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Sightseeing in the Nineteenth Century

Postcard of Steamer on the Canal near Bemis Heights – Stillwater Town Historian

There is a charm of novelty. . . as you sit upon the deck of your [canal boat] and the cows gaze peacefully at you from the pastures beyond, a few feet away.” Howard Pyle, 1896

When steamboat travel on the Hudson and Lake Champlain began in the first quarter of the 1800s, sightseers were regular passengers. When steam travel became more affordable and reliable by mid-century, sightseers were elbow to elbow with immigrants moving inland to populate the nation. By the middle of the nineteenth century, industrial cities grew increasingly foul and polluted, made more oppressive by the heat and humidity of the northeastern summer. Those with means could take a summer-long vacation to the countryside. Some came by steamboat, others by canal boat, a handful by yacht; many traveled by railroad or stagecoach or wagon. Grand hotels and summer communities grew up along Lake George, Lake Champlain, Saratoga Lake, and the many clear, cool lakes sprinkled throughout the Adirondacks.

There was plenty of industry in the Adirondacks, too. Deforestation for lumber, paper, pulp, and potash production, tanning, charcoal and lime kilns constituted an environmental catastrophe. The Adirondack Park was established in 1892 to protect what forest was left and to allow the forest to regenerate. Despite the growing piles of mine tailings and the diminishing stands of timber, the Champlain Canal region provided inspirational scenery, recreational opportunities and “restorative waters”, as at Saratoga Springs and along Saratoga Lake.

Since the nineteenth century, Saratoga Lake has remained a popular pleasure ground in summer and winter. In the early 20thcentury, White Sulfur Springs Hotel became a favorite training camp for boxers—Jack Dempsey trained for world-class title bouts there. The hotel was demolished for a road-straightening project in the twentieth century.

During the late nineteenth century, a trip up the Champlain Canal on a canal boat provided artistic inspiration for the illustrator Howard Pyle. Pyle wrote about and illustrated his experience of traveling from the Raritan Canal in New Jersey, through New York City, up the Hudson and the Champlain Canal into Lake Champlain, for Harper’s New Monthly Magazine in 1896. The photographs he took to record his journey are preserved in a photo album in the archives of Fort Ticonderoga.