Posts Tagged ‘Shipwrecks’

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Tugboat Shipwreck to Become Underwater Historic Preserve

Steam tug U.S. La ValleeThe 1880 tugboat U.S. La Vallee shipwreck in Lake Champlain will become a Underwater Historic Preserve and will open for divers this summer, thanks to a 2017 Corridor of Commerce Grant from the Champlain Valley National Heritage Partnership.

The Lake Champlain Maritime Museum (LCMM) plans to use the grant funds to establish the infrastructure that makes it possible for divers to safely visit the wreck site, as well as providing public interpretation of the wreck. The U.S. La Vallee is an example of the small, steam-powered commercial tugs that operated along the east coast and inland waterways of the United States in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. » Continue Reading.


Thursday, March 2, 2017

Great New York Shipwrecks Exhibit in Plattsburgh

the wreck of champlain iiiThe City of Plattsburgh, Lake Champlain Sea Grant and New York Sea Grant are presenting the Great Shipwrecks of NY’s ‘Great’ Lakes Traveling Exhibit at City Hall in Plattsburgh, through April 28, 2017. Admission to the exhibit in the second-floor atrium, adjacent to the auditorium, is free Monday through Friday from 8 am to 4 pm.

The Great Shipwrecks exhibit features shipwrecks spanning more than 200 years across New York State, highlighting details about the historic underwater wrecks and landscapes in Lake Champlain, Lake George, Lake Erie, Lake Ontario, the Finger Lakes, and the St. Lawrence River. » Continue Reading.


Sunday, November 22, 2015

A Lake George Steam Whistle Recalls A Bygone Era

Lake George - The Adirondac - Lake George Mirror File PhotoFor 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.


Saturday, August 13, 2011

Lake George Shipwrecks and Sunken History

A new book, Lake George Shipwrecks and Sunken History, was published this spring by The History Press. Written by Joseph W. Zarzynski and Bob Benway, the book is a collection their columns previously published in the Lake George Mirror along with additional material. Zarzynski and Benway helped establish Bateaux Below, which works to preserve shipwreck sites in Lake George.

The depths of Lake George hold an incredible world of shipwrecks and lost history. Zarzynski and archeological diver Bob Benway present the most intriguing discoveries among more than two hundred known shipwreck sites. Entombed are remnants of Lake George’s important naval heritage, such as the 1758 Land Tortoise radeau, considered America’s oldest intact warship. Other wrecks include the steam yacht Ellide, and excursion boat Scioto, and the first Minne-Ha-Ha (including some new findings). Additional stories include an explanation behind the 1926 disappearance of two hunters, John J. Eden and L. D. Greene, of Middletown, and pieces on the lake’s logging history and marine railways.



Note: Books noticed on this site have been provided by the publishers. Purchases made through this Amazon link help support this site.


Friday, April 22, 2011

The Sinking of the Steamer ‘Sagamore’

Not long ago, a few lakeshore residents commemorated a one hundredth anniversary – that of the launching of the steamboat Sagamore.

The event took place at Pine Point in Lake George Village, and according to contemporary accounts, it drew the largest crowds to the village since the introduction of the trolley in 1901. Local schools were closed for the day so that children and their teachers could attend the great event.

The granddaughter of the Steamboat Company ‘s general manager, George Rushlow, was selected to christen the Sagamore. Someone suggested that the boat be christened with water from the lake – after all, it was said to have been exported to Europe for use as holy water – but that idea was vetoed on the grounds that old sailors believed that it was unlucky to christen a vessel with the same water in which the boat was to sail. Rushlow said that he did not want to “Hoo-doo the boat in the mind of any person.” So the traditional method of cracking a bottle of champagne on the bow was used instead.

