The Tax Snit of 1907

Taxes Feb 1907

In February of 1907, the Silver Bay Association moved to amend its original 1904 act of incorporation and avoid paying New York taxes, saying the association had been organized solely for charitable and religious purposes, and thus should not be subject to the state’s general corporation law.

On February 28th, the Warrensburgh News called the citizens of Hague to arms:

 “If the Silver Bay association should be relieved from taxation, it is claimed by the taxpayers of the town of Hague that they would have to submit to an increase of over ten percent above the present rate of taxation, as the amount assessed against the association for the current year is $29,588, while the total assessed valuation of the town of Hague is only $265,281… The residents of Hague are naturally greatly incensed and do not propose to assume any increased burden of taxation. A taxpayer of Hague writes as follows:

“It is hard to believe that a body of Christian workers could knowingly favor evading their fair share of taxation and ask that it should be put upon the shoulders of those for whom the Silver Bay association is doing practically nothing.”

The Silver Bay Association was granted tax exempt status in 1938.

The Fisk Jubilee Singers

Fisk Poster

In September of 1922, a concert by the Fisk Jubilee Singers closed out the Industrial Human Relations Conference, an annual summer gathering of leaders from industry and organized labor.

The first Fisk Jubilee Singers had been organized 50 years earlier to tour and raise funds for Fisk College in Nashville, Tennessee. They were the first group to publicly perform the songs of slaves and they shared them with the world. keeping these songs alive and illuminating the faith and emotions of the African American slave. And as the earliest choir members were children of freed slaves or freed slaves themselves, the “Jubilee” appellation – a reference to the Biblical year of jubilee when slaves were set free – was very appropriate.

In March of 1872, the group performed for President Ulysses S. Grant at the White House. The following year, while touring Great Britain and Europe, they performed “Steal Away to Jesus” and “Go Down, Moses” for Queen Victoria.

Fisk 1905

An autographed photo of the Fisk Jubilee Singers circa 1905

The Fisk Jubilee Singers were followed at Silver Bay by the Cotton Blossom Singers in 1931 and the Tuskegee Quintet in 1938. The first of the African-American touring college choirs, the Jubilee Singers are still an active organization at Fisk University.

Fisk Now

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An interesting note on the 1922 Industrial Conference: The newspaper said, “In order that the speakers may have the utmost freedom of utterance, they have been assured that their addresses shall not be reported and that newspaper writers are not to be admitted to the discussions.”

Silver Bay Wisdom


“We need a type of patriotism that recognizes the virtues of those who are opposed to us.”

— Francis John McConnell (1871-1953), American social reformer, bishop in the Methodist Episcopal Church and faculty member at Silver Bay conferences in the 1920s.

John Mott, Winner of the Nobel Peace Prize

John Mott 1910

John Mott was on the faculty of Silver Bay’s summer conferences as early as 1903 and was a frequent speaker through the 1920s.

A seemingly tireless individual, John Raleigh Mott (1865-1955) came to Cornell University from a small college in Iowa in 1885. As president of the Cornell Y.M.C.A., he increased the membership threefold and raised the money for a university Y.M.C.A. building. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1888. That autumn, he began 27 years as national secretary of the Intercollegiate Y.M.C.A. of the U.S.A. and Canada.

During this time, he led the Student Volunteer Movement for Foreign Missions, presided at the World Missionary Conference in Edinburgh in 1910, and chaired the International Missionary Council. He helped to organize the World’s Student Christian Federation in 1895 and as its general secretary went on a two-year tour, during which he organized student movements in India, China, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, and parts of Europe. In 1912 and ’13, he toured the Far East, holding 21 missionary conferences in India, China, Japan, and Korea.

From 1915 to 1928, Mott was general-secretary of the International Committee of the Y.M.C.A. and from 1926 to 1937 president of the Y.M.C.A.’s World Committee. During World War I, when the Y.M.C.A. offered its services to President Wilson, Mott became general secretary of the National War Work Council. Through the Y.M.C.A., he kept up international contacts and helped to conduct relief work for prisoners of war.

Mott wrote 16 books; crossed the Atlantic more than 100 times and the Pacific 14 times. He received decorations from China, Czechoslovakia, Finland, France, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Japan, Jerusalem, Poland, Portugal, Siam, Sweden, and the USA, plus honorary degrees from Brown, Edinburgh, Princeton, Toronto, Upper Iowa, and Yale universities.

Some considered him to be the most universally trusted Christian leader of his time. In 1946, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace.

But much of it might not have happened. In 1912, Mott and a colleague were offered free passage on an ocean liner by a White Star Line official who was interested in their work. But they declined the offer and took a more humble liner, the SS Lapland, passing on their chance to sail on the Titanic.

The Cotton Blossom Singers


In August of 1931, Silver Bay hosted the Cotton Blossom Singers from the Piney Woods School. Like the Tuskegee Institute’s quintet and Fisk University’s Jubilee Singers, this was a group sent out in the summers to sing and raise funds for their school.

Founded in 1909, the Piney Woods School provided schooling among poor blacks in rural Rankin County, Mississippi. The school’s founder, Laurence Clifton Jones, escaped lynching only because he was able to convince a group of angry white men that he had not come to preach against them.

In 1923, Jones first sent out the Cotton Blossom Singers on a fundraising tour; in the years to come, he would send out both male and female quartets bearing the name. Also, the Mississippi School for the Blind for Negroes was located at Piney Woods from 1929 to 1951, and among its groups performing spirituals were five blind students who were later known as the Five Blind Boys of Mississippi; their “hard gospel” style of quartet singing, accented by moans, shrieks and wails, influenced soul singers including Ray Charles, James Brown and Wilson Pickett.

