History of the Town of Bolton
Condensed from the book:
OLD BOLTON on Lake George, NY
by William P. Gates of Bolton
Lake George is 32 miles long and has no navigable inlets or outlets. It is spring and brook fed and contains nearly 200 islands; 17 are privately owned — the remainder belong to New York State and are used for recreational camping and picnicking. More than half of Lake George’s total shoreline and islands fall within the boundaries of the Town of Bolton. Of the 162 larger islands, 125 are on the Bolton assessment roll.
Bolton’s landscape is beautifully marked by rolling hills and steep mountains, a part of the Kayaderosseras range, most notably:– Cat Mountain, 1954 feet above sea level; Tongue Mountain, 1748 feet above sea level; Pole Hill, 1584 feet above sea level; and High Nopit. Bolton’s total land acreage is 64.5 square miles (41252.9606 acres).
Other bodies of water within the Bolton township include: Trout Lake (once referred to as Reese’s Pond and Bolton Pond); Edgecomb Pond; Wing Pond; Pole Hill Pond; and Indian Pond. Bolton’s brooks include: Edmonds (also spelled Edmunds), Huddle (originally referred to as Trout Lake Brook), Finkle, Indian, and Northwest Bay Brook (first called Beaver Brook). Of Lake George’s total 44 square miles, 26.7 square miles (17099.2704 acres) of the lake are within the Town of Bolton. Bolton’s total square miles, including land and lake, equals 91.2 square miles. Bolton and Lake George are included in the six million acre Adirondack Park, the largest state park in the United States.
The first humans to inhabit the Bolton territory were the Prehistoric Stone Age “Woodland” Indians who traveled through the Lake George valley from 5,000 to 10,000 B.C. Native Americans were still present here summers at the turn of the 20th Century, selling their handmade wares to seasonal visitors. One of their ancient legends, passed down through centuries, tells the story of the Sacrificial Stone on Mohican Point in Bolton Bay. In 1913, author W.H. Samson described the ancient legend of Mohican Point’s Sacrificial Stone. In short, the Legend is about a beautiful Indian girl who was captured by the Mohicans and brought to these shores from afar. A young warrior chief fell instantly in love with her, but he had to leave to fight in a distant battle. While he was gone, the cruel old men and women left behind had burned her at the stake. While doing so, a ghost-like warrior-spirit was said to have leaped from the flames, carrying the body of the young maiden. The spirit ran to the top of a large stone, then leaped skyward, vanishing over the distant hills. Strangely, the young brave who had gone to battle never returned to his tribe, however every year, a warrior was found slain on the stone. An inscription scratched on the stone could be faintly read: “For every hair on the maiden’s head, a Mohican brave would die”. The Sacrificial Stone is still there on Mohican Point.
FIRST EUROPEAN VISITORS
Following old and worn Indian paths that threaded throughout the territory, the first European to view the Bolton, Lake George region was the French Jesuit missionary Father Isaac Jogues. He and his two lay assistants Groupil and Couture christened our beautiful lake “Lac du Saint Sacrement” (Lake of the Blessed Sacrement) on May 30, 1646, the Eve of the Festival of Corpus Christi. It was their mission to convert the Native Americans to Christianity. These Native Americans did not appreciate this intrusion on their hunting grounds. Cutting off his finger at first as a warning, they later took his life.
FRENCH & INDIAN WAR
During the 1700s, French and the English explorers began claiming territory throughout northeastern America, with disputes continuing to escalate over mutually claimed lands. The French and Indian War of 1754–1763 found its way into our Bolton history in 1755 as the Hurons fought alongside the French, while the Mohawks fought alongside the British. Throughout that year, British General Sir William Johnson constructed Fort William Henry on Lac du Saint Sacrement’s southern shore, to defend against the French advance from the north from French-built Fort Carillon (Ticonderoga). Johnson then christened our lake, “Lake George” to honor his English king, King George II. Many battles were waged here on our lake over control of this strategic waterway. On July 5, 1758, General Abercrombie passed down the lake and through Bolton with a huge armada of 1000 bateaux on his unsuccessful attack on Fort Ticonderoga. During his retreat, he and his men camped at Bolton and enjoyed fresh water from a shore-side spring, later to be named Abercrombie’s Spring. This spring, now buried and closed off on the former Lamb’s Boathouse property, was enjoyed by locals and summer visitors as recently as the 1960s.