Elias Harris was the captain. At 74 years of age, the Sagamore was to be his last boat. (His son, Walter, was the pilot; Walter Harris became one of the first motorboat dealers on the lake; his Fay and Bowen franchise was the largest in the country.) Elias Harris began his career as a fireman on the Mountaineer, the boat that carried James Fenimore Cooper on the journey down the lake that inspired The Last of the Mohicans. He graduated to the post of pilot on the John Jay, which burned in 1856, killing six of the 70 passengers on board. On the deck of the Sagamore that day was a small anchor that had belonged to the John Jay, a memento Harris always kept with him.

The Sagamore was built to succeed the Ticonderoga, which burned at the Rogers Rock Hotel pier in August, 1901. The Ticonderoga was the last steamboat to be constructed entirely of wood, and the 1,25 ton Sagamore was the first steel-hulled steamer on Lake George. She was commonly regarded as the most luxurious boat ever to sail these waters; her saloon was finished in hazel with cherry trimming, corridors were paneled with mirrors and her furnishings were plush.

The Sagamore was almost an exact replica of Lake Champlain’s Chaeaugay and was powered by the same boilers and coal burning engines. (The engines were built by the Fletcher Company, which had a reputation for making engines fine enough to be preserved under glass.) The Chateaugay, which was launched in 1888, was the very first of the iron-hulled vessels. Later she would carry among her passengers a young Franklin D. Roosevelt, whose father, James Roosevelt, served for a time as president of the Champlain Transportation Company and the Lake George Steamboat Company, and become the first boat to ferry automobiles between New York and Vermont.

But whereas the Chateaugay sailed for more than forty years without any alterations, the Sagamore sailed for little more than six months before she was withdrawn from service. The builders of the Sagamore had given the boat more headroom between decks than the Chateaugay possessed, and that additional headroom made the Sagamore top heavy. The boat was put into dry dock and there she was cut in half amidships and lengthened by 200 feet. A set of ballast tanks was also installed forward of the wheelboxes. From then on, steamboatmen praised her for her easy handling. (In 1999 we would see another Lake George steamboat – the MinneHaHa – cut amidships and lengthened by 34 feet.)

The Sagamore could accommodate 1,500 passengers and traveled at a speed of 20 miles per hour. She left Lake George every day at 9:40 am and arrived at Baldwin three hours later, where it met the train for Fort Ticonderoga. She would berth at the Rogers Rock Hotel for three hours, and then return up the lake and deliver passengers to the 7:00 pm train to New York.

The late Dr. Robert Cole of Silver Bay recalled in the pages of the Mirror last summer that the Sagamore ferried the automobiles of travelers to points down the lake.

On July 1, 1927 the Sagamore rammed the point of Anthony’s Nose, and began to sink. The captain, John Washburn of Ticonderoga, ordered that the hole in the hull be stuffed with mattresses. He then sailed her into Glenburnie, where she discharged her passengers, and then beached her in a small cove. After repairs were made, she was refurbished, launched again in May 1928, and sailed for another five years.

Although no one knew it at the time, the early twenties would be the last prosperous years for the steamboats until they were revived as excursion boats for tourists after World War II. As America entered the Depression, operating deficits climbed into the hundreds of thousands.

The Sagamore was withdrawn from service in September 1933 but was not scrapped for another four years. In the meantime, she lay at Baldwin, falling into ruin. The George Loomis, superintendent of the Steamboat Company wrote that he went on board to salvage one of the mirrors but that the quicksilver had flaked off most of them. Karl Abbot, the general manager of the Sagamore resort, thought of tying her up to a wharf and turning her into a restaurant but apparently changed his mind. In the fall of 1937, the Sagamore was stripped of her gold leaf, wood paneling and rich furniture (upholstered arm chairs were sold for $5 a piece) and finally dismantled. With the destruction of the Sagamore, an era came to an end. People would continue to travel the lake on steamboats, but as tourists rather than as passengers bound for one of the great hotels, and never again in such stately luxury. After the Sagamore was scrapped, George Loomis committed suicide. The two events, friends said, were not unrelated.

