The Town of Bolton
The area that was to become Bolton was originally in the Town of Thurman in Washington County. In 1799 the New York State legislature created the Town of Bolton, and in 1813 the town became part of Warren County. Bolton’s current boundaries were finally established in 1838. Bolton is the oldest town on Lake George and contains more than half of the lake’s shoreline. The origins of the name Bolton have been lost in history, but it is reasonable to assume that the name came from either one of the New England towns named Bolton or from one of the many English villages with Bolton in its name.
Most of Bolton’s early settlers were Vermonters in search of farmland and opportunity. They cleared land well away from the lake and scraped together very subsistence livings. Prior to the Civil War steamboats began to ply the waters of Lake George, and several hamlets like The Huddle evolved on or near the shoreline. Bolton’s first inn, The Mohican House, began to cater to lake travelers as the farm economy grew to include logging, making potash, low grade mining, and ice harvesting. After the Civil War an era of expansion occurred that brought hotels and large estates to the Bolton shoreline, and the hamlet of Bolton Landing grew to be the largest in the town. The agrarian economy shifted to an economy based on tourism, but the expansion declined at the onset of World War I after Lake George’s shoreline became known as Millionaire’s Row.
By the end of World War II the era of motor courts and motels began to displace the old hotels and great estates of Bolton. The town’s population never exceeded 2,000 people until the year 2000 census. Most of the town’s property owners are now seasonal residents who cause the local population to swell some tenfold during the summer months. The hamlet of Bolton Landing has become a charming lakeside village offering a variety of cultural events, shops, restaurants, and lake related activities.
People and Events
Bolton’s Lake George waters and its shoreline figured prominently in both the French and Indian War and in the Revolutionary War. General Montcalm and his army camped on the southern point of Tongue Mountain in preparation for the attack on Fort William Henry. General Abercrombie and his British army passed through Bolton en route to Fort Ticonderoga, and days later his retreating army camped along Bolton’s shoreline. Years later Lt. Col. Knox passed through Bolton with Fort Ticonderoga’s cannons as he made his way to Boston, and in 1791 Thomas Jefferson traveled through Bolton’s waters and wrote of its magnificent scenery.
In the early 1830’s approximately twenty Bolton families were baptized at Mormon Rock in Northwest Bay Brook and began the long migration westward. John Tanner, a wealthy Bolton landowner and businessman, joined the group and made his way to Salt Lake City where he became very prominent in the Mormon movement. Exactly one hundred years later the land surrounding Mormon Rock was acquired by New York State and became the site of the Civilian Conservation Corps Camp S-82. Over three thousand young men’s lives were enhanced by the CCC experience, and Bolton gained large tree plantings, hiking trails, lean-to’s and buildings on its vast state lands.
After the Civil War Bolton’s shoreline became a popular destination for summer visitors. Many hotels were built, like the Marion House, the Agawan, the Lake View House, the Algonquin, the Mohican House, the Wells House, the Bolton House, Wilson House, the Fenimore Hotel, the Sagamore, Braley’s Inn, Fourteen Mile Island House, and the Sherman House. All of the hotels either burned or were torn down, and today only a few annexes or hotel cottages still exist. The Sagamore burned to the ground twice, and is currently a stately, modern hotel on the south end of Green Island. Several of the Sagamore’s early investors were prominent businessmen from New York and Philadelphia. John Boulton Simpson’s Villa Nirvana still graces the Green Island shoreline as does E. Burgess Warren’s Wapanak. Simpson’s steam yacht Fanita plied the waters of Bolton for decades, and Warren’s steam yacht, The Ellide, was the fastest boat in the world at one time. The Fanita’s boathouse on Green Island is currently being restored by the owner of the Lake George Kayak Company.
In the summer of 1914, after the second Sagamore burned, the World Champion Gold Cup races came to Bolton’s waters. Count Casimer Mankowski raced his boat Ankle Deep, but it broke down and never finished. On the viewing platform that day was a young George Reis who would later win the 1933 Gold Cup with his Hacker Craft racer El Logarto. Reis brought the Gold Cup to Bolton Bay, his home waters, and won in 1934 and 1935. El Logarto is currently at the Adirondack Museum, and Reis‘ boathouse home is now a beautifully restored bed and breakfast.
