Saranac Lake highlighted for high concentration of historic places

This map of Saranac Lake shows all the historic buildings — yellow dots signify properties listed on the National Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places and tan areas are historic districts. (Provided photo — Historic Saranac Lake)

SARANAC LAKE — An article has deemed Saranac Lake the town with the highest concentration of historic places in America.

The article, published in 24/7 Wall St., a financial news outlet, was written by co-founder and Editor in Chief Douglas McIntyre. He sought to find the U.S. town with the highest concentration of historic places using 2021 data from National Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places. McIntyre wrote that towns were ranked by the percent of historic places on the register relative to all structures in the town.

“We were not surprised,” Historic Saranac Lake Executive Director Amy Catania said. “But we were pleased to just be recognized.”

HSL’s goal was never to be at the top of a list, but to highlight the importance of taking care of these old buildings, Catania said. Architectural preservation was the reason Historic Saranac Lake started up in the first place. She considers one of the organization’s greatest accomplishments its prolific designating of historic sites.

Getting these properties registered as historic places was one of the first actions of its founding members.

Saranac Lake rose to the top because of its small size and high number of historic buildings.

According to the 24/7 Wall St. data, one in every 45 structures in Saranac Lake is historic, 71 in total.

But Catania said the 71 number is actually likely a low count. Her estimates have around 230 individual historic structures in the village. The article may have been counting historic districts instead of individual structures, she said.

Where are the historic buildings?

Since 1983, dozens of buildings, homes and facilities in Saranac Lake have been deemed historic for a variety of reasons. The first listed historic place, Will Rogers Memorial Hospital in 1983, was nominated to save the building. The hospital was built in 1928 as a place for vaudeville artists and actors to stay while they endured the effects of tuberculosis.

The facility was restored and is now the Saranac Village at Will Rogers, an independent living community for seniors.

The latest historic registration was the Hotel Saranac in 2019, one year after it reopened to the public following a $35 million restoration effort.

The majority of historic buildings in Saranac Lake are tied to the village’s history of being a center for tuberculosis treatment, research and recovery.

“Most of the homes and buildings on the national register are there because of their connection to TB,” Catania said.

She said the village of Saranac Lake grew to the size it is today because of tuberculosis. It was a popular place for people from cities to retreat to when they contracted the illness and it was believed the cool, clean mountain air had medicinal qualities for tuberculosis sufferers. While it wasn’t the “cure,” it didn’t hurt.

A survey of houses HSL conducted in the 1980s found around 900 cure cottages in the village, she said.

These homes are identifiable because of their spacious porches where people ill with tuberculosis would sit outside in the cold for hours and breathe the fresh air.

Catania also said the many historic downtown buildings grew from tuberculosis money.

She said the downtown is an “impressive area” and it is uncommon for so many historic business buildings to exist in a town with a population of only around 5,000.

What does a historic designation do?

When a building is deemed a historic location by the government, it is eligible for state and federal tax credits for maintenance and rehabilitation.

“We would love to see people using it more,” Catania said.

She’s used tax credits on her own home.

Catania said people can call HSL to find out if their home is eligible for these tax credits. She said there are no restrictions on renovations because of this designation, but she added that there are practical reasons to keeping the traditional look and build of a house for homeowners.

Catania said this article came at a good time of the year. This is a time when people are thinking about doing work on their homes and it’s good to keep these tax credits in mind.


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)
Are you a paying subscriber to the newspaper? *

Starting at $4.75/week.

Subscribe Today