Photos: The Sagamore after striking a rock at Glenburnie. The Sagamore at Cleverdale.

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


Friday, March 4, 2011

Lake George, Once Home to World’s Fastest Boat

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.

Photo: Ellide, Lake George Mirror files.

For more news from Lake George, read the Lake George Mirror or visit Lake George Mirror Magazine.


Monday, February 28, 2011

Local History: A True Story of Sunken Treasure

Recent acts of piracy on the high seas brought to mind stories of what some call “the Golden Age of Pirates” (like Blackbeard, or Henry Morgan). That conjured images of sunken treasure, which in turn reminded me of what might well be the shallowest sunken treasure ever recovered. And wouldn’t you know it? It happened right here in the North Country.

It occurred at the southern tip of Lake Champlain, near Whitehall, already the site of many historic lake-related treasures. Arnold’s Valcour fleet was built there, and it’s also the final resting place of the ships that survived the Battle of Plattsburgh. Most of them eventually sank in East Bay, which is a vast marshy area surrounding the mouth of the Poultney River.

If you’ve never toured the lower part of Lake Champlain, you’re missing a great experience. Besides playing a critical role during centuries of regional history, the scenery is spectacular. South of Ticonderoga, the lake narrows into a 20-mile, river-like channel previously referred to as Wood Creek. It features cliffs, narrows, lush vegetation, and copious wildlife.

Just outside of Whitehall is South Bay, bound in places by high, steep, cliffs that once hosted a historic battle. It also hosts a healthy population of rattlesnakes. The long, high ridge to the west, from here to Ticonderoga, separates South Bay from Lake George. Of all the canoe trips I’ve taken, South Bay is one of the all-time best.

A little further east down the lake is a sharp bend known simply as the Elbow, a shortened form of Fiddler’s Elbow. It was here that a famed member of Roger’s Rangers, General Israel Putnam, led an attack against Marin’s forces in 1758. To the east, just past the Elbow, is the entrance to East Bay, less than a mile from downtown Whitehall, where Lock 12 provides access to the New York State Barge Canal. Like I said, this place is extremely rich in history.

The story of sunken treasure is tied to the possession of Fort Ticonderoga, about twenty miles north. In early July, 1777, General Arthur St. Clair was the US commander at Ticonderoga, but the American troops were far outmanned and outgunned by the forces of Sir Johnny Burgoyne, whose great show of strength prompted St. Clair’s decision to evacuate the fort.

Some of St. Clair’s men crossed Lake Champlain and retreated across Vermont territory. Others went south on the lake to Whitehall. Burgoyne pursued the latter group, taking control of Whitehall (known then as Skenesborough). As the patriots fled, they destroyed many boats and just about anything they couldn’t carry, lest it fall into enemy hands.

Burgoyne’s forces were involved in other battles before finally meeting defeat at Saratoga, but it’s his time at Whitehall that is a vital link to the treasure story. His men at Fort Ticonderoga and elsewhere frequently suffered the same problems as the Americans—exhaustion, hunger, and lack of pay. Many unpaid soldiers voiced their discontent, and mutiny could soon follow.

To alleviate the problem, British authorities in Quebec dispatched a sloop. Manned by a crew of ten, it carried sufficient gold to pay Burgoyne’s thousands of soldiers. After the long trip down Lake Champlain, the sloop reached Fort Ticonderoga, only to find that Burgoyne had traveled farther south. Captain Johnson (first name unknown), in charge of the gold-laden craft, decided to deliver his goods to Burgoyne at Whitehall.

Nearing the village, Johnson was informed that Burgoyne’s men had been victorious at Hubbardton, about 15 miles northeast of Whitehall. East Bay led directly towards Hubbardton, and about 8 miles upstream was a bridge the soldiers would cross as they made their way towards Albany. Johnson entered the bay, planning to intercept the troops at the bridge and give them the gold.

