Writers of Saranac Lake

Robert Louis Stevenson (Public domain photo)

Having lived in Saranac Lake my whole life, I must say that it is a cultivating environment for all pursuits. My views may be skewed by a heartfelt bias, but with such a history of doctors, Olympians, artists, actors and writers being nurtured in this village, I can’t help feeling that one could be anything here.

I have wanted to be a writer for the past four years and so will visit the stories of notable authors who have stayed here in the past — most of them for the tuberculosis treatment we provided — and how their lives were influenced by this wonderful place, and, who, in return, made Saranac Lake even better.

Everyone has heard of Robert Louis Stevenson, creator of “Treasure Island” and “Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde.” He was diagnosed with tuberculosis and recovered at Baker 1Cottage for the winter of 1887-88.

I run past Baker Cottage on my way around Moody Pond, and I have to assume that Stevenson was inspired by the gorgeous view he had and also by the community of authors that had grown here. One of his greatest connections was between himself and Dr. Edward Livingston Trudeau, the founder of the town, a pioneer in fighting tuberculosis, and himself an author who wrote an autobiography full of his adventures here. They sometimes had fights due to firmly held opinions, but in the end, they both had a common respect for one another’s achievements and an affinity for their natural surroundings. Community and nature allowed them to continue their work even as their disease ever weakened their lungs.

Another writer who sought the care of Dr. Trudeau, and another influenced by the wilderness, judging by his detailed Naturalistic writing, was Stephen Crane, author of “Red Badge of Courage.” Though he died at a sanatorium in Germany, his legacy remains connected to this village.

Martha Reben (Photo courtesy of Historic Saranac Lake)

To continue the theme of writers who were connected to the wilderness, Martha Reben, with her books “The Way of the Wilderness” and “The Healing Woods,” loved the people and forests of the area when she was taking the cure. She went on adventures with local guide Fred Rice in these great woods that gave rise to her humorous and philosophical accounts.

Let me apologize for not mentioning Mark Twain until now, but yeah, he was here, and he rubbed shoulders with Fred Rice, too. Twain stayed on Lower Saranac Lake and was interested in the guideboats that went up and down the waterway, which surely reminded him of his hometown, Hannibal, Missouri, the inspiration for “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.” He discussed the design of these boats endlessly with Fred Rice, who was a guideboat craftsman.

Isabel Smith came here for the cure, but the beauty and nature that inspired her was largely unattainable, as she was more ill than the others I have mentioned. In spite of her sickness, she was compelled to write about scenery and kinship, and her book “I Wish I Might” makes anyone healthy who reads it cherish their freedom to be active and explore the world.

This little microcosm community works its way into the hearts of every resident and visitor and was and is the inspiration for more writers than I have talked about, and I can affirm that, to this day, the literary community flourishes in Saranac Lake. I see it in the Adirondack Center for Writing’s Poem Village, in the journalism of the Adirondack Daily Enterprise and in the novels present-day Adirondack authors churn out almost too often to follow. I see our future writing community in the participants of the Young Playwrights Festival that Pendragon Theatre holds annually.

And whenever I so much as look out my village window, the inspiration I feel is electric. I see the forest, and I also feel the legacies of the writers who came before me everywhere I go. I feel how they must have felt.

Touring Pine Ridge Cemetery, racing through the woods at Paul Smith’s, walking into our Ice Palace, I imagine them, the authors of the past, imagine their first breath of our fresh air, and what their adventures and friendships and mishaps must have been like in the magnificent Adirondack wild.


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