Among the thousands of photographs taken by Lake George photographer Fred Thatcher (1881-1969) are dozens of images of Marcella Sembrich (1858-1935), internationally celebrated Metropolitan Opera star and teacher at The Curtis Institute of Music and the Juilliard School, who summered in Bolton Landing from 1922-1934. Take a stroll through the grounds and gardens surrounding Sembrich's beautiful summer estate Bay View.
A Bit About Thatcher
Fred Thatcher (1881-1969) was the son of well-known Bolton Landing photographer Jule Thatcher, who had his studio on Sagamore Road. Fred Thatcher opened his own studio south of the lake in the Village of Lake George on the corner of Canada Street and Beach Road. Fred Thatcher took thousands of photos of Lake George and its residents, visiting celebrities, regattas, hotels, sea planes, stagecoaches, automobiles, and residences. In 2010, his grandchildren donated the entire archive of Thatcher's photographic work to the Historical Society of the Town of Bolton. The archive spans from about 1880-1950 and includes images by both Jule and Fred Thatcher. Within the archive are photographs of celebrities including President Theodore Roosevelt, Polish-American Soprano Marcella Sembrich, American Contralto Louise Homer, and several other noted politicians and celebrities. Thanks to a special loan of archive materials, The Sembrich is able to present a special collection of newly digitized images relating to Madame Marcella Sembrich and her time in the Lake George area.
A Bit About Bay View
Sembrich's Bay View estate was situated on approximately 15 acres of shorefront property with the remaining acreage located on the opposite side of Bolton Road (now Route 9N/Lake Shore Drive). Located at the southern end of the village of Bolton Landing, Bay View's lakeside grounds were meticulously kept and manicured. Schermerhorn Construction Co., a local contractor who completed renovations to Bay View and constructed The Sembrich Studio, completed much of the initial landscaping and general property maintenance. A caretaker, John Forsell, was employed by Sembrich to maintain the property year-round.
Let's Start the Tour
We will start the tour at the Sembrich point lookout (seen here). The northeastern corner of Sembrich point featured a brick terrace commanding spectacular views of Lake George. From this spot, one could view The Sagamore Hotel, Dome Island, Clay Island, Recluse Island, and Homer Point. This patio still stands in this same location, though now between cabins. A similar terrace was constructed to the south of this location on The Sembrich grounds following the sale of the majority of the estate and the conversion of The Sembrich Studio to a museum in 1937.
Sembrich Students Swim at Bay View (1926-30) by Fred Thatcher (1881-1969)The Sembrich
The northern corner of Sembrich point sloped gently into the lake, offering students and visitors an ideal place to swim on warm summer days.
Fun Fact: If you look closely you can see Madame Sembrich at the base of the stone wall looking at the group through her opera glasses. While study was serious, Madame Sembrich knew the value of outdoor recreation.
Sembrich Students on the Shore of Lake George (1926-32) by Fred Thatcher (1881-1969)The Sembrich
Located just to the south of the lookout terrace was a large statue of a deer. This statue was here before Sembrich obtained the property. It appears in several photos by Lake Placid photographer G.T. Rabineau, who photographed Bay View in 1922 and in a few other images that predate Rabineau's photos.
Fun Fact: The terrace that was built on The Sembrich's grounds after 1935 is located on the shoreline seen in the extreme right of the photo, just beyond the trees.
Bay View and Bench from Sembrich Point (1935-39) by Fred Thatcher (1881-1969)The Sembrich
Looking across back at the shore from the brick terrace in the previous photos, one could get picturesque views of Bay View and Bolton Bay.
We'll continue our tour by walking along the northern shore of Sembrich point from the terrace (pictured to the left with the flagpole) to the boathouse. This small boathouse was constructed in 1923 by Schermerhorn Construction Co. The boathouse featured pink stucco siding to match Bay View and the teaching studio built on the southern shore of Sembrich Point. Bolton Bay was once the docking site for William Demuth's (Bay View's former owner) steam vessel "The Geneva." The original boathouse was larger and closer to the house. Sembrich's new boathouse was built further down the shoreline to face Bay View. Today a larger boathouse stands in the same location.
