NOTE: This is the first in a four-part series that explores the people for whom the mountains in the Dix Range were named. Check back each week for the next installment.
“Names are powerful things. They act as an identity marker and a kind of map, locating you in time and geography. More than that, they can be a compass.” — Nicola Yoon, author, from The Sun is Also a Star
All of us who climb the 46 Adirondack High Peaks develop an inherent familiarity with the mountains and their trails. We have our favorite summits. We know the trails, where the steep sections are, and when we are approaching the areas that are always muddy. We have our own special places to stop for a break, or to enjoy a view. We can almost feel the mountains’ moods on any given day, whether they will be kind to us as we climb them or throw every possible obstacle in our way. We feel a kinship with the peaks as we get to know them. If we climb peaks enough times, we even consider them our friends. We become so familiar with the mountains that their names roll off our tongues without giving it much thought.
But what do we know about those names? When did each peak receive its name? Who chose the name? Why? And for those mountains that are named for a person, who is he, or she, and what did they do to deserve to have a mountain named for them? Do the names of the High Peaks matter?
These questions surfaced on a recent hike in the Dix Range, where four of the five peaks are named for people. The search for answers led to a fascinating bushwhack through not only Adirondack history but U.S. history as well.
At 4,857 feet, Dix Mountain is the highest peak in the range that bears the same name. Professor Ebenezer Emmons, the state geologist of New York who headed the geological survey of northern New York in 1837, named the mountain “Dix’s Peak” in honor of John Adams Dix. The name first appeared in Emmons’ 1838 report of the survey expedition. At that time, Dix was serving as Secretary of State in the administration of New York State Governor William Learned Marcy, whose name Emmons attached to New York’s highest peak on the first recorded climb to its summit on August 5, 1837. It’s easy to speculate why Emmons chose those two names for the two peaks: Dix recommended the survey of northern New York to Governor Marcy, and Marcy funded the project and chose Emmons as its head. Despite their interest in surveying northern New York, it is unlikely that either Dix or Marcy visited the Adirondacks.
On various iterations of maps over the years the name Dix’s Peak was changed to Dix Mt., or Dix Mtn. Today’s hikers just refer to the mountain as Dix.
John Adams Dix (1798 – 1879), born in New Hampshire, had a long and distinguished career in the military and as a public servant. He served as an ensign in the Canadian frontier campaign during the War of 1812, and as a major general during the Civil War. In state government he was New York State Adjutant General, Secretary of State, and State Superintendent of Schools. In 1872, at the age of 74, he was elected the 27th governor of New York serving from 1873 through 1874. On the national level Dix served in the United States House of Representatives and Senate, as Secretary of the Treasury under President James Buchanan, and as U.S. Minister to France. Dix was a staunch abolitionist and was credited with preventing Maryland from seceding from the Union prior to the Civil War. In addition to his public service he was the first president of the Union Pacific Railroad in the 1860s during the construction of the First Transcontinental Railroad.
Dix’s Peak was first climbed in 1807, thirty years before it was given a name, by a surveyor named Rykert (first name unknown), who ran the north line of Township 49, Totten and Crossfield Purchase1, making it the second major peak in the Adirondacks to have a verifiable first ascent. The first of the 46 High Peaks to be climbed was Giant of the Valley by Charles Broadhead and his survey party on June 2, 1797.
In 1771, prior to the Revolutionary War, Joseph Totten and Stephen Crossfield, on behalf of several other investors including Ebenezer and Edward Jessup, petitioned the royal governor of New York for the right to obtain title for England’s King George III, a tract of land encompassing about one million acres in the south-central Adirondacks. The land was purchased from the Native American tribes who hunted in the area. Following the Revolutionary War, all lands held by the British Crown became property of the individual states that made up the newly formed United States of American. A number of land surveys were conducted prior to and after the war to define the boundaries of the tract, and several lawsuits ensued to determine the actual owners of specifics tracts.
If you have hiked the Calamity Brook trail into the Flowed Lands, chances are you have stopped at the stone monument at Calamity Pond that marks the spot where David Henderson met his calamitous death. For many hikers the large stone marker is a cause for celebration as it means that after walking 4.3 miles from the Upper Works trailhead there is just another 0.4 miles remaining to reach the Flowed Lands. But the inscription on the monument commemorates a sad and tragic death: “This monument erected by filial affection, to the memory of our dear father, David Henderson who accidentally lost his life on this spot. 3rd September 1845.” Aside from memorializing the death, the dedication gives no information on Henderson himself—who he was, his place in Adirondack history, or his impact on the development of the iron works at Upper Works, the remains of which can still be seen on the road leading to the Calamity Brook trailhead.
