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WIAWAKA
Manifesting a woman’s dream of
renewal for the spirit of all women


 Sign


 

 

The Village of Lake George, on the southern fringe of New York’s Adirondack Mountains, is a Mecca for tourists, poised at the south end of the 32-mile lake for which it is named. Motels and eateries line Canada Street, along with shops promising everything from T-shirts to tattoos. On hot summer days, Million Dollar Beach and its smaller counterpart at Shephard’s Park are packed with swimmers and sun worshipers. The cannon at Fort William Henry booms at predictable intervals and a calliope pipes tunes as an old paddle-wheeler filled with passengers churns its way along a sight-seeing route a few miles down the lake and back again. There’s no shortage of daytime activities and shopping in Lake George Village, and at dusk the rollicking nightlife begins.

But for those looking for quiet respite from life’s hustle, a very different sort of experience lies on the opposite shore, where Wiawaka Holiday House nestles beneath stately trees at the water’s edge a scant mile or two from the village. This century-old idyllic retreat was established when the shores and islands of the lake were bejeweled by lavish summer estates of wealthy moguls and celebrities.  

This particular site once was graced by the United States Hotel, one of the earliest resorts on Lake George, built in 1850. Francis Crosby bought the site in 1858, and in 1873 built Crosbyside, his lovely Victorian home.  Three years later he added two lakeside cottages, “Rose” and “Mayflower,” to accommodate his most important clients.

Fuller Cottage
Wiawaka opened in 1903 as a retreat for women who
worked in Troy garment factories
One of the lakeside cottages built by Crosby

 Near the end of the 19th century, Mary Wiltsie Fuller, daughter of a Troy, NY, industrialist, prevailed upon her wealthy friends Spencer and Katrina Trask, to help her provide a retreat for women factory workers who needed a place to get away from the drudgery of their jobs as collar workers and laundresses in the Troy, NY, shirt factories. She knew they needed an affordable place in which to restore their spirit and energies.

Ms. Fuller must have been most persuasive. In 1903 the Trasks bought this lakeside property and did some remodeling of the cottages. The property was named “Wiawaka,” a word meaning “spirit of women,” and they leased it to Fuller.  

Meanwhile, on an adjacent parcel of property, the Trasks, who had long wanted to create a special place for artists, built a sixteen-room “dormitory” for that purpose. In the early years this Adirondack lodge, dubbed “Wakonda,” sheltered many painters and sculptors, their number including the acclaimed modernist Georgia Totto O’Keeffe (b. 1887, d. 1986), said to have stayed for three weeks one summer early in her career. Within a couple of years, the Trasks sold both properties to Mary Fuller for the sum of one dollar and a bouquet of flowers. She was free to fulfill her dream of operating a retreat for women, and the Trasks turned their energies to developing the 400-acre estate they owned in Saratoga Springs into Yaddo, an artist’s colony, a prestigious retreat that still exists today, and which boasts an unparalleled history of nurturing artists and writers to outstanding successes. (http://yaddo.org/yaddo/history.shtml)

ladies with boat
Enjoyable respite from
the workaday world.
Until her death in 1943, Mary Fuller worked tirelessly to enlist the help of wealthy women of her acquaintance to raise funds for Wiawaka, to enable her to offer “scholarships” to women unable to pay the fees to visit. Some stayed for days, others for months. They rested and reflected beside the glittering lake, and attended programs in the arts and in healing. In its first summer of operation, when room and board was $3.50 per week, 176 guests came. Today women may reserve rooms to stay overnight, with meals included, or visit just for a day or meal. Fees are reasonable, and those with special financial circumstances may be eligible for a lower rate. July is the only month that men are accommodated, and then only men who are part of a group with women.

lodge
Wakonda Lodge, built by Spencer and
Katrina Trask as an artists’ roost.
Wiawaka is now operated as a nonprofit organization dedicated to the goals that Fuller worked for and working hard to maintain and restore the old structures. The current project is restoration of Wakonda Lodge, the building that once housed the artists. Much work has been done, but fundraising continues to reach the goal of $300,000 for this good cause. (http://www.wiawaka.org/wakonda-project.html) The lodge is expected to reopen to guests July 1, 2013. Wiawaka’s director, Christine Dixon, quoted an old newspaper article about Wakonda’s founders, which said: “The plan of Mr. & Mrs. Trask is to make an art centre which shall grow through the years to greater proportions.” Dixon added, “My focus with the reopening of Wakonda is art therapy and art programming. We are truly honoring the original intention for this building at Wiawaka.”

These days approximately 1,000 women visit Wiawaka each summer, some just enjoying solitude or special reunions with family or friends, and others attending as part of a group to engage in workshops or classes in such varied activities as writing, yoga, Pilates, quilting, or painting. All come for relaxation and personal enrichment. They find peace walking woodland trails or strolling across the expansive lawn among gardens to the maze, or sitting on the dock beside the classic boathouse with a cup of hot coffee as the sun rises, watching the village across the lake come to life to begin the bustle of its day. The view from this side of the lake keeps all that in perspective and suggests that another cup of coffee might be in order as the waves lap against the shore and sun bathes the landscape.

If your idea of an affordable Adirondack vacation is one of lakeside serenity, simple pleasures and time for quiet reflection and introspection, Wiawaka should be on your short list. Three wholesome and tasty meals are announced each day with the ringing of an old-fashioned dinner bell, and coffee is available around the clock in the parlor of Fuller House, all to restore the “spirit of women”. See photos of the grounds and accommodations and find registration details at www.wiawaka.org.


Writers Steamboat 
Participants in the 2012 Adirondack
Mountain Writers’ Retreat convene
for a group photo on the porch of
Fuller House


The dock beside Wiawaka’s boathouse affords magnificent lake and mountain views.


Persis Granger
352-463-3089
PersisGranger.com
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