The military and naval moves and contermoves of the needless, unpopular War of 1812 took place far to the north of Lake George. The effect of the war on the lives of the settlers in Queensbury and around the head of the lake amounted to very little, only a temporary flurry of excitement in 1814 when a company of militia from the newly formed Warren County was alerted and started the long hike over the mountains to help lift the siege of Plattsburg. (1)
Warren County had been a part of Washington County since 1784, but on March 12, 1813 it was created a separate county and named in honor of General Joseph Warren, who lost his life at Bunker Hill. (2)
Times were hard and money scarce and near disaster came to the county in the form of the "cold summer of 1816...snow fell in early June followed by a hard freeze. The sun seemed bereft of its power to give out heat to the frozen earth; ice formed in many localities every month of the year". It was referred to as "Eighteen hundred and Froze to Death".
"Its effects were not as deplorable as those of the following summer, when the scarcity caused by the failure of the crops of the preceding year were most seriously felt. However the privations and hardships of the pioneers of the county soon began to be mitigated by the advancing march or civilization...the opening of roads." (3) Roads were greatly needed for commercial and social contact with other communities and sections; with roads, shortage and surplus problems could be quickly met.
Caldwell (now Lake George Village) became the county seat (1813) when Warren County was created and its favorable location at the head of the lake put it in a position for commercial growth and leadership, which it held for some years.
In 1817 the first steamboat, the first of a long line of lake steamers, was launched at the head of the lake. The Point had seen many crafts of various types pass before it. The various kinds of bark canoes, differing according to the tribe of Indians; then the bateau; hundreds were used by
Abercrombie in '58 and again in '59 by Amherst. In 1768 the Point looked on a craft called a "petti-auga". (4) This strange name was given to an even stranger looking boat with a flat bottom, no keep but with lee-boards, two masts and sails, "....all managed by one man who was also helmsman, and very often drunk." (5)
Then one day in 1817 the steamboat JAMES CALDWELL appeared on the waters of the lake. She was quite a boat: eighty feet long, twenty foot beam, speed four miles an hour. She could usually make the length of the lake in a day. Her prize feature was a brick smokestack, which probably was as unique a sight as was ever seen from the Point. Her life span on the lake was short; in 1821 the good ship JAMES CALDWELL burned at her dock at Caldwell. (6)
During the first half century of the new Republic there was widespread land speculation, and the town of Queensbury was no exception. This speculation attracted those from all levels of society. DeWitt Clinton (1769-1828), who had served as U.S. Senator, Mayor of New York, Governor of New York and "builder" of the Erie Canal (to mention but a few of his achievements) participated in this land speculation, and together with John L. Norton of New York City, they at one time owned the 200 acres comprising the Point.
Governor Clinton's partiality for the Point as a hunting ground may have been a factor in his acquiring ownership in this particular part of Queensbury. He and Norton likewise held mortgages on certain tracts of land between the Point and the north line of the Queensbury Patent. (7) It cannot with certainty be stated whether or not Governor Clinton at any time was financially interested in Long Island; but we do know that John L. Norton most certainly was.
In 1823 a survey and map was made of this area by a John Richards. This map included Long Island and Assembly Point, and appears to have been made for Clinton and Norton. The Richards map divided Long Island into two lots: #1 consisted of the northern and main portion of 79.4 acres, #2 included the southern portion of 20.3 acre (possibly what is now known as South Island - at that time it was considered all one island). On the mainland, a similar division was made: lot #3 included the Point itself and surrounding land, amounting to about 19 acres; #4 included that part of the Point excluding the tip of the Point and contained some 86 acres; #5 contained 50 acres; and #6 was a lot of which we know very little. It may have extended to the foot of Burnt Ridge, and included the land that was granted in 1770 to Nicholas Deverick.