The sloop traveled as far as possible, anchoring just below Carver Falls, not far from the bridge. While waiting for Burgoyne’s men, the sloop came under attack by patriot forces, (possibly men retreating from the loss at Hubbardton). Captain Johnson scuttled his ship, but the men were killed trying to escape, and the Americans quickly left the area that would soon be crawling with British soldiers. The sloop lay on the river bottom.

Years later, it was learned that England’s military had offered a reward for the capture of Captain Johnson, for it was assumed he had made off with the booty, it having never been delivered.

Fast-forward 124 years to fall, 1901. Civil Engineer George B. West, who oversaw construction of the power dam at Carver Falls, learned that raging spring torrents had left part of a watercraft exposed in the riverbed below the falls. Aided by a crew of 30 men, he diverted the river temporarily to further explore the wreck and clear it from the channel. Using tools, and then a charge of dynamite, they managed to free the hull. Inside, they found various glass items, several muskets, and an interesting iron chest in the captain’s quarters.

Imagine the excitement of the moment, opening the lid to reveal 10,000 gold sovereigns, coins that today might fetch between $5 and $10 million!

As the spoils of a long-ago war, the coins were deposited in the Allen National Bank in nearby Fair Haven, Vermont. But ownership of the money was questioned by the New York Times, Boston newspapers, and many others across New England. Some said it should be returned to Great Britain as a gesture of good faith. Others said to keep it. After all, if the soldiers had recovered the gold when the boat sank, it surely wouldn’t have been returned to the Brits.

But it wasn’t that simple. The boat sank in 1777. Previous to that, the battle between New York and New Hampshire over land grants had led to the creation of the Republic of Vermont, located between the two litigants. Neither New York nor New Hampshire recognized Vermont independence, which led to an interesting scenario: in 1777, the site at Carver Falls could have been part of New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, or British territory.

Further complicating matters, when statehood was finally settled (and before the gold was discovered), the NYS-Vermont border in that area was placed right down the center of the Poultney River. In the end, it is believed the money remained in Vermont coffers.

There is an interesting side story that was not included in published accounts about the recovered gold. It helps explain how the boat went undetected for more than a century. Above Carver Falls, seven years after the sloop sank, the river’s path was diverted, whether by natural means, man-made means, or a combination of the two. A supposed dispute over water rights may have played a role, or the river may have naturally chosen a new course through a widespread sandy area.

What’s most important is the result of the change in path. Up to 1783, East Bay was navigable by ships weighing up to 40 tons. The course diversion caused massive amounts of sand and sediment to wash over the falls, reducing the channel’s depth dramatically.

In subsequent years, though rumors of sunken treasure persisted, it hardly seemed plausible that a boat of any size could have made the journey to Carver Falls. Who could have known the river was once much deeper? It wasn’t until 124 years later that nature released a torrent strong enough to reveal the truth. And to clear the long-sullied name of Captain Johnson.

Photos: Top, map of key locations; below, sample of a British gold sovereign from the late 1700s.

Lawrence Gooley has authored nine books and many articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. He took over in 2010 and began expanding the company’s publishing services. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.


Friday, February 25, 2011

Benedict Arnold’s Retreat from Valcour:
A Revisionist’s Version

When it was reported in the summer of 1997 that the wreck of a Revolutionary War vessel had been discovered at the bottom of Lake Champlain, most newspaper accounts included some information about the battle in which she was lost – the Battle of Valcour –and how Benedict Arnold, in command of the remains of the New American Navy, eluded the British fleet and sailed up Lake Champlain toward Fort Ticonderoga. » Continue Reading.


Monday, February 7, 2011

The Wreck of the George W. Lee

In November 1886, Captain John Frawley of the canal boat George W. Lee reached the eastern terminus of the Mohawk River at Cohoes. Before him was the Hudson River leading south to Albany and New York City, but Frawley’s intended route was north. At this critical waterway intersection, the Champlain Canal led north from Waterford to Whitehall at Lake Champlain’s southern tip.

