When the Living History team of Johnsburg Historical Society arrived at Harvey Acres in North River in August, 2012, George Heim was walking around the perimeter of his large vegetable garden and applying coyote urine to discourage deer. Another George tip: play an outdoor radio all night to keep the deer away.
Born in Albany in 1934, George was the son of George Heim, Secretary to the majority leader of the State Senate, a position he held until retirement at age 84. Young George attended St. Teresa’s Catholic School, Christian Brothers Academy, and Manhattan College. He admits to flunking the course, “Marriage Guidance,” in his senior year and having to re-take the course at nearby Iona College.
After graduation a young man faced the choice of being drafted or voluntarily going into one of the services. George enlisted in the Navy and began his career in naval aviation. Soon he switched to naval intelligence where he remained for the rest of his career. George’s assignment was photo analysis, a position in which he read photography, developed targets and briefed pilots.
In U.S. controlled Panama George served as head of Naval Investigative Services Office. While there, one attempted overthrow of the government by three Panamanian colonels lasted one week.
In Saigon during the Vietnam war, George awoke to the sound of explosions. Thinking it was bombs, he hid under his mattress for an hour – and then realized it was New Year’s Eve and the sound was from firecrackers at an impromptu celebration.
For four years George served two tours in Vietnam and was assigned to aircraft carriers, including the Intrepid, now a New York City museum.
After years of visiting exotic places, Morocco, Panama, Lebanon, Vietnam, Germany, and on U.S. bases in San Diego, Washington, D.C. and Norfolk, VA, George and his former wife Mary purchased Garnet Hill Lodge. They opened in 1977 on White Water Derby weekend. Dr. John Rugge and his guests filled the lodge, and still return to this day for White Water Derby.
At the time of purchase, Garnet Hill consisted of just the main lodge, guest rooms with shared baths. The Heims added the porch, balconies, two buildings with seven more rooms, and private baths. There were only 12 km of ski trails. After skiing up (UP!) to the lodge with Jane Castaneda from her home down on Schoolhouse Road, George developed the Trapper Trail. From there many trails were added, and eventually 50 km of beautifully groomed trails await the lucky cross-country skiing guests.
On Feb. 29, 1980. George’s oldest son discovered that there was no water at the lodge. Thinking that it was a pump problem, the Heims were shocked to discover that the problem was far more serious: the ski shop, with all its equipment and inventory, had burned to the ground.
With his typical optimism, George recounts all the good that resulted from that misfortune: the overwhelming generosity of humanity. A party of lodge guests from Syracuse was generous with time and labor and donations, Barton Mines staff helped with rewiring, and local folks all pitched in. A group called Virginia Appalachian Outfitters was visiting to attend the Olympics. One of their group, Jim Stewart, drove all the way back to Virginia to get equipment necessary for the re-opening of the lodge. The misfortune was an unforgettable lesson in bringing people together to help one another.
It is no surprise that George still socializes with many of his guests from 30 years ago.
Garnet Hill Lodge became a favorite for cross-country skiers for many reasons: its excellent kitchen, its friendly relaxed atmosphere, and its shuttle system. The luxury of skiing down and riding a van back up encouraged skiers to ski out farther onto the trail system.
Over the years about 500 people worked for George at the lodge. Some of the early staffers included Mary Jane Freebern (37 years at the lodge), her daughter Nancy, Dick Carlson (30 years), Larry Wilke, Chet Prouty, Fran, Dale and Chris Monthony, and Karen Smith. Later joining the staff were foreign students from Holland, France, Spain, Ireland, Poland, Australia, Byelorussia, Ghana, Tanzania, Costa Rica and Argentina. Many have stayed permanently in the area.
During the Garnet Hill years George served as Western New England Regional Director for the publication Country Inns and Back Roads, which describes resorts in Canada and the Northeast.
George is proud of his six children who all live in interesting places to visit: Charleston, Puerto Rico, Niscayuna, Lenox, MA, West Palm Beach, and Portland, OR. If the children were interested in joining him in opening another hospitality business, George would jump right in.
With all his travel experiences, George comments that “I have never been any place that I have not enjoyed.”
(Interviewer was Kathy Maiorana; recording equipment was managed by David Braley.)