Known as the Queen of American Lakes, Lake George is a narrow lake that runs along the southeast line of the Adirondack Mountains. The lake drains north into Lake Champlain via the La Chute River with its many falls and rapids, past the site of Fort Ticonderoga. There are 395 small islands in the “narrows” section of the 32-mile long lake. It is an oligotrophic lake, meaning that its waters are free from nutrients that would grow organisms that are harmful to life. Thus, its waters are clean, high quality, well oxygenated, and support many fish species.
Lake George was originally named the Andia-ta-roc-te (“lake that shuts itself in”) by the local Native Americans (Mohawk and Onondoga) who lived in the area. The Native Americans were tribes of the Iroquois nation as well as the Mohican nation. Indians used Lake George as part of a travel and trading route due to the minimal need for land portages. Residents of the Lake George area, the Lamoka, date as far back as 3500 BC. The French explorer Samuel de Champlain visited the lake in 1609.
The French to the north and the Dutch and British to the south contested the Lake George area as early as 1691 due to the easy access into Lake Champlain and then on to the St. Lawrence Seaway.
Lake George figured in both the French and Indian War and in the Revolutionary War. The French and Indian War was the colonial extension of the Seven Years' War in Europe. Early in the war, the French dominated the battlefield. By 1758, the British claimed Indian allies, learned new tactics, and outnumbered and outgunned the French.
During the war, the lake was renamed Lake George in honor of King George of England and the area was under British control. The Battle of Lake George was fought on September 8, 1755 between the forces of Britain and France at the southern end of Lake Champlain, with an inconclusive result. As a result, the French built a strong, star-shaped fort at the northern end of the lake, initially called Fort Carillon (later called Fort Ticonderoga by the British). Control of this water route between Canada and colonial New York was, thus, in French hands. The British built Fort William Henry at the southern end of Lake George to protect its lands.
Ephraim Williams, who founded Williams College in Massachusetts, was a casualty of the Battle of Lake George; he is the “Yankee Doodle Dandy” in an early version of the song. During the war, a British special operations unit from the colony of New Hampshire attacked Fort Carillon. The group was known as Roger's Rangers and, today, the US Army Rangers claim this unit as their inspiration.
In 1775, at the beginning of the Revolutionary War, the Green Mountain Boys and other state militia captured Fort Ticonderoga in a surprise attack. They were under the command of Ethan Allen and Benedict Arnold. The fort's cannons were sent to Boston and caused the British to abandon that city in March 1776.
Fort Ticonderoga was strategic in the American Revolution having led to the British General John Burgoyne's decision to reach the Hudson River not via Lake George, but through the marshes, mountainous terrain, and forests near Saratoga. Burgoyne was defeated in the Battles of Saratoga in 1777.
Lake George Battlefield Park on Fort George Road preserves major French and Indian War and Revolutionary War battle sites.
In the late 19th and early 20th century, Lake George's location halfway between New York City and Montreal, and connected by rail to both, attracted the rich and famous to its shores. The Roosevelt, van Rensselaer, Vanderbilt, Rockefeller and Whitney families were frequent visitors. Private country estates were built on what was called “Millionaire's Row,” along Route 9N, Bolton Road and the west shore of the lake. Some of the homes claimed 20,000 square feet and were often built on hundreds of acres. By the 1930s, Lake George became more affordable for the middle class and many of the mansions, due to the economic climate, were transformed into hotels and restaurants. Some of the mansions have survived -- such as Melody Manor, Sun Castle, and Green Harbor.
Grand hotels were built as well as the Silver Bay YMCA Camp, which still hosts guests each summer. The historic Fort William Henry Hotel in Lake George Village and the Sagamore in Bolton Landing also continue to operate.