Lake George Village
Lake George Village Hall is located at 26 Old Post Road, Lake George, NY 12845; phone: 518-668-5771.
Lake George Village is a summer and winter sports and trading center at the southern tip of Lake George. The village occupies a slope rising gently westward for half a mile to the abrupt ascent of Prospect Mountain (elev. 2,021) which rises from the western edge of the residential section. A park that extends from Main Street to the lakeshore has an open-air theater, quoits and shuffleboard games, and a public beach with bathing facilities.
As a railroad terminal Lake George Village received many summer travelers who continue their journey by bus, motor boat, or steamer, while in winter snow trains unload gaily clad crowds with skis and skates. As summer draws towards its close there is the usual Labor Day exodus, but not a few linger to enjoy the late summer sunshine or make weekend trips while autumn brightens the landscape.
In 1934 the winter sports program was inaugurated; ski trails were cut on Prospect and Cobble Mountains, a tow was put in operation, and the road to the top of the ski runs was improved. Skating rinks, a toboggan, and special winter accommodations were provided. Since then there have been added winter carnivals, ski tournaments, and harness racing on the ice of the lake. Aside from spaces cleared of snow for skating and hockey, the ice on the lake is sometimes favorable not only for ice boating but also for long skating trips.
From the village, Lake George extends northward for 32 miles, its blue-green waters studded with wooded islands and overshadowed by towering, pine-clad peaks and ridges. All along the lake, cottage colonies, spacious mansions, and bulky frame hotels, surrounded by bungalows, cling to jutting points, stand out boldly in clearings, or hide in the forest.
The west shore of the lake at Lake George Village, and for a dozen miles northward, has gently rolling hills and is easily accessible from the highway, State 9N. Here are resort villages, a State Park campsite, golf links, and many miles of bridlepaths. By contrast the houses and settlements along much of the lake's eastern shore are so closely crowded by mountain ramparts that they can be approached only by water. Rocky cliffs rise so steeply on both sides of The Narrows, beginning twelve miles above Lake George Village and extending for six miles, as to leave hardly space to pitch a tent. However, there are numerous State-owned islands, many of them popular sites for camping and picnicking.
The Lake George region has a romantic history. Adjacent to the village is Battleground Park, with Fort George, Saint Isaac Jogues Memorial, and the Lake George Battle Monument. Nearby is the knoll that was once the site of Fort William Henry. At the far end of the lake is Rogers Rock, behind which was fought the Battle on Snowshoes, and Rogers Slide, the scene of Major Rogers' fabled leap to elude his pursuers.
All along the intervening thirty-two miles are scores of islands, points and bays with names reminiscent of skirmishes, massacres, prison camps, military hospitals, encampments, or fortifications. They hark back to the days when Indians, French, British, and Colonial warriors struggled for mastery and the possession of not merely this territory, but the North American continent an empire even greater than they realized at that time.
In 1759, soon after the fall of Quebec heralded peace on the northern frontier, pioneers arrived to take up lands about the head of Lake George. They had progressed little beyond log cabins and small farms in stump-filled clearings when the raiding Indians of Burgoyne forced them to flee. In 1787, however, settlement was resumed as James Caldwell, at this time patentee to many acres, sold or rented land to settlers.
Like a feudal lord of the manor Caldwell built a gristmill and iron forge to serve settlers on his properties. By reason of its location at the head of the lake, the little village quickly developed into a trading center for the county and a shipping point for logs to Ticonderoga. But in 1832 much of this business began to disappear when the Glens Falls Feeder Canal was opened, diverting the lucrative log shipping trade from Lake George to the shorter and quicker inland waterway that gave access to the Hudson River as well as to Lake Champlain.
Meanwhile the fame of the lake's beauty had spread abroad, and visitors, despite the meager conveniences of stagecoach and tavern, began to arrive in larger numbers. As early as 1800 the famous old Lake House stood on the present site of Shepard Memorial Park. In 1817 the first steamer, the Caldwell, went into service to connect the Lake George Village with the hotels and growing communities along the lake shores. An early historian says of these times that the natives lived largely on "fish and strangers."
That there was once a prominent resident of Caldwell who did not take kindly to strangers is indicated by the historian Max Reid. He quotes a vacation tourist in 1851 who refers to an old pioneer as "an eccentric gentleman who owned the whole region, built a hotel on the wrong spot, determined no one else should build there or anywhere, and ardently desired that no more people settle in the neighborhood." The same traveler pointed out the lack of luxurious accommodations at Lake George in those days of stagecoaches, mud, and corduroy roads. In his opinion its charm was "the beauty of a country cousin, a diamond in the rough, when compared with the absolute elegance and fascination of Como," in Italy.
But the 1880's brought the railroad and with it a greater number of summer visitors, including many people of prominence. In this decade and the next, hotel development reached its peak; the Lake House, the old Fort William Henry with its ample piazzas, the Fort George and the Crosbyside, around the head of the lake, offered accommodations to an even larger number of guests than do the hotels of today, when so many visitors stay at tourist homes, cottages, cabins and camps.
Around these spacious hostelries revolved the social life of the summer colony. President U. S. Grant frequently lent his presence to functions at the Fort William Henry, while General Sherman told Civil War stories to children at the Lake House. The large, rambling buildings with their rococo elegance were little more than great wooden boxes compared with modern hotels. Lake transportation was correspondingly crude. An old resident, Robert E. Henry, recollects that the ferry between Lake George Village and nearby hotels along the lakeshore was a rowboat seating eight to ten passengers. Lake George itself he describes as a quiet and pretty village with a wide dirt roadway bordered by tall and beautiful trees.
With the turn of the century came a trend toward the present expanded resort life. Wealthy families, including the Haydens, the Cramers, the Tuttles, the Prices developed impressive estates along the shores of the lake. More people of moderate means built less pretentious summer cottages. Stores and specialty shops were opened in the village to serve these warm weather residents and the vacationists who came in increasing numbers as the motor car supplemented railroad travel. Social life turned from hotel to camp, cottage and estate.
The village and State began to establish facilities for those tourists who remained but one day or a weekend. The site of the Lake House became a park, a cool spot on the paved main street of the busy resort community. Diving piers and beaches were developed and sleek speed boats, cabin cruisers, and yachts replaced the old rowboat ferry.
The State opened Lake George Battleground Park to preserve Fort George and other historic remains, and to provide grounds for tourist picnic parties. Later the adjacent Battleground Public Campsite added its facilities, improved from year to year. Soon the long, curving beach in front of the Park and campsite became the most frequented stretch of sand on the lake.