An interpretive sign just before the trailhead register at Upper Works provides some basic information on Henderson and his connection to the area.* Born in Scotland in 1807, he came to the United States as a young man. He was a savvy businessman and became a partner in a pottery manufacturing company in New Jersey. In 1829 Henderson introduced in America the British method of making earthenware from molds instead of on the potter’s wheel. A born leader and a visionary, he was also a multi-talented visual artist, violin player, and writer.
Henderson’s impact on the Adirondacks is directly connected to his relationship to two other Scottish emigrees and brothers-in-law, Judge Duncan McMartin, Jr. (1776-1837) and Archibald McIntyre (1772-1858). McMartin was a land surveyor who served as a judge in the New York Court of Common Pleas. He also served in the New York State Assembly in 1819 and New York State Senate from 1820-1830. He owned a farm, lumber and grist mills, and a woolen factory in Broadalbin, NY, where he lived. Archibald McIntyre also ran a farm in Montgomery County and taught school in Albany, NY. He was elected to the NYS Assembly for several terms, and also served as Deputy Secretary of State, and State Comptroller. The MacIntyre Range was named in his honor. (The “a” was included in the name on the USGS topographic maps, but McIntyre himself spelled his name without the “a”.) Henderson was a friend of McIntyre’s, eventually marrying his daughter Annie, thus becoming McIntyre’s son-in-law.
McMartin and McIntyre were business partners having established the Elba Iron & Steel Manufacturing Company on the headwaters of the Ausable River in the early 1800s. The company was initially profitable. But the costs of transporting both the raw ore from a source in Clinton County as well as the final product proved to be unsustainable, and the company eventually closed.1
On October 2,1826 Henderson joined an expedition to search for iron ore closer to the Elba Iron & Steel works, and also, perhaps, to locate veins of silver that local lore for years had claimed to be in the area. Members of the prospecting party included Duncan McMartin and his brother Malcolm McMartin; Archibald McIntyre’s nephew, Dyer Thompson, and son John McIntyre; McIntyre’s African American servant Enoch; Henderson; and Lewis [also spelled Louis in some documentation] Elijah, an Abenaki Native American, who purported to know the location of an extensive ore bed. The search continued for eight days. (This group is credited with naming the lake near the ore bed Henderson Lake.2)
Henderson wrote a long and remarkably detailed letter to Archibald McIntyre dated 14th October 1826, that described “the discovery of the most extraordinary bed of Iron Ore, for singularity of situation and extent of vein, which perhaps this North American Continent affords.”3
Henderson recounted the start of their search: “On Monday got all the preparation for the woods pretty early—just before starting, a strapping young Indian of a Canadian tribe, made his appearance….The Indian opened his blanket and took out a small piece of Iron Ore about the size of a nut….” After a few questions and initial skepticism, the group decided that he was “a very modest, honest looking fellow” so they “concluded to take him along….”4
Henderson described their eight days in the woods in vivid prose including his assessment of Indian Pass—a visualization that still holds true today—which he called “as wild a place as I ever saw. On one side an immense rock rising perpendicularly from the narrow pass we had to travel through, filled in many places with large masses which had tumbled down from each side of the mountain.”5 After proceeding down from the summit of the Notch at Indian Pass they camped for the night: “Our situation here was grand in extreme—encamped at the head of the North River in a narrow pass—the moon glimmering by fits through the forest; the huge perpendicular rocks on each side, aspiring to the heavens, were our curtains,—the clouds our canopy—the ground our bed—the infant murmurs of the giant River Hudson, the music which lull’d us to sleep… .”6
Continuing south through Indian Pass the group eventually came to the ore deposit originally described by their Native American guide. Henderson writes: “…to our astonishment we found the bed of ore.…We found the breadth of the vein to be about fifty feet!—traced it into the woods…and digging down about a foot of earth, found the pure ore bed there—and let me here remark—this immense mass of ore is unmix’d with anything—in the middle of the River where the water runs over—the channel appears like the bottom of a smoothing iron.…In short, the thing was past all our conceptions.…”7
At the end of his lengthy letter to McIntyre, which includes a harrowing narrative of two nights spent away from their camp in the pouring rain, Henderson again expressed his excitement about the ore find and the importance of acting quickly to secure the property: “This enormous Iron Bed kept possession of our minds—I dreamt about it—We judge it best to lose no time in securing if possible—….the thing is too important to delay—speculators in Essex County running wild for ore beds….”8
Duncan McMartin and Archibald McIntyre as principal investors and Henderson as an active partner eventually acquired from the state the property where the ore beds were found with the intention of developing an iron smelting operation. The property was known as the Gore east of Township 47, which covered the westerly part of the MacIntyre Range, part of Indian Pass, the valley of Calamity Brook for about two miles, Mt. Adams, and the area around Lakes Jimmy and Sally. The tract included 6,080 acres and was appraised at a value of 10 cents per acre. Eventually the land holdings were expanded to 105,000 acres.9
The amount of preliminary work necessary to support the iron works—an area that through the years has been referred to by several names including the McIntyre Iron Works, Upper Works, Tahawus, and Adirondac—was massive and proceeded slowly. Roads needed to be built; dams were needed to secure a constant water source to support the operation; the land around the ore beds needed to be cleared of trees in order to extract the ore; and additional trees needed clearing to make space for a settlement to house workers, and for farming to support what eventually became the village of McIntyre (later called Adirondac) at Upper Works. The venture also needed a sawmill to make lumber, a furnace to make charcoal from the surrounding timber that would fuel the ore blast furnaces, and numerous other support structures.