Access to the Champlain Canal was on the north bank at the Mohawk’s mouth, opposite Peeble’s Island. Just as there is today, at the mouth of the river was a dam, constructed by engineers to enable canal boats to cross the river. About 500 feet upstream was a bridge. Canal boats were pulled by tow ropes linked to teams of mules or horses. To cross from the south bank to the north, towing teams used the bridge, which is what Frawley did.

Sounds simple, and usually, it was. But the Mohawk was badly swollen from several days of rain. Traveling at night, Frawley was perhaps unaware that the normally strong current had intensified. Water was fairly leaping over the nine-foot-high dam.

Accompanying the captain were his mother, around 60 years old; his ten-year-old son; and the boat’s steersman, Dennis Clancy. To help ensure that things went okay, Frawley left the boat to assist the team driver during the crossing of the 700-foot-long bridge. They moved slowly—the rope extended sideways from the bridge downstream towards the boat, which was much more difficult than pulling a load forward along the canal.

Below them, the George W. Lee lay heavy in the current, straining against the rope. All went well until the bridge’s midpoint was reached, when, with a sound like a gunshot, the rope snapped. Horrified, they watched as the boat swung around, slammed sideways into the dam, and plunged over the edge. Nothing was left but darkness.

Shock and grief enveloped them at such a sudden, terrible loss. Within minutes, though, a light appeared on the boat’s deck. It had held together! At least one person had survived, but no one knew how many, or if any were injured. The roar of the river drowned out any attempt at yelling back and forth. With the boat aground, there was nothing to do but sit and wait until morning.

With daylight came great news. All were okay! But, as had happened the previous evening, great elation was followed by great uncertainty. How could they be saved? The river remained high and dangerous. The boat, resting on the rocks below the dam, could not be reached. And the November chill, heightened by cold water pouring over the dam all around them, threatened the stranded passengers with hypothermia.

A rescue plan was devised, and by late afternoon, the effort began. The state scow (a large, flat-bottomed boat), manned by a volunteer crew of seven brave men, set out on a dangerous mission. Connected to the bridge by a winch system using two ropes, the scow was slowly guided to the dam, just above the stranded boat.

The men began talking with the passengers to discuss their evacuation. Then, without warning, disaster struck. Something within the winch mechanism failed, and again, with a loud cracking sound, the rope snapped. Over the dam went the scow, fortunately missing the canal boat. Had they hit, the results would have been catastrophic.

Briefly submerged, the scow burst to the surface. A safe passage lay ahead, but the drifting scow was instead driven towards nearby Buttermilk Falls by the swift current. Two men leaped overboard and swam for shore in the icy water. The rest decided to ride it out.

In one reporter’s words, “The scow sped like an arrow toward Buttermilk Falls. It seemed to hang an instant at the brink, and then shot over the falls. It landed right side up and soon drifted ashore.” Incredibly, everyone survived intact. Chilled, wet, and shaken, but intact.

Meanwhile, still stuck at the base of the dam was a canal boat with cold, hungry, and frightened passengers. A new plan was needed, but darkness was descending. The stranded victims would have to spend another night on the rocks.

On the following day, Plan B was tried. According to reports, “A stout rope was stretched from the Waterford bridge over the dam to a small row boat at Peeble’s Island [a distance of about 1800 feet.] Two men stood on the bridge and pulled the skiff upstream until it came alongside the canal boat Lee. The party embarked and the boat was allowed to drift back to the island.”

What an amazing, fortuitous outcome. Two boats (one at night) over a dam; three people trapped for more than 36 hours in a raging river; two men swimming for their lives in icy water; and five men and a boat over a waterfall. All that potential for tragedy, and yet all survived unscathed.

Photo Top: The dam at Cohoes, looking west from Peeble’s Island.

Photo Bottom: A canal boat scene at Cohoes.

Lawrence Gooley has authored nine books and many articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. He took over in 2010 and began expanding the company’s publishing services. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.


