Text of Barney Fowler Times Union Article – Nov. 29, 1983 Lake George Isles Freed by One Man A Man Truly Extraordinary. Can the image of a man grow stronger as the yearspass since his death at age 84 on Feb. 1, 1963. I say it can indeed if that man is John S. Apperson who lived in Schenectady butwhose heart and soul were in the Adirondacks. I have, in the past, mentioned Appersonin scores of talks delivered in this area and elsewhere, and always there was fascinationexpressed that such a man did once exist. I bring this up today simply because although I knew the man well, I neverrealized fully that he was responsible for saving the islands in Lake George for publicuse. The story is incredible and I cheerfully compliment William M. White of VanCurler Ave., Schenectady, for bringing Apperson’s efforts to the attention of thethousands who, while using the islands, never realize that once their access was in gravejeopardy because of greed and politics. Mr. White skillfully describes the situation and furnishes proof in photospublished in the December issue of Adirondac magazine, published by the non-profitAdirondack Mountain Club. It may surprise many today to know that during the latter part of the 1900s thestate paid little attention to the Lake George islands. Some were sold by the state for aslittle as $40; Dome Island, which must now be valued at at least a quarter million dollars,once was sold with four or five other islands for the magnificent sum of $400! There developed in the times mentioned individuals who began occupying thestate owned islands and building summer homes on them, despite the fact they possessedno valid deeds. On the contrary, their only right, if it can be called that, was based on“knowing the right politician.” When such private individuals took over, the public was excluded. The situationdid not sit well with Apperson, whose love for Lake George and the area was such that atone time he told a legislative committee that he never married because he had a mistress– said mistress being Lake George. The man decided to do something about getting ridof what he considered squatters. Starting off with a sympathetic state official in 1917 he visited island after island,delivering proper legal papers, telling the squatters, some of whom lived in rather ornatesummer homes, to get off the islands or he would return the following week with friendsto :take their camp down.” I might add that Apperson, who had been threatened manytimes because of his aggressive preservation [activities would often carry a gun]………….
Where he had to use it. Campers who had taken over the public lands often triedto bully Apperson with the announcement they “were going to get him,” and that “theyknew a top state official,” but this was merely a blast of air as far as Apperson wasconcerned and such threats were brushed off. He did follow up on reappearance, advancing at the head of a group of GE “testmen,” members of that company’s apprentice program. His contact with the test menwas normal, since Apperson himself was employed by GE and, as a matter of fact, was apersonal friend of such individuals as Dr. Irving Langmuir, Nobel science prize winner. Upon his second visit, the Apperson war party used sledgehammers and otherequipment on the island homes, a move which usually convinced occupants theirpresence on the islands as “owners” was not desired – nor healthy. On many visits,Apperson furnished a barge to transport demolished buildings. In one instance, a familydeparted albeit unwillingly, floating not only furniture, but horse and calf! When Apperson scouted the islands he used his camera to bolster his argumentsof illegal possession. Usually when he photographed a summer home, his cameraincluded the name of the island (Phelps and Juanita among many) posted on trees andalso signs denoting they were state owned. In some cases, he used movie cameras to takepictures of a “camp owner” climbing a tree, removing signs, and tossing them into abonfire. Apperson was hell-on-wheels when it came to Lake George preservation. He wasresponsible for miles of the Knapp estate on the east side shore being purchased by thestate, Dome Island is a monument to him, since he once owned it and sold it to the NatureConservancy for $1. Islands, once threatened by erosion, were rock-ribbed by Appy andhis friends – another story to be told by Mr. White. And his most dramatic effort(dramatic, I repeat) was instituting legal action to get Lake George’s water level loweredto that during the French and Indian War of 1755! The move failed. Had it succeeded, the lake level would have been dropped aboutthree feet and white sand beach, now buried, would have reappeared. And the naturalstone dam at the lake’s outlet at Ticonderoga would have been restored to what it oncewas before Man built a higher barrier for purposes of water power.
A Skeleton Biography of John Samuel Apperson Abstract (by Art Newkirk) This is a collection of drafts prepared in an attempt to write a biography of JohnS. Apperson. It is being put together for submission to the Adirondack Research Libraryso that it will be available to the public. It also contains a suggestion for the publicationof a booklet that would contain most of the information plus a reproduction of a numberof Apperson’s pamphlets. INTRODUCTION John Apperson was a force for conservation in New York State from 1920 to1950, yet necause he was an individualist whose accomplishments were not alwaysobvious or directly connected to him, he is not now very well known or appreciated.When he first came to Schenectady from Virginia in 1900 to join the General ElectricCompany he continued his interest in the out-of-doors and soon discovered Lake Georgeand the High Peaks of the Adirondacks. This led to his discovery of the existence of theForest Preserve, and he was to contribute to its preservation and protection for the rest ofhis life. At first he tried to work with existing conservation organizations, but he foundthem slow and too subjected to diversion from what he considered the main issues. Thisis discussed in the section on John Apperson and his Associates. When Apperson died heleft his papers to the Forest Preserve Association of New York State, Inc., anorganization which he founded and which was an extension of his personality. Hispapers were sorted and organized by three members of the Association, Philip Ham,Arthur Newkirk, and William White. Although several organizations wanted to havethese papers, it was thought more appropriate that they should remain in Schenectady,and they eventually ended up in the Adirondack Research Library. The collection herein had its genesis in a biography of Apperson planned byChester Sims of Bolton. Sims’ camp (and subsequently home) adjoined the Appersonproperty at Lake George. Although Sims never knew Apperson personally, he becameacquainted with Apperson’s nephew, James Apperson, who occupied Apperson’s camp/Jim was a great story teller and Sims became fascinated with the stories he heard fromJim about his Uncle John. Sims’ first reaction, like those of many people who heardApperson or his nephew tell these stories, was that they were greatly exaggerated. Thisopinion dogged Sims during his lifetime and was not aided by the tendency of manypeople to exaggerate them when retelling. The net effect was that some acts attributed toApperson were not true, and that it often became difficult to separate fact from fiction.Sims, however, looked into the background of many of Jim’s stories and becameconvinced that much of what he heard was true, and being so, indicated that Appersonhad been quite a remarkable person, particularly in his effect on Lake George. Thus in aletter to Art Newkirk, and Bill White 13 December, 1993 he began, “Attached is aChrsitmas present! Well, sort of a Christmas Present …. For Lake George! I just felt
that (I hate to say it) we are all getting on, and if, Art, that definitive work on JohnApperson you once referred to ever was to come about something should be done now.” Sims did not realize the size of the bear he had hold of until he visited theAdirondack Research Library with White and examined the extent of the library’sholdings. Nevertheless, he persisted, and over the next two years began to assemble thematerials for a popular biography. His untimely death on March 13, 1996 put a stop tothe project since none of his collaborators was in a position to continue. Several of hisproposed chapters were, however, essentially complete, and in his thoughts and study ofthe project he had uncovered some very interesting information about Apperson that wasnot generally known even to persons who had worked as closely with him as had bothWhite and Newkirk. As proposed coauthors they received copies of drafts for comment,and discussed them with Sims regularly. Rather than have this work go to waste, theyhave been collected here. November 4, 1997