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To keep events in proper chronological order, we should next mention the second steamboat in service on the lake: THE MOUNTAINEER. She passed back and forth before the Point for thirteen years and seems to have been almost as unique a craft as the JAMES CALDWELL. The MOUNTAINEER (1824-1837) was 300 feet long, 16 feet wide and was powered by a 20 horse power engine giving it a top speed of 6 miles an hour. She was constructed in a most unusual manner: her hull was of three layers of planking, two running fore and aft, and the center one from keel to gunwale, all held together with wooden pins. In rough water she would "....bend and twist like an eel." (8)
The MOUNTAINEER's master, Captain Larabee, considered it a waste of time to stop to make landings, so the practice was for the passenger to be rowed out from the shore and transferred to the yawl which was always towed astern. The yawl was then hauled alongside to permit the passenger to clamber aboard. All this without interfering in the lease with her headway. (9)
There is an amusing tale in connection with the MOUNTAINEER: "About the year 1830, there was.... (a character)....at Caldwell, who had known the Lake during forty-five of his seventy-six years of existence. "Old Dick" as he was often called, knew just where to find rattlesnakes, on Cobble Hill and Black Mountain. He often traveled up and down the Lake on the steamboat, (the MOUNTAINEER) where he kept a box of snakes for exhibition. On the box was the following inscription: "In this box ar a Rattell Snaik that was Ketcht on Black Mounting. He is seven years old last Guly. Admittance sixpents site, children half price or nothen". This last clause he thought extremely witty". (10)
We have written of the John Richard's survey and map of April 1823. From that date, this map and survey have continually been referred to in agreements and deeds of property on the Point. The corner markers - "Hemlock Trees" and "Black Ash Posts" have long since rotted away and "Middle Bay" has changed its name, but the lines and measurements as recorded on this old map are still used in many legal papers.
In August 1826, Governor Clinton was serving his third term as governor of New York. The preceding fall had witnessed the completion of his cherished project, the Erie Canal. Now for some reason he decided do dispose of his scattered land holdings. The Governor and his oft-time partner, John Norton, had a trusted man in Queensbury who represented them in their various transactions. He drew up agreements, collected payments and having their power of attorney could sign legal papers for them. His name was Jabez D. Hammond.
Governor Clinton now instructed Hammond to find a buyer for a part of his land on the Point. A purchaser was found, terms arriver at and the agreement of sale drawn up and duly signed. The governor owned one-third interest in the 86 acres of Lot #4, John Norton owning the other two-thirds.
Through the generosity and kindness of a friend this old agreement is among our valued papers. It is in Hammond's handwriting and reads as follows:
As time went by Fuller had difficulty in meeting his payments. An Attorney in New York City had to threaten "...to institute proceedings" in 1829. However, after paying enough to hold off the law, Fuller sold his interest in the transaction. This is recorded on the reverse of the above agreement and reads as follows:
This same James Ripley acquired from John Norton on July 6, 1833 his two-thirds of lot #4 (86 acres). Norton and Clinton had owned this tract jointly. (11)
It is interesting to note in the Norton-Ripley deed, that mention was made that the land was "occupied by Benjamin Fuller". The deed also refers to the adjoining land (lot #3) as "occupied by Jonathon Irish". This is the first mention that we have found of anyone actually living on the Point, and bears the date 1832. Let us mention here that in 1832 the Point (actual Point itself) was known as Cape Cod. (12)
We have, after long searching, found records of many of the early deeds, and in some instances the deeds themselves, but many, far too many, of the deeds are not recorded. Some of the early deeds are fascinating; underneath their stilted legal phrases, facts can sometimes be recognized that fit with other materials, and reveal some very interesting, human incidents concerning the area in which we are now interested. It would become monotonous if we gave the full contents, or seen a small part, of the early deeds that we have examined. So we shall touch on them lightly, mentioning only those portions needed to give a composite background of the Point and Island.
John L. Norton had instructed Hammond to find a purchaser for certain of his lands, at about the same time that Clinton decided to sell. These lands, according to the agreement, were the south part of Long Island and the north end of the Point. Through the kindness of the same friend we also have this agreement. Why Norton decided to dispose of these lands at the same time as Clinton, we do not know; however, on the same date - August 3, 1826 - Norton agreed to sell to Jonathan Irish "two undivided third parts of Lot #2 on Long Island in Lake George....containing twenty acres...and also Lot #3 in a neck of land in Lake George...containing nineteen acres..." (13)
As was the case with Benjamin Fuller buying from DeWitt Clinton, Jonathan Irish had difficulty in meeting the payments as they fell due. The sums were very small: $22.75 at the expiration of ten months after the signing of the agreement and then $11.37 annually for six years. Again we find that Ripley stepped in and on the reverse of the original agreement, under the date of March 1, 1833 we read that Jonathan Irish"....in consideration of the Sum of two hundred dollars....assign, transfer and set over....unto the said James Ripley all my rights and title to the within Contract". We will hear more of James Ripley in the future, but it is worth noting now that in 1810 Ripley bought 125 acres on what is now known as Ripley Point. (14)
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To return to the lake steamers, which were of considerable importance in the economic growth of the lake, particularly in attracting summer visitors and in the growth of small hotels in locations on the lake that would have been inaccessible without steamboats.
