The average citizen living in the Adirondacks probably never gets to see any of the "great camps", inside or out, unless one is a caretaker, employee or in the trades.
I was fortunate to tour Camp Topridge in the early 1980s when it was owned by the state. Gov. Mario Cuomo's office contacted me (previously Gov. Carey stayed there a few times) asking me to accompany a staff member in his office to the former Post compound. The idea was to see if it might be turned into a boys' camp. We examined every building, the staff person returned to Albany, and I never heard another word about it.
The Knollwood Club on the shores of Saranac Lake has its history preserved in a great book on the great camps by Harvey Kaiser entitled "Great Camps of the Adirondacks".
Cottage No. 6 of the six identical buildings. The original families drew lots to determine ownership and location of their cottage.
(Photo kc3 #18 — courtesy of the Adirondack Room of the Saranac lake Free Library)
A group of friends who had been spending summers at the Childwold Hotel decided to buy land and form their own club. They bought 500 acres on the lake and hired architect William Coulter to design the complex and Branch and Callanan to build it and here I will let Mr. Kaiser tell how that happened:
"The original families were those of Louis Marshall, Daniel Guggenheim, Elias Ashiel, George Blumenthal, Abram N. Stein and Max Nathan. The camp remains in the hands of the children and families of the original owners.
"In developing the commission (contract) in 1899, the architects created a collection of rustic structures affording individual privacy for each family while retaining a sense of community. This was achieved by providing houses for the individual families to serve as sleeping units, and a central 'casino' to act as dining and recreation building.
Built in one year
"As a result of a brisk and remarkably efficient building campaign, the main buildings were completed in one year, the families using the camp for the first time in the summer of 1900."
(Now let's try and use our imagination here: Especially if you are one who has had the experience of having something constructed - big or small, plain or fancy, creative or dull - how many obstacles, problems, delays, no-shows, misunderstandings, wrong doors, wrong way, no way, can't say did you experience??? Now remember 1899 - no nail guns, no sawsalls, no trucks, no cell phones - you name it - it hadn't been invented yet - is that the reason that Branch and Callanan could build the following in one year!)
"Coulter set about designing six identical two-and-a-half story Victorian shingle homes, the casino and a boathouse (let's stick to the cottages here). In plan, the cottages contained living rooms, a small service kitchen, and four to six bedrooms. Two-and-a-half story log porches wrap the three sides of the cottages facing the lake. Soaring log gables, tier upon tier, in fans, sunburst panels, and geometric patterns on the six side-by-side buildings are in themselves thrilling. A massive granite fireplace dominated the center of each cottage." All built in one year? Enough said.
Recollections of the bellboy
Last week, I mentioned that William Edward Rice worked there as a bellboy in the summers of 1921,1922 and 1923 (by that time there were cars and telephones,) and he gave the Adirondack Room of the Saranac Lake Free Library a long handwritten story about those days He was one of two bellboys hired. The other was George Clark, father of Cathy Mose and Tom Clark and son of Herb Clark, guide for the Louis Marshall family.
There are many, many interesting pages to Rice's narrative, so I have to print what I believe to be some of the most interesting pieces but taken out of context.
"Mother knew John Hanchett, superintendent of the club, having met him at meetings of Eastern Star of which mother was a lifetime member. She arranged a meeting with him after learning that the club would be hiring two bellboys for the summer. In the late winter of 1921 on a Sunday afternoon we walked up the frozen lake from our home at 205 Lake Street, a distance of about 2 miles.
"We arrived at the club, had an interview and I was promised my first work at the age of 16 for the months of July and August. I was assured a room to sleep, a new suit of clothes (my bellboy outfit) and $30 per month plus meals.
"The Casino building served many purposes. The main section facing the lake consisted of two floors. The cottage owners and their guests were served breakfast, lunch and dinner in this room. Each cottage had its own table and waitresses.
"On the upper floor, over the dining room, was a large social room for dancing and parties. There was a beautiful piano in the room. I remember Jack Straus playing the piano. Jack later became president of the R. H. Macy Company in New York City."
Twenty years after the opening, this is how Mr. Rice recalls the owners:
=Cottage 1. The Bloomingdale family.
=Cottage 2. The Blumenthal family.
=Cottage 3. The Untemeyer family.
Both father and son were famous New York City lawyers.
=Cottage 4. The Straus family. I believe Isadore Straus was our ambassador to France during the First World War.
=Cottage 5. The Louis Marshall family. Also, both father and son were famous New York City lawyers.
=Cottage 6. The Cook family.
I think the remainder of Rice's story is too good to miss, so it will be continued here next week.