Wreck of the John Jay

The steamer John Jay was built around 1848 in Ticonderoga for John Jay Harris. The John Jay was about 140-150 feet long with a paddle wheel on each side and was made of oak. Its upper deck was covered with a flat wooden roof.

The John Jay was used to move passengers and cargo up and down the lake at the breath taking speed of 12-15 MPH. In 1854 a new steam boat company was formed, The Lake George Steam Boat Company. They bought the John Jay from Harris - lock, stock and barrel so to speak.

From 1848 until 1856 the John Jay had an uneventful career, but in the summer of '56 she had a fatal accident. The John Jay left Ticonderoga at 6 PM on July 29, 1856. While passing Friends Point she caught on fire. There was much speculation as to the cause of the fire. Some said was due to wind stopping the draft in the stack causing increased pressure in the boiler. This blew the boilers doors open and spread hot coals to the stacked wood and ignited it. There was a high wind that night due to a storm. Others claimed it was due to the burning of soft wood like pitch pine. Being high in creosote it might have started a stack fire. While others said it was due to carelessly leaving the boiler doors open. Whatever might have happened the results would have been the same.

The burning steamer continued past the Waltonian Islands and attempted to make it to the shallow waters of Hague. Unfortunately as they passed Waltonian the steering ropes burned through. The Pilot went to the stern and tried to jury rig the rudder to regain control. By now they were heading toward shore but due to the smoke, visibility was poor. With steering control they could have turned right and put the boat in the shallows by Temple Knoll Island, but without it they tried for one of two small coves on the shore.

The John Jay struck a rock between the two small coves. Due to the smoke and the panic of the 80 passengers some died. The passengers that jumped off the left side of the boat went into deep water and others that went off the front right could almost jump to shore. One young girl was put on a box in the water and safely made it to shore. The box was owned by "Old Dick" the rattlesnake man. He would show his snakes to the passengers for a small fee. The box of snakes and the little girl made it to shore without incident.

Six lives were lost that day and one woman's body was never recovered. The rock the John Jay struck is still known as Calamity Rock. The wreckage lies just south of Temple Knoll and Bouy B5, directly in front of a private camp, the second one going from right to left. Part of the John Jay can be seen from the surface, but it's very close to shore in about 10 feet of water.

Here is an interesting e-mail sent to me by a visitor to this page. I thought I would share it with you.

"I did a search using my name and came upon your page- VERY interesting! My name is John Jay Harris, not THAT weird, but I was born on July 29th 1965!!! The same day that the "John Jay", (named after JJH), was sunk! How strange is that?! I live in Utah and have no ties that I know of to New York, but I thought I'd pass along this funny little coincidence!"

If you go to see the John Jay please respect the home owner's rights, don't anchor in front of their camp.

The above picture is not of the John Jay, I was unable to find a picture of it. The picture is of the steam boat Horicon*. The Horicon was about 40' longer than the John Jay but like the John Jay, it was a side wheeler with a single stack.

For those of you that might be interested in old pictures of the Lake George area in the 1800's try this link. Early Pictures If you are familiar with the Northern Lake George area look at Picture # 81 labeled Roger's Rock at the above link. This looks more to me like Anthony's Nose taken from Blairs Bay than it does of Rodgers Rock. Let me know what you think.

*The word Horicon was used by Hawkeye in James Fenimore Coopers "The last of the Mohicans" as a name for Lake George. It is in fact a fictitious name and was never the name of Lake George.

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