Why did Robert Louis Stevenson come to Saranac Lake?

“By a curious irony of fate, the places we are sent when health deserts us are often singularly beautiful.”

— Robert Louis Stevenson

This poet of “A Child’s Garden of Verses” was a chronic invalid from age 8, the same year he fell in love with writing. A severe fever he suffered possibly contributed to his very defective physical constitution. ‘Bloody Jack’ was the name he gave the periodic, sometimes heavy discharges of blood from his lungs. Stevenson’s perpetual bouts with illness forced him to rely on his father’s financial support well into his thirties.

That support ended in May 1887, following the demise of Thomas Stevenson, a builder of lighthouses. This milestone event called for a radical change, like a trip. Stevenson’s wife was American and she longed to reconnect with people back home. A voyage from England to the New World was planned and executed. Colorado Springs was their destination. They would never get there.

En route to New York City, aboard the steamship Ludgate Hill, Stevenson “caught a cold on the Banks.” The patient’s condition worsened and once ashore, plans were made to take him to Newport, Rhode Island. There they were guests of Mr. and Mrs. Charles Fairchild, where the invalid’s appearance was recorded by a fellow guest:

“Stevenson was very ill during the visit, and was rarely visible, spending his days lying full length on a couch, wrapped in a scarlet dressing gown, smoking endless cigarettes, and at times pouring forth a stream of talk that left his listeners tingling with the thrill of his rare and exquisite personality” (M.H. Elliot, This Was My Newport).

To find a suitable environment for the approaching winter was an urgent matter. Rumors reached them of a remote settlement close up to Canada where a Dr. E.L. Trudeau was making news with a brainchild he called The Adirondack Cottages for Treatment of Pulmonary Disease. Resorting to calculated risk, Saranac Lake replaced Colorado Springs as the shortest trip to a place promising hope. The Stevenson expedition turned north and all would arrive in Saranac Lake by Oct. 3, 1887.


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