Benjamin Van Buren's Bay
Charles G. Gosselink
Contents Previous Next
|Penfield Cottage 1912|
In the summer of 1899, Dr. John D. Davis, a professor at Princeton Theological Seminary, rented a cottage near Lake George Village. The family liked the area so much that they returned the following year and explored the entire lake, intending the buy their own summer cottage. They discovered Silver Bay, met Silas Paine, and agreed to purchase Paine's converted barn on the Silver Bay Road. The closing papers were signed in 1901.
The original house has been extensively renovated over the years, first by Silas Paine when he converted his barn for the Fresh Air Fund boys and then by John Davis and his family. The farm wagon ramp can still be seen under the porch on the south side, but the barn roof has been changed and the cow stall has become the dining room. The wraparound porches on two levels give the house its distinctive appearance. The original chestnut paneling inside the house was done by Silas Paine's nephew, Frank Johnson, an expert carpenter and craftsman, who had also done much of the interior paneling and woodwork at Paine Hall.
Dr. Davis's son Pen Davis had an active and very successful career in the U. S. Foreign Service. He was responsible for some of the renovations to the main house and later built a small cabin on the north side of the property. Dr. Davis' daughter Marguerite married Dr. F. Mobray Velte, a Presbyterian missionary in India. His grandson, John D. Velte owns the main house now, has made extensive modifications to it, and in 1992 built a new house next door on the site of the old guest cabin.
Silas and Mary Paine must have been pleased with their new neighbors, for as they sold off more pieces of their property, they made an intentional effort to populate their "village on a hill" with ministers, missionaries, and other folk of upright character. To that end, they employed a local surveyor, Walter G. Watts, to survey and divide their land into smaller plots. Watts started the job in 1902 and by 1906 most of the land had been sold at very nominal cost.
Watts himself took advantage of the opportunity. In 1902, he bought the plot just north of Dr. Davis's land. At that point he had only recently moved to the area. Originally from England, he had been educated in this country and then served as an army engineer in the Mid-west and Mexico. Even after he left the army and settled in Silver Bay, he continued to be known as Captain Watts. In 1903 he began the construction of two buildings on his property, a house on the hill and a boathouse and workshop down on the shore, but later the same year he sold it all to Frances W. Hale. He bought three acres of land from Judge Wilson and constructed his house high on a wooded hill overlooking the lake on what we now call, of course, Watts Hill. Later he purchased more land on the hill for his extensive garden and pasture. The story of the Watts family is lovingly told by his daughter Dorothy Goodfellow in her book Growing Up Wild. His youngest daughter Ethel Andrus and his granddaughter Jane Crammond still live on Watts Hill. Bruce and Sarah Tamlyn now own the Watts homestead.
Many of the people who bought land from the Paines were early leaders of the Silver Bay Association. Luther Wishard was a founder of the Student Volunteer Movement, a member of the International Committee of the YMCA, a leader in the Christian missionary movement, and the man most responsible for persuading Silas Paine, in 1900, to make his Silver Bay hotel available as a center for Christian conferences and missionary training. He became a close friend of Paine and was one of the first to buy property, a large lot to the south and west of Dr. Davis' land. Built in 1902, on what was to become Terrace Road, his house, Bonnie Doon, was the first of several new houses on Van Buren Bay. "Even if ours, the initial bungalow, was the homeliest in the group, it has never been surpassed in homelikeness. . . Our summer home enabled us to realize, as we could not otherwise have done, Mr. and Mrs. Paine's purpose in devoting their country estate to philanthropy. It served as a social center for entertaining those whom we desired to enlist in promoting the Movement both with time and money" In about 1906, failing health forced Wishard himself to withdraw from active leadership in the Movement, though he continued to serve on the Executive Committee of the Silver Bay Association until 1913. After that he seems to have withdrawn from Silver Bay as well, and his property passed into other hands.
