Lake George History of Resilience

May 21, 2020

The Resilience of Lake George Through
World Wars and Crises

Historic black & white photo of Lake George village with cars and pedestriansDowntown Lake George has weathered difficult times in the past, and so it's clear that better times are ahead following the current pandemic. This image, from Dick Dean, shows the village has drawn crowds for decades. (Mark Bowie)


By Maury Thompson

Here is something we hope the news media will be reporting soon.

“The Lake George hotels are steadily filling up again,” The Glens Falls Messenger reported on July 4, 1890.

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought uncertainty to the region’s tourism industry, but the Lake George region has shown deep resilience during times of crisis by utilizing creativity, flexibility and continued investment.

In the Summer of 1918, for example, the Lake George Club hired a Chinese chef to develop a menu that was “meatless, wheatless, but not eatless,” in order to comply with National Food Administrator Herbert Hoover’s wartime restrictions, The Lake George Mirror reported on June 29, 1918.

A sample menu for a Tuesday dinner was mushroom broth, Wor Far Dan omelet, Chow mein, rice, ice cream, Chinese cakes and teas.

Tourism in Lake George remained strong during World War I because many families who typically vacationed in Europe sought alternative destinations in the United States.

The start of the Great Depression was a time of investment in tourism infrastructure.

After the stock market crash of September 1929, owners of The Sagamore in Bolton Landing moved forward with reconstruction of the hotel during the off season, opening in July 1930.

The season started slowly but picked up.

“The sweltering heat, which is turning the cities into seething masses of humidity with the approach of August, is bringing many visitors to Lake George for relief and a vacation,” The Post-Star reported on July 26, 1930. “The streets are filled each day with cars and the hotels are beginning to fill up after a comparatively quiet July.”

The Lake George Club had record membership in 1930, 17 more members than ever before, and invested $10,000 – the equivalent of about $156,400 in 2020 dollars – including equipment, to show first-run motion pictures at the club, the Mirror reported on Aug. 30, 1930.

During World War II, strict gas rationing challenged Lake George tourism.

Tourists had to apply in advance for permission to use a portion of their regular gas allotment to drive to Lake George.

“Each applicant will be allowed permission for only one round trip to a Summer home or some vacation resort and must show the route to be followed between starting point and destination and the dates he expects to leave and return,” the Mirror reported on July 16, 1943.

Use of gasoline for pleasure boating and commuting to island camp sites was prohibited.

Food was in short supply, and anyone who ate eight or more meals a week at a hotel or boarding house was required to turn his or her food ration coupons over to the establishment.

The Lake George Club did not open in 1943. Nor did four hotels — one in Lake George village, one at Uncas, one at Bolton Landing and another about four miles north of Bolton. Still, “practically all” other Lake George hotels did welcome guests.

The Lake George tourism experience became associated with nostalgia of the railroad era.

“There are plenty of people who would like to come here for rest and recreation, but with the gasoline situation so critical there are few who can come by automobile,” the Mirror editorialized on July 2, 1943. “Buses and trains will bring a large number, however, and we believe business will be about the same as last year for those (hotels) … fortunately near public transportation facilities.”

The Sagamore Hotel in Bolton Landing reached back to an even earlier nostalgic era.

“Horse and buggy days have been revived at The Sagamore, and instead of being a backward step, this innovation has become an attraction, as well as an accommodation, these gasless war days,” the Mirror reported.

Independence Day weekend met expectations.

“Trains leaving Lake George village were packed all day Monday and buses leaving here didn’t even have standing room left in spite of the fact that they were run in many sections,” the Mirror reported on July 9, 1943.

Federal Office of Price Administration inspectors stopped about 100 motorists and issued about 25 summonses for violating gas rationing restrictions.

The Mirror published another optimistic report on Aug. 20.

“The writer made a trip to Hague this week and found all the hotels along the way enjoying nearly a capacity business.”

A Mirror editorial reminded summer residents to be patriotic.

“Just because you are at Lake George on a vacation is no excuse for neglecting your war work, and with this in mind we are urging our readers to volunteer some part of your time for worthy war work on one kind or another.”

In 1944, Braley’s Inn at Bolton Landing and the Hotel Worden in Lake George, two of the properties that were closed in 1943, were renovated and re-opened.

The Lake George Club re-opened.

In 1945, Hotel Antlers, north of Bolton Landing, which had been closed for two seasons, re-opened and 12 new cottages were constructed on the hotel grounds.

At the end of the summer, the owner announced plans to renovate and expand the hotel over the off season.

Due to a “slight relaxing” of war restrictions, Lake George had “record” Independence Day weekend tourism in 1945.

“Many more cars are parked on the streets of the village than have been seen here since the war started,” the Mirror reported on July 29, 1945.

Hard times returned in 1960 as tourism dropped off amid a major recession.

Law enforcement officials estimated the crowd of between 12,000 and 15,000 people for the July 4th fireworks show was less than usual.

“The sheriff’s office reported that one lone parking space next to the county building was never taken – something unheard of heretofore, as a general rule,” the Mirror reported on July 8, 1960.

Undeterred, business owners continued to invest. A new 70-room George Washington Motel and a new Grand Union supermarket were under construction in Lake George, and a newly constructed retail building was fully leased,” the Mirror reported on July 1, 1960.

Charles R. Wood invested $100,000 – the equivalent of about $872,000 in 2020 dollars – in the new Fun Midway and Ferris Wheel at Gaslight Village theme park.

The Lake George Chamber of Commerce spent $2,800 – the equivalent of about $24,000 in 2020 dollars – on an elaborate float to promote Lake George at parades in the region.

“Wowie! They paid for it?” the Mirror quipped on July 22, 1960.

Lake George got a free promotional boost when a motion picture crew spent a day on the lake filming scenes for the upcoming General Electric Co. documentary “Gear Up For Tomorrow,” to be released nationally to theaters and television stations.

“Lake George was brought into the film because GE, which is donating the film to the city of Schenectady, believed this resort area ought to be listed as part of the recreational facilities available to Schenectady industrialists as well as working classes,” the Mirror reported on Aug. 19, 1960.

In 1974, during the energy crisis and a recession, Lake George officials redirected tourism advertising to target urban areas within a one-day driving distance.

To generate publicity in July, Lake George Supervisor Robert Flacke and Mayor Robert Blais took the first ride through The Haunted Castle, a new attraction that Joan and Art Jones developed at the intersection of state routes 9 and 9N.

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