On August 2nd of 1777, the French General Marquis de Montcalm left Fort Carillon (Ticonderoga) with a force of 12,500 men, cannon and supplies. Paddling secretly along the west shore of the lake, this large force encamped on the Tongue Mountain Range Peninsula in Bolton’s Narrows, changing the name of this location forever after to Montcalm Point.
Meanwhile, Montcalm’s scouts had secretly investigated Fort William Henry. History tells us that during those silent evening hours, his scouting party returned to the hills of Bolton and built three signal fires in the shape of a triangle above Ganouskie Bay (Northwest Bay) along the ridge known today as Federal Hill. These signals informed Montcalm that Fort William Henry was unaware of his presence. Thus, Montcalm and his forces were able to surprise attack the fort and burn it, a story made famous by James Fenimore Cooper in his 1826 historical novel, “Last of the Mohicans”. Until Montreal fell in1760, Bolton territory played many additional roles during this war, due to its strategic central location on Lake George.
For the next fifteen years, the Lake George valley enjoyed a peaceful serenity, but soon, war would be raged once again throughout the region. In May of 1775, Ethan Allen and 83 of his Green Mountain Boys slipped into Fort Ticonderoga and captured it from the British without a shot being fired. For the next eight years, our Lake would once again become a strategic waterway as the Revolution gradually escalated.
During the cold, snowy winter of 1775-1776, Lt. Col. Henry Knox and his men used teams of oxen to carry fifty-nine pieces of artillery from Fort Ticonderoga up the lake, through Bolton, on his historic trip to assist George Washington at Boston in its defense against the British. (In Bolton’s Rogers Park, there is a stone and bronze historical monument near the steamboat dock, which was erected to commemorate this feat.)
In 1777, British General Burgoyne traveled southward from Lake Champlain toward his defeat at Saratoga by General Horatio Gates. Most of his supplies and many of his entourage traveled through Lake George. Ben Franklin and Philip Schuyler passed through Bolton’s waters on their northward journey to inspect the military situation in Canada during April of 1776.
In 1883, General George Washington visited the head of the lake on his northward inspection tour following the Revolution, followed eight years later by Thomas Jefferson who explored our strategic waterway in 1791. In a letter to his daughter, the well-traveled Jefferson described Lake George as, “The most beautiful water I ever saw.”
BOLTON’S FIRST SETTLERS
Following the war years, land grants were issued to the retired soldiers as a reward for military service. The old Colonial military patents issued by King George III from 1769 to 1771 (Abeel, Campbell, Ogilvie, Brush, Garland, McDonald and Porter Patents) were located along the Schroon River, with the 1769 Thomas Ford or Ford and Robinson Patent running up the valley of Northwest Bay Brook, which was then known as Beaver Creek. Later patents were granted by the State of New York along the lake, from Indian Brook to Basin Bay, and along Federal Hill, Edgecomb Pond and Trout Lake. The all-important Wheeler Douglass Patent consisted of lands in today’s Bolton Landing and Huddle lands westward up the hill to Trout Lake.
With the sounds of war in the not-so-distant past, New Englanders with the pioneer spirit, slowly began to migrate into the Lake George Valley to explore and settle, arriving from Windham County, Vermont; Hampshire and Worcester Counties, Massachusetts; Connecticut; and from Washington County southward along the Hudson Valley. Braving the dangers of hostile Indians, bears, panthers, wolves and rattlesnakes, they arrived on foot or driving ox teams, bringing all of their worldly goods and skills along with them. This Lake George wilderness region was not easily accessed, with only the old Military Road to follow to the lake. Northward, there existed only a few narrow paths to follow into the Bolton hills, made by earlier Native Americans, hunters and trappers. These original settlers to Lake George chose the greater Bolton region to settle first, because most of the lake’s basin is enclosed by mountains of rock that drop to the waters edge in steep cascades and was unsuitable for farming. Therefore, it was on Bolton’s rolling hillsides that farming was destined to begin. These pioneers did not choose to live along the lake at Bolton for another important reason: – The lake was still used for travel by many hostile Native Americans, so it was wiser to dwell a safe distance from the lake.
