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Saving the islands at lake george
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Saving the islands at lake george


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  • 1. Saving the Islands at Lake George John S. Apperson, Jr. (1878-1963) by Ellen Apperson Brown
  • 2. Lake George is, without comparison, the most beautiful water I ever saw; formed by a basin thirty-five miles long, and from two to four miles broad, finely interspersed with islands, its water limpid as crystal and the mountainsides covered with rich groves of silver fir, white pine, aspen and paper birch down to the water edge. Thomas Jefferson, 1791
  • 3. This is the story of one man’s efforts to adopt an island, and of his realization that he could save many more! His enthusiasm and devotion led him to become a leading advocate for wilderness and preservation. His accomplishments, and his strategies, may serve as inspiration for others who have fallen in love with a special place and wonder what they might be able to do… Watercolor – West Dollar Island By Marianne Ganter - 2014 Photo – West Dollar Island By John Apperson - 1910
  • 4. Hull and John Apperson, two brothers from Virginia, arrived in Schenectady in 1900…and began venturing into the countryside. Apparently they didn’t own much in the way of clothing suitable for hiking and fishing… In fact, they look rather uncomfortable sitting on a railroad tie in the middle of nowhere. Notice that John is holding a rock, and Hull a pistol!
  • 5. John, the younger brother, soon started making weekend trips into the Forest Preserve, traveling by train. Here are two maps from his files showing rail connections, c. 1910.
  • 6. It wasn’t long before he discovered Lake George.
  • 7. Like so many other young men working in Schenectady, John longed to get out of the city, and began exploring the forests and mountains of the NY Forest Preserve. He particularly loved camping, even in the winter, on the islands of Lake George. Camping on Dollar Island, 1910
  • 8. He had always enjoyed hunting and fishing… …but became excited by all the exotic possibilities of a frozen lake… Dome Island is to the right, with ice boats and skate-sails!
  • 9. Sources of Inspiration… He owned a copy of The Last of the Mohicans, by James Fennimore Cooper, and had most likely read Huckleberry Finn , by Mark Twain He certainly would have read articles in the newspapers… about debates between Theodore Roosevelt, John Muir, and Gifford Pinchot
  • 10. In 1908, while paddling during a storm, his canoe hit a log and capsized. He barely managed to come ashore on West Dollar Island. Grateful to have survived, he soon resolved to adopt the island and try to repair the damaged shores. Photo by Phil Ham. 1950’s
  • 11. In Virginia, while working as foreman for a branch railroad, he had learned how to haul rocks and build roadbeds. At Lake George he introduced the same technique, known as “rip-rapping,”- piling rocks around the shores of islands. By 1918, he reported that 311 people had helped him repair this and other islands at Lake George
  • 12. His earliest photographs demonstrate his eye for beauty, but also show his other motivation – to collect documentary evidence of “Problems in Paradise” such as the disappearance of entire islands at Lake George.
  • 13. In this series of photographs, taken in 1917, 1930, and 1942, he makes his point…
  • 14. In 1910, logs were still being floated down Lake George
  • 15. And trees were still being cut on Tongue Mountain…
  • 16. Water levels were extremely high…
  • 17. One thing led to another… He began to notice problems and started asking questions, such as: • Erosion – Why the high water? Was it legal for the owners of the dam ( at Ticoderoga) to treat the famous lake as if it were a mill dam? • Squatters on islands – What was the state doing to regulate the use of campsites, and to ensure that the public had access to state land? • Logging – What was the state doing to prevent illegal logging, especially of the high peaks? • Development ( dance halls, hotels, etc.) – What could be done to prevent the proliferation of unsightly structures , especially on state land? • The Constitution – What could be done to defend the famous “Forever Wild” clause of the Constitution, and educate the public to the issues involved?
  • 18. Logging practices, especially in the high peaks, had contributed to erosion of soil, and to the spread of forest fires. He began taking pictures of slopes, such as this one, that had lost soil, and couldn’t be replanted.
  • 19. The remarkable New York Constitution, and its forever wild clause… This important document inspired him to fight corruption in state government, and recruit others to the cause. He started a prolonged lobbying campaign - publishing pamphlets, making speeches to clubs and civic organizations, and writing letters.
  • 20. State officials had responsibility for removing structures from state land, but they often shirked responsibility, so he felt compelled to push and prod them to uphold the law. Of course, many local people resented his activities, and made various threats. He began carrying a pistol for protection as early as 1918. Despite careful planning, This house fell into the lake… Removing illegal squatters from state land…
  • 21. A Few of his Favorite Projects and Activities… 1. Rip-rapping shores of islands; Bond issue for $10,000 in 1917 2. Removing illegal squatters from state islands 3. Promoting camping and other forms of recreation at Lake George 4. Taking photographs; Giving talks with slides; publishing pamphlets 5. Making friends… incl. FDR, Al Smith, George Foster Peabody, etc. 6. Blowing the Whistle…Making enemies…including Robert Moses 7. Giving talks to civic organizations; writing pamphlets 8. Joining organizations…and forming new ones, incl. the Lake George Protective Association and the New York Forest Preserve Association 9. Developing neighborhood associations (in Huddle Bay and Turtle Bay) 10. Protecting, and eventually purchasing, Dome Island ( 1936); then donating it to the Nature Conservancy (1956)
  • 22. Ski-Sailing on Lake George Cooking Corn Cakes for Breakfast With sister Nancy – 1906 - In the Fulton Chain He enjoyed a wide range of recreational activities, in all seasons of the year
  • 23. Irving and Marian Langmuir Hydroplaning – unidentified woman He made friends with others who shared his enthusiasm for the out-of-doors… Camping on state islands
  • 24. More island camping Skate-sailing in the Narrows Getting a good view of the lake – on skis! Coed excursion across a frozen lake
  • 25. This map of New York shows the enormous size (over 6.5 million acres) of the Adirondack Park (Forest Preserve), in green. At the beginning of the twentieth century, Lake George didn’t quite fall within the “blue line” and thus didn’t benefit from constitutional protection. That changed when FDR was governor and signed a bill…expanding the blue line to include Lake George. Lake George is at the far right, close to the border of Vermont
  • 26. Many people agreed that Lake George should be protected from logging and commercial development, and supported the creation of a Lake George Park. Surprisingly, the Lake George Association, a club representing many of the wealthy landowners (with ties to logging companies, realtors, and the pulp industry…) did not support efforts to regulate the water levels or prevent unsightly development.
