Part I, Santanoni
For centuries the
Adirondacks have held allure for those with time and
money to travel. Even in the late 1800s and early 1900s, those from
more populated areas flocked to the mountains for beautiful scenery,
fresh air and outdoor recreation. Many sought out hotels and
boarding houses in our Adirondack
villages and towns. Others, more affluent, built their own private
retreats. The grandest of these homes came to be known as the “Great
Camps.” Wealthy families used to summering in “cottages” in Saratoga
Springs, Newport or Mount Desert Island sought a different
experience, a place where gentility bumped up against wilderness.
The Adirondack region was that place, and architects carved out of
the vast forest tracts magnificent vacation estates, each with
multiple buildings, to be staffed with dozens of local residents,
some of whom resided in the camp’s service quarters. The list of
camps includes places like Pine Knot, White Pine, Top Ridge, Uncas
and Sagamore. Steven Englehart, Executive Director of Adirondack
Architectural Heritage (AARCH), estimates that as many as sixty
great camps were built during this period. One of the earliest—and
arguably one of the grandest of its time—was Camp Santanoni,
designed for Albany banker Robert C. Pruyn and built mostly in
1892-93 on 12,500 acres in the town of Newcomb.
dairy complex at Camp Santanoni.
Pruyn’s camp featured three groups of
buildings—the gatehouse complex, the dairy complex, and
finally, on the shore of Newcomb Lake, the base camp complex—about
forty-five buildings in all. Designed by Robert H. Robertson, they
exemplified the emerging Adirondack Rustic style, using native
materials. The magnificent gateway arch, the main camp fireplace and
some outbuildings were made of fieldstone.
Many of the buildings boasted hand-hewn
beams, decorative log columns, ornate log grillwork and half-log
accents. Peeled birch bark wall covering completed the effect.
Santanoni’s design also hinted of Japanese influence that harks back
to Pruyn’s time in the Orient, when he served as secretary to his
father, the minister to Japan appointed by Abraham Lincoln. The
expansive farm supplied vegetables, meat and dairy products to
family and guests, whose number included none other than Theodore
Roosevelt and James Fenimore Cooper, Jr.
brings the Santanoni buildings back to life
In 1953, Pruyns’ descendents sold Santanoni to the Melvin family,
who, in the wake of a family tragedy, sold it in 1971 to The Nature
Conservancy. It later became part of the State Forest Preserve. The
buildings were left unattended and they deteriorated. AARCH, along
with others, convinced the state to designate the remaining
twenty-seven buildings and thirty-two acres as a State Historic
Area, and to begin restoration of the structures.
Restoration continues. Today Santanoni is a
National Historic Landmark and has been designated a
America's Treasures site by the National Park
Service and the National Trust for Historic Preservation. If you
would like to see it, wander around the grounds or take a canoe or
kayak out on the lake. Santanoni is open to the
public year round. Visitors should know, though, that they must park
their cars at the stone gateway, as no motor vehicles are permitted
to drive the four and seven-tenths mile-long
carriage road. Plan to hike, bike, ski, snowshoe,
or ride a horse-drawn carriage (call Ken Helms, 518-582-4191).
Wagon ride in to Camp Santanoni
An estimated eight thousand people do every year.
About six buildings are open
from late June to Labor Day, when interpreters are available.
Day-long group tours may be arranged through AARCH, June through
September. If you enjoy the great camp experience, you’ll want to
know that this group also leads a
multi-day tour that
includes visits to several great camps, some of them privately-owned
properties not usually accessible by the public. This year’s Rustic
Study Tour is in September, and one fee covers lodging, lectures,
tours, transportation from
and meals. All group tours are arranged
by calling 518
-834-9328. Learn more at www.aarch.org.
Persis Granger is an
Adirondack history buff. She edits the John Thurman
Historical Society Quarterly
and also writes historical fiction set in the
Adirondack Gold and
A Summer of Strangers.
Read more at www.PersisGranger.com. She will continue “The Great
Camp Experience” in the October issue with “Part II, Sagamore.”