In 1788, the New York legislature divided the State into 120 towns, including the Town of Queensbury. Without recorded arrival dates, the first families began trickling into the Bolton wilderness between 1786 and 1790.
The first United States CENSUS of 1790 names
Everton Beswick, John Gates, Nathaniel Gates, David Lamb and Joshua Thomas as Bolton’s first five original pioneer families.
Each of these original settlers moved into the same general area, south of Trout Lake and westward toward the Schroon River. Others followed almost immediately, settling on Coolidge Hill, near Trout Lake, on Federal Hill and in the North Bolton valley. (The original settlers at Federal Hill and North Bolton are referred to as the “Indian Brook Settlement”.) In 1790, Warren County (which was included in Washington County until 1813) had a total population of 1080. Other early Bolton settlers arrived soon after 1790:–Joseph Tuttle, John Thurman, James Ware, Ebenezer Goodman, Roger Edgecomb, Daniel Nims, Frederick Miller, Thomas McKee, Rufus Randall, Benjamin Pierce, David and Reuben Smith,–the Pauls, Clawsons, Lymans, Coolidges, Browns, Nashs, Bugbees, Pierces, Waters, Dickinsons and Ruggs, to name a few. The first recorded birth in Bolton was that of Lydia Ware in 1795, and the first recorded death was Mrs. John Pierce. The first recorded male birth in Bolton was Burrel Lyman in 1792.
These families were accustomed to the hard life and immediately began constructing their rough homes out of logs, clearing the fields by hand and with oxen. Stumps were removed quickly to ready the farms for the production of necessary foods for both man and beast. Good harvests of wheat, rye, and other grains were important to their survival, and early account books tell of churns, cheese hoops, pickle tubs, powdering tubs for salting pork, and barrels for maple syrup, beer, and cider. Also mentioned are spinning wheels, carding frames, dye tubs, and hand looms for making woolen blankets and clothing from sheep raised on their farms. Pine chests and other furniture were fashioned from Bolton’s earliest trees, several still surviving today, passed down from generation to generation.
Bolton’s hillsides were thickly forested with oak, pine, maple, and spruce. All trees removed from the fields and the surrounding territory were valued and utilized in some way, and the abundant surplus would help to fill a growing demand for lumber downstate below Albany.
Bolton’s first industries were established to meet their needs for survival. Sawmills and grain mills were constructed in many locations along Bolton’s five main brooks (known today as Northwest Bay, Indian, Finkle, Huddle and Edmunds Brooks), where power could be easily harnessed.
Johnsburg businessman John Thurman Jr. purchased lots 13 and 14 of the Wheeler Douglass Patent near Trout Lake from Jeremiah Van Rensselaer on February 18, 1796. Thurman, a successful dry goods merchant born in New York City in 1732, built Bolton’s first sawmill at the outlet of the lake near the junction of Potter Hill and Trout Lake Roads. Thurman hired Captain Timothy Stow, who had operated another mill for him previously, to oversee his Trout Lake mill and other interests here. In time, Stow was elected Supervisor of Warrensburgh due to his connection with the powerful John Thurman. Thurman hated politics and influenced his associates to run for offices and do his bidding for him. (The stone foundation for Stow’s Mill, that was actually owned by Thurman and run by Stow, is still visible near the headwaters of Huddle Brook.)