If Wishard saw Silver Bay as an opportunity for philanthropy, others were drawn there more for its beauty and recreational opportunities. Dr. Henry E. Hale, a physician from Princeton, New Jersey, was not a YMCA leader, though he became a trustee of the new Silver Bay School in 1918. He came with his wife Frances and their four children. He loved to picnic with the Watts family and hike with the Penfields. In 1903 he purchased the plot just north of Walter Watts' lakefront land and then somehow persuaded Watts to sell him his plot as well. In the deed of sale, Watts conveyed to Mrs. Frances Hale not only the land but also "all buildings, materials of every description now on the premises for completion of two buildings situated thereon, which the party of the second part is permitted to do at her earliest convenience." The house they completed was large and had a wide porch on three sides overlooking the lake. They kept their launch, the Tornak, in the boathouse below. The Hales returned to Silver Bay for many summers and were active at the Association and with neighbors on the Bay. In about 1929 they rented the house for a few weeks to another family. As the story is told, the renters put supper on the kerosene stove before going down to swim. While in the water, they looked back to see the house in flames. Spear Johnson remembers that he was out on the bay in his canoe when he saw the fire. The house was destroyed and the Hales never rebuilt it.
After the fire, Charles King, a former student of the Silver Bay School, and his business partner Tony Marafioti, the barber at Silver Bay, purchased the property. Charlie King was involved in a number of enterprises in the Silver Bay area, including, with Tony, running a hotel at Spruce Mountain Lodge and, with former schoolmate Irving Tier, a photo studio in the Braisted Hotel annex. He winterized the boathouse and lived there with his family for a time until he completed a new house more or less on the foundations of the old. He and his wife Doris were year round residents and raised their children David and Edie there. Spear and Shirley Johnson rented their boathouse during the early 1950's. Spear recalls that on cold winter nights they would go up to visit the Kings, ostensibly to play cards but really to keep warm.
Doris King continued to use the house for some years after her husband died, sometimes renting it to Alan and Anne Johns and Edward and Lois Konikowski. She left the property to her son David. He sold the upper house in 1986 to the Konikowskis, who in turn sold it to Harold and Jean Johnson in 1991. They have now passed the property on to their daughter Rebecca and her husband George Blike, who built a new cottage on the site of the old in 2002. Phil Shuman, who had fond memories of coming to Silver Bay as a boy, purchased the boathouse from Doris King in about 1960 and kept it for forty years. Shawn and Nancy McLoughlin owned the boathouse briefly and sold it to Bob and Tibby Christenberry in 2001.
Henry Hale kept the plot just north of his house until 1919. It then passed through several owners before Dr. John and Ida Dickert acquired it in 1928. There was already some kind of building on the property, but the Dickerts built a new cottage there and added a boathouse below on the water. The cottage was fairly small but beautifully built, with fieldstone pillars, pine paneling, and white columns on the front porch. The boathouse served also as a garage for their car and an apartment for their cook. Ida Dickert, who preferred to be known as Ilane, renovated the boathouse and lived there after her husband's death. Her daughter Marjory and husband Arthur Stock used the upper house until they purchased property at Sabbath Day Point. Ilane Dickert's granddaughter Nancy Young inherited the property. Dick and Marion Smith acquired the upper house in 1975 and lived there for over twenty years. John and Millie Porpora bought the house in 1998. Mac and Marilyn MacDowell have owned the lower house since 1974.
But let us go back to those earlier settlers of our bay. Charles C. Michener was a member of the International Committee of the YMCA and in 1902 was made Secretary of the Lake George Committee, the group responsible for planning and implementing the first conferences at Silver Bay. He later served on the Business Committee of the Silver Bay Association. Early in 1902, Michener was asked to organize an experimental conference, which was to be held in August that year. He did that, quite successfully it seems. Somehow he and his wife Margaret also found time that summer to buy a plot of land from Mary Paine just north of Hale's property and to begin the construction of their own summer cottage, now the McConaughy's. With its wide porch and graceful roof, it was and is a beautiful house. The interior beams and porch rails are of spruce and cedar, said to have been cut and brought down from Jabez Pond, while the exterior is covered with hemlock bark. Mrs. Michener herself may have been the architect. Early photographs show a matching boathouse on the lake, with a closed area below for winter storage of boats and an open, roofed deck above. The present boathouse was built on the same site in the 1960's.
