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The Enemy was Near
The troops arrived at this site, the head of Lake St. Sacrement, 11 days earlier. They had journeyed from Albany to mount an attack against the French Fort St. Frédéric and claim for the Crown the wilderness lands between Albany and the St. Lawrence River. Johnson’s first act upon arriving on the Lake’s shore was to rename it in honor of his King, George II, asserting an English claim to the territory.
Plans to move up the lake to the French Fort were halted when Johnson received intelligence that Baron Dieskau, leading a force of French regulars, Canadian provincials and Native American allies, was approaching Fort Lyman, the English fort 15 miles to the South. Earlier that September morning, Johnson dispatched a contingent of New England militia, led by Col. Ephraim Williams, and Mohawk allies, led by Chief King Hendrick, to aid in the defense at Fort Lyman. Those that remained at Lake George hastened to fortify their camp.
Just past the ninth hour of the day, the sound of musket fire came from the South. Johnson’s men scrambled to complete their defensive wall and position themselves behind its cover. Men that had gone out with the morning contingent were returning to Lake George at double-speed. Close on their heels was a charging column of French Grenadiers, led by Baron Dieskau. Blasting Canons and musket fire filled the air with the sulfur smell of burnt powder.
Experience the Past in Real Time
A thick curtain of smoke veiled the battleground. It drifted across the swampy lands to the East and over West Brook to the Festival Commons at Charles R. Wood Park where 3,000 music fans were applauding young musician Quinn Sullivan’s virtuoso shredding on his electric guitar. Children played on giant inflated bounce houses and slides; craft beer producers served up their brews and festival patrons had their fill of hot dogs, popcorn and cotton candy.
The battle was a reenactment held to commemorate the 260th anniversary of the Battle of Lake George. The festival was the American Music Festival for the Lake. The two events ran side-by-side in September 2015. This pairing is not unusual.
The past has formed the present, and it still exists as part of the Lake George Area experience. Here, history moves out of the textbooks and comes alive. You can enjoy a gourmet dinner in a 19th Century Gristmill (with an old grist wheel hanging overhead), try your hand at blacksmithing, or stand witness to a French and Indian war battle. In the Lake George Area, you experience the past in real time.
American History in the Heart of the Lake George Area
At the head of Lake George, archeologists have unearthed the remains of Native American activities that predate the Common Era. The Colonial Wars have left behind 18th Century musket balls, mortar fragments and the remains of boats used in military campaigns. “Lake George,” says archeologist David Starbuck, who leads digs in the area, “has some of the greatest military ruins in this country.”
Lake George area history isn’t all about war. Following the American Revolution, a period of peace allowed industries to develop and towns to grow. The clean air, crystal lakes and natural beauty of the region made the Lake George Area a popular vacation spot, and a thriving tourism industry that began in the 19th Century continues today.
By the close of the 17th Century, the British colonies were well established along North America’s East Coast. The French had a strong foothold in the West and the North. Between these two powerful empires lay the rugged terrain of the Adirondack Mountains. The Hudson River, Lake George and Lake Champlain created a natural corridor that stretched from New York City to The St. Lawrence. Skirmishes between the French and British along this route culminated in the French and Indian War. The British victory and the Crown’s attempt to make it’s colonies pay the war debt sparked the American Revolution and determined the shape (and language, n’est-ce pas ?) of the United States.
From a bluff overlooking the Southern end of Lake George, the Fort William Henry Museum aims its cannons up the Lake to defend against invaders. The original fort was built by General Johnson following the 1755 Battle of Lake George. It was destroyed two years later by the Marquis de Montcalm following the infamous massacre. The French assault, the British surrender and the ensuing massacre were famously fictionalized in James Fenimore Copper’s 1826 novel The Last of the Mohicans.
The wildly popular novel attracted tourists to the Lake George Area to view the footprint left by the ill-fated fort. In the mid-1950s, the fort was reconstructed using the original plans.
Visitors to the fort today can join a Living History Tour led by uniformed guides. Children may join the King’s Army and march to the fife and drum.
Not all those killed in battles surrounding Fort William Henry are resting in peace. The fort has been the subject of a Sy-Fy Channel Ghost Hunters episode and visitors may return to the fort at night for a candle-lit Ghost Tours.
Among the literary inventions of James Fenimore Cooper is a scene in The Last of the Mohicans that takes place in Cooper's Cave on the Hudson River at Glens Falls. While the story is fiction, the cave is real and may be viewed from a platform on the river’s edge beneath the bridge that spans the river between Glens Falls and South Glens Falls.
Adirondack Life in the Past
For the earliest settlers, it was a hardscrabble existence. The rocky soil isn’t well suited for farming, and most families raised just enough for their own needs. Large stands of sugar maples provided the sweet sap needed to produce maple sugar. The granular blocks served as an alternative to white sugar and were often used for barter. During the Civil War era, the availability of tin buckets, metal spouts and evaporating pans made the maple syrup industry possible. Each weekend in March is Thurman Maple Days. Sugar farms in Thurman open their doors to the public for tours. Visitors learn methods of collecting and processing maple sap and may sample a bit of “Adirondack Gold.”
