Lake George, N.Y. makes an unusual claim to fame: it touts itself as the America’s original vacation spot.
The basis of that claim? In 1869 a Boston preacher named William H.H. Murray published his popular book Adventures in the Wilderness, or Camp-Life in the Adirondacks, which was a mix of fiction and travel brochure touting the wonders of outdoor life in Lake George. And readers started coming there for getaways, inspired by the idea that the wilds of nature were to be enjoyed rather than merely navigated or avoided. According to an article in Smithsonian about Lake George, the people who ventured there that first summer didn’t enjoy it much because they were often unprepared for outdoor life and the weather that year was unusually cold and rainy. (Sounds like a classic vacation). But in subsequent years the weather was better and Lake George flourished as a tourist destination.
That history may help explain why LIFE photographer Nina Leen went to Lake George in 1941 to photograph a young couple enjoying a weekend in nature. The pictures are indeed stunning, particularly the one titled “Private Island,” which shows the couple sitting together on a small outcropping in the middle of a placid lake. The photo makes Lake George look like a kind of Eden. (It should be noted that the same spot looks more ordinary in other photos taken by Leen— the rock the couple is sitting on is just a few steps from the shore—but as every amateur photographer knows, when crafting that perfect vacation photo, angles are everything).
LIFE never ran Leen’s story on Lake George—one imagines it might have been bumped for news about the gathering storm that was World War II. So we don’t know much about the young man and woman in the photos: their ages, occupations, marital status, or where they arrived from. That’s fine. Their anonymity allows them become a symbolic Adam and Eve, making their way back for a couple days in paradise.