Saturday, November 6, 2010

New Local History: Empires in the Mountains

Meeting Russell Bellico, as I did briefly several years ago, you’d think you were in the presence of an old sea captain spending his retirement in the softer wind and spray of Lake George. You’d be surprised to know that he spent 35 years in the economics department at Westfield State College in Massachusetts.

You’d be glad to hear that Bellico spent his time away from Westfield at Lake George, where as a summer resident he invested himself in local history. He has spent over three decades photographing shipwrecks and historic sites on Lake George and Lake Champlain. He has served as a consultant on the National Park Service’s Champlain Valley Heritage Corridor, a trustee of the Lake George Battlefield Park Alliance, and a board member of Bateaux Below, the organization founded by the archaeological team (which included Bellico) that documented the 1758 radeau Land Tortoise which lies underwater at the southern end of Lake George.

Bellico is the author of a score or more articles and five books on the maritime and military history of Lake George and Lake Champlain. His first two projects were Chronicles of Lake George (1995) and Chronicles of Lake Champlain (1999). Both were aptly subtitled Journeys in War and Peace, as they were mostly drawn from primary sources by diaries, journals, and other early first hand accounts. His interest in boots on the ground history has no doubt contributed to some of Bellico’s most unique contributions to the region’s history – his careful looks at what remains. For example, Bellico weaves together histories of not just the events (through archaeology, primary sources, and first hand accounts) but of what remains of those events on the landscape. His third major effort, Sails and Steam in the Mountains: A Maritime and Military History of Lake George and Lake Champlain, earned a place as the go-to resource on the region’s maritime history.

Bellico’s latest effort, Empires in the Mountains: French and Indian War Campaigns and Forts in the Lake Champlain, Lake George, and Hudson River Corridor, is the fruit of three decades of the author’s work to understand the military and maritime importance of the region. His first volume to focus entirely on the campaigns and forts of the Great Warpath during the French & Indian War (1754-1763), Empires in the Mountains covers the epic battles of the war in the lake valleys, as well as the building of the fortresses and battleships in Northern New York’s wilderness.

And true to his authoritative and thorough style, Bellico explores this history with one eye toward what happened after those great events of 350 years ago. Bellico reviews the history of the abandonment, the excavations, and the exploitation of French and Indian War sites from Bloody Pond (which Bellico seems to suggest may in fact be correctly marked on Route 9 south of Lake George) and Fort Gage (bulldozed by a local developer avoiding APA oversight) to the more popular spots like Fort Ticonderoga, Fort Edward, Fort William Henry, and Fort George.

It’s that concluding epilogue, “Forts Revisited” that is perhaps the most valuable chapter of the book for local historians, and those interested in how we remember, and exploit, local history. For that chapter alone, this book belongs on the shelf of those interested in local history, regardless of your particular interest in the French and Indian War.

Note: Books noticed on this site have been provided by the publishers. Purchases made through this Amazon link help support this site.


Friday, October 22, 2010

Remembering Huletts Landing on Lake George

Huletts Landing, the resort on the northeastern shore of Lake George, is a summer cottage colony, and some of the cottages are old enough to be of architectural and historic interest.

But however much is intact, even more is missing; destroyed by fire, the wrecking ball and changes in public taste and the economy.

From the 1920s through the 1940s, though, Huletts Landing “was one of the largest, most successful resorts on Lake George,” says Wyatt Firth. » Continue Reading.


Monday, August 10, 2009

A New French and Indian War Guide Book

A new guidebook to 19 French and Indian War historic sites invites travelers travel to destinations in New York and Pennsylvania. The Great Lakes Seaway Trail has published Waterways of War: The Struggle for Empire 1754-1763, A Traveler’s Guide to the French & Indian War Forts and Battlefields along America’s Byways in New York and Pennsylvania.ports. It’s one of the best general guides to the French and Indian War I’ve seen and covers the fortified houses, American and French forts, Lake George shipwrecks, and other battlefields and historic sites from the period. » Continue Reading.


