Presidential Connection - Benjamin Harrison
Summer Resident on Second Lake, Fulton Chain 1895-1901
Benjamin Harrison was born in 1833 into a family steeped in patriotism. His father was a U. S. Senator, his grandfather, William Henry, the 9th American President, and his great-grandfather Benjamin, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. Yet Benjamin’s parents struggled to raise nine children on their farm in Ohio. The family suffered at times from illnesses such as cholera, smallpox, influenza, typhoid, dysentery, and scarlet fever. His favorite brother Irwin, who fought with him in the Civil War, died of tuberculosis in 1870 at the age of thirty-eight. That year Benjamin bought himself a rowing machine for $36. Annual hunting and fishing trips were among the few indulgences he allowed himself.
After the White House years according to Harry J. Sievers, a Harrison biographer, "Only with the advent of a summer vacation in the Adirondacks could he claim immunity from the press and its reporters." In 1895 he rented a primitive board shanty camp on the Fulton Chain from Samuel Dodd of St. Louis. There he managed to write articles, hunt and fish, and relax with family and friends. Benjamin wrote to a friend August 1, 1895, "Old Forge, NY is a beautiful and delightful region" and added "we have not had a hot day or night since we have been here." He so loved the outdoor life that in October he bought a 37-acre peninsula of land on the south shore of the Fulton Chain between First and Second Lakes from Dr. Webb.Harrison hired Charles E. Cronk, a Herkimer, New York architect to design and build a camp he decided to call Berkeley Lodge after his family‘s ancestral Virginia plantation. The Lodge living room was flanked by twin octagonal towers at either end. The exterior of Berkeley was sheathed with spruce logs at the bottom and shingles below the eaves. Attached to Berkeley was a cottage containing a kitchen, dining room, and office. The camp also had a house for guides and a boathouse. A guest book at his presidential library in Indianapolis lists guests signatures, incidents, impressions, and images of the visitors from July 23, 1896 to September 7, 1909, the year the property was sold. The Lodge, although altered, and several other buildings survive to this day.
Harrison astonished his family in 1896 by marring thirty-eight year old Mary Lord Dimmick, the daughter of his wife’s sister. Mary spent many holidays with the Harrisons and in 1892 attended her Aunt Carrie at Loon Lake and at the White House during the last month of her life. The wedding took place in April of 1896 in New York City and Berkeley Lodge served as a honeymoon retreat that summer. The following February a daughter they named Elizabeth was born.
By all accounts, the Harrisons enjoyed their privacy but mingled at times (without benefit of the secret service or sniffing dogs) with the local residents. Benjamin Harrison good-naturedly spoke at the dedication of the newly remodeled Forge House in 1896, attended services at the Presbyterian Church, and was known to favor the chicken and biscuit dinners at the Bald Mountain House on Third Lake. The first place in the United States where mail was delivered by boat occurred on the Fulton Chain of Lakes due to the intervention of the former President. The mailboat service on the lakes continues to this day. Berkeley photos that have survived include one of President Harrison on the "grocery boat" that stopped at his dock; of the family buying goods from a Native American woman who came to Berkeley in a canoe; and a photo of Elizabeth swimming in Second Lake. Harrison’s guideboat and bathtub are on display at our Historical Association. His new life was cut short in 1901 when he died of pneumonia at his home in Indianapolis. Several Berkeley photos available at the Presidential Library link below.
- Notes on Harrison's life, family, holidays by Town of Webb Historian Peg Masters from Harry J. Sievers 3-Volume Biography
- C-SPAN's 20th Anniversary Television Series, American Presidents: Life Portraits, March-December 1999 - includes video of the program
- Presidential Library exhibit on Berkeley Lodge at Harrison Home in Indianapolis
- White House Former Presidents Biographies - Benjamin Harrison, and William Henry Harrison
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