  • 27. Two key individuals came out in favor of a Lake George Park, making significant gifts of land to the State in the 1920s: Mary Loines, a widow, and William K. Bixby, a philanthropist from St. Louis. Boathouse – William K. Bixby Hilda and Sylvia Loines
  • 28. The Roosevelt connection…According to papers in the Apperson archives, FDR had numerous ties to Lake George and often consulted with Apperson about political strategy concerning the Lake George Park. In 1920, Eleanor Roosevelt’s brother, Hall, plus William Dalton and John Apperson, made a joint purchase of the old Lake View Hotel, in Huddle Bay. What do you think? Could this be FDR? The photo was in the Apperson collection.
  • 29. Disappointed and frustrated by the politics and limitations of existing clubs and organizations, he persuaded several friends to help him form something new. Here (l to r) are John S. Apperson, George Foster Peabody, Ellwood Rabenold, Dr. E. MacDonald Stanton, and Dr. Irving Langmuir at the first meeting of the NY Forest Preserve Assn.
  • 30. Chronology • 1915 – attended Constitutional Convention , where he met Louis Marshall ( father of Bob Marshall), Al Smith ( later Governor), and Adelbert Moot (Senator) • 1916 – met Warwick Carpenter, who became Secretary of the Conservation Commission. They collaborated on publications (The Conservationist), promoted recreation at Lake George, and called attention to the continued logging of the high peaks, becoming whistle blowers… • 1919 – purchased lot on Tongue Mountain • 1920 – purchased the Lake View Hotel Property, jointly, with Hall Roosevelt and William Dalton • 1921 – hosted a regatta for the American Canoe Association at his camp in Huddle Bay; Warwick Carpenter was fired from his job with the Conservation Comm. • 1922 – delivered minority report to the conservation committee of the newly formed Adirondack Mountain Club, defending the “memorial” written by Warwick Carpenter; fired from G.E. – but was rehired within six months. He had risen to be second in charge of the Power and Mining Department. Later he was assigned to an administrative position in Engineering General. • 1923 – “kidnapped” Governor Al Smith and took him for a boat ride on Lake George, thus convincing him that it would be a bad idea to build a highway on the steep slopes of Tongue Mountain . This was a rare defeat for Robert Moses, the Power Broker… • 1920s- 1930s – ongoing effort to bring Tongue Mountain and Paradise Bay under state ownership; ongoing battle to defeat legislation that would have weakened the constitution ( Hewitt amendment; closed cabin amendment, etc.)
  • 31. Uneasy partnership with state officials… Jay Taylor, forest ranger, and Warwick Carpenter, Secretary of the Conservation Commission
  • 32. Controversy over a boathouse in Turtle Bay
  • 33. The battle over water levels raged on for years, culminating in a court battle. To make his case, he published a pamphlet entitled “Lake George, A Mill Pond” and testified as a State’s witness during WWII. Earlier, during the dust bowl, the Forest Preserve Association published a pamphlet entitled “The Tragic Truth about Erosion.” Over 40,000 copies were distributed nationwide.
  • 34. He kept wondering how to protect Dome Island, eventually deciding to purchase it himself, in 1939. …the Narrows, with Dome Island in the distance….
  • 35. A solution for Dome Island!!! It became his crowning achievement. Working with the board of the Nature Conservancy, he decided to donate the island to the Eastern NY Chapter – its first land gift – in 1956, and his friends raised an endowment of $20,000 to ensure its protection.
  • 36. The New York Forest Preserve Association held annual meetings on the lawn near the old hotel annex, in Huddle Bay. Someone snapped this photo showing Apperson (seated) and Irving Langmuir (standing), in 1938.
  • 37. View from Camp “Chilhowie” in Huddle Bay…
  • 38. Interior of Appy’s Camp , Huddle Bay - 1922 Christening of Chris Craft Cadet – 1927 Margaret Cawley on skis , by door of Camp Chilhowie, (aka Chill House) 1930s
  • 39. Other organizations have continued where he left off… The Fund for Lake George (Lake George Waterkeeper) produced a wonderful book in 2010, teaching people how to protect the water quality at the lake.
  • 40. This image was posted on Facebook… May 30, 2014 Whoever took the photo probably doesn’t know the story …
  • 41. To learn more about John Apperson and his activities at Lake George, please contact: • Adirondack Research Library in Niskayuna ( now owned and operated by the Kelly Adirondack Center, and Union College) The Kelly Center has granted permission to publish many of the photos and documents from the Apperson archives. Other photographs and illustrations are from Ellen Brown’s personal collection of family papers. • Lake George Land Conservancy • Fund for Lake George • Bolton Museum • Online journals, i.e. Adirondack Explorer, Adirondack Wild, and the Adirondack Almanack • Author’s websites:; Special thanks go to Doug Langdon, Bill White, Phil Ham, Art Newkirk, Dick Tucker, and Bill Healy, and members of the Dome Island Committee…who have worked hard to help preserve the Apperson legacy.