Before the era of mass production, families relied on their own skills to produce household goods, farm tools and clothing. Blacksmithing, woodworking, boat building and weaving were necessary skills for rural residents. These crafts became an art form, and the art hasn’t been lost.
The Adirondack Folk School in Lake Luzerne offers a wide variety of courses in these arts. Some courses may be completed in a day; others require several sessions. Enrollment is open to the public. May through October, the Folk School holds a monthly Open Forge Night where the public can watch demonstrations, and for small materials fee, create their own piece.
Industry in the Lake George Area
The forested mountains provided the raw materials for the industries that would define the region for more than a century. Trees were harvested to provide lumber and other wood products for a growing nation. Massive stands of hemlock provided the raw material needed to tan hides, and the tanneries provided employment for many Lake George Area residents through the end of the 19th Century.
Each community in the Lake George area has its own history of settlement and growth. Dedicated historians have carefully preserved artifacts and stories from the past. Several historical societies have curated their collections and present them to the public at local history museums. One such gem is the Warrensburg Museum of Natural History. Exhibits there may be viewed chronologically from pre-ice age to modern times. The displays document how industries developed along the banks of the Schroon River in this mill town.
In October (just in time for Halloween), the Warrensburgh Historical Society holds Graveyard Walks in the town cemetery. The ghosts of prominent citizens rise from their eternal rest to tell stories and answer questions about Warrensburg as it was when they walked the earth.
While in Warrensburg, you may have dinner at The Grist Mill surrounded by artifacts from the building’s history. Built in 1824, the mill, in its peak years, could grind 15 tons of grain a day. Across the street from the gristmill, another restaurant, Lizzie Keays, seats diners in what was once a shirt factory that employed generations of Warrensburg residents. Both restaurants are in Warrensburg’s Historic Mill District.
Further north, in the Johnsburg hamlet of North River, you may tour the site of Barton garnet mines and search for your own Adirondack gems to take home. Barton, founded in 1878, continues to mine the rich garnet deposits in the area and is a world leader in the production of garnet products.
Approaching the 20th Century
During the latter half of the 19th Century, the Village of Glens Falls (Glens Falls wasn’t granted a city charter until 1908) experienced tremendous growth with the population more than doubling between 1870 and 1890. The power of the falls and the availability of water from the Hudson made it an industrial center. The Chapman Historical Museum offers a look into the daily life of Glens Falls merchant Zopher DeLong and his family with tours of the DeLong House on Glen Street as it was at the turn of the century.
Early in the 19th Century, inelegant hotels and boarding houses sprung up in the area to accommodate the basic food and lodging needs of men conducting lumber company business. Mid-century, the lumbering business slowed. These establishments had to kick up their game to entice vacationers to their doors.
The Fort William Henry Hotel in Lake George and the Sagamore in Bolton Landing are examples of the luxury accommodations that drew the wealthy to the shores of Lake George each summer. Following the Civil War, a flurry of building along the West side of Lake George produced a row of ornate mansions that served as summer residences for the rich and famous. The 10-mile stretch of road between Lake George Village and Bolton Landing became known as Millionaires’ Row. Many of these palatial homes still stand and are noted as points of interest on Lake George boat cruises.
International opera star Marcella Sembrich, who debuted with the Metropolitan Opera in 1883, established a teaching studio in Bolton Landing in 1924. The studio is now open to the public as The Sembrich Museum. The museum holds an extensive collection of photographs, art and memorabilia from Sembrich’s career. The Sembrich Museum holds concert and lectures throughout the season to promote and foster an appreciation of the arts.
The importance of railroads in the Lake George Area cannot be understated. Trains carried the raw materials of industry to the mills and finished products to markets in Albany and New York City. They also carried tourists to the regions. The little train depot in North Creek takes its place in history as the spot where then-Vice President Theodore Roosevelt learned he was to become the President of the United States.
Roosevelt, an avid outdoorsman, was on a hunting trip up Mount Marcy when a messenger arrived with the news that President McKinley, who was recovering from an assassination attempt, had taken a turn for the worse. Roosevelt rushed from the mountain in the dark of night to the train depot. There, at 4:39 a.m., he learned the President had died, and he was to ascend to the Presidency. The depot is now a museum with exhibits focused on Roosevelt and the impact of railroads in the region.
The Saratoga & North Creek Railway offers scenic rides along the Hudson between Saratoga and North Creek. Visitors to the Lake George Area may pick up the train at Thurman Station, travel to North Creek and check out the museum during a two-hour layover before returning to Thurman.
Explore the history, culture and landscape of the Northern Hudson Corridor by car, canoe or train. Maps created by the First Wilderness Heritage Corridor project will guide you along the routes that stretch from Saratoga to Tahawus. On your journey, you will learn about the natural resources and indigenous populations of the region, the warfare and commerce that shaped settlements and the growth of tourism and the conservation movement.