A Trove of Vintage Lake George Photographs

by Tony Hall | August 2023, History

Photograph courtesy of Bolton Historical Museum


Though by far the better known, Seneca Ray Stoddard and Jesse Wooley are not the only commercial photographers to have trained their lenses on Lake George. Two less prominent though equally industrious photographers, Jule Thatcher (1856–1934) and his son and successor Fred Thatcher (1881–1969), also chronicled life along the shores of the so-called Queen of American Lakes.

For 75 years, the two photographers captured everything from chowder parties to swim marathons and everyone from prize fighters to Roosevelts. Some, like the photos of the Gold Cup speedboat races of the 1930s, are of historical interest. Still others show us what life was like here, and, sadly, how much has been lost—such as the “cottages” on Millionaire’s Row, the architecture of the great hotels and the elm tree–lined streets.

The Thatchers left behind an archive of more than 7,000 photographs and negatives that are now the property of the Bolton Historical Museum, in Bolton Landing. 

Jule Thatcher, who was born in Ticonderoga, began his career in a Lake George shop that made tintypes; in 1874, he opened a photography studio in Bolton Landing. There, he turned the shoreline near his business into an outdoor studio. Using natural light rather than magnesium flash, Thatcher created portraits of Lake George visitors that were more realistic than any he could have made in the studio, where he would have had to rely on props and backcloths.

Postcards were not yet common, but these photographs served a similar purpose: a souvenir of a visit to Lake George.

Fred Thatcher, who learned his craft and trade from his father, was also a pioneering postcard photographer, creating thousands of images of steamboats, historic sites and regattas to be sold to the middle-class tourists who flocked to Lake George in the wake of the wealthy cottagers and hotel guests.

After World War I, Fred opened his studio at a busy intersection in Lake George. Among other things, he hand-colored negatives to create prints of scenic views, which he considered his best work. But he was not only a commercial photographer; he was also a hotel operator, a builder and a public official, serving as mayor, assessor, Justice of the Peace, village trustee and treasurer of the volunteer fire department.

According to Glenn A. Long, Bolton Historical Museum’s executive director, the Thatcher photographs “comprise the strongest collection in the museum’s holdings. It’s a resource to be tapped for any story we want to tell.”

This summer, the story to be told with the help of the Thatchers’ photographs is that of 10 women with connections to Bolton who had profound and lasting impacts on American life. “She Did… What?” will remain on view through Columbus Day.

Bolton Historical Museum (518-644-9960, www.boltonhistoricalmuseum.org) is at 4924 Main Street, in Bolton Landing.

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