John Thurman Jr. was a significant personality in Bolton’s early settlement, and in the settlement of the region. He dabbled in land and business here, more as a hobby than intending on earning a living. In 1777 and 1778, John Thurman bought a large portion of the Totten and Crossfield Purchase. His first clearing on his holdings was in 1790 at Elm Hill, the settlement near Athol named for the ancient shapely elm, which once stood there. In 1792, the original Town of Thurman, named for John, consisted of most of today’s towns of Bolton, Chester, Johnsburg, Stony Creek, Thurman, Warrensburgh, and part of Caldwell (Lake George Village). Although very busy with his holdings further to the west of Bolton, he soon began focusing his massive energies on his two lots near Trout Lake. He built a farmhouse at the corner of Potter Hill and Trout Lake Roads, which is known today as the Brauser property (formerly the Eldee Pratt farm). At this farm he raised livestock, grew rye and other needed foods, and oversaw his gristmill and lumber mill, both which were nearby on the brook.
John Thurman, a man of great strength, boasted, as most men did at the time, that he hoped to die someday with his boots on and with a full stomach. One day at his Bolton farm, a large bull, which he had recently purchased from John Richards, broke loose while John was enjoying his noontime meal. Naturally, he left the table and set out to secure the bull. At his Trout Lake farm on that day of September 27, 1809, John Thurman was gored to death by his own bull. His dying wish had been granted. He was buried in Johnsburg. Interestingly, his will was proven to be a forgery, leaving his vast holdings in confusion for a long period of time.
THE TOWN of BOLTON FORMS, March 25th, 1799
By 1799, the very large original Town of Thurman was becoming difficult to manage. The population was growing rapidly, and the people wanted to govern their own respective settled territories. On March 25, 1799, the lands we now call Bolton broke away from Thurman and became its own separate town. Interestingly, it was never recorded in our first town meetings as to why Bolton was named Bolton, however it has always been believed that these first citizens chose a name “from whence they came”, which was a common practice in the naming of many early New England towns and landmarks. There are towns and references to the name Bolton throughout New England, with their derivation stemming from the Bolton region in northern England. Bolton, England consists of 54 square miles and is the main of eight neighboring English townships. Its history begins in the year 1251 when it was formed by decree of King Henry III. Many of these inhabitants migrated to New England during the French and Indian and Revolutionary Wars, bringing their ancestral “Bolton” name along with them.
**Chapter 43 of the Laws of New York describes the FORMATION OF BOLTON as follows: —(With spellings, capitals and punctuation as they were poorly written in the original document.)
“Be it enacted by the People of the State of New York represented in Senate and Assembly That from and after the twenty fifth day of March instant, all that part of the town of Thurman, beginning at the mouth of McAuluys creek, thence up said creek until it shall have crossed the road that leads from Lake George to Schroon river five rods from the center of the said road, thence westerly following the course of the said road at the distance of five rods from the center two miles from the place of beginning, then crossing the road at right angles ten rods from the last mentioned corner, thence following the course of the said road at the distance of five rods from the center to Schroon river, thence northerly on the east bank of Schroon river and lake to the south line of Clinton county, thence east on the south line of Clinton county to lake George, thence southerly on the west bank of lake George to the place of beginning, be and the same is hereby erected into a separate town by the name of Bolton; and that the first town meeting be held at the house of John Clawson.”
At the time, the new Town of Bolton included Hague (then called Rochester), Horicon, and North Caldwell (today’s Town of Lake George). Interestingly, on that same March 25th day, 1799, the Town of Chester also was created from Thurman. The Town of Bolton subdivided three more times in the years to follow: — Hague broke away from Bolton on February 28, 1807; Caldwell broke away on March 10, 1810; and Horicon separated on March 29, 1838. From 1838 to today, Bolton’s borders have remained the same.
Warren County was established in 1813, named for General Joseph Warren, a New England physician, statesman and Patriot. Warren was killed on June 17, 1775 at the Battle of Bunker Hill.
FIRST TOWN MEETING, April 2nd, 1799
By 1799, there were approximately 900 people living, farming and lumbering throughout the Bolton Hills. As was decreed by the New York Assembly for Bolton’s planned separation from Thurman on March 25th, 1799, the first town meeting on April 2nd, 1799 was scheduled to be held at “the house of John Clawson”. However, far more people attended than was expected, arriving on foot and on horseback over blazes and rough trails, so “for want of accommodations (the meeting) was adjourned to Captain (Timothy) Stow’s gristmill” on upper Huddle Brook (first named Reese’s Pond Brook for Edward Reese, Timothy Stow’s predecessor—then, later called, Trout Lake Brook, followed by Huddle Brook). Bolton’s first government seems to be modeled after that of New England where many of the settlers had originated.