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Photo of the Cotton Blossom Singers in 1929 from the Piney Woods School website.

The Word from Wellesley, 1935

“Silver Bay on Lake George, the Mecca towards which daughters of Smith, Holyoke, Connecticut, Cornell, Vassar, Syracuse, Wheaton and many other Eastern colleges— not forgetting Wellesley — flock each June after commencement, is proving to be a greater rallying ground than ever this year. On the wooded shores of Lake George, from June 19-26, well-known leaders are going to conduct the wide awake discussions demanded by the theme: A Modern Christian Faces A Nationalistic World.

“It will be a familiar sight to see Dr. Gregory Vlastos from Canada munching a blade of grass while leaning against his favorite apple tree with an attentive group gathered in its shade.

“Dr. Ira Reid, the negro economist and political theorist, will return to his old haunt, the boat house, to hold forth on communism during the day and old Southern songs at night after the full moon rises.

“College girls proudly displaying college banners and identification tags will meet, mingle and rival each other in friendly competition. The Barnard-Cornell baseball game must take place to make the week a success. Smith will undoubtedly return in high hopes of capturing the swimming-meet title once more, but if Wellesley’s diving is as excellent as last year it should be close.

“The jolly ‘sings’ will undoubtedly be repeated. ‘Neath the Oaks, Problems and Prairie Flower were Wellesley’s contributions to one evening last year. The sunrise will again drag sleepy girls out of bed to scale a mountain, and those who get to the top may view the dawn. Candlelight vespers will undoubtedly be as beautiful as ever. The picture of hundreds of tiny lighted candles floating out over Lake George in paper boats is memorable according to students who have attended the conference in other years.”

— “College Girls Gather At Silver Bay In June ,” Wellesley News, May 1935

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Gregory Vlastos (1907–1991) was a scholar of philosophy, author of works on Plato and Socrates, and a Christian who wrote on Christian faith as well. Vlastos received a PhD from Harvard University in 1931. He taught at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario; Cornell University; Princeton University and the University of California, Berkeley. Dr. Robert Meister, a friend and former student, said, “He was the kind of professor who would explore your ideas more than you did yourself, write more on your paper than you did and show what you had said would really mean.” Although Vlastos is best known for his writing on Plato and Socrates, in the 1930s he was also writing Towards the Christian Revolution (1936) with R.B.Y. Scott, and Christian Faith and Democracy (1939).

Ira de Augustine Reid (1901-1968) was an African-American sociologist who did pioneering work with the New York Urban League and published landmark studies on African-American workers and families. Biographer Paul Jefferson noted, “Six feet four inches tall, confident, well dressed, and witty, Reid was an impressive figure. His biting intelligence was acknowledged—if not always appreciated—and his urbane manner made him an effective inter-racial diplomat in an era when black equality was an implausible hypothesis for most white Americans.”

Two Presidents & a First Lady at Silver Bay


In August of 1931, New York Governor Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1882-1945) visited Silver Bay and addressed a conference of the Silver Bay Industrial Institute, speaking in the auditorium. Two years later, of course, FDR became the 32nd President of the United States (1933–1945) and a central figure in world events.


(Before delivering his speech, Roosevelt had lunch with Stephen H.P. Pell and Sarah Gibbs Thompson Pell (shown above) at their estate, The Pavilion, on the grounds of nearby Fort Ticonderoga. The Pell family led the effort to restore the historic fort, and Sarah also commissioned Marian Cruger Coffin to redesign the King’s Garden on the estate. It is said that Sarah’s ghost can occasionally be seen on the porch of her home and also looking out a window of the second floor, gazing at her garden.)


Eleanor Roosevelt spoke at the same conference. Remarkable on her own merits, Mrs. Roosevelt was the longest-serving First Lady of the United States (1933 to 1945). She was the first presidential spouse to hold press conferences; she championed expanded roles for women in the workplace, the civil rights of African Americans and Asian Americans, and the rights of World War II refugees. She pressed the U.S. to support the United Nations, became one of its first delegates, chaired the UN Commission on Human Rights, and oversaw the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.


In July of 1970, U.S. House of Representatives minority leader Gerald R. Ford of Michigan spoke at Silver Bay, addressing attendees of the Conference on Human Relations in Management. In his speech, Rep. Ford predicted that the 1970s would see American rebuild its cities, clean up its water and air, retrain the unskilled, build vast mass transit systems, make airways safe, end hunger and eliminate poverty. Four years later, Ford became the 38th President of the United States (1974-1977) with the resignation of President Nixon.

Moon Walk

Moon Rise 2008

It is one thing — and a good thing — to see the moon rise over the mountains across Lake George, but it’s quite another to actually set foot on that moon. But at least one man who spoke at Silver Bay had been there, done that.

On July 9, 1982, former astronaut James B. Irwin came to Silver Bay and gave a evening talk entitled “From Outer Space to Inner Space.” Eleven years before, Irwin had been part of the Apollo 15 mission of July/August 1971, and the eighth person to walk on the moon.


After Irwin retired from the Air Force in 1972, he traveled as “a goodwill ambassador for the Prince of Peace,” speaking about how his experiences in space had made the presence of God more real to him. One wonders if the moon rose while he spoke that evening at Silver Bay, and gave the people leaving the auditorium something to think about.

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The rising of the moon over Lake George, at Silver Bay, July 2008; detail from a photo by Frieda Celeste Dunkelberg.

James B. Irwin works with the Lunar Roving Vehicle on the surface of the moon; photo by Astronaut David R. Scott.