Tuesday, May 15, 2012

By George

On this date in 1754 the Seven Years' War officially began in North America. Now if you are like me, and let's hope you are not, you've heard of this war, but cannot quite place it. You can be forgiven for that, because in this country we call it the French and Indian War. Which is really confusing, because it makes it sound like the French were fighting the Indians, when they were in fact on the same side. Sort of. The French and Indian theater of the war was primarily fought between the British and the French. The Native Americans fought on both sides, hoping they'd all just go home. But around the world it involved Spain, Prussia (Germany), India, the Philippines, Austria, West African nations, and even Cuba. And it is known by at least as many different names, including the Pomeranian War, the Third Carnatic War, and the Third Silesian War, to name a few. It would have been way more accurate to call it World War I, but I guess the folks who name these sort of things were late in coming to that concept. Regardless, they couldn't call it the Seven Years' War at the time - for obvious reasons - and the French and Indian part of it actually ended up lasting nine years. So call it whatever you want.

Most of the North American fighting was concentrated around the Ohio River Valley, and in the areas of present day New York State and the Quebec and Maritime provinces of Canada. One hotbed of activity, which would come into play again in the American Revolution, was the site of present day Lake George, NY. The name the native tribes had for the lake and region was Andia-ta-roc-te, which doesn't exactly roll off the tongue. Champlain was the first European to view it, but chose not to give it a name. James Fenimore Cooper called it Horican, in the classic "The Last of the Mohicans", and it was also known as Lac du Saint-Sacrement for over a hundred years. But in 1755, with the war in full swing, the British forces occupying the area named it in honor of their king, George II. The town, and the body of water, have been called Lake George ever since.

The lake itself was critically important because it drains into Lake Champlain, which leads to the St. Lawrence River/Seaway. So it provided both a land and water connection from Albany, NY all the way up to Montreal, out to Nova Scotia, and the Atlantic Ocean. It is not too surprising that the French began construction of their own fort, at the Lake Champlain side, called Carillon. You probably know it by the name Fort Ticonderoga. Ultimately, the French lost and the guns fell silent for a time. The British Colonies flourished, then rebelled, and the fighting started all over again. In time peace prevailed, and even the strategic importance of the area was diminished. The Erie Canal system and then the Mississippi River became the primary means of moving goods around. Aside from timber concerns, this area was largely forgotten. Until the millionaires came, that is.

Yes, like Newport, Bar Harbor, the Hamptons, and so many enclaves of the rich and famous, Lake George was "rediscovered" in the late 19th century by the richest of the rich. They were preceded by a bunch of renowned America painters, whose work almost certainly helped put the place on the radar of the hoity-toity. Once a rail line was established between New York and Montreal, Lake George boasted summer homes belonging to the Vanderbilts, the Rockefellers, the Whitneys, and the Roosevelts, to name a few. In fact, the stretch of "cottages" as they were called, were dubbed Millionaire's Row, during the early 20th century. Some of these homes were over 20,000 square feet, and had more than 100 acres of lakeside property. One guy, Wall Street's Robert Pitcairn, even had place to land his autogyro, an early predecessor of the helicopter. Are you kidding me?!

But the rich and famous are a fickle bunch, and as auto travel made it easier for us commoners to visit the Adirondack region, they thinned out. All but a few of the mansions have been torn down or converted to inns. What else can you do with a 30-bedroom house? Their loss was everyone else's' gain. Present day Lake George and vicinity offers just about everything you could want in a southern Adirondack getaway. In addition to the aforementioned historical significance, the area boasts unmatched physical beauty in the form of mountains, lakes, and forests; world-class art museums and collections; hundreds of eateries; quaint towns and villages; and more boating, swimming, sailing, hiking, and fishing than you can possibly cram into one trip. Now as my friends in Boston like to say, it's wicked cold here in the winter. And winter in these parts starts somewhere around Halloween, and ends right about now. So unless you ski, plan on visiting in the summer, and expect lots of company. Both The Lodges at Cresthaven and The Quarters at Lake George offer timeshare rentals, and both are rated 5-stars by RedWeek Members.

Well, I am off to the Forbidden Oddities Sideshow for a good old-fashioned freak show. Rain and Stephen Nallie, a.k.a. Lady Riggy and Mortis, thrill crowds by lying on a bed of nails, glass walking, fire breathing, sword swallowing, and "the art" of human blockheading. That latter one is basically sticking nails and other sharp objects into your nose and face. Their latest attraction is a 300-watt electric chair gag, and I am so there. I know it's a trick of some sort, and no one is actually in danger of being electrocuted. But I am pretty sure they are really sticking those nails in their faces, so who knows?

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