At the conclusion of the first meeting, it was decided that the next annual meeting would again be held at Capt. Stow’s Grist Mill (owned by John Thurman). Meetings would continue to be held annually on the first Thursday in April, with many of the annual meetings in the years ahead devoted to control of domestic and wild animals, care of the poor, improving roads, and later, to schools. The 1800 meeting was held in John Thurman’s barn, known 200 years later as Brauser’s barn (torn down on Feb. 25, 2000 to make way for a new home on the north corner where Trout Lake Road meets Potter Hill Road). There were also occasional special town meetings to resolve issues regarding the care of the poor. Frequently, the names of the poor were listed in the records and listed to be “sold at vendue”;–This apparently was a type of auction where town residents would bid. The lowest bidder would then allow the poor family to live in their home. In 1811, one couple was sold for $20 for a year. In 1809, the Town Clerk inscribed that a Bolton resident’s “Negro woman” had delivered a male infant and wanted to abandon it in accordance to the New York State Law enacted on April 8, 1801. (There is no mention as to whether this woman was a slave or a free person, however, she was most likely a slave.)
Future meetings were held in barns, in homes, and later at inns or in stores. (There is no evidence of any town building or equipment until 1842 when eight dollars was authorized to buy a bookcase for the town books. Any excess from this authorization was to be used to secure a desk for the inspector of the common schools.)
Once the trees were cleared from Bolton’s hillsides, these early farm families began settling into their familiar routines of daily chores. Soon, word began to spread that Lake George was a destination worth visiting. In the beginning, the first “summer visitors” in Bolton were hunters, fishermen and explorers. Many of them camped in the wilderness, however, settlers would always “put up a guest” in their modest log homes. One of the earliest wood frame homes was located on Mohican Point. In 1802, there were only four or five framed houses in the Town of Bolton.
Bolton’s population began to grow steadily throughout the 1800’s, and hotels and lodges were gradually built to accommodate the growing throng of summer visitors. Steamboat travel began in 1817 and made Bolton more easily accessible. Although there were several small pockets of settlement spread throughout the Bolton hills, the area near the mouth of Huddle Brook became Bolton’s first hamlet with the establishment of a the first Post Office in 1816. This hamlet became known as The Huddle because the Post Office, general store, tannery, blacksmith shop, gristmill and residences were all “huddled” here close together. By the late 1800’s, the hamlet of Bolton Landing became established because the deeper water here could more easily accommodate the newer and larger steamboats.
The 1890’s marked major changes around Bolton, and for all of the communities around Lake George. Many of the wealthy flocked to the lake, spending the long hot summers at the grand hotels now available to them, and they arrived much more easily, thanks to the railroad and steamboat services offered. Falling in love with Lake George, many of these wealthy families purchased large tracts of shoreline property to create their own private summer retreats. So many were constructed between Caldwell and Bolton Landing during the decades surrounding 1900 that this ten-mile stretch of 9N became known as “Millionaire’s Row”. Many of these old mansions still survive today.
ARTISTS & the ARTS
Many artists have enjoyed all that Bolton has to offer over the past 200 years. In 2005, the Hyde Museum in Glens Falls compiled a list of over 700 important Lake George paintings between 1774 and 1900. Artist Thomas Cole is believed to be the first to place Lake George in the National spotlight in 1826 when his illustrations of the lake were viewed in The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper.
Two world famous Metropolitan Opera stars summered in Bolton, Louise Homer (1914-1947 in Bolton) at Homeland and Marcella Sembrich, (1921-1935 in Bolton Landing), at Bay View. Homer sang at many Bolton events, singing in the park at Sunday evening gatherings, in churches and patriotic events.