In a letter to Archibald McIntyre dated 8 September 1833, seven years after the discovery of the ore itself, Henderson outlined the progress that had been made at the site: “I found the place very much altered in appearance for the better—an excellent road from the landing to the settlement, and a straight level street from the house to the saw mill, good and dry, nearly completed—the wood cut down a considerable distance south of the house,…and all clear to Henderson Lake. What struck me particularly was the excellence of the oats, …I must say that I have not seen so fine a crop of oats in these United States….”10
Henderson took a break from his responsibilities at the iron works during the first week of August 1837 to join Ebenezer Emmons, Professor of Chemistry at Williams College and a New York state geologist, and his party on a portion of his geological survey of northern New York. The purpose of Emmons’ trip was to explore the sources of the Hudson River and to attempt to climb several high peaks that Emmons and scientist William C. Redfield had seen the summer before. Taking advantage of the roads and water access that had already been established for the iron works, Emmons’ group congregated at the village of McIntyre. The party, which included Henderson, left the village on August 3, and made what is considered to be the first ascent of the mountain we now know as Mt. Marcy on August 5.
Following the death of Judge McMartin on October 3, 1837, Henderson devoted more and more time to the management of the iron works. He studied metallurgy and chemistry. He travelled to England to consult with steel experts there. He experimented with the processes, failed, and then tried again, solving problems until the iron works eventually began to produce iron. Henderson is often credited with being the force behind the success of the iron works through his persistence and unflagging belief in the viability of the enterprise.
It was Henderson’s relentless desire to achieve success for the iron works that eventually led to his tragic death. Seasonal water shortages were a constant problem for the iron works. On September 3, 1845, Henderson set out with a group from the village, which included his young son Archie and noted Adirondack guide John Cheney, among others, in search of additional water sources, and possible locations for dams.
Henry Dornburgh, an employee at the iron works for many years, recorded the firsthand accounts from members of Henderson’s party of the accident that ultimately cost Henderson his life. He recounted that the group stopped at the small wetland called ‘the duck pond,’ now known as Calamity Pond, to set up camp. There were some ducks on the pond and Henderson gave Cheney his pistol and suggested that he shoot some of the ducks for supper. The ducks flew away as Cheney approached them, so he returned the pistol to Henderson, who put it back in his belt case. At some point Henderson removed his knapsack, then his gun belt. When he laid the gun belt on a nearby rock the gun fired, shooting him in the lower abdomen. According to Dornburgh’s account Cheney ran to Henderson when he heard the discharge and the dying man said to him “‘John you must have left the pistol cocked.’” Henderson then called for his son and said, “‘Archie, be a good boy and give my love to your mother.’” He died shortly after.11
Men from the village carried Henderson’s body out early the following morning after they had “[cut] out trees and bushes to make a way for the corpse to be conveyed to the village, there being but a narrow trail then, and the trail made … is now used by tourists on their way to Mt. Marcy.”12
In concluding his account on Henderson’s tragic death Dornburgh described his importance to the iron works: “Had Mr. Henderson lived, in all probability, the Adirondacks would have flourished with iron and steel works second to none on this continent. His whole energy was in that direction.”13
Largely due to Henderson’s accomplishments the iron works reached its peak of productivity during the years from 1848 to 1853 with round-the-clock operation and production of 10-12 tons of iron per day.
