A FREE online visitor's magazine building on 130 years
of news coverage for Lake George and the Adirondacks
Lake To Locks
Subscribe to the Lake George Mirror Barnsider Barnsider

The Sagamore and the Golden Age of Lake George Steamboats

By Anthony F. Hall

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

About fifteen years ago, a few lakeshore residents commemorated a 100th anniversary – that of the launching of the steamboat Sagamore.

The launching 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.

Photographs of the Sagamore’s crews, engine and boiler rooms are by Fred Thatcher and published here with permission from the Bolton Historical Society.

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 80 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 of 1901. The Ticonderoga was the last steamboat to be constructed entirely of wood, and the 125-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 Chateaugay 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 amidship 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 amidship 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 pm train to New York.

The late Dr. Robert Cole of Silver Bay recalled in the pages of the Mirror in 1999 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, 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. 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 apiece) 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.

Tags: , , ,

Table Talk: La Bella Vita at the Sagamore Resort

By Blaze Marshall

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Dining out is always a special occasion for Yours Truly.  No preparation, cooking and cleaning up, but rather a time to relax, be with family or friends and experience the variety of culinary offerings that this area has to offer. Whatever level; casual, chic, low, middle or high end, it’s great to sit and enjoy!

On this night out Companion and I were celebrating the end of my lengthy vacation. Albeit a fine vacation, I was home and eager to soak in the beauty of Lake George as well as some special food.  We chose The Sagamore Resort’s main dining room; La Bella Vita, located in the interior of the hotel and formerly called The Sagamore Room.

Gone is the Trillium, which was across the lobby.  Mister Brown’s Tavern, The Club Grille, and Lakeside Pavilion are still there.  General Manager Tom Guay told us there is a new on-the-lake restaurant planned; just his description of it and the magnificent views whets your appetite.

Under the Sagamore’s new ownership, Ocean Properties and Preferred Hotels & Resorts, the entire property has been elevated to one of America’s foremost resorts with impeccable service, numerous new amenities and, of course, unequalled views of “The Queen of American Lakes” and its surrounding mountains.

One should make a special trip to the hotel’s new bar and lounge; Caldwell’s granite bar top, brass, oak columns, comfortable table seating inside or on the deck and a back-bar with a huge China cabinet that rotates the brands customers call for.  A very impressive start to anyone’s evening out or for the enjoyment of a casual cocktail.

La Bella Vita’s dining room is elegant and tables are set with fine crystal and linen, and some are terraced to afford better views outside.  A long porch covers the southern side and in warmer weather, that location would have been our choice.  The dining room was half-full with families, some golf foursomes and other guests.  La Bella Vita exudes a somewhat casual atmosphere to appease all takers.

We drew Martin for our waiter and were seated by a young man who three years ago dove into Sandy Bay to retrieve Companion’s friend’s eyeglasses.  What a small, but wonderful world!

We had a commanding view from our window table, looking south toward Dome Island, dusk setting in over a perfectly calm evening.  A breath-taking beginning to any meal!

La Bella Vita’s menu is extensive, creative and ala carte. Martin delivered a wonderful basket of hot rolls and flatbread along with a delightful bottle of Hogue Cellars, 2007 Pinot Noir; crisp and fruity with a great body, from the Columbia Valley.

Antipasti choices include a wild mushroom risotto, bruschetta, prosciutto crusted white prawns and black mussels with garlic, Pernod and grilled Ciabatta.

There are also offerings of “Boards,” one filled with a variety of cheese, nuts and jam, another with Italian meats and a third offering a combo of both.

Insalate (salads) and zuppe (soups) include a white bean, Caprese, a Pompeii wedge of iceberg, Italian bacon, tomato, roasted red peppers and Beldi olives with a gorgonzola dressing.  Tonight’s soup was creamy lobster bisque.

The dining room at La Bella Vita

Entrees range from five pasta choices including orecchiette with country sausage, rigatoni with chicken, eggplant and olives to spaghetti pomodoro with basil and fresh mozzarella.  La Bella Vita’s Chef, Emily Hill, is a CIA grad from New Hampshire and is in her third season at the Sagamore.

She offers several specialita della casa including east-coast halibut with fresh tagliolini, a ‘two pound’ garlic butter poached Maine lobster, stew of coastal shellfish, grilled lamb chops and a ‘house’ surf and turf with grilled treviso, cipollini onions and two sauces.

Other choices include classic Italian dishes for the less adventurous including veal or chicken parmigiano, saltimbocca, veal scaloppini and herbed chicken or veal piccata.

Companion and I lingered over the view and the ambiance but succumbed to an appetizer of shellfish portofino; an elegant chilled tureen of jumbo king crab, Maine lobster and shrimp accompanied by a spicy red sauce for dipping. This appetizer easily serves two.