Monday, January 5, 2009

Lake Placid: Another Victim of Ethan Allen Sinking

From Mark Wilson, who writes the newsletter for the Lake Placid Shore Owners’ Association (founded in 1893), comes news of the demise of the Lake Placid’s Lady of the Lake tour boat. She was on the same service as the Ethan Allen in the Thousands Islands until the 1950s and has suffered from regulations that grew from the tragedy at Lake George in October 2005. Here is Wilson’s full report:

The Lady of the Lake, longtime doyen of the Lake Placid tour boat fleet, has taken to the road. Since late summer the sleek septuagenarian has sat on her trailer at the edge of Route 86 in Ray Brook, looking westward.

Nostalgically, perhaps. Remembering Alexandria Bay and Hutchinson’s Boatworks where she was built in 1929, and where–until the 1950s–she shuttled among the Thousand Islands under the name Commander. According to General Hugh Rowan’s history of sightseeing boats on Lake Placid Lake Placid, Charles C. Grote brought her to Placid in 1958, re-christening her Lady of the Lake, competition for the Doris II, owned by George and Bliss Marina.

For nearly fifty years she served proudly, despite a docking accident which scuttled her in July 2006. According to current owner Michael Arico, statewide tour boat regulations enacted after the fatal capsizing of the Ethan Allen on Lake George in 2005 reduced the Lady’s passenger limit, effectively ending her career.

Arico attempted to sell her on eBay earlier this summer. By the end of August a buyer arrived with a custom-built trailer to tow her down to Eustis Lake, Florida. But the deal fell through at the last minute, ending any hopes the Lady may have harbored of a Florida retirement. And so she sits patiently, if somewhat forlornly, roadside, decked out in white (four months past Labor Day!).

If you have a special place in your heart for this once-proud-now-down-on-her-scuppers plier of Placid waters, and about 44 feet of dock space, call Michael Arico at (914) 456-2550.


Thursday, August 16, 2007

Bridge Collapse Recalls Historic Adirondack Disaster

The recent collapse of the bridge spanning the Mississippi River at Minneapolis brought to mind the tragic history of similar events in the Adirondacks.

Workers building the historic Stone Arch Bridge (photo above from the late 1800s) over the Ausable River in Keeseville had a close call in 1842. The bridge of native stone, believed at the time to be the largest such bridge in the country, was being built to replace the original wooden structure erected in 1805. The men had completed the first course of stone including the keystones and had nearly finished the second course when a violent storm blew in. Just as more then 30 men fled the storm’s heavy rain to a wooden shed on the bank of the river the entire bridge collapsed into the Ausable with a thunderous crash. The tremendous crash was said to have shaken buildings as far away as Port Kent.

Delays in the construction of the bridge caused by the collapse inadvertently caused a more tragic accident that same year. On local militia “muster day,” September 13, 1842, the unfinished bridge caused the Essex County militia to cross a smaller swinging bridge (supported by chains) nearby. The bridge was filled with bystanders as they marched across in lock step. It’s believed the overloaded bridge combined with the stamping feet of the marchers caused the bridge to collapse into the churning river below. Local newspapers reported that nine people were drowned, and four later died of exposure. Two boys, Richard Pope and Richard Peabody, were swept over a nearby dam with their arms around each other and were among those drowned.

