Lake George – Historic Landmarks

THE Indian, true to that dominant emotion of his heart—a pure and reverent love of Nature—always fervently worshipped at this shrine and baptized it humbly—in sympathy with its own character and sentiment—Horicon, or the Silvery Waters; he called it, too, Canideriout, or the Tail of the Lake, from its relative position to the proximate waters of Champlain. The French Catholics, equally obeying the specialities of their morale, christened it, in honour of their religious creed, Lake Sacrament; while the Anglo-Saxon, no less mindful of his highest and holiest love, made it do homage to his egotism, and named it after himself—Lake George !

As we jog on, we may, if we are poetically or archaeologically bent—as one is apt to be under such circumstances —recall the woeful story of the ill-fated Jenny McCrea, and the victory of Gates, and defeat of Burgoyne on Bemis’ Heights, both stories of the vicinage. After dinner at Glen’s Falls, we may delight us with the angry and tortuous passage of the upper Hudson, over immense barriers of jagged marble; and looking into the past, we may espy the hiding-place of Cooper’s fair creations—Alice and Cora Munroe, with their veteran guardians, Uncas and Hawk-Eye. The clamour of human industry at this once quiet spot would now drown the footfall of the Mohican better than ever did his stealthy moccasin.

Midway between these famous falls and the lake, we take a peep at Williams’ Rock, a venerable boulder on the wayside, remembered with the fate of its god-father, Col. Williams, killed here in the ” soul-trying ” times. The action which immortalized this ancient druid has given a dreary interest to another spot hard by—a deep-down, dank, and dismal ” Bloody Pond,” where sleep the poor fellows who were left to pay the Scot at this sad merry-making.

The charm of many of the islands and localities embraced in the view from Caldwell, is pleasantly heightened by associations of historic incident. Diamond Isle was once (who, now watching its peaceful aspect, would ever think it!) a depot for military stores and war-clad bands. Long Point, hard by, in 1757, formed with the shore a harbour for the bateaux of Montcalm. Yonder, too, are still found the ruins of forts, and other adjuncts of the pride, pomp, and circumstances of glorious war. Fort William Henry, the most interesting of these relics, was built by the English during the colonial wars with the French, in 1775. Two years after, it was destroyed by the Gallic general, Montcalm, on the surrender of the English garrison. The circumstances of this capitulation are too tragical to be easily forgotten. As the conquered troops were leaving the fort, under the promise of protection and escort, they were savagely attacked by the Indian allies of the victors, and fifteen hundred were slain or made captives, the French looking calmly and perfidiously on the while, and denying all succour or interference. To complete the horror of the scene, the mangled corpses of more than a hundred women strewed the ground.

In this vicinage are the ruins of Fort George; and close by was once a third fortification, named in honour of General Gage.

The average width of Lake George is between two and three miles. At the Mohican House, this average is exceeded ; indeed, at one other point only is it anywhere broader than here. All the leading features of the locality are happily commanded here. The islands within range of the eye are many and of surpassing beauty—and among them is that odd little nautical eccentricity called Ship Island, from the mimicry in its verdure to the proportions and lines of the ship. The landing is near the mouth of the northwest bay—a special expanse of five miles, stolen from the main waters by the grand mountain promontory, aptly called the Tongue. It is the extension into the Lake of this ridge of hill which forms the Narrows, entered immediately after passing Bolton. Contracted as the channel is at this point, it seems yet narrower from the greater elevation of the mountains, among which are the most magnificent peaks of the neighbourhood. Here is the home of Shelving Rock, with its hemisphere of palisades, and its famous dens of rattlesnakes; here, too, monarch of hills, the Black Mountain, with his rugged crown of rock, holds his court. Tongue Mountain is the favoured haunt of the Nimrods in their search for the luscious venison. Speaking of the chase reminds us that we owe a line to the sister sport of the angle. It is in the vicinage of Bolton that both these delights may be best attained, and particularly is it the field, par excellence, for piscatory achievements. ‘Were it not that so very little credence is placed in the avoirdupois of fishermen, we would allude modestly to the weight of certain astonishing creatures of the trout and bass kind which we have ourselves persuaded to the hook.

Charming as are the scenes from the surface of the Lake, they are surpassed by the glimpses continually occurring in the passage of the road on the western shore (the precipitousness of the mountains on the other side admits of no land passage), and commanded by the summits of the hills. Leaving Bolton, the road which has thus far followed the margin or the vicinage of the water, steals off, and sullenly winds its rugged and laborious way across the mountains, offering nothing of interest until it again descends to the Lake near Garfield’s—a tedious traverse of a score of miles or more. The interval is much more rapidly and pleasantly made on the steamer. From Sabbath-Day Point and Garfield’s the road again jogs on merrily in the neighbourhood of the water. Descending the mountains at the northern end of this central portion of the Lake road, you catch a noble and welcome panorama of the upper part of the Horicon. But returning to Bolton—we were about speaking of the delightful scenes from the shore thereat. Within a short walk northward, an exceedingly characteristic view is found looking across the mouth of the Northwest bay of the Narrows. From all the eminences or from the shore, the landscape is here of admirable simplicity, breadth, and grandeur. It is seen most justly as the morning sun peeps over Black Mountain and its attendant peaks. Looking southward from various points yet further on, fine views of the head of the Lake are obtained—among them the master feature of the southern extremity—the French Mountain—terminating a pleasant stretch of lawn, hill, and islanded water.

