A clear view of Judge John J. Wilson’s hotel (left) and the new building that Silas Paine added (right) in 1898-9.
“’Beautiful for situation,’ is the universal exclamation of those who come to the Silver Bay Hotel on the banks of Lake George. All its beauty has been made yet more attractive by the stimulating uses to which the hotel has been put by its generous proprietor, Mr. Silas H. Paine. The series of conferences held at this historic point during the summer for college girls, Young Women’s Association workers, Young Men’s Christian Association leaders, and the missionary conferences, have given it the character of a convention resort.”
— “The Silver Bay Conference” by Secretary Charles H. Daniels, D.D. in The Missionary Herald, September 1902
I confess to never having heard the phrase “Beautiful for situation” exclaimed by anyone, ever, at Silver Bay, much less universally, but it did prompt me to look for an explanation, which came from Psalm 48:2, in the King James Version, “Beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth, is mount Zion, on the sides of the north, the city of the great King.”
“As I write, the songs of the various college delegations are borne in turn to me from the green before the hotel; every evening the girls gather there immediately after dinner in delegation groups and spring on one another their new songs, chiefly in celebration of Silver Bay, which they have prepared during the year; each evening, too, some dramatic stunt, of the burlesque order usually, is offered by one of the delegations…
“Just now the hundreds of clear, blending voices are singing together the Silver Bay song to the tune of ‘A Perfect Day:’
“Tis the hour when gather as one big clan
When the sun sinks low in the west,
And the night creeps down o’er the mountain tops
As we sing songs we love the best;
“Though our Alma Maters receive our praise
For the gifts we can never repay,
We learn right here of a broader love,
Tis the Spirit of Silver Bay.
“For at Silver Bay all good-will abounds
And we meet on common ground;
As the years go by we shall not forget
The friends that we have found;
“Come cheer Silver Bay as the shadows fall
Let us think what we mean when we say
That the spirit of Love means a world of peace
Tis the Spirit of Silver Bay.
— From a letter written by the Rev. Francis T. Brown of Yonkers, N.Y., excerpted in The Yonkers Statesman, July 6, 1916.
They met at college and fell in love. One was a teacher and the other a student. And both were women.
The professor, Mary Emma Woolley, taught Bible history and literature at Wellesley College. The student, Jeannette Augustus Marks, was 12 years her junior. At first, each was afraid to tell the other how she felt. But in 1900, Mary was offered the presidency of Mount Holyoke College, and the prospect of separation forced them to speak, and to discover that they both felt the same way. After Jeannette’s graduation, they were together for more than 50 years.
It was not always easy. Upon her arrival at Mount Holyoke, Mary created a teaching position for Jeannette, who began as an English instructor. Although the women had separate quarters, students and faculty members talked. Jeannette, fortunately, was the real deal, a prolific writer who published 20 books in her lifetime and created a theater group on campus. And Mary was revered as a scholar and administrator. During her 36-year presidency, she led efforts with other women’s colleges to raise funds, academic standards and public support for women’s education. Mount Holyoke became one of the best colleges in the U.S. as she built a strong faculty, attracting scholars from prestigious schools.
The two women summered at Jeannette’s family home, Fleur De Lys, on Lake Champlain, probably the one place they could truly be themselves. And their mutual devotion did not dissuade the YWCA from inviting Mary to speak at Silver Bay summer conferences; she did so on at least three occasions, in 1903, 1919 and 1926.
Sadly, Mary Woolley’s time at Mount Holyoke ended badly. Male trustees felt the college had been “overfeminized” and insisted upon appointing a man as president after Woolley’s retirement. Woolley never visited the campus again. She moved to Fleur De Lys and lived there with Jeannette until her death in 1947. Marks died there in 1964 at the age of 88.
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Mary Emma Woolley holds a special place in my heart because of her Brown University M.A. thesis, “The Early History of the Colonial Post Office.” And Jeannette must have been great fun; here are two quotes from one of her books, Vacation Camping for Girls (1913):
“In the autumn I camped alone for two weeks in a log cabin. I say alone. I was not alone, for I had three friends with me – a collie puppy, a blind fawn, and a year-old cat. There were the best of companions—for better I could not have asked. I never heard a word of faultfinding, and I was witness to a great deal of joy. It is a curious fact about camp life that if a girl has weak places in her character, if she is selfish or peevish or faultfinding or untidy, these weaknesses will come out. But my four-footed friends were good nature itself, young, growing, happy, contented.”
“Don’t cut your foot with an axe. It will not add to the pleasures of camp life.”
About 15 minutes before midnight on July 1, 1936, the German airship LZ-129, the Hindenburg, glided across the night sky over Silver Bay.
The Hindenburg was on its 24th flight, en route from Frankfurt, Germany, to Lakehurst, New Jersey. But after reaching North America, instead of following the coastline down to New York City, Captain Ernst Lehmann instead chose to go inland as far as Montreal before turning south. He then followed the valley of the Richelieu River to Lake Champlain.
