Maury Thompson

Apr 9, 2020

3 min read

Silver Bay in 1902 — Start of transformation

With the names “Happy Bunch” and “Jolly Joshers,” the “two rival crowds” couldn’t have been anything more than friendly competitors.

The two groups of men attending the first YMCA conference at Silver Bay Hotel in 1902 gathered at the dock each time a steamboat arrived to see which group could be the loudest yelling and most cordial greeters.

The City and Railroad Young Men’s Christian Association of the Eastern States and Canada that met Aug. 5–15, 1902 at Silver Bay, with 300 YMCA men and their families from some 40 cities attending, was deemed a success.

“Take it all in all, the conference was a rare combination of pleasure and profit, and will be a permanent feature of association life in the east,” The Lake George Mirror reported.

The conference, and others like it that summer, would become the model for operation of Silver Bay Association, established three years later and still operating now as a YMCA conference center on Lake George.

In another legacy development in 1902, Silver Bay changed the emphasis of its recreational activities.

“The guests have enjoyed as never before the pleasures of mountain climbing and outdoor life as a result of the special effort which has been made this year to interest them in this kind of recreation in preference to dancing and the conventional hotel society,” the Mirror reported, at the close of the season.

Philanthropist Silas Paine, who purchased the Silver Bay Hotel in 1897, was a supporter of Christian organizations, like the YMCA.

In 1902 he offered the YMCA use of the hotel and grounds for the rate of $1 per person, discounted from the going rate of $2.50 to $4 per person.

The experience was memorable.

“In the evening jolly songs and story telling in the foyer by the big fire place filled an hour after the meetings,” the Mirror reported.

“The members of the executive committee have voted to have a similar gathering next year,” The Morning Star of Glens Falls reported.

The hotel and grounds continued to meet YMCA expectations in subsequent summers.

“Silver Bay, on Lake George, is a beautiful spot for working out, under God, of a noble conception,” the Rev. L.W. Cronkhite, a long-time missionary to Burma, wrote in summer 1903.

“Their activity and development give hope … in and through the young people who rapidly transform knowledge into power, and are teeming with that joyous and creative life,” Baltimore YMCA President Goucher wrote in summer 1904, a season that more than 2,500 delegates attended various conferences at Silver Bay.

In February 1904, New York state Sen. William Barnes of Rensselaer County introduced legislation to charter the Silver Bay Association as a YMCA conference and training center.

At the end of 1904, the association reached its goal of raising $100,000 — the equivalent of about $2.9 million in 2020 dollars — to purchase the property and establish what The Morning Star proclaimed would be “a Lake George Chautauqua.”

“By a final strenuous effort on last Saturday, the fund of $100,000 necessary for the purchase of the Silver Bay Hotel and grounds on Lake George was completed,” the New York Tribune reported.

Two major donors had conditioned their funding on the association reaching its $100,000 goal — $70,000 to purchase the property and $30,000 for improvements and to launch the operation.

The $70,000 purchase price was less than half the value of capital improvements that Paine had made while he owned the property.

D. N. Yarnell, general secretary of the West Side branch of the YMCA of New York City, was hired as the first Silver Bay general secretary.

“He will devote his full time to the administration and the enlargement of its equipment and financial resources,” the Ticonderoga Sentinel reported.

Sources: Ticonderoga Sentinel, Feb. 20, 1902; Feb. 18, Aug. 4, 1904; Jan. 12, 1905; The Morning Star, Glens Falls, Aug. 12, 20, 1902; Aug. 7, 1903; Jan. 7, 1905; Lake George Mirror, June 6, Aug. 16, Sept. 13, 1902; New York Tribune, Jan. 7, 1905

Click here to read my most recent previous Silver Bay history post.