Chamber Chat is more than talk

After a hiatus of several years, the Lake George Chamber Chat Dinner program is back on the menu of your membership benefits.

At our quarterly Chamber Chat dinner program, resumed this year, we will gather to have dinner at a member restaurant and feature a member from a different category — such as attractions.

The idea is to guarantee a member restuarant some business on a night that’s typically slower while highlighting another member as well.

For our first Chamber Chat dinner of the year, we gathered at the Inn at Erlowest and heard from Patricia Dow of the Lake George Steamboat Company.

This dinner — $35 per person — sold out fast! Thank you to the Inn at Erlowest for providing a delicious menu. Thanks also to the 45 people who attended and made it a fun night!

The timing was perfect as the Lake George Steamboat Company is celebrating its bicentennial this year.

Each attendee also received a commemorative golden doubloon and a book about the Steamboat Company’s history, which is full of historical photos and informative stories.

The company went through several names and different owners before becoming the Lake George Steamboat Company we know today. It was originally a transportation service and shifted gears to recreational tours later in its history.

“Boats that touch the imagination and strike the chord of connection,” Dow said.

This year there will be several events commemorating the bicentennial.

Next up are cruises Easter Weekend, April 14 to April 16.

April 14: Good Friday Fish Fry Cruise; Boards at 5 p.m. and sails from 6 to 8 p.m.

April 15: FREE CUSTOMER APPRECIATION CRUISES! Boards 10 a.m. Sails 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. OR Board 2 p.m. Sails 2:30-5 p.m. (COMPLIMENTARY ~ NO ADVANCE RESERVATIONS — 700 maximum passengers per cruise. Tickets will ONLY be given out one hour prior to each cruise.)

April 16: Easter Brunch Cruise; Boards 11 a.m. Sails Noon to 2 p.m.

In August they’re going to do something they’ve never done before. All three ships will be docked at the pier used as an amphitheater for seating for the “Rock the Dock Party.” The lineup includes the popular band Formula 5. A portion of proceeds will go toward lake water-quality protection.

Other commemorative events include a Family Fun Fest in September. They’ll use the area next to the station where Deuce Moose Grill is located for a farmers market-style set up with children’s activities.

“For a boat company to last as long as it did through the Civil War, two world wars and a great dperesiosn is unheard of. We are one of the oldest transportation companies in the world. It’s amazing that it’s here and we get to be a part of it. We hope to have a great summer,” said Lake George Steamboat Company employee Victor Bates, who also spoke during the dinner.

History from the Lake George Steamboat company website:

The first commercially successful steamboat service in America was inaugurated by Robert Fulton, whose steam-powered paddle boat, the Clermont, sailed up the Hudson River from New York City to Albany, arriving at the state capitol on August 19, 1807, after 32 hours running time.

Steamboats did not arrive on Lake George until 1817. The settlements along the shores of the lake were small, local business was slight and there was a general antipathy towards steamboats as being somehow connected with the Devil. But the success of steam on nearby Lake Champlain was undeniable and probably contagious.

On April 15, 1817 a company was incorporated by the New York State Legislature to operate commercial shipping on Lake George. The title given this company was the Lake George Steamboat Company.

The first Lake George steamboat, christened the James Caldwell, was launched in 1817 and was a peculiar creature by modern standards. She was constructed on the canal-boat lines that characterized the boats of the time. It is recorded that she was equipped with two long boilers and a unique brick smokestack. Her engines were third-hand, being those that had powered the original Vermont, sunk in 1815, and having been salvaged and used in another Champlain steamer the following year. With propulsion equipment of such dubious quality, the James Caldwell could make the trip through the lake in about a day, or as quickly as a man could row the distance.

The James Caldwell operated on the lake until burning “mysteriously” at her berth at Caldwell in 1821. Ill-natured people at the time alleged that she had caught fire from “over-insurance”.

The James Caldwell was followed in 1824 by the side wheeler “Mountaineer” (Length 100′, speed 6 mph) and in 1850 by the John Jay (Length 140′, speed 12 mph).

A new vessel, launched in the spring of 1857, was christened the Minne-Ha-Ha. She was the first vessel to resemble what might be called a modern steamboat. She had two decks, the upper deck being covered aft and open forward, and had a capacity of about 400 passengers. The Minne-Ha-Ha was also the last wood-burner on the lake; her round trip required the use of approximately 6 cords of wood.

Following the Civil War, through a series of transportation consolidations, the Steamboat Company became part of the Delaware and Hudson Railroad System, serving as a link in that company’s New York City to Canada operations. A railroad branch ran from Glens Falls to Lake George and passengers stepped off the train at the still-existing railroad station (across the street from the Steel Pier) and onto the steamers for the trip up the lake to Ticonderoga.

The D&H railroad owned and operated the Lake George passenger boats for 68 years (1871-1939) and during that time built the finest of sidewheel steamboats. In particular, the Sagamore (Length 223′, beam 57′, speed 20 mph) and the mighty Horicon II (Length 230′, beam 59′, speed 21 mph).

The Great Depression of the 1930s drastically reduced the Lake George passenger business and the advent of World War II brought the boat business to its knees. The Delaware & Hudson first scrapped the Sagamore in 1937, and then the Horicon. The Company’s remaining vessel, the Mohican, was sold to Captain George Stafford and ran a limited summer schedule during the war years.

Captain Wilbur Dow, who acquired the Steamboat Company after World War II, renovated the Mohican in 1947; brought a World War II vessel onto the lake in three sections and converted her to passenger service as the Ticonderoga in 1950; and built out the Steel Pier in Lake George Village in 1954 to the boundaries of the company’s land grant from King George III of England. He again renovated the Mohican in 1967, built the sternwheeler Minne-Ha-Ha in 1969 and, following an eleven-year construction effort, placed the Lac du Saint Sacrement in service in 1989.