The Stevenson expedition

Robert Louis Stevenson is pictured in a diorama on Baker’s veranda with a cigarette and skates.

Who were they?

Robert Louis Stevenson, born in Edinburgh, Scotland, celebrated his 37th birthday at Baker’s. Meanwhile, the universal success of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde had placed Stevenson in the public limelight.

Fanny Osbourne, his wife, born Fanny Van de Grift in Indianapolis, Indiana. While married but separated, she had met Stevenson in France in 1876. After her divorce, she became Mrs. Robert Louis Stevenson in San Francisco, in May, 1880. Fanny had two children from her first marriage: Lloyd and Isobel Osbourne.

Lloyd Osbourne, Fanny’s son, was nineteen when he came to Saranac Lake. He was twelve when his stepfather dedicated Treasure Island to him.

Mrs. Margaret Isabella Balfour Stevenson (‘Maggie’) was the recently widowed mother of Robert Louis Stevenson. The Balfours have been prominent in British affairs since Alexander Balfour became cupbearer to King James the IV in the 16th century.

Unathorized American edition from the library of Hannibal Hamlin, first vice-president to Abraham Lincoln.

Valentine Roche, their traveling servant from Switzerland.

How did they get here?

Having set upon Saranac Lake to winter at, “us wanderers in the wilderness,” in Fanny’s words, devised a plan. Fanny and Lloyd came first as scouts, to be followed four days later by the rest. After checking into Blood’s Hotel, mother and son proceeded up Main St. to inquire about rentable housing. Their quest ended when they were introduced to Andrew Baker. The rear guard followed by the same route.

In a letter, Stevenson’s mother described their journey from N.Y.C. up the Hudson to Albany “in a most comfortable steamer…The river scenery constantly reminded me of Scotland.” From Albany, the party proceeded north aboard the Delaware & Hudson RR. They beheld Lake Champlain to the right and mountains on the left before reaching Plattsburgh, N.Y. After a day of rest, his mother continued:

“On Monday morning Louis, Valentine and I again started on our way to the Adirondacks. The railway took us as far as Loon Lake … I am told it takes four years to travel from Saranac to Plattsburgh! … At Loon Lake we found a nice buggy waiting for us, and had been specially made for invalids … while driving twenty-five miles over very bad roads. The wind was cold, the rain came on, and I was frightened about Louis … when we reached Saranac, Fanny met us in a petticoat and jacket, busy cooking our dinner!”