The steamer MOUNTAINEER was dismantled in 1837 but another, and far better boat was on the ways near Caldwell, and was ready for the season of 1839. The WILLIAM CALDWELL was named for the son of James Caldwell, founder of the village at the head of the lake. She was active on the lake from 1838-1848, and measured 140 feet in length, 17 feet in the beam. Her engines of 40 horsepower produced a speed of 12 miles an hour.
There were more travelers in the area of the lake now, and to encourage such travel, the steamboat company used posters to advertise the trip through the lake. These posters were displayed far and wide.
One of the most interesting of the old posters referred to the "Steam Packet Wm. Caldwell...will commence regular trips on Tuesday the fourth of June next. Leaving...the spacious Lake House at Caldwell,every morning (except Sunday) at 8 o'clock. The boat will remain at the foot of the lake 3 ½ hours giving passengers time to VISIT THE RUINS OF FORT TICONDEROGA and DINE and return to Caldwell the same day..."(15)
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DeWitt Clinton died in 1828. Over a period of years he had owned "one undivided third part" of Lots #3, #4 and #5, and possibly Lots #1, #2 and #6, as shown on the Richards map of 1823.
Norton continued to sell and possibly to buy land on the Point and Long Island, until 1851 at least and possibly until a still later date. The deeds that he could give were only for an "....equal undivided two-thirds part" of the land in question. However for that part his title seems to have been completely clear. But what of Clinton's one-third? That seems to be an unanswered question. We have failed to locate even a single recorded deed from DeWitt Clinton covering the sale of land on the Point or Long Island. Our search included the records of Washington County prior to 1813 and Warren County records after that date, when it became a separate county. Clinton had many land transactions particularly in Washington County, but we are referring only to his holding of the Point, and possibly on Long Island.
Buying only a two-thirds interest in a tract made little or no difference as long as the buyer had only speculation in mind. However when the time came that purchasers began to think of using the land for farms and homes, buying just a part interest in a tract presented a problem that had to be carefully explained in the deed.
It appears that the Clinton heirs gave little or no thought to the possibility of there being any assets in real estate in this part of Queensbury, so any interest that Clinton had had in land was ignored. This view appears to have held for many years.
Deeds for land transactions on the Point and Long Island after 1826 (the year of Clinton's death) usually stated that the seller was conveying "All the equal undivided two-thirds of a (certain piece of land)...one-third of which is supposed to belong to the heirs of DeWitt Clinton, deceased". That was sometimes amended to read: "The party of the first part hereby binds himself and his heirs....to pay to the heirs of DeWitt Clinton on demand the sum of money which the third part was appraised at by John Richards," etc., etc.
This variously worded provision was contained in deeds for many years. Then it seems that certain of the Clinton heirs made a claim or two against the ten-time owners of the land that Clinton had once had an interest in. The filing of such claims clarified the matter; the case, after the law proceedings, was decided by a judgement dated March 17, 1897, in which "all persons....forever barred from any claim or lien to the premises....described in the foregoing Lis Pendens." (16)
There has long been speculation as to when the land on the Point was cleared for cultivation. We feel that it is a safe conclusion that there was a farm on Lot #4 in the 1840's and possibly in the 1830's. It seems probable that this farm was located just to the south of the stone wall, referred to in various deeds of that day as beginning at a "....pair of black ash bar posts...." and extending westerly across the Point (to the rear of the caretakers house). This farm may have been the work of Benjamin Fuller, James Ripley, or Asa Sherman, or possibly all three of these men. Benjamin Fuller had "occupied" Lot #4 prior to 1833, and Ripley had "occupied" it prior to 1844.
To summarize the ownerships of this lot (Lot #4) we might divide it into quarters for identification, designating the most northerly quarter as A and so on to the most southerly quarter as D (which adjoined Amos Wood's Lot #5)
This last transaction gave Sherman quarters B, C & D, or about 66 acres. In 1868 Quartus Curtis sold this same tract to James Warren Harris.
Let us now turn to Long Island again. We have been unable to ascertain with any degree of certainty when and by whom Long Island was first put under cultivation. We do know from
the best of authority that there was a farm there before 1840. The person who furnished us with this information stated that his grandfather had a farm there, and that a son was born to the couple living on the Island in 1840. This son was the father of the person who gave us the information. (17)
About that date, 1838, John Norton sold to Amos Wood, Jr., "all the equal undivided two-thirds part...Lot #5", which had belonged to Norton and Clinton. It was bounded on the north by Lot #4 and on the south by Lot #6. (which had formerly been deeded to Solomon Dickinson). The price paid for this Lot #5 was $200; the lot was occupied by the Wood family for many years.