From the gay 90’s to the outbreak of World War I Bolton experienced an estate building boom that created what became known, lake wide, as Millionaire’s Row. Wealthy businessmen sought out Lake George, and many Bolton shoreline properties were consolidated into vast estates. In 1906 Spencer and Katrina Trask bridged three islands and created a complex of a family home, guest accommodations on the two bridges, a children’s pavilion, a stunning gate house, a dining room, a kitchen, and servants‘ quarters. Herman Broesel removed four smaller homes from his property and built Hermstone in 1903. The massive stone house with its stone stairways and stone arched driveway is a testament to the many talented masons of that era including Bolton’s Hiram Seaman. William Keeney Bixby purchased the Mohican House in 1898 and lived in it for two summers, but the decaying structure had to be torn down. Today’s Wilson Eyre designed Mohican Cottage is still in the ownership of the Bixby family. A Mohican House annex was moved to its present location off Bixby Beach Road. In 1917 Dr. William Gerard Beckers purchased almost one hundred acres of land on Huddle Bay. He moved or tore down all existing structures and built Villa Marie Antoinette and a stately gate house. In 1943 the Beckers’ estate was purchased by Harry K. Thaw, the man who shot the famous architect Stanford White in a crowded public setting in Madison Square Garden. Today the gate house remains as do beautiful stone retaining walls and other special remnants of Dr. Beckers‘ lavish estate.
Many artists were attracted to summers on Lake George. In 1917 Sidney and Louise Homer purchased Bolton shoreline from W.K. Bixby and built Homeland, a spectacular house with sweeping views to the east and a wide lawn that went down to the lake. Madame Homer was a soloist at the Metropolitan Opera and was known worldwide. One of her predecessors at the Met was the opera diva Marcella Sembrich. Sembrich bought an estate in Bolton in 1922 and began teaching voice in a restored boathouse on the southern end of her property. After her death in 1935 the studio was converted into a museum and to this day offers a wide variety of musical and artistic performances. Two of Sidney and Louise Homer’s daughters attended Bolton’s Bremestead School, an exclusive private academy for privileged girls. Madame Homer brought an artist from the Art Students League of New York to help out with a school production. Wilhelmina Weber Furlong fell in love with Bolton, and in 1921 purchased a farm just west of Federal Hill Road. Two Art Students League friends, David Smith and Dorothy Dehner, spent two summers at Weber Furlong’s Golden Heart Farm, and they too fell in love with Bolton and bought their own farm on Edgecomb Pond Road. Both became famous artists, and David Smith is considered by many as one of the greatest American sculptors of the twentieth century.
The nationwide effects of World War II were certainly felt in Bolton as the generation of estate owners passed away and their heirs struggled to maintain expensive properties that were almost impossible to divide among siblings. An Ohio school teacher named Earl Woodward moved to the area and in a decade changed the face of the Bolton shoreline. From north of the hamlet of Bolton Landing to the southern boundary of the town, Woodward bought up large estates, subdivided them, built cabin colonies, and sold the pieces. A half century later a Bolton native, Rolf Ronning, began the development of large parcels that were well away from the lake but, in some cases, offered spectacular lake views. From the lake Bolton’s hillsides are now dotted with new homes, most of which are seasonal.
The hamlet of Bolton Landing has evolved from a sleepy summer village that catered to tourists to a thriving year round community that attracts seasonal and permanent residents to its shops, restaurants, and businesses. Many of Bolton’s original families continue to live and work in the town. Maranville’s Garage was a horse and taxi livery and continues today under the ownership of Jon Maranville. F.R. Smith and Sons built the famous Smith Granger rowboats for Bolton’s many hotels and continues today as a marina under the management of Scott Anderson. The 1830 Gates family homestead has been restored by William Gates, a direct descendent of one of Bolton’s first settlers, and the Bixby Farm on Federal Hill Road has been in the Tuttle/Bixby family for over two hundred years. These original Bolton families will continue into Warren County’s third century.