It is while the eye is filled with such scenes as these modest hilltops offer, more, perhaps, than when embowered in the solitudes of the island shades, or than when wandering by the rippling shore, that the soul is most conscious of the subtle nature of the charms which make us cling to and desire ever to dwell near Horicon. This secret and omnipotent essence is the rare presence of the quiet and grace of the beautiful—heightened, but not overcome, by the laughing caprices of the picturesque, and the solemn dignity of the grand in nature. The beautiful alone, wanting that contrast and variety which keeps curiosity alert and interested, soon wearies and cloys—the sublime calling forth feelings of astonishment, and sometimes even of terror, stretches the fibres so much beyond their natural tone as to create pain, so that the effect, however great, cannot be very enduring. When these several qualities are united, as they are in the luxuriant, changeful, and wide-spreading landscape of Lake George, a pleasant and lasting sensation of delight is the result-a healthy tone of pleasurable excitement, in which are avoided the extremes both of the languor of beauty and the painful tension of emotion produced by the sublime.

The attractions of Horicon will be yet more perfect when time shall effect the additional infusion of the picturesque, which will follow the enterprise, opulence, and taste of in-creasing population. Though now exhibiting all the elements of perfect beauty, she yet bides her time for complete development. She is now, to her sister waters of the Old World, as the untaught forest maiden is to the peerless queen of the boudoir and saloon. The refining and spiritualizing hand of art will soon enliven her quieter features, and soften her rougher characteristics. Ruined battlements and legendary shrines may never deck her bluffs and promontories in the mystic veil of romance, but happy cottages and smiling homes of health and content will climb her rude acclivities, and merry summer villas will peep glee-fully out of the clustering shrubbery of her lovely isles, bringing to heart more grateful thoughts and hopes than would the vaunted accessories of older spots, inasmuch as they will whisper of a yet higher civilization and of a nobler life.

So admirably attuned are all the elements of beauty in the scenery of Lake George, that on our first acquaintance with the region we could scarcely imagine it ever to appear under a different aspect than the sunny phase in which we then saw it. So perfect did nature appear, both in the general sentiment and in the most minute detail, that we could think of her doing

“Nothing but that, more still, still so, and own No other function ”

As we gazed around upon the chattering waters and upon the rejoicing hills, we wondered whether storm and cloud ever darkened their radiant face—whether the wrath of the mad and unchained elements ever managed to break the spell of calm repose. But we learned in due time that, as the mildest eye will sometimes glance in wrath, and the rosiest lip will curl in scorn, so the black scowl of the tempest would gather upon the brows of the peaceful hills, and hide the smile of the gentle floods of Horicon—only, though, soon to pass away, and leave hill and water more verdant and sparkling than before. When the air is thus cleared by storm or shower, the surrounding hills glitter in almost painful distinctness, each stem and stone from the base to the crown of the mountains seeming to come within the grasp of your hand. Once—deceived by this false semblance—we were persuaded to undertake the passage of the Lake and the ascent of Black Mountain. ” It is so easy and simple a matter,” said our adventurous friends, ” and may be managed so readily and so rapidly.” Alas! poor deluded wretches ! Well was it that our fancy came with the rising of the sun, and that no delay followed in the execution, for night fairly overtook us before we regained our domicile, under the firm conviction of the verity of the old proverb touching the deceitfulness of appearances. As a memento of this excursion we brought back a rattlesnake which we demolished on the way; and the skin of which one of our party, following the sumptuary habits of the people, afterwards wore as a hat-band. Turning from the position whence we have been gazing upon the French Mountain, we may detect, upon the extreme left, the petite area of Fourteen Mile Island, lying at the base of Shelving Rock, and near the entrance to the Narrows. This is a famous temporary home of the Nimrods who chase the deer over the crags of the Tongue Mountain, opposite. The domestic appliances of this rude resting-place are as nomadic as the roughest hunter could desire.

On the Pinacle, a lofty peak west of the hotel, a more extended panorama of the Lake is obtained. We often climbed to the summit of the hills on the road westward of Bolton ; once we found ourselves there at the very peep of day, when the stern and rugged phiz of Black Mountain was bathed in the purple light of the rising sun; the few fleeting clouds visible in the heavens were tinged with gold, doubly gorgeous in contrast with the grey hue of the unillumined hills beneath, the blue waters, and the yet-sleeping islands. Still a few moments, and ” heaven’s wide arch was glorious with the sun’s returning march.” Floods of living light swept over the extended landscape—the hundred islets rubbed their sleepy eyes, and joyously awoke again, while the waters threw off the drapery of their couch in the shape of long lines of vapour, which the jocund king of day—merrily performing the role of chambermaid—busied himself in rolling carefully up on the hillside, and hiding away until they should be again required. It was one of those magical scenes of which the poet and painter more often dream than realize.