The prices paid for land in those days are of interest to present-day owners; here are a few of the sales prices (in each case the deed contained the usual "...all the equal undivided two-thirds part" clause:
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Now we will turn to look at the steamboat service on the lake at that period. The WILLIAM CALDWELL operated through the lake in the season of 1848, but the following summer found the lake without boat service. Another boat was being built, however, and was ready to go into service for the summer of 1850. She was the JOHN JAY (1850-1856), with an overall length of 145 feet and a 20 foot beam. She could make 13 miles an hour with her 75 horse power engine. the JOHN JAY proved to be an unfortunate craft, and caught fire while near Hague, burning to the water's edge with a loss of six lives. This was the first and only loss of life in the history of the lake's steamers.
The following year, 1857, a new steamboat, the MINNEHAHA, appeared on the Lake. She was similar in size to the JOHN JAY, but built more like the steamers of the early 1900's - on entirely
new lines in comparison with previous boats. She carried 400 passengers and burned cordwood, consuming 6 cords in a round trip through the lake. An advertisement in 1863, in the flowery language of the period, spoke of "....the limpid Lake George on which the Minnehaha....like a shuttlecock, each day faithfully plies its vocation to and from the laughing waters of Carillon and the grass grown ruins of Fort William Henry."
The year following the launching of this new boat, saw the grand opening of the Fort William Henry Hotel. Its opening was attended with much fanfare since it was supposed to be the ultimate in stylish hotels. The hope and intention of its owner was to meet and surpass the mammoth hotels at Saratoga and to draw from them at least a part of the aristocratic patronage which they had attracted. The new hotel was widely advertised as "....the only "Great Hotel" at Lake George....one of the largest and best appointed summer hotels in the world. Its lake frontage is three hundred and thirty-four feet, along with runs the finest and broadest veranda on the continent. The furniture and all the appurtenances are of the best, a fast-running elevator, a first class band of music....". Then followed the rates charged: "Board per week, $17.50, $21.00, $25.00, $28.00, according to room; per day, $4.00. In the 1880's the rates were considerable lower, "....$3.00 per day, $13.50, $15.00, $17.50, $21.00 per week according to location of rooms.
During and immediately after the Civil War period, the summer visitor business around the Lake decreased sharply. There are no records of any property changing hands on the Point or on Long Island between 1860 and 1868. In the latter year 68 acres of Lot #4 were sold to James Warren Harris for $3000. This proved to be the last sale to take place on the Point that involved any considerable acreage. (18)
James Warren Harris and his wife, Rosetta Fuller Harris (probably of the Benjamin Fuller clan) were to become well known figures on the Point. Their home was on the east side of the Point, apparently where the Mockridge place is now located. From what we can learn the Harrises probably built their home; it is not certain whether the Harris place was enlarged and added to over the years to become the Mockridge home as it is today, but such is probably the case.
James Warren Harris and his wife Rosetta called their place "Sunnyside". It was operated as a small boarding house and would accommodate twenty summer vacationists. Harris was reputedly quite a fisherman and was always glad to take his guests fishing with him. He kept the table well supplied with lake trout from the opening of the season. The Harris family had a good size farm of 66 acres, including a part of Sunset Hill, from which his guests could enjoy a fine view of the surrounding area.
The County Map of 1876 shows only three houses on the Point at that time, and quite possibly this is correct. One of the houses was the Harris place while the other two were located not far from the "Canal" and were on the Lake side of the Point; one is known to have belonged to Min Wood. We do not know what had become of the two habitations that we mentioned earlier, occupied by Benjamin Fuller and Jonathan Irish, back in 1833. The land on which they had lived had changed hands several times since then and it seems quite probable that they had built temporary shacks rather than permanent buildings.
(1) Warren County Guide
(3) Smith, History of Warren County
(4) Van De Water, Lake Champlain and Lake George
(7) Mortgage on land of Moses Harris, adjoining Fairley
(8) The Steamboats of Lake George - 1818-1932
(10) Clinton Fuller agreement, in author's collection
(12) Brayton, Asa W., Lake George Old and New
(13) Norton-Irish agreement, in author's collection
(14) Smith, H.P., History of Warren County
(15) Van De Water, F.F., Lake Champlain and Lake George, picture of poster
(16) In search in connection with Deed for "Trail's End".
(17) Lester Lockhart, dec., late of Hudson Falls, N.Y.
(18) Curtis-Harris Deed, Book 18, p. 318, Warren County Clerk's Records