Sembrich and Family on the Bay View Dock (1924-34) by Fred Thatcher (1881-1969)The Sembrich
The boathouse was wired for electricity and featured a pier-style dock with an electric lamp post and a station-style bench.
Madame Sembrich would often arrive in Lake George via train. A rail station was located in the village at Lake George's southern shore. From there, Sembrich would travel by car or by boat to Bay View. In a recollection from Theresa Falcon, the trip to Bay View by boat would take about an hour. Falcon, the goddaughter of Sembrich's cook, summered at Bay View with her godmother Therese Kinnesberger.
Pictured here is Madame Sembrich (right), daughter-in-law Juliette de Coppet Stengel (center), and granddaughter Anita de Coppet (left) on the dock at Bay View.
On the Boat at Bay View (1924) by Fred Thatcher (1881-1969)The Sembrich
Here, we see Juliette de Coppet Stengel (right) taking Therese Kinnesberger (center), and Anita de Coppet (left) for a boat ride in Bolton Bay. While Sembrich occupied much of her time with teaching, Bay View was also a place for recreation and to enjoy the natural beauty of the Adirondack Mountains and Lake George.
Fun Fact: Madame Sembrich can be seen on the shore waving.
Curtis and Juilliard Students on Lake George (1926-32) by Fred Thatcher (1881-1969)The Sembrich
Madame Sembrich encouraged her students to enjoy the outdoors. In their free time, the students at Bay View took full advantage of all Lake George and Bolton Landing had to offer. Students would often boat to lunch at Paradise Bay or the nearby Lake George Club.
"Bayview" Beautiful Home of Madam Sembrich (1924-34) by Fred Thatcher (1881-1969)The Sembrich
Just around the bend from the boathouse, we come to a split in the path, the left leads to Bay View (check out our exhibit "A Tour of Bay View" to learn more about the house and see the immaculate interior.)
For this tour, we'll take the shoreline path on the right, continuing our walk along the bay.
A House with a View
Between Bay View and the lake shore, we can see Bay View's beautiful terraced front lawn. When Sembrich initially purchased the property, there was a path and staircase leading to the shore where the group in this photo sits. The stairs and path were moved to the southern end of the terrace, in front of the tower, to create a more spacious open lawn. (The staircase can be seen in the previous photo.)
Bolton Bay from Demuth's Bay View (ca. 1900) by UnidentifiedThe Sembrich
This postcard from the time of William Demuth, one of Bay View's previous owners, shows the view of Bolton Bay (ca. 1900). The terrace, where we began our tour, once featured a pagoda-style gazebo top. We can also see the deer statue standing to the right of the gazebo.
The gazebo top was removed from the property sometime between 1900 and 1920. The structure was purchased and moved across the frozen lake to a property located to the south on Homer Point.
Sembrich and Curtis Students on Bolton Bay (ca. 1930) by Fred Thatcher (1881-1969)The Sembrich
Here we can see the same view from Bay View's front lawn, including Sembrich's new boathouse and pier. Today, the entirety of Bolton Bay is lined with new homes and cottages.
The Gazebo Classroom
Continuing north, past Bay View on the lakeside path, a small gazebo sat on the edge of the bay. This structure was one of several used as a classroom for students' studies. Today, a part of Carey's Lakeside Cottages stands in this location.
Madame Sembirch's Students at Lake George (1929-30) by Fred Thatcher (1881-1969)The Sembrich
Minna Saumelle, (seated in a chair) taught diction at both the Curtis Institute and Juilliard Graduate School. The students in this photo are from the Curtis Institute.
The University of Modern Languages
Just beyond the gazebo, the lakeside path turned to follow the northern boundary of the property. Situated along the northern fence, a small single-room cottage, named the "University of Modern Languages" by Madame Sembrich, also hosted language and diction classes.
Sembrich Students at The University of Modern Languages (1926-32) by Fred Thatcher (1881-1969)The Sembrich
The structure was relocated from the extreme northern edge of the estate to the extreme southern edge of Sembrich Point between 1935 and 1937. It was used as a bath house by the de Coppet family until the early 1960s. The structure still stands, serving as a display room and practice space for performers.
The instructor, Mme. Tavernier (pictured seated to the right), taught French language to Sembrich's students. It is not clear if she was employed by Juilliard or Curtis, or was simply a personal friend of Sembrich.
