Early Lake Houses Saratoga, New York
From: Reminiscences of Sratoga
Compiled by Cornelius E. Durkee
Reprinted from The Saratogian 1927-28

Early Lake Houses

With Saratoga Lake houses providing hospitality for many visitors here each summer, it is interesting to record the lake houses of early times. Moon’s lake house at the lake in 1853 was particularly celebrated for its fish dinners and for the potato chips which, it is claim- ed, originated at this resort. Myers Lake house on the eastern shore of the lake, was about a mile southeast of Moon’s. and was noted for fine game dinners with delicious “creamed potatoes.” Mrs. Myers, herself, it was commonly reported prepared the celebrated dish, just as it was also said that Mrs. Moon prepared the potato chips.

Avery’s Lake house was located about a mile north of Moon’s on the east side of the lake or at Fish Creek. It had quite a reputation in its day for fish and game dinners and was well patronized.

Peter Francis, familiarly called Pete Francis, was a half-breed Indian of the St. Regis tribe who lived in a small cottage on the southwest shore of the lake and epicures all agreed that no one could cook a fish as delicately and serve it as temptingly as “Pete.” When Pete Francis cooked a Saratoga Lake bass, fresh from the lake, criticism became dumb and the patron enjoyed a feast that one could not forget. Pete was a great favorite with his distinguished patrons among whom he numbered governors, judges, members of Congress and hosts of connoisseurs,

The story goes that when he was quite young he was employed by the French caterer and proprietor of the old Sans Souci hotel at Ballston Spa, Andrew Berger. and by him was taught to prepare fish in such a tempting manner. He was host, cook and waiter, and often waited on his customers barefooted.

Many of our citizens will rernember Crums’ even if they never dined or visited George Crum’s place at the south end of Saratoga Lake. The house was situated on a prominence overlooking the lake, with a small porch facing the road and lake. Cram had some Indian blood of the Stockbridge tribe, some Spanish and German blood in his veins, but was an Indian in appearance. His younger days were spent in the Adirondacks and be bacame a mighty hunter and fisherman. His services as a guide were in great demand. His com panion in the woods was a Frenchman and it was from him that he learned to cook.

On the death of the Frenchman. he took up his abode, near the south end of Saratoga Lake and prepared to serve guests. William H. Vanderbilt, who was a prominent visitor here in those days was extremely fond of canvasback ducks, but could not get them cooked properly in Saratoga, So he sent a couple to Crum to see what he could do with them. Crum had never seen a canvasback, but having boasted that he could cook anything, willingly undertook to prepare these.

“I kept them over the coals nineteen minutes,” Crum told me,” the blood following the knife and sent them to the table hot and Mr. Vanderbilt said he had never eaten anything like them in his life.” Mr. Vanderbilt was so pleased that he sent Crum many customers and he prospered in his business, He kept his tables laden with the best of everything and did not neglect to charge Delmonico prices.

His rules of procedure were his own, They were very strict and being an Indian, he never departed from them. Guests were obliged to wait their turn, the millionaire as well as the wage earner. Mr. Vanderbilt was once obliged to wait over an hour for a meal and Jay Gould and party, other visitors here in the early days when this resort was the capital of the fashionables of the country, waited as long another time. Crum left the kitchen to apologize to Mr. Gould. for the delay whereupon Mr. Gould said he understood the rules of the establishment and would willingly wait another hour.

Judge Hilton and a party of friends were turned away one day. “I can’t wait on you” said Crum” and he directed them over to another party, a rival house for dinner.

“George,” said Mr. Hilton” You must wait on us if we have to remain in the front yard for two hours.”

“I can cook for as many as can eat here,” said Crum,” but I can’t get waiters enough to look after the tables properly,”

Crum never had an assistant in the kitchen. He made his own fires, and no other hand touched the broiler, Nance of German-Indian descent was the business manager, the cashier, the bartender, the headwaiter, in fact general superintendent. Even Crum quailed before Nance. Crum and his Indian wife were quite old and both were glad to have Nance’s broad shoulders to lean upon. The two women seemed to live happily and peacefully together.


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