Thus far our panorama gazings have (from the intervening of the Tongue) shown us only the southern end of Horicon. At the 2200 feet elevation of the Black Mountain, the eye sweeps the entire extent of the lake—Champlain, lying at its eastern base—and of all the region round, to the peaks of the Adirondacks, and the green hills of Vermont. But very few tourists, few of the Nimrods even, brave the toils of an ascent to the crown of this stately pile. The way is wearisomely steep and beset with dangers. Watching with due precaution for the rattlesnake, you may overlook the approach of the bear, or unexpectedly encounter the catamount—not to mention the host of less distinguished animals, ” native here, and to the manner born.”

When you are ready, or necessitated rather, to say adieu to Bolton (for continued parting is the sad alloy of the traveller’s rare privilege of varied greeting), the little steamer will pick you up all in the morning betimes, and whisk you through the Narrows to your next bivouac, at Sabbath-Day Point.

The passage of the Narrows, either in storm or sunshine, at noontide or night, is not the least agreeable item in your Lake experience. The waters here reach a depth of four hundred feet, and so surprisingly translucent are they, that you may watch the gambols of the finny peoples many fathoms below the surface. In most parts of the Lake you may count the pebbles at the bottom as your skiff glides along.

We shall be set ashore at Sabbath-Day Point in a batteau, for want of a steamboat landing. Such a convenience was once found here. Once Sabbath-Day Point was a point everybody longed to know. A commodious and fashionable summer hotel stood here, and a miraculous old land-lord did the honours in his own remarkable way. Hotel, landlord, and visitors have all vanished. Nature, though, yet remains—young, lovely, and riant as ever. The pleas-ant strip of meadow pokes its merry nose into the Lake with the saucy impudence of other days, and scans with wonted satisfaction the glorious sweep of the waters, as they vanish southward in the defile of the Narrows; or northward, reflect on their broad expanse the Titan phiz of good Saint Anthony, and the rocky flanks of Roger’s Slide.

In 1756, a handful of colonists here successfully repelled a stormy onslaught of the Indians and French. Here, too, in 1758, General Abercrombie and his gallant army lunched, en route from Fort George, at the head of the Lake, to attack the French at Ticonderoga. The sky was gemmed with stars, and the disc of the moon fell unbroken upon the motionless waters, as this glorious- array of a thousand boats, bearing sixteen thousand men, pursued their stealthy march. As the brilliant cavalcade debarked, the bright uniforms sparkled in the beams of the rising sun, and the morning being the Sabbath, the little cape was happily called Sabbath-Day Point. Here again, in the memorable 1776, the patriot militia dealt some successful back-handers to the Tories and their Indian allies.

From Sabbath-Day Point we may re-embark on the steamer, or continue our journey by land, as the road now touches the Lake again. Three miles onward we make the little village of Hague, if village it can be styled. The visitor will remember the locality as Garfield’s—one of the oldest and most esteemed summer camps. Judge Garfield would seem to have an intimate acquaintance with every deer on the hillside, and with every trout in the waters, so habitually are these gentry found at his luxurious table.

An excellent landing facilitates the approach to Gar-field’s, and the steamboat touches daily, up and down.

The shore route hence to Ticonderoga is through a pleasant country, well worth exploring. We will pursue our journey now by water. Just beyond, the Lake is again reduced to Procrustean limits, as it brushes between the opposing walls of Rogers’ Rock and Anthony’s Slide. The reader is doubtless familiar with the ruse by which Major Rogers, flying from the Indians in 1758, persuaded them that he had achieved the marvellous feat of sliding down this grand declivity; thus cleverly reversing the theory of the sublime Western poet—seeking to

“Prove that one Indian savage Is worth two white men, on an average.”

North of Rogers’ Rock the character of the Lake changes; the wild mountain shores yield to a fringe of verdant lawn and shady copse, and the water grows momently more shallow. This last variation was a Godsend to the first English captives, detained by the French and Indians in the olden time, upon Prisoners’ Island, hereabouts. At a quiet moment they took French leave, and waded ashore.

Directly west of Prisoners’ Island is Howe’s Landing, the point of debarkation of the mighty flotilla which we met at Sabbath-Day Point: and here, too, good reader, is our landing, and the end of our voyage of Horicon.

You will now collect your traps, and stepping with us, into one of the carriages which await—take a pleasant jog of four miles down the merry outlet of Lake George, and through the two villages of Ticonderoga, or ” Tye,” as they are familiarly called, to the brave old fort which the sturdy Ethan Allen so audaciously seized, ” in the name of the Great Jehovah and the Continental Congress.” In this little four-mile gallop of Horicon to Lake Champlain, the water makes a descent of two hundred and thirty feet, forming in the journey two series of very considerable cascades, called the Upper and Lower Falls; both made industrially available by the denizens of the villages just mentioned. This ride, with its opening vistas of the valleys and hills of Vermont; its foaming cataracts; its charming revelations of the grand waters of Champlain; and, above all, its termination amidst the remains of the famed old Fort, is a welcome sequel to the day’s delights.