October-November 1954 – Essay – to bring about the permanent preservation of the “Centerpiece of Lake George” – Dome Island (Dome Island Fund)
Washed ashore on a Lake George island about 1908 this canoeist observed many trees uprooted by wave action and the only harbor virtually destroyed. Previous enjoyment of this famous lake scenery had inspired a deep feeling of gratitude and a desire to do something to preserve it. Before the day was over, many stones and some soil had been placed on the shore; thus a long and useful chapter in real conservation began. Holidays and weekends for several years were devoted to this work at his own expense. Guests from many states and some foreign countries were encouraged to give part of their pleasure time to the work. This new interest not only preserved the shores of several islands, but it also inspired many people to help other conservation efforts. After the shore work on several islands proved effective, small state appropriations were obtained to continue the work until the shores of forty islands had been protected. Neither bad weather, bad, ice, or business was allowed to interfere.
Sometime later he observed the wild charm and public use of 17 state islands were being seriously interfered with by influential squatters. About 1914 he decided to free these islands of inharmonious structures and their houses were removed and much needed work to preserve these islands was done.
His next hard-earned success of vital importance to Lake George was the defeat of a plan to build a highway along the bold shore of Tongue Mountain which forms the western boundary of this, the only large unspoiled area. At that time none of the land along the proposed route was state owned and soft drink stands, filling stations and unsightly billboards could have been erected for ten miles along this thinly forested shore. It required a great deal of courage and some unusual ability to differ successfully with influential leaders and estate owners, but this battle was also won. The location of the highway was changed to a shorter route away fro this scenic section.
While the highway was narrowly averted, the construction of a county road into the wild area to help the real estate investments was still possible and it soon became apparent that the only hope for permanent protection was State ownership of the entire peninsula. This began about 1925 another intense effort made extremely difficult by some of the same wealthy landowners and real estate promoters. At one period they were able to hold up the entire State Park program because it contained a small appropriation for Lake George. This influential group boasted that the State would not be allowed to buy a single acre of land or a foot of shore. It was a long uphill fight; but this persistent leader and his associates finally succeeded. All undeveloped land, about 14,000 acres, ten miles of shore, a large island and several gifts of land became property of the state and part of the forest preserve which is protected by the State Constitution. A few lots already built upon were considered too expensive to buy and it was also felt that the occupants having been there before the State became interested, should remain until the State felt justified in purchasing their property. One lot of 42 acres and 3000 feet of bold shore was however conspicuously in conflict with the wild charm of the region. This historic promontory projects out into the lake directly across from paradise Bay and is visible for several miles in all directions. Efforts to get the State to buy this having failed, he organized a small committee, raised the necessary funds and gave this magnificent property to the People of the State of New York in 1939. This gift was conditional that it be made a part of the forest preserve and further protected as a memorial to the late George Foster Peabody, a much admired humanitarian.
Shortly after this important accomplishment it was learned that a long-feared plan to develop commercial camps on Dome Island was being seriously considered, and again this public spirited citizen and one of his associates took decisive action. Fortunately, they were able to underwrite its purchase at one-third of the tax evaluation. Work of repairing the shore began at once and the removal of dead trees and dead brush to reduce a dangerous fire hazard was also started and still continues. Now to bring about the permanent preservation of this “center piece of Lake George” is now the pressing problem. Those who underwrote its purchase may pass on at any time and their estates would have to be settled. Neither one feels able to contribute so large a sum, and efforts to get the State to buy it have failed. It was informally suggested as a memorial to several prominent Lake George people whose admirers might help to raise funds; but no active interest has yet been shown. Now several well informed people point out that, while many individuals have helped other people to enjoy Lake George, very few have done anything to preserve its famous beauty; and they feel that the protection work outlined in the foregoing far exceeds all other efforts combined. This island would therefore be most appropriate as a memorial to the man who not only loves Lake George but who has devoted a large portion of his life to its preservation. If we wait until he dies we may lose both the island and the opportunity of recording his inspiring work. And there is no other landmark of such importance needing immediate protection. The possibility of one being found in the future at such a low cost is also remote. The following committee, therefore, proposes to raise the funds to insure the permanent protection of Dome Island and take the final action as may prove desirable later. The committee agree that the low price paid for the island plus the actual cost of its protection since it was last acquired will be the maximum sum paid – approximately $5,200. While the committee is hopeful of success we would like to be free to return contributions and try another plan, if necessary and to lessen the possibility of any embarrassment we have omitted the name of the individual to be memorialized. We hope and believe that those who contribute primarily to record his fine work will know who he is; and those who contribute primarily to save the island will be glad to secure the additional protection afforded by a memorial and will not insist on knowing his name at this time. The information contained in the statement was secured from records and individuals who helped to do the work, and it is our hope that the energetic leader referred to will not learn of this plan. We ask your cooperation to this end.
It might interest some to know that these records also reveal even more extensive work done by this good citizen in defending the State Forest Preserve which includes the Adirondack and Catskill Parks. It appears that his first big success on behalf of the public was during the 1915 Constitutional Convention. Following this victory his active interest in conservation has been continuous. He was one of the leaders who helped to win the important victory during the State Constitutional Convention in 1938. His educational efforts in cooperation with the Federal Soil Conservation group are also considered of great public benefit.
All contributions, however small, will be gratefully received. Checks should be made out to the Dome Island Memorial Fund in care of …bank.