The North Lawn Gardens
Continuing along the path we move into Madame Sembrich's formal gardens. The garden plots were located on the northern lawn, between the University of Modern Languages (UML) and Bay View. You can see the corner of the UML in the extreme right of the photo.
Sembrich and Summer Students in Bay View Gardens (1929-30) by Fred Thatcher (1881-1969)The Sembrich
Sembrich enjoyed gardening and spending time outdoors. Bay View offered ample space for gardens which Sembrich tended in the morning following breakfast and before beginning her daily teaching activities.
Bolton Garden Show (1927-08-05) by The Post StarThe Sembrich
Madame Sembrich's gardens were one of many put on display each year in the Lake George Garden Club's Annual Flower Show and Market. There are no reports of Sembrich's gardens winning prizes, but in all the articles from 1923-1934, Madame Sembrich is always first in the list of gardens on display in Bolton.
Sembrich and Curtis Students in the Bay View Orchard (ca. 1930) by Fred Thatcher (1881-1969)The Sembrich
A portion of the north lawn also featured an orchard containing several apple trees. These apples, along with other vegetables grown on the property were preserved and brought back to New York City in the winters. This was overseen by cook Therese Kinnesberger, who traveled with Madame Sembrich between the city and Bolton Landing.
Curtis Students with Marcella Sembrich (ca. 1930) by Fred Thatcher (1881-1969)The Sembrich
The path leading to the formal gardens from the north wall of Bay View was lined with hydrangeas. The northern face of the house can be seen in the upper left of this photo.
Marcella Sembrich Tends Flowers at Bay View (1929) by Fred Thatcher (1881-1969)The Sembrich
Though the mature age of the hydrangea bushes implies that they were planted well before Sembrich's purchase of the property, they have become an iconic symbol of The Sembrich. Today, the small bay near The Sembrich Studio is still lined with dozens of hydrangea bushes that continue to bloom.
The Garage & Gatehouses
Walking towards Bolton Road (now State Route 9N/Lake Shore Drive) from the north lawn brings us up a small hill to the garage and chauffer's cottage. The garage was advertised to hold five automobiles. To the left of the garage, we can see the stone and wrought iron fence that ran along the road for the entire length of the estate.
Sembrich Students at the Bay View Practice Cottage (1929-30) by Fred Thatcher (1881-1969)The Sembrich
Continuing on, past the garage, we find another gazebo and a gatehouse beside the main entrance to the estate. This entrance is now the main entrance to Carey's Lakeside Cottages.
Interior of the Practice Cottage at Sembrich's Bay View (1929) by Fred Thatcher (1881-1969)The Sembrich
The gatehouse was used as a practice studio. The cottage was similar in construction to The Sembrich studio, including a similar vaulted ceiling.
Practice Cottage and Juilliard and Curtis Students (1929-30) by Fred Thatcher (1881-1969)The Sembrich
Among the many collaborative pianists from Curtis to study at Sembrich's musical colony, Sylvan Levin, a Curtis Institute piano and conducting student (seated third from left) went on to be the Assistant Conductor of The Philadelphia Orchestra. Levin also founded the Philadelphia Grand Opera Company in 1938 and served as its director for six years. He joined the faculty of the Curtis Institute later in his life, teaching voice and piano.
Levin spent the summers of 1928-1930 at Bay View coaching students. While he was not a singer himself, he learned much from Sembrich regarding vocal accompanying and coaching. During his summers at Bay View this cottage served as his personal studio.
If we peek out of the main entrance, across the road, we can see the caretaker cottage that Sembrich had constructed in 1925. This house was the home for Sembrich's caretaker Mr. Forsell. In later years the house would be sold to the next caretaker and passed on to his daughter Anita Behr Richards, The Sembrich's retired Administrative Director. Today, the house, named Hilltop Cottage, is still owned and occupied by Mrs. Richards.
Sembrich Schermerhorn Contract (1925-02-06) by The Post StarThe Sembrich
Hilltop Cottage, like a majority of the other buildings on the estate, was built by Schermerhorn Construction Co. Along with the house, a new greenhouse was constructed and still stands behind Hilltop Cottage.