Steel sculptor David Smith lived in Bolton (1928-1965) on an old Fox Farm on Edgecomb Pond Road that he purchased from Abner “Tine” Smith. Arriving here with his first wife, artist Dorothy Dehner, in 1928 as guests of Thomas and Weber Furlong. (The Furlongs, artists, first came to Bolton to paint the Tea Room at the Bremestead Private School for Girls in 1919. They bought the old Persons Farm and lived here 40 years.) In 1940, Smith and his wife moved to Bolton permanently, calling his welding studio theTerminal Iron Works. Smith divorced and remarried Jean Freas who gave him two daughters, Rebecca and Candida. They divorced in 1961. In the 1960s, Smith was becoming internationally known as America’s first prominent steel sculptor. Tragically, David Smith was killed in an auto accident near Bennington, Vt. on May 26, 1965 at the age of 59. His funeral service was held in Rogers Park Today, his massive steel sculptures are on display in the major museums and collections around the world. (For more information on David Smith, visit the Bolton Historical Museum.)
Hugh Allen Wilson is an internationally known organist, harpsichordist and conductor. In addition, he is Professor Emeritus of Music at Union College.
Other talented people include:- Leopold Auer (Violinist), George Porter Smith (Conductor), Anna Allen Wilson (Pianist), Reed Miller (Tenor), Olive Klein (Singer. She was also known as Miss Polmolive.), and Milton Prinz (Cellist in the NBC Symphony under Toscanini).
Change is inevitable, and Bolton is changing, however it is important to view its changes in perspective. In 1799, Bolton was a wilderness waiting to be explored and harnessed. The original settlers here, my own family among them, did not have a plan to follow other than the only plan they knew for survival:- Find a location where moving water can be harnessed for power, Clear the forests for lumber and homes, Utilize the cleared fields to grow crops, Hunt game in the wilderness, Fish in the lakes—and Survive. As civilization began to present itself, order had to be established and rules had to be agreed upon and followed. During the mid 1800’s, Bolton was stripped of most of its trees to satisfy the growing logging industry, and logs were floated up the lake to other markets south of Bolton and Lake George. At that time, the lakes and mountains were not an attractive sight by today’s standards. As the tourist business began to grow, the Town of Bolton began cleaning up its act to present a more attractive image to attract more new visitors.
The late 1800’s brought another change along the western Bolton shore with the wealthy purchasing large tracts of land and building their summer mansions in the style they were accustomed to. At the same time, the State of New York began realizing the importance of this region and began regulating growth and use of both private and New York State property. The motel and cottage era followed after World War II with most of the large estates carved into smaller parcels. And today, it appears that many of the motels and cottages are disappearing in turn, to be replaced by large year-round homes situated onto those same small plots of shoreline. With the shoreline properties almost completely occupied and developed, the latest trend is to build in Bolton’s hills for the views wherever possible, and behind the hills in the forests, as well. Real estate values have skyrocketed upward since the turn-of-the-century as everyone, it seems, is determined to gain a piece of the wilderness and a home in Bolton. The Town of Bolton is one of the most magnificent places in the world with its lakes and mountains offering us a beauty that is beyond compare. I have faith that those who follow us will continue to appreciate Bolton’s natural offerings and carry us onward to a future even better than the one we all enjoy today.
By William Preston “Bill” Gates, also author and publisher of:
OLD BOLTON on Lake George, NY
MILLIONAIRES’ ROW on Lake George, NY
TURN-of-the CENTURY SCRAPBOOK of Jonathan Streeter Gates
LAKE GEORGE BOATS and STEAMBOATS
History of the SAGAMORE HOTEL
History of the FORT WILLIAM HENRY HOTEL
LAKE GEORGE-ALL ABOUT IT-1903
GLENS FALLS and SANDY HILL-1895
LAKE GEORGE HOTELS & LANDINGS
And—A book yet to be titled about growing up in Bolton in the 1950’s.
To order books, contact Bill Gates at:
Office: 1 Glenwood Avenue, Queensbury, NY 12804.
Or: Box 405, Bolton Landing, NY 12814.
Or call: (518)-798-3609