At 10:50 p.m., the Plattsburgh Daily Press received a call that the ship was passing their way. And at 11:05 p.m., the Hindenburg — all 803 majestic feet of it — emerged from the darkness to thrill reporters who were working the night shift. Farther south, a woman at Thompson’s Point on the Vermont shore said the Zeppelin sounded like “a fleet of airplanes” as it passed overhead. Indeed, the craft’s four Daimler-Benz 16-cylinder diesel engines were clearly audible from 400 feet above Lake Champlain.
At 11:35 p.m., it passed over Ticonderoga, inspiring a Sentinel reporter to write, “Silhouetted against a moonlit, star-flecked sky, the Zeppelin created a thrilling, almost awe-inspiring sight.” Now over Lake George, the Hindenburg passed over the Silver Bay Association at about 11:45 p.m. Given the “early to bed, early to rise” nature of the conference center, one wonders if anyone noticed.
At 11:55 pm the Hindenburg was over Bolton Landing. People who knew about the flight had stayed up; they reported seeing a taillight and three running lights as well as illumination from the cabin, and heard the engines clearly. At 12:02 a.m., the Zeppelin was visible from Glens Falls; at 12:15 a.m. it was seen over Saratoga Springs, and it passed over Ballston Spa at 12:25 a.m.; many residents there were drawn outside by the sound of the engines; others had been alerted by telephone calls from friends in Saratoga Springs. The Hindenburg then passed over Albany and continued down the Hudson River towards its destination, Lakehurst, New Jersey.
On August 1, 1936, a month after its passage over Lake George, the Hindenburg flew over the Olympic Stadium in Berlin. It was excellent propaganda, a marvel of aviation and thought to be the future of international travel. But on May 6, 1937, during a routine landing at Lakehurst, the Hindenburg unexpectedly caught fire and crashed. Capt. Lehmann, who had had piloted the Hindenburg down Lake George, died in hospital the following day.
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— Special thanks to “The Night the Airship Hindenburg Flew Over Lake George” by Joseph W. Zarzynski and “Hindenburg: When Dirigibles Roamed North Country Skies” by Lawrence P. Gooley, in addition to contemporary newspaper accounts and Hindenburg histories.
When the Rev. Willis R. Hotchkiss spoke to would-be missionaries at Silver Bay in July of 1904, he did not sugarcoat his message:
“I have dwelt four years practically alone in Africa. I have been thirty times stricken with the fever, three times attacked by lions, and several times by rhinoceri; a number of times ambushed by natives; for fourteen months never saw a piece of bread, and have eaten everything from ants to rhinoceri; but let me say to you, I would gladly go through the whole thing again if I could have the joy of again bringing that word ‘Saviour’ and flashing it into the darkness that envelops another tribe in Central Africa.”
Perhaps too he left them with a copy of his Sketches from the Dark Continent (1901), in which he wrote:
“We had to resort to the old method of traveling by caravan. Swimming the streams, wading the swamps, blistered by the tropical sun . . . drenched by the rain . . . in danger from savage men, and attacked by wild beasts, winding along the narrow, tortuous native paths, single file, until feet are like lead, heads drooping, tongues swollen, eyes painful – here the romance of missionary life loses its fine outline in the dead level of actual life.”
Silver Bay’s first postmaster was John J. Wilson, who in 1885 bought the property that would become the campus of the Silver Bay Association. He built a summer hotel, the Wilson House at Brookdale Farm, and in 1889 was formally appointed its postmaster, a position he filled for nine years before selling his hotel property to Silas Paine and moving on.
L-R: James, Huldah, Annie and Mary Adams in 1908
James Adams was appointed postmaster in 1898 and built a small one-room post office in front of his house, shown in the two photos above. Adams shared his postal duties with his wife, Annie Bartlett Adams, and his daughters, Mary and Huldah.
James carried the mail in a wheelbarrow to and from the steamboat dock (today’s ERC), and in the summer the post office was a buzzing social center for YWCA and YMCA conference attendees as postcards, letters and parcels came and went.
After her husband’s death in 1915, Annie B. Adams continued to serve and was formally appointed postmaster in January of 1916. She held the job until 1923 when she retired and was replaced by Helen M. Braisted. According to one account, the Silver Bay Association wanted one of their own employees, Louis Spelman, to take the position; when Helen Braisted was appointed, the directors pouted, sulked, and then decreed the post office be moved off the Association’s property. In 1924, in accordance with their wishes, the little one-room post office was torn down.
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I’ve long been interested in the Adams’ youngest, Huldah, seated on the porch in the photo above, with her hand held oddly in her lap. What was her malady and what became of her? Huldah Ellen Adams went to Cornell University on a New York State scholarship, graduated Phi Beta Kappa with the Class of ’17, and moved to New York City where she worked as a librarian at the Biblical Seminary (today’s New York Theological Seminary). The school’s founder and president was Dr. Wilford W. White, who had long been associated with the YMCA and Silver Bay Association; I would guess he had known Huldah since she was a young girl. Huldah Adams died in 1930, just three years after her mother’s death. The earthly remains of James, Annie and Huldah are buried together in the family plot in Hague.
Postcard images: Top and bottom, the Store and Post Office by the Detroit Publishing Co., the original black & white photo and the tinted version; all other photos by Jesse Sumner Wooley.