President Harrison connection was VP Morton

Levi P. Morton

The column in this space of Jan. 27, told about the president of the United States coming to Saranac Lake with the official role of dedicating the new high school. It was located where the beautiful, restored Hotel Saranac stands today.

Of course, I wondered aloud, eh, I mean in print, asking; who had the political pull to bring the President of the United States here to dedicate the high school?

Well, thanks again to my loyal and dedicated readers, I soon found out. The following information came after a phone call from Henry D. “Buz” Graves Jr., who lives just outside the village.

Now, fasten your seat belts … the Adirondack Great Camp on Eagle Island was built by Levi P. Morton in 1903. He served as Vice President to President Harrison and later was elected governor of New York state. Henry Graves Jr., great-grandfather to the above-mentioned Henry D. Graves Jr., bought Eagle Island from Gov. Morton in 1910 … here is the story as told to me by the present Mr. Graves:

“Our area has been the place for the rich, well-connected and politically situated would go to retreat and mingle and recover.

Henry Graves, Jr.

“One ends up like an octopus studying all the different people who lived here year ’round or seasonal.

“My focus is on Eagle Island and its history due to my family spending time there. To me the history includes pre and post succession.

“Levi P. Morton (1828-1920) purchased Eagle Island in 1903 and sold it to Henry Graves, Jr., and his wife, Florence, in 1910 after they rented the camp for a few years.

Levi Morton was a member of the House of Representatives from New York and Minister to France 1879-1881 and 1881-1885 respectively. While in France Levi was instrumental in engineering the Statue of Liberty being brought to the United States in 1885. The stature arrived unassembled, in New York, in 214 packing cases.

“Levi Morton was the 22nd Vice President of the U.S. from 1889-1893. He was governor of the state of New York from 1895 to 1897. As you know, Levi’s running mate was Benjamin Harrison who was the grandson of President William Henry Harrison.

“While building the Eagle Island Camp Levi Morton lived in Pine Brook Camp on the main island that had also been designed and built by William Coulter, whose work has been described as ‘mature Adirondack rustic style.’ William Coulter also built camps Moss Ledge and Santanoni.

“When Henry Graves bought Eagle Island he was an industrialist and time piece collector with interests in banking and railroads.

“After the tragic loss of his two sons, Henry Graves III and George C. Graves, Mr. Graves decided to sell the island. The Girl Scouts of the Oranges, New Jersey agreed to purchase the island but realized there would be no money to run the camp. As the story goes, Mr. Graves offered to ‘gift’ the camp and its contents to the Girl scouts which took place in 1937. In 1938 the camp opened and closed its doors after the 2008 camping year. The camp provided exceptional camping and leadership training. Because it is an island, boating, sailing, canoe and kayaking and swimming were popular. Other activities included, but not limited to, canoe camping, hiking, mountain climbing, arts and crafts, singing and play production.”


Background on Eagle Island

Historic Saranac Lake Wiki site has this to say:

“In 1910 financier Henry Graves, Jr., of New York City and Orange New Jersey bought the camp from Morton after leasing it for two summers. He bought it complete with its furnishings, including Gustave Stickley furniture and fine oriental carpets. Graves added a second boat house to house his four motorboats, four canoes and four guide boats. In 1937 after their two adult sons died in separate automobile accidents, the Graves family gave the island to the Maplewood-South Orange, New Jersey Girl Scout Council.

“New York Times – Saranac Inn, N.Y. July 25 – Ex-Gov. Levi P. Morton has joined Mrs. Morton and Miss Morton at the new Morton camp, on Eagle Island, in the Upper Saranac Lake. The Morton Camp is connected with the outside world by its individual telephone and telegraph wires, which are carried in cables laid through the waters of the lake to the island. Another feature is an electric plant, which furnishes light for the buildings and supplies many large lamps along the boat landing.” (1903)

A very condensed version of what has now transpired – The Girl Scouts did not open for the summer season of 2009 and the Council voted to sell the camp. ‘Friends of Eagle Island’ was formed to oppose the sale and in 2015 an anonymous donation allowed the Friends to purchase the island. The Graves family had intended that the island be used for a children’s camp in perpetuity. The group hopes to reopen the island as a girls’ camp in 2018.

[In the late 1940’s I worked at Eagle Island for camp caretaker Tom Dacey, cleaning up preceding the camp opening. I was in my teens and out of high school. There was repair work going on at the camp and supplies were brought across the lake on a metal barge lashed to a 30 foot wooden boat. I rode across with the workers a couple of times and was frightened the way it would roll in the big waves. I found a better summer job and the day after I quit at Eagle Island the barge capsized and two people drowned. I won’t go into detail with the names because I have written about this before.]