|TOWN OF WEBB HISTORICAL ASSOCIATION|
|P. O. Box 513, Old Forge, NY 13420 ~ Phone/Fax: 315 369-3838|
|Museum Hours: Tuesday through Saturday - 10am - 3pm ~ or by appointment|
A Tribute to George & Jennie Goodsell
Pioneer Settlers of the Old Forge, NY
The Goodsell Story follows taken from the report that was prepared for the State and National Register nominations by three Association Members, Ed Girtler, Reed Proper, and Town of Webb Historian Peg Masters.
Narrative Statement of Significance
The George Goodsell residence qualifies for the National Register of Historic Places under criteria B & C. George Goodsell earned his reputation as a trusted sportsmen's guide in the 1880s - 1890s by his pioneer exploration of the region and his expert woodland survival skills. With the formation of the Adirondack League Club (ALC) in 1890 and the coming of the Mohawk & Malone railroad in 1892, year-round employment spurred the development of the Old Forge region. George soon became one of the most sought out building contractors, especially for the great camp complexes in the Adirondack League Club. From 1902 to the 1920s, he was the principal building contractor for architect Augustus D. Shepard who designed most of the prestigious ALC lakeside retreats during this period. As a well-respected member of the fledgling community, George Goodsell served as the first mayor of the village of Old Forge, incorporated in 1903. His residence, the nominated property, is an understatement of the master craftsman skills he acquired, but it was a stately, prominent home for its time in the hamlet of Old Forge.
Historical Significance: George Goodsell - Adirondack Guide & Pioneer
George Goodsell was born in February 1859 on a farm in North Western near Rome, NY, the son of German immigrants. As a young man, before Dr. Wm. Seward Webb's railroad reached the Fulton Chain in 1892, George operated a stagecoach business from Boonville in neighboring Oneida County through the wilderness to the Old Forge region. In Boonville, he met and married Jennie Clark. Three of their four children were born in Oneida County between 1888 and 1894. During this time, George became an excellent Adirondack woodsman and became a guide for wealthy sportsmen. In 1892, he purchased a parcel of land between Third and Fourth Lakes in the Fulton Chain from the estate of A. G. Buel to use as a hunting camp to shelter clients. Guiding was a seasonal occupation. George, a skilled carpenter, supplemented his income in the 1890s by working as a building contractor in the off-season. According to the 1900 Federal Census, the family was living in their new home on Harrison Avenue (Main St.) in Old Forge. Their fourth child, Gerald, was born in the nominated residence in February of 1901.
George was a charter member of the newly formed Brown's Tract Guide Association, a stalwart group of local men who organized to petition the NYS Legislature for stricter game laws and for greater protection of wildlife habit which was under constant threat of forest fires caused by the steam locomotives. George was elected the first mayor of the village of Old Forge in 1903 and built the hamlet's first fire station ca. 1908 with meeting rooms above for the village board.
Historical Significance: George Goodsell - A Premier Building Contractor of Adirondack Retreats
George Goodsell was an extraordinary craftsman and building contractor in the Old Forge region, and many of his exclusive projects have survived and are tucked away beyond public view in private woodland retreats.
Ca. 1894, he built the impressive four-story Fourth Lake House for Charles & Ella Holliday next to his own Fourth Lake property. In the 1890s, he built a camp on First Lake for a sportsman client Samuel Dodd. During the first two decades of the 20th Century, George worked steadily as the principal building contractor for Adirondack League Club (ALC) member and architect Augustus D. Shepard. The exclusive sportsmen's club formed in 1890 and remains one of the largest private preserves (53,000 acres) in the Adirondacks today. New York City based Shepard is described in the ALC's 100th Anniversary publication as an architect who embraced the Arts and Crafts Movement and who's designs "celebrated the nature of wood, as well as stone and iron."