According to local tradition, the Micheners' daughter suffered from poliomyelitis. Doctors advised that she should take regular exercise in the water, and consequently, in 1907, the Micheners sold their house on the hill, and began construction of a new house right on the shore of the lake, in the northeast corner of what had been Helen and Walter Griffin's property. If, as tradition holds, Mrs. Michener was the architect, she designed another work of art. Like her first Van Buren Bay cottage, this was built in the Adirondack camp style, with spruce beams and hemlock bark siding, and with white Tudor-like gables. It was furnished with bent wood and twig furniture, and even a built-in birch log bed, still in use today.
What change of circumstances or tragedy now befell the Michener family? We do not know. But in 1908, less than two years after they purchased the lot and started building, they sold their beautiful house. Charles Michener dropped out of active leadership of the Silver Bay Association for a time, though he returned as Executive Director from 1917 to 1922, and in 1918 he was named president of the new Silver Bay School.
The Micheners sold their cottage on the lake to Charles T. Kilborne, president of the Eastern Association School, the successor of the Lake George Committee. He was a businessman in New York. The general secretary of the Eastern Association School was Thornton B. Penfield, formerly secretary of the Brooklyn YMCA and a member of the International Committee. In the summer of 1912, Kilborne informed Penfield that his firm was going out of business, that he intended to resign his position at Silver Bay and was anxious to sell his summer home. The Penfields had been planning to buy land and put up a small cottage, but nothing as large as the Kilborne house. Still, Kilbourne asked them to make him an offer. Thornton and Martha Penfield, with the help of his mother Charlotte Devins, made the best offer they could and were surprised when Kilborne said, "The property is yours."
The property has remained in the family since then, well known as Penfield Cottage. The Penfields' three children, Charlotte, Thornton, Jr., and Paul inherited the cottage, and it is now owned by a large collection of their children and grandchildren. As mentioned above, Thornton Penfield bought the Glen Cottage across the road in 1917. Family tradition holds that he bought it to prevent its being turned into a rooming house and tavern. A simpler explanation is that he wanted the additional lakefront that came with it. He kept that portion when he sold the rest of that property in 1920, putting in a tennis court and building a small garage and study, with a hen house at the back. The Penfield Lodge was constructed on that site in the 1950's.
The Micheners sold their first cottage, on the hill, to Frank S. Crane, a friend of Silas Paine and wholesale grocer from Newark, New Jersey. He and his wife and daughter Elizabeth began to spend summers at Silver Bay and seemed to fit in very well with their neighbors.
In about 1913, a young man, Dr. Charles Vail, came to Silver Bay to attend a missionary training conference. His intention was to go to India. On several occasions he was invited to visit the Penfields at their cottage on Van Buren Bay. He seemed to show a special interest in their eighteen-year-old daughter Charlotte. She was oblivious, but her grandmother, Charlotte Penfield Devins, recognized the signs. As a young eighteen-year-old student at Oberlin in 1866, she had met another India bound missionary, Thornton Bigelow Penfield. They were married and did go to India, where five years later he died of typhoid fever. Charlotte returned with two small children. She might have been looking to her granddaughter's interest when she suggested that the next time they invited Charles Vail to visit, they might also invite Elizabeth Crane. Dr. Vail took the bait. He and Elizabeth were married and went as missionaries to India. Of course, several year later, Charlotte married Dr. Reginald Atwater, at the cottage at Silver Bay -- and they went as missionaries to China.
This story has a happier ending. Both couples returned to this country and spent many happy summers at Silver Bay. Mrs. Vail may have introduced the Anglo-Indian custom of afternoon tea to Van Buren Bay, still continued, though less formally, in some cottages. The Crane house became known as the Vail Cottage. Virginia Vail Hood inherited the cottage and kept it as it had been, with much of the original furniture and artifacts which her parents had brought back from India. Dave and Terry McConaughy purchased the property in 1989.