But after his death there was no one who had his knowledge, energy, and problem-solving ability to lead the enterprise. A series of unfortunate circumstances eventually precipitated the demise of the iron works. In 1856 flooding destroyed the upper dam at the village of Adirondac as well as the dam and sawmill at the Lower Works (Also known as Tahawus, the Lower Works was about ten miles south of the village of Adirondac.) The financial panic of 1857 in the United States created economic instability for the company. Finally, the death of Archibald McIntyre in May 1858 left the operation leaderless with no one with the business acumen or desire to assume responsibility. The iron works ceased operation shortly after McIntyre’s death. “Work was dropped just as it was. …The workmen abandoned their homes, and Adirondac became, as it was for many years described, “The Deserted Village.”14
The village of Adirondac has had a succession of rebirths through the years, seeing new life as a series of sportsmen’s clubs, a game preserve, and a source for timber. Mining at Upper and Lower Works was also revived, but this time the ores being extracted were titanium, a component used in the production of white paint and enamels, as well as magnetite. Most recently the piles of tailings from the titanium mining are being crushed and sold as construction aggregate.
The next time you go to the Upper Works for a hike take a few minutes to read the interpretive panels about the history of the village of Adirondac and the iron works that line the gravel road from the new parking lot to the trailhead. Feel the incredible history of the area at your feet as you walk the trails along Henderson Lake or into the Flowed Lands and stop at the monument where Henderson met his unfortunate fate. Think for a moment that it all began with the discovery in 1826 by David Henderson and his scouting party of “the most extraordinary bed of Iron Ore.”15
* The Open Space Institute (OSI) acquired the nearly 10,000-acre Tahawus Tract in 2003 from NL Industries. In 2008 the OSI transferred most of the land to New York state for inclusion in the Adirondack Forest Preserve but maintained ownership of a 212-acre narrow corridor of land from Lake Jimmy to Henderson Lake in order to preserve the historic and environmental importance of the area. Working with the Town of Newcomb, and expending close to one millions dollars, the OSI has made a number of capital improvements to the area including enlarging and relocating the parking area for the Upper Works trailhead; stabilizing the iron furnace ruins and the MacNaughton Cottage; and creating trails around the iron works with interpretive panels that explain the site’s importance to Adirondack history.
Notes 1. Arthur H. Masten, The Story of Adirondac. (Syracuse University Press, Syracuse, NY 1968, First edition privately printed by Arthur H. Masten, 1923) 16-17. 2. Leonard A. Gereau, Tahawus Memories 1941-1963: The Story of a Unique Adirondack Hometown. (Hungry Bear Publishing, Saranac Lake, NY 2014) 8. 3. Masten, 18. 4. Masten,18-19. 5. Masten, 20-21. 6. Masten, 21. 7. Masten, 22. 8. Masten, 26. 9. Harold K. Hochschild, The MacIntyre Mine – From Failure to Fortune (Adirondack Museum of the Adirondack Historical Association, 1962, Second printing 1976) 3. 10. Masten, The Story of Adirondac, 59. 11. Masten, 100-101. 12. Masten, 101. 13. Masten, 103. 14. Masten, 143-144. 15. Masten, 18.
Grace Hudowalski, 46er #9, the first woman to record climbing the 46 High Peaks, and club’s long-time historian, often talked about “the healing woods.” She was referring to the memoir The Healing Woods (1952)* written by Martha Reben. Reben was a tuberculosis patient at the sanatorium in Saranac Lake, New York, during the 1930s. After three years of following the traditional treatment for the disease of bed rest and fresh air, and a number of unsuccessful surgeries, she decided to try something different. She hired a local guide to take her camping in the wilderness. For several years the pair spent spring through fall camping on the shore of Weller Pond, southwest of the Village of Saranac Lake. In her memoir Reben recounts her experiences in the wilderness, crediting the combination of constant fresh air, rest and relaxation, moderate exercise, and the restorative powers of the natural world for leading to her eventual cure from TB.
Like Martha Reben, Grace was a firm believer in the healing power of nature. As the club historian, Grace received innumerable letters from climbers describing personal issues that were having a negative impact on their lives – everything from battling cancer, or recovering from major surgery, to dealing with the stress and depression brought on by the death of a loved one, a divorce, or job loss. They all credited their time spent in the beauty and wonder of the great outdoors while climbing the 46 as giving them strength, healing, peace of mind, and the power to restore their health and positive attitude. Grace herself experienced the curative powers of the natural world as she struggled with her own health issues.