Bay View from the Driveway (1935-38) by Fred Thatcher (1881-1969)The Sembrich
Continuing our tour down the drive from the main entrance, we come to the back side of Bay View. The drive encircled a lawn bordered with Norwegian spruce. The spruce were planted when the house was built in the 1850s and still stand today.
The porch seen to the far left of this photo led visitors back to the north lawn gardens and orchard.
For now, we'll move on to the south lawn.
(Don't forget to check out the tour of the inside of the house later!)
The South Lawn
Just to the south of the main drive, bordering the road, a clay tennis court offered more recreational options to students and visitors. This location is now occupied by several private homes. Portions of the original stone wall (seen behind the fence) still stand at the edge of the road.
Sembrich and Curtis Students Have Tea at Bay View (ca. 1930) by Fred Thatcher (1881-1969)The Sembrich
Situated between the tennis court, Bay View, and Lake George to the east and south, a small lawn with trees and shrubs served as a tea garden. Sembrich hosted several tea parties here, photographed by Thatcher. Later, a brick house, part of a development named Victorian Village, would occupy the majority of this portion of the lawn.
Pine Hill (East Wall) (1924) by Fred Thatcher (1881-1969)The Sembrich
Another View Across the Road: Just south of the tennis court was a driveaway across the road that lead to Juliette de Coppet Stengle's home Pine Hill. This home was constructed in 1923 by Schermerhorn Construction Company, also featuring pink stucco siding matching the other buildings on the estate. Now, we'll head back to Bay View's south lawn.
Bay View seen from Sembrich Point (1924-36) by Fred Thatcher (1881-1969)The Sembrich
Moving across the edge of the southern lawn, we arrive back on the northern shore of the Sembrich point peninsula. Before we conclude our tour, we still have to explore the southern shore of the peninsula...
The Sembrich Studio
When we turn to face the southern shore, we see The Sembrich Studio looking out over Huddle Bay. This is where Marcella Sembrich would spend days teaching a new generation of artists. We won't explore the inside of the building in this tour. But, for those interested, you can learn more about this unique structure in our exhibit "The Sembrich Studio."
Sembrich and her students on Lake George (1926-30) by Fred Thatcher (1881-1969)The Sembrich
The southern shore of Sembrich Point (approximately 4.5 acres), is now the location of The Sembrich which operates as a memorial to Marcella Sembrich. This same path still offers visitors the same views of Huddle Bay that inspired Sembrich and her students.
Sembrich and Curtis Students on Sembrich Point (ca. 1930) by Fred Thatcher (1881-1969)The Sembrich
This photo, located on a knoll next to the path in the previous photo, shows the amount of open space the property once had. Today, much of the open space has grown in with trees and natural vegetation.
Just behind the group, you can see Sweetbriar Island. This island, though not officially part of the estate, was easily accessed from the Bay View property. Sembrich's granddaughter Anita de Coppet held her 14th birthday on the small island. Today, the island is publicly owned and available for exploring and camping.
Back to the Beginning
We have covered nearly all of the approximately 15 acres of the lakeside grounds as documented through Thatcher's photographs. The remainder of the southern and eastern shores of Sembrich Point are wooded and border the lake. The wooded area of the peninsula is seen in this photo, where Curtis voice students are enjoying themselves, and a small path (out of frame to the left) connects back to the lookout terrace where we began our tour.
A Special Addition: Views Across the Road
We have seen the entirety of Thatcher's photographic output showing Sembrich's lakeside estate Bay View and the surrounding gardens. However, within The Sembrich Collection are several photographs of the farm and vegetable gardens taken by Lake Placid Photographer G.T. Rabineau in 1922, when Sembrich first arrived on Lake George. We've decided to add them as a special addition to our tour.
M. Sembrich, A. de Coppet, and Rover (1924) by Fred Thatcher (1881-1969)The Sembrich
Here, we see Sembrich, Anita, and their dog Rover. Sembrich enjoyed exploring the wooded areas around the estate. A large portion of the western side of the estate was pasture, but a portion was still forest land.
Sembrich and Granddaughter in the Garden (1922) by G. T. RabineauThe Sembrich
This photo, taken in the vegetable garden to the north of Hilltop Cottage, shows the main entrance to Bay View between two pillars topped with globe lights.