Another early settler was S. Earl Taylor. He was a close friend and colleague of Luther Wishard, co-founder with him of the Young People's Missionary Movement and Secretary for Foreign Missions of the Methodist Episcopal Church. He served with Charles Michener on the Business Committee of the Silver Bay Association. He was particularly interested in what we would today call "outdoor ministry." In 1903 he personally purchased 250 acres of land around Jabez Pond and then sold it very reasonably to the Silver Bay Association. In 1905, for most of July and August, he conducted a private camp on one of the islands at Jabez, "away from the last vestige of civilization." That year he also purchased a plot of land just north of what was then the Micheners' hillside home. It was a beautiful location, high on the hill overlooking the lake, and he hired John Shattuck to build his cottage right on the ledge to take advantage of the view. Shattuck completed the cottage and may have lived there with his family over the winter. Next summer the Taylors moved in but had only been there two weeks when, according to legend, a spark from the unscreened fireplace set fire to a bear rug and the house went up in flames. The Taylors escaped, but evidently they had no desire to build again. That same year they sold their property to William B. and Muriel Millar.
Millar was another YMCA secretary. He was instrumental in founding the Army-Navy YMCA in 1898 and was responsible for Army-Navy training at Silver Bay. Later in life, as a Methodist minister, he became well known for starting one of the first Sunday radio programs in 1928. He built his cottage further back from the ledge on the site of an old barn or icehouse, and in 1913 he added a boathouse down by the water. Millar's children must not have shared in their father's piety -- or indeed the moral climate of the neighborhood. It is said that in later years they liked to cool their beer in the stream by the lake and hold loud parties in the boathouse. Bill Millar, Jr. and his wife Joan lived in the upper house for several years when he was in business in the area. His sister Flossy married Alexander Hehmeyer and they owned what we know now as the Sperling cottage for some years.
Bob and Bea Cole acquired the Millar property in 1960. Bob was well acquainted with Silver Bay, having first come with his parents in 1925 and several times later as guests of Edgar Guest, a YMCA secretary in Tarrytown, New York. They stayed in tents on the Guest property, just below what is now known as the Klebe cottage, across the highway from the entrance to the Sunrise and Jabez Pond trails. Bob remembered when Route 9N was put in over Tongue Mountain in 1927-1929, when he enjoyed watching the steam shovels and teams of horses at work. One of their tents suffered several holes from flying rock due to the blasting.
The new highway cut across Millar's property and came within just a few feet of his house, and when Bob and Bea purchased it, they considered tearing that house down and building closer to the ledge. But, as Bob said later, they grew to love the old house and decided to keep it, and in the 1970's they expanded it and made it a year-round dwelling. They also completely rebuilt and winterized the boathouse. Bob and his second wife Helen made Silver Bay their retirement home and lived at the boathouse, Shore Happy, until they both passed away in 2000. Dave and Terry McConaughy purchased the property in 2001. They call the upper house Ledgetop. Their daughter Nancy and her husband Shawn McLoughlin now own the lower house.
As mentioned earlier, Dr. Walter H. and Jeannie Fundenberg bought the guesthouse across the road from the entrance to Paine Hall in 1904. Dr. Fundenberg was a dentist, perhaps dean of the Pittsburgh Dental School, and close friend of Silas Paine. He kept his boat on Paine's pasture beach and the two liked to go fishing together. The Fundenbergs spent summers at the house for many years; it is said that neighborhood children called it the "Funny Bug Cottage." Built in about 1899, it is a charming Adirondack camp and blends beautifully into the woods around it. In 1913 the Fundenbergs added to their holdings when they bought most of Luther Wishard's property, starting with the land right next to their own and including the cottage, Bonnie Doon, up on Terrace Road, though they sold off much of it in the coming years. Dr. Fundenberg appears to have been somewhat territorial. A neighbor remembers him shooting his 22-rifle out the window of his side porch toward children crossing his property on their way down to swim. After her husband died, in 1940, Mrs. Fundenberg sold the cottage to Sarah and Harry Burris. Dave and Terry McConaughy bought the property in 1975. They built a new house higher up on the hill, with a clear view of the lake, and sold the older cottage the following year to Grant and Martha Van Patten, the present owners.
