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More than 132 years ago, hotel operator Myron O. Brown, manager of the Mohican House Hotel in Bolton Landing, convinced four millionaires, who were summer residents on Lake George, New York, to build an exclusive resort community. Together they bought Green Island and opened the Sagamore Hotel in 1883 with luxurious accommodations. They were later joined by John Boulton Simpson of New York City who was named company president. The architects were the Wilson Brothers from Philadelphia under the supervision of M.O. Brown who became its manager until 1905. A Glens Falls photographer and writer named Seneca Ray Stoddard wrote about the hotel's opening:
"The hotel building stands on high ground and commands, on every side, extended views of the lake and mountains. It is built in the style popularly supposed to belong to the sixteenth century; its varied porticoes, balconies and gables all admirably displayed by the harmonious colors with which it is painted. Within will be found every hotel convenience and comfort, including hydraulic passenger elevator, electric bells, telegraph office, etc….
"Many of the rooms are arranged en suite with outside entrances, and all rooms are illuminated with the Edison electric light…
"Aquatic amusements need not languish in want of means for enjoyment as a fleet of boats of various kinds will be found at the landing, ranging from the tiny skiff to the comfortable steam-yacht. From the ample dock, broad drives and walks lead through overhanging trees up to the south front of the hotel and along the west shore of the island to the handsome rustic bridge which connects it with the mainland."
Badly damaged by fire in 1893 and burned to the ground in 1914, the Sagamore was fully reconstructed in 1930 by Dr. William G. Beckers, one of the hotel's earliest stockholders and William H. Bixby, a St. Louis industrialist. The Bixbys had just financed Charles Lindbergh's trans-Atlantic flight on the "Spirit of St. Louis" in 1927. The architects were J.E.R. Carpenter of New York and Robert H. Rheinlander of Glens Falls, N.Y.
The Lake George area surrounding The Sagamore is rich in history. As early as 1642 it was explored by the French who named the lake "Lac du Saint Sacrement" (Lake of the Blessed Sacrament) in honor of the Catholic sacrament of the Eucharist. Fighting among the French, British and native population occurred in the lake region during the French and Indian War, and was dramatized by James Fenimore Cooper in The Last of the Mohicans. After the British victory the lake was named for the British King George II.
Throughout its history, the area has been a social center for the wealthy residents of Green Island and Millionaires Row, the stately mansions along the lake's western shore. In 1954, the hotel was headquarters for the National Governor's Conference, presided over by Vice President Richard M. Nixon, and by New York State Governor Thomas E. Dewey.
In 1929, a new Sagamore Golf Course designed by the famous golf architect and engineer Donald J. Ross was completed at a cost of $500,000.
The Sagamore Horse Shows and Gold Cup Speedboat Races were held during the 1930s and 1940s. For fifteen years, the Sagamore Hotel was managed by Karl P. Abbott, one of New England's most famous hotel operators. He had overseen the construction of the new Sagamore Hotel which opened on July 1, 1930. The first season's successful operations gave the new Sagamore a splendid reputation which enabled it to be profitable through the depression years.
The hotel subsequently fell into disrepair and closed its doors in 1981. In 1983, one hundred years after construction of the first Sagamore Hotel, builder and real estate developer Norman Wolgin, of Philadelphia, purchased the hotel and restored it to its former grandeur. With Kennington Ltd. Inc. of Los Angeles, Wolgin formed the Green Island Associates which produced a splendid restoration. In 2008, the Sagamore was purchased by Ocean Properties Ltd. who later invested an additional $50 million to modernize the resort. The Sagamore is listed in the National Register of Historic Places and is a member of Historic Hotels of America.
*Excerpted from my book, "Built to Last: 100+Year-Old Hotels East of the Mississippi" (AuthorHouse 2013).