company in Long Lake to make what he called Adirondack Fiberglass Boats.
He had grown up with guide boats made by one of the region’s most renowned guides and boatbuilders, Warren Cole. His grandfather opened a Long Lake hotel called Endion in 1888 across the lake from Cole’s boat shop; where his father spent hours as a young boy watching Cole work. He still owns one of Cole’s boats purchased by his grandmother in 1900.
Bissell bought the fiberglass boat company from Fox Connor, whose family owned one of the region’s oldest great camps and was who manufacturing them in Ossining at the family-owned Allcock Company, makers of have-a-heart traps. Their model, which Bissell continued to make, was based on a boat designed by Wallace Emerson for fishermen in Connor’s family.
Bissell, now in his seventies, a retired school teacher and former supervisor of Long Lake, left the guide-boat business early, despite support from Gardner and people like Kenneth Durant, who devoted the second half of his life to researching the history of the guide-boat. At the time, Bissell recalled, working with fiberglass posed health hazards.
But his effort kept the guide-boat alive as a functioning vessel rather than just a museum piece, and helped ensure that people were still rowing them when young craftsmen like Reuben Smith’s father, Mason Smith, and his uncle Everett Smith emerged to revitalize wooden boat building.
The Adirondack Museum’s collection of guide-boats played no small role in that renaissance, and according to Reuben Smith, it remains a source of inspiration for builders – and future owners – of boats of all types.
Photo: George Reis driving El Lagarto. Courtesy of Adirondack Museum
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