Ms. Medicine enjoyed a roasted beet salad that had both red and yellow beets, toasted pistachio, local goat cheese, citrus and arugula leaves with aged balsamic.  I had my usual caesar that was crisp romaine, ciabatta croutons, imported reggiano cheese and some extra white anchovies.  My caesars to date could fill the Rome Coliseum, and I am rarely disappointed.  Tonight was no exception.

For entrees we both hit a home run ala Bella Vita.  Companion’s wild salmon Florentine was finished in white wine, lemon and capers over wilted spinach and parmesan risotto.  A large, tender filet done exactly right to the taste.

Yours Truly rarely sees braised short ribs and did not pass up the chance to try the Sagamore’s short ribs ragu; slow-cooked in a light tomato sauce with pappardelle pasta.  The large flat noodles hold the sauce and the melt-in-your-mouth ribs were braised to perfection.  This entrée is by far one of the most enjoyable that I have had.

The service was impeccable, water replenished throughout, wine poured but not without asking and an unannounced visit by Chef Hill to our table, was greatly appreciated.

La Bella Vita is not just for a special occasion.  It is for anyone who appreciates gourmet dining, excellent service, a wonderful ambiance and an unsurpassed view of Lake George.

This combination keeps thousands coming to our area each year to enjoy, and here we have it, right in our backyard!

Tags: , , , , , ,

Halfway House in the late 19th century

Halfway House in the late 19th century

The Making of an American Resort: Bill Gates’ Lake George Hotels and Landings

By Mirror Staff

Sunday, April 3, 2011

During the latter half of the 19th century, there flourished on Lake George a ‘summer civilization’ unique in the history of the resort business. In those years about 100 hotels, catering to approximately 200,000 people a year, sprang up on the shores of Lake George.

“Monstrosities of architecture” to many, they nevertheless provided unequalled luxury and comfort. Furthermore, they stood as monuments to native enterprise. It was no easy task to build them, and once built it was no easier to fill them with guests. But the hotels were built, and the guests filled them up.

Now, of course, all this has changed. Most of these grand hotels either burned to the ground or have been razed to make way for cottage colonies, motels or second homes.

Local historian Bill Gates, however, has preserved the images and stories of these hotels in his latest book,  Lake George Hotels and Landings.

“In a sense, I’ve been working on this book all of my life, collecting photos and listening to stories,” said Gates.  “In addition to showing the pictures, I wanted to give people a sense of what life was like at the hotels for the guests. I relied heavily upon the Lake George Mirror for that kind of information.”

Among the hotels included in Gates’ Lake George Hotels and Landings:

Halfway House

“At the intersection of present day Routes 9 and 149 stood the Halfway House. Prior to the construction of the railroad to Lake George in 1882, stages stopped daily between the Moreau Train Station and Lake George. The hotel burned in 1946.”

The Fort William Henry

“The first of three Fort William Henry Hotels was built during the winter of 1854-1855. The hotel’s 350 rooms could accommodate 1000 guests. Available were suites and private parlors, warm baths, telegtraph, music and dancing and stock market connections. Twenty acres of woodland surrounded the hotel. A 12-year-old Teddy Roosevelt vacationed here in 1871.”

Willard House

“In the 1890s, the Sheldon hotel was renamed the Hotel Willard by its new owner, William D. Rockefeller. He also renamed the point, where there was a steamboat landing reached by an arched bridge, to Rockhurst, after himself. The hotel was demolished in 1956. The footbridge to the dock has been rebuilt several times.”

Mohican House

“The first steamboat landing in Bolton was built in 1824 for Mohican Point. In 1901, the inn that had been situated on the Point since 1802 was razed by W.K. Bixby and constructed the summer house that still stands on the property today.”

Bolton House

“The Bolton House was constructed in 1869. Torn down in 1902, the owner built himself a mansion which was later re-named the Anchorage. That house was razed in 1976. The land was subdivided for homes.”

The Sagamore

“The first Sagamore Hotel opened in 1883 on Greeen Island, which became accessible due to the construction of a new bridge in 1882. The hotel owners constructed their own large steamboat dock, which still stands today. In 1893, the hotel burned. It was rebuilt in 1894 and again in 1930. Today it is owned by Ocean Properties, which operates more than 100 hotels in Canada and the United States.”

Silver Bay

The Silver Bay Hotel was built by the Silver Bay Association in 1904. The YMCA and the YWCA were formed, in part, here. During 1918, a prep school for boys, the Silver Bay School, was established at the campus. Today, this beautiful, historic complex is Silver Bay YMCA of the Adirondacks.”

Bill Gates’ Lake George Hotels and Landings features more than 100 hotels and landings. The book is available at local stores and markets or through Gates’ website, www.wpgates.com.


Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,