The white frame farmhouse at the intersection of Paine and Silver Bay Road, built in 1898, with its wide front porch and beautiful view of the lake, remained part of the Paine estate until Walter Fundenberg bought it in 1907. It continued to be used as a guest or rental cottage, often for visiting missionaries. Jane Hume McCormick Mitchell, whose parents had been missionaries in India, was born in that cottage in 1915, on the kitchen table of course. Dave Boyle rented it for so many summers that it became known for a time as the Boyle place. Shortly after Mortimer Bowen acquired the Paine estate in1939, he bought the farmhouse as well and divided it into rooms to accommodate guests at his Sunrise Mountain Bible Conference. Harold "Doc" McConaughy, the director of the Silver Bay Association from 1952 to 1966 purchased the property in 1961 and restored it as a single-family home. Jane and Paul Ingrey with Bob and Mary Alice Koehl owned the property for a number of years. It now belongs to Bob and Lee Woodruff.
Just next door to the Woodruffs, on Paine Road, is the cottage which Jack and Karin Close purchased in 1999. The land was originally part of Luther Wishard's property and was passed down through the Fundenbergs and Ralph Johnson to Roy and Geraldine Wagoner, who built the cottage in 1965. They sold it to James and Leslie Henry in 1977, who in turn sold it to Jack and Karin.
In earlier days, there was a widely accepted prejudice against living too close to the lake. People preferred to build higher up on the hill, away from the water, in order to avoid the "damp night humours." But with the construction of Penfield cottage and the conversion of several boathouses into summer homes, the prejudice, at least on Van Buren Bay, seems to have waned. In 1951, Ralph and Elizabeth Johnson sold their old house on Paine Road to Weston and Elizabeth Conant, and moved into the new house they had built right beside the lake on what had been Aunt Mary Paine's pasture. For their son Spear, it was a very familiar spot. When he was much younger, he had swum and kept his boat there. He used to canoe from that point over to the Braisted dock at Shawanapek on his way up to the General Store. And he remembers being frightened by the cows when he walked through the pasture and orchard on his way to Aunt Mary's. Later Spear and Shirley Johnson spent several winters in that house and now make it their permanent home for at least the warmer half of the year.
It used to be that cottagers on Van Buren Bay came for a full month if not the whole summer. For most of the men, time at the lake was a working vacation. Many were directors or instructors at the Silver Bay Association conferences and training programs. Some of the women were involved in those activities as well and several were leaders in the YWCA programs at Silver Bay. Most of the women, in keeping with the times, were responsible for their homes and families. For the children and teenagers, however, summers at Silver Bay must have been heaven.
The lake, of course, was the first attraction, for fishing, swimming, and boating. Rowboats and canoes were standard equipment. For longer trips, many families had what seem to us now to be elegant wooden motorboats. Old photographs attest to the picnics at Odell, Vicars, and Paradise Bay and camping on the islands. There were hikes to Jabez Pond and the Ice Gorge, camping trips to Pharaoh (walking all the way from Graphite Mountain), and blueberry picking on Tongue Mountain. One year the cottagers, really the older teens, put on a play at the Silver Bay Auditorium to benefit the Silver Bay Boys School. The cast of Mrs. Gorringe's Necklace is a list of Van Buren Bay names: Thornton Penfield, Jr. and his brother Paul, Daniel Knowlton, Muriel and Bill Millar, Geraldine and Kathryn McBrier.