Many of the artistic lakeside camps, rustic boathouses, bungalows, teahouses, and gazabos designed by Shepard and built by George Goodsell are documented in Shepard's book, "Camps in the Woods" published by Architectural Book Publishing Co., of New York in 1931. Among these were the John U. Fraley chateausque camp in 1902, the Edmund Hayes commodious log cottage in 1903, the Riker camp in 1916, and the Cowles Camp in 1917. The Fraley camp was described in a New York Times article as an elaborate cottage of sixteen rooms, rustic furniture from the forests, but equipped with a billiard room, baths, and gaslights. Further testimony to George Goodsell's reputation as one of the best building contractors in the region is the extant "Brown Gables" camp that he constructed in 1910 on Big Moose Lake. The cottage was built for Manhattanite Clarence Kelsey and designed by Max Weshoff of the noted Saranac Lake firm of Coulter and Westhoff.
George's stately, yet conservative Victorian family residence in Old Forge served as a year-round place to meet with clients in the office he created for himself on the first floor. Tragedy struck the Goodsell family in April of 1908 with the death of George's thirty-eight year old wife Jennie. The grieving father was left to raise their four children and he never remarried.
World War I brought an austere halt to the construction boom of early 20th Century in Old Forge and the other resort communities along the Fulton Chain. Two of the three lumber mills closed for lack of able-bodied workers who had gone off to the war. George's oldest son Thomas was drafted and spent time in a Washington, DC hospital recovering from the 1918 flu epidemic. Son Robert Goodsell enlisted in the service in 1917 and was shipped to France. From his correspondence to his father, we learn that George still worked steadily as a game warden, caretaker or building camps for the more affluent members of the Adirondack League Club.
Robert Goodsell joined his father George in the construction business when he came home from the war and, like his father, guided sportsmen into the woods to hunt and fish. When George Goodsell died December 1st, 1924, Robert was at his bedside in the family home. Although a handsome and personable lad, popular with his classmates, Robert never married. He lived in the family's Main Street home, cared for his sister Tena until her death and survived all of his siblings. He spent many years working as a trusted caretaker for wealthy camp owners and gained notoriety in the 1940s piloting a popular movie actress in a guide boat up the Fulton Chain of Lakes to Saranac Lake. The story was featured in a Look Magazine article in June of 1942. He was an active member of the local American Legion and the Old Forge Fire Department, and reached his 100th birthday in January of 1994. Having personally witnessed his community's first one hundred years of existence, and proud of the Goodsell family's role in its development, Robert generously willed the family home to the Town of Webb Historical Association upon his death in August of 1994. In his will, he requested it be named the "Goodsell Memorial Home" in honor of his beloved father.
The Goodsell Memorial Home is more than just a representative residence in the Old Forge hamlet that was built during the height of the late 19th Century growth of the community. It stands as a tribute to the rugged, pioneering spirit of the founding fathers, such as George Goodsell, who carved out a living in our harsh, often forbidding climate. Behind all the more famous stories of the Adirondack Great Camps of the industrial tycoons of the Gilded Age are the stories of the skilled local woodsmen, carpenters, and caretakers who built and maintain these elaborate mountain retreats. The George Goodsell residence, under the stewardship of the Town of Webb Historical Association, is a tangent symbol of this community's rich heritage and thus an important part of our own unique Adirondack story.
George Goodsell (center) building the Riker Camp at the Adirondack League Club
9. Major Bibliographical References
New York Times, "Rocky Point Happenings," July 20, 1902, p. 26
Shepard, Augustus D. "Camps in the Woods," New York; Architectural Book Publishing, Inc. 1931.
Grady, Joseph F. "The Adirondacks: Fulton Chain-Big Moose Region, The Story of a Wilderness" Little Falls, NY; 1933
Look Magazine, "Jinx Falkenburg Takes A Canoe Trip," Vol. 6, No. 17, August 25, 1942
The Adirondack League Club, 1890-1990," Brodock Press, Inc., Utica, NY, 1990; (1250 First Edition copies), Forward by Thad Collum, President of ALC in 1990.
Barlow, Jane (Editor), "Big Moose Lake in the Adirondacks," Big Moose Lake History Project/Syracuse University Press, published 2004, p. 165 (Soft Cover edition).
Tax records for Town of Wilmurt/Webb; Goodsell property deeds; Federal Census records for Goodsell family; Goodsell Correspondence & photos, all on file at the Town of Webb Historical Association (TOWHA).
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Last Updated: March 7, 2015