Sembrich was no stranger to domestic life, having grown up in poverty in the rural countryside of Poland. Many of Rabineau's photos picture Sembrich with her granddaughter Anita de Coppet as they complete chores on the farm.
Sembrich, Giannini and Kinesberger at Bay View (1922) by G. T. RabineauThe Sembrich
This vegetable plot is located just north of Hilltop Cottage. The barns, which still stand can be seen in the far left of the photo. Each morning Sembrich (center) would go over the menu for the day with her cook Therese (right). What was not grown at the estate, Therese would order from a store in the village of Bolton Landing. Dusolina Giannini (left) was one of the first students to come to Bay View with Sembrich.
Scroll to the next slide to see what it looks like today.
Today, the vegetable garden in the previous frame is part of the lawns of Hilltop Cottage (shown left). The barns in the previous photo can still be seen through the trees.
Sembrich in the Bay View Gardens (1922) by G. T. RabineauThe Sembrich
Additional gardens were located to the rear and to the south of Hilltop Cottage. Sembrich is seen here in one of the gardens near the greenhouse behind the cottage.
Marcella Sembrich and Anita de Coppet (1922) by G. T. RabineauThe Sembrich
This photo, taken before Hilltop Cottage was constructed, shows the gardens and structures behind the original caretaker cottage.
The greenhouse (center) and the original caretaker cottage (partial, far right) were replaced in 1925.
The Bay View Barns (1922) by G. T. RabineauThe Sembrich
This photo is taken from the back of the original caretaker cottage and shows the barns and buildings of Bay View's farm.
Sembrich and Family in the Garden (1922) by G. T. RabineauThe Sembrich
This photo, taken at the main barn, shows the fields that extended past the rear of the barn to the wooded edge of the property.
Sembrich and Granddaughter on the Farm (1922) by G. T. RabineauThe Sembrich
This concludes our special addition to our tour of Bay View. We have now explored the entirety of the Bay View estate as it was nearly a century ago! We hope you have enjoyed this special tour of the Bay View grounds and gardens. To explore more about Sembrich's time at Bay View or to tour Bay View and The Sembrich Studio, check out our other exhibits in The Thatcher Photos series!
Exhibition curated by Caleb Eick. This digital exhibition is supported by generous funding from Stewart's/Dake Family. This exhibition was made possible through the kind partnership of the Historical Society of the Town of Bolton. Images in this exhibit come from The Sembrich Collection and the Thatcher Archive at the Historical Society of the Town of Bolton. All photos from the Thatcher Archive are used with permission from the Historical Society of the Town of Bolton.
The Marcella Sembrich Memorial Association honors international opera singer Marcella Sembrich at her former teaching studio and woodland retreat on Lake George. Our mission is to: preserve and protect the museum collection, historical significance and legacy of Marcella Sembrich; foster an appreciation for classical music, opera and the arts; provide educational and performance opportunities to promote the study of classical music.
Listed on the National Historic Register, The Sembrich was once part of the summer estate of Polish-American opera singer Marcella Sembrich (1857-1935), a leading prima donna at The Metropolitan Opera and head of the voice faculties for the Juilliard School and The Curtis Institute of Music. Sembrich spent summers on Lake George in upstate New York, bringing her students to study with her and enjoy the Adirondack mountain landscape.
Following her death in 1935, Sembrich’s teaching studio was preserved as a museum displaying her legacy, her contributions to the world of music, and exhibits relating to local and musical history. Step into America’s “Gilded Age” and explore our museum and historic studio. This unique building is one of a few from the early twentieth century in northern New York that is open to the public.
The Sembrich rests along Lake George’s pristine shoreline among the natural beauty of the Adirondack forests. With over four acres to discover, you can learn about the Adirondack Mountains and the “Queen of America’s Lakes” as you stroll along 1000 feet of shoreline paths under the towering pines.
Each summer The Sembrich presents an annual festival including live concerts, films, children’s programming, and lectures featuring world-class musicians and scholars. Events include a variety of music ranging from classical to contemporary as well as vocal and instrumental. Many performances are intimate and held in the museum and other larger events are held under our tent on the shore of the lake.