Video courtesy of The Folklife Center at Crandall Public Library
Opened in June 1855, the Fort William Henry Hotel was located at the head of Lake George at its southernmost point in the Village of Caldwell (now Lake George Village). On a bluff, the 3-story hotel’s main building had a lake-facing frontage stretched out 235 feet with an east wing stretching an additional 115 feet.
After a successful first year, the building was sold and its new owner had the building jacked up, adding a main story with 16 foot high ceilings. An additional 2 stories were added to the main building with towers at either end. A similar tower was also added at the end of the east wing. These changes increased the hotel’s capacity from 350 to over 900 people. T.E. Roessle & Sons, the new owners, advertised plans to add a west wing to match the east wing, but those plans were never realized.
Running the length of the lakeside, a spectacular new veranda was built whose overhanging roof was supported by 30 foot tall Corinthian columns.
The resort, and its surrounding grounds, was a hub of activity where guests strolled enjoying the views or partook in other recreational activities.
At the turn of the century, the Fort William Henry was showing signs of age and several costly renovations to the interior and exterior were required, including private bathrooms.
Then, on the morning of June 24, 1909 at the onset of the summer season, the hotel was completely destroyed by fire.
The Second Fort William Henry Hotel
A year after the fire, the hotel’s owners, the Delaware & Hudson Railroad, committed to rebuilding a much smaller hotel that would accommodate around 150 guests. On June 17, 1911, the second Fort William Henry Hotel opened for business. The white stucco building was 3 stories with a red tile roof, and was designed to be less susceptible to a catastrophic fire, like the one that destroyed the first hotel.
While the hotel itself was smaller, the emphasis on being a lavish resort remained. The most notable new feature was the marble and concrete pergola along the lakefront. A walkway connected the hotel to the pergola. Guests would cross a bridge over the shore road which is now the location of the Beach Road public parking lot. People danced to music provided by a resident orchestra, and enjoyed refreshments while taking in the picturesque view.
From the latter part of 1912, the Fort William Henry Hotel opened to receive winter guests, making it a year-round resort, as it remains today. Guests enjoyed skating, sledding and skiing.
Towers Hall was built for use as an automobile garage. The building still stands and has been used as a theater and as a meeting/convention space.
The Great Depression saw a significant drop in business and the D&H Railroad would later sell the hotel.
New owners – Lots of Changes
The Fort William Henry Corporation was founded in 1952 by a group of entrepreneurs from Lake George and the Capital District. Its original purpose was to purchase and operate the Fort William Henry Hotel and to build a replica of the Fort William Henry fortress of the 1755 French and Indian War Period.
Around this same time, an attempt to meet the new tourist trend was made as a 64 unit motel was added to the property. The motel unit still stands and operates today as the Standard West unit. From 1959 through 1961, the restoration of the Fort William Henry fortress developed into a tourist attraction, but admission and gift shop sales were not enough to make up for losses by the hotel. A changing tourist profile no longer desired the old hotel.
In 1969, the Fort William Henry Corporation decided to demolish the old hotel and operate just the 64 unit motel as the Fort William Henry Motor Inn. However, the hotel’s dining room and kitchen were saved and renovated in 1971-72 as the White Lion Room. The service wing was also kept. These buildings remain and are still in use. The service wing is now used as administrative offices.
A gala event is planned to celebrate the White Lion Room’s 100th anniversary.
1984 brought expansion in the addition of a 35 room annex and indoor pool, which is still in use as the Premium East building.
Building to the present day Fort William Henry Hotel and Conference Center
In 1999-2000, hoping to attract the business crowd, the corporation constructed a 10,500 square foot conference center connected to the Trolley Restaurant, which is now the Village Blacksmith Steakhouse. In order to attract larger conferences, it was decided that additional upscale accommodations were needed. Thus, the decision was made to construct a 5-story all suite hotel on the footprint of the 1911 hotel. Designs for the new hotel closely mirrored those of the 1911 hotel as well.
Ground was broken on October 30, 2002, and the Fort William Henry Hotel opened to receive its first guests on July 18, 2004.