Lake George Island Camping in the 1950s
By Buzz Lamb
Monday, May 30, 2011
Your island was your home for the summer – for less than $40
In Frank Leonbruno’s book, Lake George Reflections, there are descriptions of many islands and the origin of the names of the islands. Leonbruno stated in the book that not all islands on Lake George have chapters devoted to them. One popular island located in the Narrows did not receive mention from the author although he knew the summer inhabitants well.
In the mid-1950s to the mid-1960s the State of New York really did not have a policy in place as to how long a camper could stay on an island campsite. Although the practice was not widespread, a few families would spend the entire summer camping on an island. One family that came every summer was Ed and Jane Goodman and their daughter Debbie.
The family always set up their camp on Perch Island in Log Bay and they would be in residence from Memorial Day until Labor Day when they would pack up their tents and return to their home in Williamstown, Mass. According to Leonbruno’s book, in 1952 the State instituted a fee of $3 per week to occupy a campsite on Lake George so for the 12 weeks the Goodmans spent on Perch Island the total cost was $36. In the late 1950s the length of a camping permit was limited to four weeks but somehow the Goodmans managed to remain on Perch for the entire summer.
The Goodmans were long-time customers of Norowal Marina in Bolton Landing where a majority of their camping equipment was stored for the winter months. As the years went on, their equipment supply increased as they added more creature-comforts to improve their camping experience.
Setting up camp for the Goodmans was truly an experience. Ed was an engineer for Sprague Electric in North Adams and he was always thinking of ways to make camping life easier. They had three tents set up on the island; one 9 X 12 for cooking/dining; one 8 x 10 for sleeping for Ed and Jane and one 6 x 8 for Debbie. The cooking tent was on a platform that Lamb Brothers constructed and it had three-foot high wooden sides on it and a wooden frame that supported the 9 x 12 canvas tent.
It was a struggle to get the heavy canvas stretched over the rough-cut two-by-fours but when it was in place the inside of the tent was spacious and offered six feet of head room at the sides. Each year Ed would bring a small supply of boards to the island that he used to fabricate rustic counters and cabinets inside the canvas kitchen.
One year he arrived in the spring with a heavy cast iron, hand operated water pump and an old cast iron sink to provide running water for the family. A few up and down pumps on the heavy iron handle provided enough water to fill the makeshift basin for doing the day’s dishes. On most days meals were taken outside on a picnic table where they enjoyed a fabulous view looking south over the crystal clear waters of the lake but during inclement weather there was ample room in the cook tent for up to six people.
The summer after Ed installed the hand water pump a gas-operated refrigerator was delivered to Norowal and was loaded on a boat to be transported to Perch Island. Just one more “creature comfort” that Ed dreamed up over the winter. When the family arrived for the summer that year a new cast iron three-burner countertop gas stove emerged from the trunk of their automobile. The cooking tent was now complete with all of the modern amenities: running water, a refrigerator and a gas stove.
During the summer months Ed would commute back to Williamstown while Jane and Debbie stayed on Perch. On weekends the family would spend hours in the water gathering large stones to rip-rap a breakwater to protect their boat from the occasional south winds that would whip up the lake unimpeded by any land mass. Sometimes the whitecaps would crash into the fragile wall of rocks and destroy the labors of many days of hard work spent constructing the protective barrier.
Perch Island is in a great location in that it is situated in the middle of Log Bay. It’s like having a front row seat at a rock concert…being able to see all of the action up close and personal but not really being part of it.
The Goodmans would spend many restful days just watching the activities in Log Bay. People would go water skiing or riding aquaplanes. Families brought small children to give them their first swimming lessons while standing on the naturally sandy bottom of the shallow bay. As the years wore on the State became more stringent with rules and the elaborate platform tent was torn down by the State and replaced with the standard flat design that is used today on the campsites.
After Debbie got married the Goodmans shortened their stay each year until finally their last trip to the lake was to visit their friends, Marv and Edith Eger who started out as Lake George campers as well, but went on to become property owners on Fourteen Mile Island. Camping for the summer was a great experience for the family and the memories of the adventure are still talked about by the people who knew the Goodmans, summer residents of Perch Island.