Canoe Island Lodge a favorite vacation spot for decades
LAKE GEORGE DIAMOND POINT — William C. Busch Jr. loved picnics.
People who visited the Busch lodge in the Adirondack Mountains became part of Bill’s Thursday night supper club. Barbecue chicken, potato salad, baked beans and soft drinks were often on the menu.
The tradition will continue this summer in Lake George. The water is warming at Canoe Island Lodge, the resort Busch built on the west side of the lake during the mid-1940s. Families on summer break will soon bring tennis racquets, sunscreen lotion, bicycles, hiking shorts, swim suits and coolers to Diamond Point.
While Bill and his wife, Jane Richter Busch, have passed away, the spacious lodge remains in family hands. According to the Lake George Regional Chamber of Commerce, it is one of the few motels or lodges that has been owned by one family for such a long period of time.
Canoe Island is now operated by Tom and Carla Busch Burhoe.
“You become very emotionally attached to the traditions and the returning guests,” said Carla Burhoe, 47, the Busches’ youngest daughter. “Now that we have brand-new guests coming, sometimes they’re the most interesting to me because they come in and it’s something they’ve been looking for that they didn’t think existed anymore and they’re so happy that you end up with a whole new generation of people who are pleased that a place like this still exists.”
The lodge is on Lake Shore Drive (Route 9N), about five miles north of Lake George Village. Canoe Island’s 30 acres include redwood cabins and chalets with mint green trim, a restaurant, tavern, boathouse, private beach and clay tennis courts. Three navy blue sailboats are in the water and ready for day trips. The resort’s island — Canoe Island — is 3/4 of a mile off shore.
Traditions are still honored. In addition to the Busch island barbecue, an early morning camp breakfast is offered on Tuesdays. People who sign up for a week’s worth of vacation also have signed up for the Canoe Island breakfast and dinner, and are assigned their own seats or tables in the lodge dining hall.
Bill Busch and his construction friends built the dining hall and the other dozen buildings on the premises.
For Busch, moving north meant leaving a steady job in an Albany family business. Bill and his father, Bill Busch Sr., ran a farm in Slingerlands and operated a butcher shop in Albany. The father-son team owned a refrigerated truck, and during the early 1940s, found customers in the Adirondacks.
“Before the Northway was built, when you would drive to do the meat deliveries to the dude ranches that were along the Hudson River, it was a long trip and often my dad would spend the night on a Friday night after his last delivery,” said Carla, sitting with Tom in the lodge’s rustic, pine-walled lobby.
Busch liked the people and the scenery. At age 27, he decided to invest in the North Country. He purchased Canoe Island in 1943 with a agricultural down payment — 124 bushels of buckwheat seed. The balance was $2,500.
“One of the reasons I liked to get into that sort of business was because there were always a lot of good looking girls around,” Busch said, in narration from home movies compiled in 1990 in which the lodge's bathing beauties and building projects are featured. “A lot of people think probably somebody gave me the place, but I enjoyed working on it.”
In 1946, Busch built six log cabins on his land across from the island and welcomed his first guests on June 15, 1946. He married Jane, a former telephone operator who lived in Albany, in June 1948. Construction and renovations continued through the 1960s.
Tom Burhoe said his father-in-law must have had confidence his resort would succeed. “This was a complete unknown,” he said. “That butcher business was a strong, Albany business and he could have gone down and taken that business and done very well. But he never reversed course. He went straight ahead.”
Busch was an accommodating host. He took group photos of his guests every week. During the early years, he drove his truck into the village of Lake George to pick up Canoe Island guests who had taken the train into the mountains.
Now people drive themselves. Earlier this month, more than 100 reached Diamond Point by motorcycle, filling rooms at the Canoe Island and other Lake George motels and resorts for the annual Americade bike rally. The resort has beds for about 180 people.
Same room annually
Tom Burhoe, 51, who was still in college when he began working at the Canoe in 1983, said people who visit for a week receive the option of reserving the same room and same summer time the following year. That can make it tougher for new visitors to book vacations. But not impossible.
“Flexible is good,” Tom said. “Third week in August? It might have been taken by the same people for the past 35 years. But if there’s one constant, it’s change. Things always open up.”
The poor economy during the past few seasons has opened up some dates. The Burhoes have hated to scratch names off their reservation list — these are people who have lost their jobs.
“Those are hard calls to take,” Tom said. “You know those people, you see them every summer for 20 years.”
Some customers have been coming since the 1950s, from the Capital Region, northern New Jersey, Connecticut and Rochester. In some cases, children who played on the beach and in the water return as adults. Some things look the same, Carla said. Other things seem different.
“When they come into the dining room, they can’t believe it’s not 10 times as big,” she said. “Their memories as children was there was this cavernous room. They walk down to the end where the moose is over the fireplace and they stand up and say, ‘Wow. When I was a kid, that seemed like it was 100 feet tall.”
Carla believes people appreciate a family-run business.
“We are hands-on,” she said, explaining the lodge’s success. “And we know these people, we know their children and we knew some of their parents. I know a lot about these people so when they check in, you know not only who they are, but who doesn’t get to have down pillows and who has a pine nut allergy and whose kid is leaving early because they’re starting college.”
She describes the place as a “camp for families.” Waterskiing, sailing, scenic cruises, live music, talent shows and movie nights are all part of the package.
The Burhoes begin preparing for each season in April, repairing damage from the previous winter, turning on water lines and making minor changes to rooms. They open Canoe Island around Memorial Day, and this year will remain open until mid-September.
Framed photos of Bill and Jane — who died in 2000 and 2005, respectively — still hang in the dining room. Their names are still on the Canoe Island sign on Route 9N. Tom Burhoe feels the founder’s presence in other ways.
“Carla’s dad’s voice is in my head every day,” he said. “He’s telling me to do something or what to look out for, or telling me to slow down and do something right.”