Many of us already know firsthand the sense of calmness and well-being that we experience when we are in the mountains. And we know that often that mental state is just as important, if not more so, than actually making it to the summit of a peak. In this extraordinary time of the COVID-19 pandemic that we are living through now, we are all searching for ways to cope with the myriad of uncertainties. We are all in need of some way to settle our fears and anxiety. Many of us will look to the strength and steadfastness of the healing woods to help us through the unknowns that surround our future.
If we are healthy, some of us will go on a hike – although the pandemic directive for “social distancing” and the hiking guideline of “don’t hike alone” seem to be mutually exclusive. The best we can do is to choose our hiking partner wisely. If you don’t want to, or are unable to go on a hike right now, there are other ways to make the human/nature connection. Walk or bike in a local park. Canoe on a lake as the ice allows. Sit on your porch, feel the breeze and listen to the songs of the birds. Just look up at the sky and watch the clouds moving above you. Or pull out your photos of previous hiking and camping trips and relive the moments. The gift of nature’s grace will find you.
Stay well and be safe.
*Unfortunately, Martha Reben’s book The Healing Woods is no longer in print.
The promise of a made-to-order hiking day with abundant sunshine, reasonable summer temperatures, and a light breeze convinced us to make our annual pilgrimage to the summit of Algonquin. What draws us to climb Algonquin at least once a year during the summer months is not to revel in the gorgeous views from the top – impressive as they may be – but rather to explore the unique flora that live on Algonquin’s open alpine summit. It’s those fragile plants with their delicate blooms and miniature size that elicit a sense of awe for the wonders of Mother Nature. Each time we visit Algonquin’s summit we see different plants in bloom and identify one or two that we hadn’t noticed before. It’s that thrill and excitement of discovery, like a child finding that wished-for gift under the tree on Christmas morning, that we yearn to experience.
The florae on the open Adirondack alpine peaks are arctic plants found elsewhere only on the tundra landscape of northern Canada, Alaska, and Greenland. Through a combination of environmental factors, geological history, and the quirks of nature, they manage to survive in the harsh environment of the high summits. Most of the plants are rare or endangered, and all of them are protected.
It’s particularly gratifying to see Algonquin’s summit covered in blankets of diverse plant communities, as that has not always been the case. During the 1960s and 1970s the Adirondack summits experienced a significant increase in hiker traffic. Unaware of the damage that walking on the alpine vegetation would cause, hikers were literally trampling the plants to death. Boots tore at the tundra, eventually eroding away the thin soils that supported the alpine plants. As hikers crisscrossed the alpine environment, taking their own route to the top, the summits were reduced to barren, grey, gravel paths, mostly devoid of plant life.
Most 46ers probably already know the story of how the barren mountaintops were transformed into the lush and thriving garden that we see on the alpine summits today. But it’s a success story that deserves to be repeated.
Dr. Edwin H. Ketchledge (46er #507) had been studying the degradation of the alpine environment of the High Peaks over the course of his 30 year career as a professor of ecology at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry. His research delineated general trail erosion and more specifically the deterioration of summit vegetation. With support from the United States Forest Service, other ecologists, as well as hiking and conservation organizations in the Adirondacks, he developed a restoration program for the alpine summits. The plan included shoring up the eroded sides of the trails above treeline and then planting grass seed in the eroded areas to provide a seedbed for the native plants to grow. For more than twenty years hundreds of volunteers, many of them 46ers, carried the raw materials to the open summits for the restoration project — small rocks to stabilize the eroded trail sides, and five pound packets of lime (to counteract the acidity of the mountain soil), grass seed, and fertilizer to plant among the bare gravel areas.
Over the course of several decades the grass grew. Mosses appeared and formed seedbeds for the pioneer plants (hardy species that are the first to appear in barren environments that have been damaged by natural or manmade causes) to take hold. The native plant communities slowly returned, and the non-native grasses died out. Today, hikers who climb to the top of the open alpine summits can attest to the remarkable success of Ketchledge’s experiment.
To protect the restoration work and prevent hikers from re-damaging the alpine plants, a number of groups including the Adirondack Nature Conservancy, Adirondack Mountain Club, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, 46ers, and others joined forces to establish and provide support for the Summit Stewardship Program. Since its inception in 1989 the program has placed trained educators on the summits of the peaks with alpine vegetation to conduct plant inventories and to educate hikers on how to help protect the rare and fragile natural wonders.
So, the next time you are on one of the alpine summits in the Adirondacks consider it a privilege to be hiking among living plants that only grow in a few places on this earth. If you encounter a Summit Steward ask him or her to identify some of the plants for you. And remember to do your part to protect the delicate, fragile alpine vegetation:
Stay on the trails; follow the trail markers and paint blazes and rock cairns above treeline.
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