A similar accident twice befell the men building what was then longest bridge in the world (3,239 feet) over the St. Lawrence River at Quebec. As one of the enormous spans was being raised from pontoons, it gave way and crashed into the river taking with it fifty men. Observers said the central span, weighing more than 5,000 tons, buckled at the center before it fell. At least five were killed. The accident occurred in 1916, but just nine years before a similar accident on the same bridge killed 70.In the spring of 1931 the Whallonsburg bridge, which carried much of the Albany-Montreal traffic over the Bouquet River in Essex County, collapsed while Robert O’Neil of Willsboro was crossing. O’Neil’s car fell nearly twelve feet but he escaped uninjured. The bridge’s steel trusses slipped from one of its abutments. The next day four boys were sitting on the railing of the wrecked bridge when it gave way and they went into the water. Kenneth McDougall was knocked unconscious from a serious head injury but the others escaped relatively unharmed. The photo at right shows the new abutments, made of rough quartzite from Champlain Stone.The 1842 Chain Bridge Collapse ranks among the deadliest accidents ever in the Adirondack region. Read more about the others here.


Tuesday, August 29, 2006

10 Deadliest Accidents in The Adirondack Mountain Region

Yesterday’s crash of a Greyhound bus near Elizabethtown reminds us of some of the tragic events that have occurred in the Adirondack region. Here is a list of the ten we believe were most tragic:

October 2, 2005 – Ethan Allen Sinking
Twenty-one people drown when the Lake George excursion boat Ethan Allen flips and sinks while turning against a wave.

1903 – Spier Falls Dam Ferry Capsizes
Sixteen men and a young boy were drowned when a ferry carrying workers capsized on the Hudson River near the Spier Falls Dam (then under construction) in Moreau between Lake Luzerne and Mount McGregor. The ferry was overloaded when high water made a temporary bridge too dangerous to use.

November 19, 1969 – Crash of Mohawk Airlines Flight 411
A twin prop-jet commuter plane (a Fairchild-Hiller 227, a.k.a. Fokker F-27) flying from La Guardia Airport in NewYork to Glens Falls crashes on Pilot Knob killing all 14 onboard. The accident is blamed on downdrafts on the leeward side of of the mountain.

August 3, 1893 – Sinking of the Steamer Rachel
The Lake George excursion steamer Rachel, chartered by more than twenty guests of the Fourteen Mile Island Hotel to take them to a dance at the Hundred Island House, is steered by an inexperienced Captain out of the channel and into an old dock south of the hotel. the old peir tears a large hole in the side of the boat below the water line and twelve were killed – many caught on the shade deck as the boat listed and almost immediately sinks.

July 30, 1856 – Burning of the John Jay
The 140-feet long Lake George steamer John Jay, loaded with 70 passengers, catches fire near the Garfield House about ten miles south of Ticonderoga on Lake George. Five die trying to swim to shore to escape the flames. The fire is blamed on an overburdened soot-clogged smokestack – the crew had kept a large hot fire in the boiler in order to make up lost time.

June 3, 1927 – Chazy Lake School Picnic Drownings
Five students, one quarter of the Dannemora High School senior class, drown when their rowboat is swamped in a squall on Chazy Lake during an interclass picnic. The only survivor is their teacher Emma Dunk, whose hand was caught in the boat keeping her above the cold water after she lost consciousness.

August 28, 2006 – Greyhound Interstate Bus Crash
Five passengers are killed when a Greyhound Bus Company’s bus No. 4014, traveling from New York City to Montreal, and making midafternoon stops in Albany and Saratoga Springs, overturns on the Northway (I-87) just before Exit 31 near Elizabethtown.

1995-2005 – Drownings at the Starbuckville Dam
A dangerous backflow whirlpool kills five swimmers at the Starbuckville Dam on the Schroon River over the course of ten years. The dam is finally rebuilt in 2005-2006.

August 12, 2003 – Split Rock Falls Drownings
Four teenagers, all ages 18 and 19, drowned at Split Rock Falls near Elizabethtown while on their day off from their jobs as camp counselors for a Minerva camp. When one fell into the water the other three tried to rescue him.

February and September 2004 – Border Patrol Checkpoint Accidents
In two separate accidents four are killed and more than 60 injured (four critically) when Canadian based buses fail to see a US Border Patrol checkpoint on Interstate 87 in Elizabethtown – poor signage is blamed.

We’d be interested in hearing about others.