In addition to the natural beauty of Upstate New York and the lure of the High Peaks, the Adirondack region is also home to the unique rustic architectural style of the Adirondack Great Camps. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries many wealthy families were drawn to the Adirondacks as a refuge from the cities during the summer months. They built sprawling compounds, often on the shorelines of Adirondack lakes, which provided their families and guests with rustic, yet elegant retreats that were designed to blend in with the natural surroundings. The first of what would become known as the Adirondack Great Camp, was Camp Pine Knot, which was designed by William West Durant. Built over a thirteen year period beginning in 1877 on the shores of Raquette Lake, Durant’s design became the benchmark for subsequent enclaves.
Today many of the Great Camps remain privately owned. However, there is one that has been preserved and designated as a Historic Area in New York State and a National Historic Landmark, and is therefore open to the public – Camp Santanoni and the Santanoni Preserve.
Camp Santanoni is considered to be one of the grandest, most sophisticated and distinguished of all the surviving Great Camps. The complex was originally built between 1892 and 1905 by Robert C. Pruyn (1847-1934) and Anna W. Pruyn (1853-1939). Robert C. Pruyn was a prominent Albany banker and businessman, and well-connected to the Albany political scene. He served as an aide to Governor Dix, was President of National Commercial Bank (now Key Bank), and a Regent of the State University of New York.
Situated on approximately 12,900 acres on the shore of Newcomb Lake, the camp was comprised of three distinct areas stretching along a five-mile carriage road: the Gate Complex, the Farm Complex, and the Main Complex.
Gate Complex: Guests arriving a Camp Santanoni entered through the large stone archway of the Gate Lodge. The Lodge, built on Lake Harris and designed by the architectural firm Delano and Aldrich, included staff bedrooms. The complex also included a caretaker’s home, barns, sheds, and boathouse.
Farm Complex: Located on the carriage road about a mile from the Gate Lodge is the Farm Complex, which was the camp’s main source of food. The farm layout and operational systems were designed by Edward Burnett who was an expert in “scientific farming.” Unfortunately the massive barn, which once housed a dairy operation, a piggery, and chicken house, burned to the ground in 2004. But several other buildings remain including a manager’s, gardener’s, and herdsman’s cottage, a stone creamery, and a smoke house.
Main Complex: At the end of the carriage road, approximately five miles from the Gate Lodge, is the Main Lodge, located on the southern shore of Newcomb Lake. From the main porch of the lodge it becomes obvious where the inspiration for the name of the camp came from as the summit ridge of Santanoni Mountain is visible in the distance.
The Main Lodge is a grouping of six separate buildings – living and dining area, kitchen and service building, and four sleeping cabins – all connected by a common roof and a sprawling covered porch of some 5,000 square feet. The complex also includes a boathouse, artist’s studio, ash house, ice house, and a screened gazebo. The center of the lodge is the two-story living hall with a massive freestanding stone chimney with fireplaces set back-to-back.
Transition from Private to Public Ownership
The Pruyn family owned Camp Santanoni until 1953 when they sold it to brothers Myron and Crandall Melvin. The amount of resources required to maintain the complex, in addition to a family tragedy, led the Melvins to consider selling the land to New York State for incorporation into the Forest Preserve. Facilitated by the Adirondack Conservancy Committee of The Nature Conservancy, the property was sold to the state in 1972. However lack of funds and legal issues regarding maintaining buildings in the Forest Preserve prevented any decisions for decades on the future of Camp Santanoni. In 1990 Adirondack Architectural Heritage, the Town of Newcomb, and the Preservation League of New York State approached the state with renewed interest in preserving Camp Santanoni and interpreting its historical significance to the public. In 1992 New York State endorsed the concept and drafted a management plan for preserving both the rich historic heritage of the camp complex as well as the surrounding wilderness. In 1998, the “Friends of Camp Santanoni” was established to help provide long-term financial and volunteer support for what many believe to be the grandest of the Adirondack Great Camps. The Camp Santanoni Historic Area was officially created in 2000. It was designated a National Historic Landmark also in 2000.
Visiting Camp Santanoni
The entrance to Camp Santanoni is on Newcomb Lake Road off of State Rt 28N, about 2.3 miles west of Newcomb Central School. Visitor access to the complex is along a five-mile gravel carriage road. There is ample parking adjacent to the Gate Lodge. Travel is limited to hiking, biking, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and horseback riding. No motorized vehicles are allowed. Interpretive signs with vintage photos tell the history of the complex and depict what camp life was like. A boathouse at the Main Camp houses a small selection of canoes, paddles, and life jackets for visitor use. There are also a few primitive campsites around Newcomb Lake.
It is well worth a trip to take the peaceful walk along the same route that the Pruyn family and their friends took when visiting Camp Santanoni. You won’t be greeted by a camp staff member to offer you a cool drink or a hot bath upon reaching the Main Lodge, as the Pruyn’s guests were. But you will experience the unique atmosphere and character of life at an Adirondack Great Camp.
For additional information on visiting Camp Santononi, including winter weekend events, and for other hiking and camping opportunities on the Santanoni Preserve go to: https://www.dec.ny.gov/lands/53095.html