|Heading for Pharaoh 1915|
|Arriving at Vicars 1916|
Later generations kept the traditions. Nancy Young speaks for many when she recalls her childhood summers. She remembers walking on top of the stone walls along Silver Bay Road up to Paine Hall. She got to know the other kids in the neighborhood when she went to Woozles and Crickets and the daily activities for older children. Afternoons were spent at the Oneita Boat Club or Bay Beach. In the evenings, the kids hung around together at the store or in each other's homes. The friendships made then, and renewed every summer, continued into the teen years when many became emps together at Silver Bay. Kids, and their parents, stay for a shorter time now and have less opportunity to make those lasting friendships, but look at the children's pavilion any morning or check out the store in the evening and you will see that some of the old traditions are still alive today.
 John D. Velte, unpublished recollections, 1987, SBA Archives.
 In 1901, even before Watts began his survey, Mary Paine sold Eva Fancher Wishard 6.5 acres for $410. Warren County Record of Deeds, Book 94, page 108.
 Luther D. Wishard, Silas H. Paine at Silver Bay, 1925, p. 22. He may have been referring specifically to the Student Volunteer Movement, but he was also closely associated with the Forward Movement of the Congregational Churches and helped to found the Young People's Missionary Movement at Silver Bay in 1902. The Movement probably refers broadly to the Christian missionary movement.
 Was he introduced to Silver Bay by his neighbor, Dr. John Davis, also of Princeton?
 Warren County Record of Deeds, Book 99, page 242.
 Bob Cole, Hague Historical Society talk, 1979, SBA Archives. Virginia Vail Hood's story is a little different. She recalls that while the Hales themselves were away from the house, they left their baby (a grandchild perhaps?) in the care of a maid. She was drying diapers in front of the wood stove when they caught fire and set the house ablaze. Virginia's grandfather, Mr. Crane, saw the blaze and rushed over but he was too late to help. The maid escaped with the baby, but the house was lost. Unpublished recollections, 1987, SBA Archives.
 E. Clark Worman, The Contributions of Silver Bay, 1902-1952, 1952, pp. 5-7.
 The deed is in the name of Margaret Reid Michener.
 See above, under The Glen Cottage.
 If, however, you see similarities in the design and construction of the Micheners' two cottages and several prominent Silver Bay buildings, you maybe persuaded that the architect was Dr. Franklyn E. Edwards of White Plains, New York, hired by Michener and the Business Committee of the SBA to design the auditorium and boathouse in 1906.
 The Micheners' son deserves a footnote. When the new Silver Bay auditorium burned in 1907, five year old Ried Michener was first to contribute 10 pennies toward its rebuilding. He later attended the Silver Bay School and was a star football and basketball player.
 Thornton B. Penfield, Memoirs, published for his family 1959.
 On a picture of the cottage taken in 1912, Martha Penfield wrote, "'Slab-sides Silo' waiting for a better name." On another picture she noted, "979 panes of glass in windows and doors, and seventeen outside doors."
 Thanks to Martha A. Duncan for this story.
 Silver Bay already owned property up to the pond. Taylor's purchase secured total control of it.
 E. Clark Worman, The Silver Bay Story, p. 44. The cost was $10 a week or $1.50 a day.
 Robert Cole, Hague Historical Society talk, 1979, SBA Archives.
 Robert Cole, Hague Historical Society talk, 1979, SBA Archives.
 Robert Cole refers to it as "the Griffin barn," but it may go back to Benjamin Van Buren's time.
 Robert Cole, "Travelling to God's Country," Lake George Mirror, August 25, 2000.
 Mildred Port, as told to Grant and Martha Van Patten.
 Jane Hume McCormick, unpublished recollections, 1987, SBA Archives.
 See Chapter 2 and Chapter 5.
 The term cottagers, meaning that group of Silver Bay Association families who lived off-campus, was adopted early on, though it is not used as much today, perhaps because the ties to Silver Bay are not so strong.
 Mrs. L.D. Wishard was among the YWCA leaders who made the decision to move their women's conferences from Northfield to Silver Bay.