It’s a Wonderful Christmas — on Main Street


1920s – Main Street shows an intricate, elaborate electric system with poles on both sides of the street, installed by Paul Smith’s Electric Light Power and Railroad Company Incorporated. Notice the small street lights attached to the power poles.

The big Christmas tree appears to have had more boughs or smaller trees around the base. Even with a magnifying glass no lights were visible on the tree.

The flag showing high behind the tree was on the movie theater which is the present site of the Downhill Grill Restaurant.

Those early cars had soft tops, with Eisinglass side curtains, which rolled up and held with a leather strap. Eisinglass or Isinglass was much like the clear plastic of today.

There is a horse-drawn delivery wagon parked in front of T.F. Finnigan’s, 78 Main St. It is surprising that the wagon is on wheels, not sled runners. There are children off in the corner of the photo, adults visiting in front of the stores.


1920s/1930s – This very big Christmas tree either has one heck of a bright star on the top or the photographer waited until the full moon appeared to be resting on top of the tree. It is decorated with plenty of lights with huge ones circling the base. Below those lights looks like intricately carved reindeer, elves and a sleigh. The trees were traditionally in the center of Berkeley Square back when Saranac Lake had twice as many people and half as many cars; no big trucks, but clumsy drivers used to trim the bottom of the tree. The fancy Railroad Express trucks delivered just about everything to everyone in town. When the Berkeley Hotel burned down, the space became a park and the tree was moved to the park.

1940s – Obviously a night scene looking from Berkeley Square toward the Hotel Saranac. On the left the lighted sign reads, “Berkeley Rooms.” On the right, the lighted window visible is the last display window in Leonard’s Department Store – that space later occupied by the Army & Navy store. Next is E. J. Kenney Incorporated, “Dry Goods and Ladies Ready to Wear.” The Drug Store sign was over the door of (which Bud Duffy remembers was owned by the Peg Baker family) on the very corner of the Hotel Saranac, now the entrance to the hotel’s gift shop. The office next to the drug store was occupied by the Irving Krinovitz Insurance Company. The remainder of the present gift shop space was occupied by a high end shoe store, “Parnell’s Shoe Salon” owned by Parnell Latour.

Note the fancy street lamps and the step up to the raised sidewalk.

The village streets were pretty much packed with snow all winter. It never thawed enough to get rid of it all. There were deep ruts in all the streets caused by the cars and delivery trucks using tire chains.

The chains went on and off depending on how much snow had fallen on any given day. I worked nights at Ken Lawless’ Texaco Station (days at the Enterprise), now the location of the Verizon Store across from the town hall. We didn’t close until 11 p.m. and the nights it was snowing hard there would be a line of cars waiting for me to put on their chains. You didn’t have to use a lift; one simply laid the chains out flat on the ground behind the tires and backed the car into the center of the chain, then lay on your back and pull the chain up over the tire, hooking the inside first and then the outside. If there were no interruptions the job would take about 15 minutes.


My last significant act as mayor in 1968 was to secure this Snorkel, aka Aerial Platform fire truck, making the Saranac Lake Volunteer Fire Department the first in the North Country to have such a fine piece of equipment. I could not convince the board to vote for the purchase, even with a four Democrat, one Republican board. I finally got them to agree to put it to a referendum on the March ballot. It passed by a wide margin. The truck cost $68,000 with a big V-8 gas fired engine. This was all done in consultation with Fire Chief Bill Davis (Patty Gillmett’s dad), Chet Fobare, Richard Yorkey, Sid Smith and others.

SLVFD Snorkel


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