SARANAC LAKE - If this lake could talk, what stories would it tell? Lower Saranac Lake was the place to be and to be seen a century ago. Luxurious hotels and private estates accommodated the rich and famous in our woods. Platform tent sites on state-owned land provided camping for many local residents and tourists alike.
What might you have seen on Lower Saranac back then? The custom-built steamboat with Sousa's Band entertaining passengers ... Albert Einstein falling into the lake, fully dressed ... Teenage fugitives pretending to be wealthy guests at the Algonquin Hotel, spending their stolen loot ... Arsonists sneaking behind the grand Ampersand Hotel moments before it went up in flames ...
Rowing a guideboat down the lake a century ago, you would have marveled at the crowds of people - ladies in beautiful dresses and elegant hats socializing on the long hotel promenades, adventurers preparing for trips with their guides and resort staff bustling around the properties in starched uniforms.
Lower Saranac Lake
In winter, there were horse races on a "kite track" on the ice, with large crowds to watch the trotters vie for big purses. Later, in summer, you'd see fabulous wooden speedboats cruising among the islands.
The hotels have since disappeared and some estates have been subdivided. In the 1970s the era of tent platforms - simple summer homes for generations to many Saranac Lakers - came to an end. Many of the stories of the lake's heydays are waiting to be told.
Perhaps you too have some memories of the lake to share? If so, join Historic Saranac Lake from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 6 for History Day 2008 to explore the history of Lower Saranac Lake through displays, storytelling, photos, presentations and boat tours.
If you go ...
WHERE: Guggenheim Camp
WHEN: Saturday, Sept. 6
10:30 a.m. - Mary Hotaling presents an outline history of Lower Saranac Lake
11 a.m. - Joe Howlett presents a slide show about Knollwood
12:30 p.m. - Mary Hotaling presents an outline history of Lower Saranac Lake
1 p.m. - Marge Lamy tells some stories of Albert Einstein's visits
2 p.m. - Betsy Tisdale shares the life of Martha Reben, a TB patient with an adventurous spirit
HOW MUCH: $5 requested at the door
The event is being held at the historic Guggenheim Camp on Forest Home Road, and a donation of $5 is requested at the door.
Notable properties on Lower Saranac Lake
During History Days, participants will be able to visit the lodge and boathouse at Guggenheim's summer home, now the property of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Ogdensburg, and learn about its history.
The first known permanent building on the shores of Lower Saranac Lake was one of the first and largest luxury resort hotels in the Adirondacks - the Saranac Lake House, commonly called "Martin's." Built around 1850 at the foot of Lake Street, Martin's accommodated 300 guests at a time during its peak. The dining room was 84 feet long, and there was a 1000-foot long promenade outside where guests could stroll and mingle. Martin's was the first wilderness hotel in the vicinity, built before Paul Smith's, and it was one of only five hotels mentioned by name in W. H. H. Murray's 1869 guide book "Adventures in the Wilderness." This hotel burned in 1890 and was never rebuilt. Part of its property later became the golf course for the Ampersand Hotel across the bay.
A second hotel was built on the lake in 1884 by Jabez D. Alexander, and originally was known as Alexander's. In 1889 it accommodated 125 guests. In 1890 John A. Harding, a protege of Paul Smith, bought Alexander's and renamed it the Algonquin Hotel. Harding ran it until 1913 when he leased it to a syndicate, which attempted to run it as a sanatorium, but it was unsuccessful and closed in January, 1914. In 1920 it was purchased by William N. Hanes, who also bought a camp nearby. Hanes operated the hotel briefly, but closed its doors later the same year, and it sat empty until it was demolished in the late 1950s. Today, Trudeau Institute occupies the site of the former hotel at the end of Algonquin Avenue, whose name memorializes the hotel.
The heart of the house known as "Pinehurst" was probably built in 1885, in the ownership of the Ehrich family, who owned a department store in New York City. During the winter of 1887-88, Robert Louis Stevenson enjoyed the hospitality of Mr. Louis Ehrich and his wife at their comfortable, steam-heated house about two miles from the village.
Adjoining "Pinehurst," the Hotel Ampersand, built in 1888, stood five stories tall and had its own post office, a ladies' writing and card room, gym, barbershop, children's playroom, billiards room, men's smoking rooms, general store and rooms for 300 guests. The Ampersand was destroyed by a suspicious fire in 1907. Investors soon made plans for an immense hotel and casino on the property, but were never able to pull together enough financing for their lofty dream. We remember the hotel today by the name of the street leading to it: Ampersand Avenue. The DEC public boat launch appears to occupy part of the site of the Ampersand, and the former home of Greenleaf and Creta Chase nearby was also part of the property.
Text provided by Historic Saranac Lake