Lake George is located in the Adirondack Park and mountain range. Notable landforms include Anthony's Nose, Deer's Leap, Roger's Rock, the Indian Kettles, Diver's Rock (a 15 ft (4.6 m) jump into the lake), and Double-Diver's (a 30 ft (9.1 m) jump). Some of the mountains include Tongue Mountain, Sugarloaf Mountain, Prospect Mountain, Shelving Rock, Pilot Knob, and Black Mountain. Some of the more famous bays are Silver Bay, Kattskill Bay, Northwest Bay, Basin Bay and Oneida Bay. The lake is distinguished by "The Narrows," an island-filled narrow section (approximately five miles long) that is bordered on the west by Tongue Mountain and the east by Black Mountain. In all, Lake George is home to 165 islands and 230 satellite islands (exactly 395 total) , most of them state owned. They range from the car-sized Skipper's Jib to larger Vicar's and Long Island. Camping permits are attainable for the larger portion of islands.
The first European visitor to the area, Samuel de Champlain, noted the lake in his journal on July 3, 1609, but did not name it. In 1646, the missionary Isaac Jogues named it Lac du Saint-Sacrement, and the exit stream as the river La Chute (the fall).
On August 28, 1755, Sir William Johnson led British colonial forces to occupy the area in the French and Indian War. He renamed the lake as Lake George for King George II and built a protecting fortification at its southern end. The fort was named Fort William Henry after the King's grandson Prince William Henry, a younger brother of the later King George III. On September 8, 1755 the Battle of Lake George was fought between the forces of Britain and France.
In September, the French responded by beginning construction of Fort Carillon, later called Fort Ticonderoga, on a point where La Chute enters Lake Champlain. These fortifications controlled the easy water route between Canada and colonial New York.
On March 13, 1758, an attempted attack on that fort by irregular forces lead by Robert Rogers was one of the most daring raids of that war. The unorthodox (to Europeans) tactics of Rogers' Rangers are seen as the inspiring the later creation of similar special forces in later conflicts — including the United States Army Rangers.
Lake George’s key position on the Montreal-New York water route made possession of the forts at either end — particularly Ticonderoga — strategically crucial during the American Revolution.
In 1775, in a daring winter assault, American troops had captured the fort and, with it, the British artillery. The Americans, led by Colonel Henry Knox, transported the cannons by sledge over the frozen lake, across the Berkshire Mountains, arriving in Boston on January 24, 1776. The unexpected arrival of the captured cannons in Boston broke the stalemate between the British forces, commanded by General Thomas Gage, who held the city and General George Washington’s troops who were laying siege to it. After Washington’s forces managed to place the cannons on Dorchester Heights, the British abandoned the city.
Later in the war, British General John Burgoyne’s decision to bypass the easy water route to the Hudson River that Lake George offered and, instead, attempt to reach the Hudson though the marshes and forests at the southern end of Lake Champlain, led to the British defeat at Saratoga.
On May 31, 1791, Thomas Jefferson wrote in a letter to his daughter, "Lake George is without comparison, the most beautiful water I ever saw; formed by a contour of mountains into a basin... finely interspersed with islands, its water limpid as crystal, and the mountain sides covered with rich groves... down to the water-edge: here and there precipices of rock to checker the scene and save it from monotony."
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Lake George was a common spot sought out by well known artists, including Martin Johnson Heade, John F. Kensett, E. Charlton Fortune and Frank Vincent DuMond.
At one time, Lake George was one of the nation's first elite tourist destinations. Conveniently situated on the rail line halfway between New York City and Montreal, the lake became a magnet for the era's rich and famous by the late 19th and early 20th century.
Tourists from all over North America and Europe flocked to Lake George and the surrounding majestic Adirondack Mountains. By the turn of the 19th century, Lake George was equaled only by Newport, Bar Harbor, Maine, Saratoga and the Hamptons as a summer enclave for America's aristocracy. Members of the Roosevelt, van Rensselaer, Vanderbilt, Rockefeller and Whitney families visited its shores. The Fort William Henry Hotel, in what is now Lake George Village, and The Sagamore in Bolton Landing, were popular spots for those who could afford a "vacation", something that was only then becoming available to a privileged few. The wealthiest of the period were more likely to stay with their peers at their private country estates.
Created as part of several other leadership training facilities located throughout the nation, the Silver Bay YMCA on Lake George was constructed in 1900. It has since evolved into a summer family camp, serving several hundred organizations and tourists every summer.
Millionaire's Row was the haunt of Lake George's richest summer residents. A stretch of Bolton Road (now Lake Shore Drive) on the west side of the lake was where the aristocrats built their large and elegant mansions. Millionaire's Row was inhabited in the summer months by such notables as Spencer Trask, the famous Wall Street financier, and Robert Pitcairn, friend of Andrew Carnegie (and one of the world's richest men). The palatial homes of Millionaire's Row typically had dozens of bedrooms and were sometimes in excess of 20,000 square feet (1,900 m2). Ironically, they were coyly called "cottages" by their owners in a vain attempt at being unpretentious. These grand houses, with every modern comfort and convenience, were in marked contrast to the more rustic summer "camps" built by other wealthy Adirondack summer residents such as William Durant and John D. Rockefeller. Instead of log and timber construction such as Durant's famous Uncus Lodge near Raquette Lake, the houses of Millionaire's Row were huge stone and masonry structures in the Tudor, Georgian and Italianate styles. In the 1920s, Pitcairn's estate, which is now a condominium and marina, even had a landing pad for an "auto gyro", predecessor of the modern helicopter. Unlike their contemporaries in Newport and The Hamptons, which were built on tiny pieces of land, the cottages of Millionaire's row were mansions in the true sense of the word. They were often built on hundreds of acres of pristine lakeside wilderness.
With the changing economic climate and the introduction of income tax, the mansions of Millionaire's Row had begun to become unaffordable by the 1930s. By the 1950s, with the advent of affordable auto and air travel, Lake George became more attractive to the growing middle class and less so to the "jet set". Most of the mansions of Millionaire's Row were torn down or turned into hotels and restaurants. Among the surviving remnants are the Sagamore, as well as three Millionaire's Row "cottages": Melody Manor, Sun Castle and Green Harbor Mansion.
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