In 1869, the Boston publishing company Fields, Osgood, & Co. released a book by a clergyman in that city that opened the Adirondacks to cr…
When published in 1982, “Great Camps of the Adirondacks” by Harvey H. Kaiser built a foundation for preservation of the historic camps located within the 6 million-acre forest preserve of Adirondack Park.
“The ‘Great Camps’ were to the beautiful and secluded Adirondack region what the ‘cottages’ were to Newport: contradictions in terminology, but marvels of construction and architectural imagination,” the publisher, David R. Godine, Boston, wrote in a book description. “ ... they are at once relics of a bygone age and prototypes for the contemporary architect, amateur builder and historian.”
A second edition of “Great Camps of the Adirondacks” was recently published, and David R. Godine was eager to also publish the new version.
“We wanted to publish ‘Great Camps of the Adirondacks’ in 1982 because author Harvey H. Kaiser made us fall in love with these architectural treasures — some of the most spectacular rustic homes ever built,” said David Allender, managing director at Godine. “Forty years later, it was time to revisit the camps and update the story. We know the people of the Adirondacks rightfully take great pride in the unique style of architecture that was developed in the region they call home. It’s our honor and privilege to share Adirondack Rustic Style, as Harvey Kaiser named it, with readers around the world.”
Mr. Kaiser also authored the second edition, but he died in October of 2019 at the age of 83.
Mr. Kaiser was employed by Sargent, Webster, Crenshaw and Folley, a former Syracuse architectural firm, where he designed several prominent buildings in the city. He was a member of faculty and the administration at Syracuse University, where he became vice president in charge of all buildings, master planning and facilities management. He was also an expert on the architecture found at western national parks.
“Harvey’s death was a great loss to all of us in the field, but I’m so glad that he did get to finish this new edition because it allowed him and all of us in the field to kind of reflect on a number of things,” said Steven Engelhart, executive director of Keeseville-based Adirondack Architectural Heritage, the nonprofit historic preservation organization for New York State’s Adirondack Park, established in 1892.
Mr. Engelhart, who wrote the foreword for the new edition, said the updated “Great Camps” shows how much the public’s “attention and appreciation” has changed since the original book came out. Also, more has become known about the Great Camps since 1982.
“He was able to include a lot of other camps that weren’t known to him and maybe to others at the time,” Mr. Engelhart said of Mr. Kaiser’s research.
The heyday in the building of Adirondack Great Camps was between the late 19th century up until World War 1. The camps, many built by prominent industrialists, consisted of multi-buildings in remote areas.
According to AARCH, about 35 “Great Camps,” known for their rustic architecture, remain and are under private, nonprofit and state ownership. A handful of them have become National Historic Landmarks — historic places that hold national significance. The Secretary of the Interior designates these places as “exceptional” because of their abilities to illustrate U.S. heritage.There’s about 2,600 Landmarks in the United States.
Camp Pine Knot, built in 1877 by William West Durant at Pine Knot Point on Raquette Lake is considered the first “Great Camp.” It’s now owned by SUNY Cortland.
The compound, a National Historic Landmark, is now known as Huntington Memorial Camp at William H. Parks Family Center for Environmental and Outdoor Education.
Camp Huntington, a cluster of buildings, was built by William West Durant (1850-1934) and sold to railroad magnate Collis P. Huntington in 1895. In 1947, Huntington’s son, Archer, and his wife, Anna, presented to the SUNY Cortland the original 201-acre site and historical buildings in the memory of Collis.
“William West Durant combined an appreciation of nature and the Adirondacks into his buildings, harmonizing them with their settings by using indigenous materials and local construction techniques and forming the foundations of an innovative design style,” Mr. Kaiser wrote in the second edition of his book. “Although other camps were appearing at the same time with similar rustic features, Durant’s ideas and inventive use of the picturesque caught the attention of a cohort of owner-builders. Authors celebrated his rustic creations in magazines, newspaper articles and guidebooks.”
Mr. Durant would go on to build other Great Camps. His Camp Uncas, completed in 1895, was purchased by American financier J.P. Morgan in 1896 and was owned for a half-century by his heirs. In 2008, the camp, in Inlet on Mohegan Lake, was named a National Historic Landmark. In 2017, it was sold to a private party after being listed at $2.7 million by Syracuse-based Franklin Ruttan Unique Property Specialists.
Adirondack Architectural Heritage has hosted tours of Great Camps not usually open to the public; a program in suspension this year due to the pandemic.
Three Great Camps are regularly open to the public: Camp Sagamore near Raquette Lake, Camp Santanoni in Newcomb and White Pine Camp in Paul Smiths.
n Great Camp Sagamore: Built in 1897 William West Durant on 1,526 acres of remote wilderness. He planned to reside at Sagamore, but sold it shortly after its completion. The National Historic Landmark was a retreat for the Vanderbilt family for half a century. It’s now operated by the nonprofit Sagamore Institute of the Adirondacks, Inc., offering tours, lessons on nature, science and history, educational programs and retreats. It’s also a museum, conference center and wedding site. Guests can stay overnight while participating in a Sagamore program. It is closed for the 2020 season due to the pandemic.
“A story of significance for preservationists, Sagamore is a guidepost for sustained stewardship by individuals and nonprofit organizations,” Mr. Kaiser wrote.
n Camp Santanoni Historic Area: The Camp Santanoni Historic Area, a National Historic Landmark, is owned by New York State. The complex, completed in 1893, was built by Robert and Anna Pruyn of Albany. Its leading architect was Robert H. Robertson.
According to AARCH, the creation of its forest preserve in 1885 was one of the earliest acts of large-scale public land protection in the nation. The 12,900 acre Santanoni Preserve was acquired by New York State in 1972.
The Great Camp is a popular day hike destination during summer months, as well as a cross country skiing destination in the colder months on its network of trails. Its trails are open during the pandemic. Its buildings, except for the boat house, were closed up on Labor Day weekend.
The main complex is on the shores of Newcomb Lake and contains the main lodge, a stone artists studio, the boat house and several smaller structures. There’s also a farm complex and gate lodge complex.
“The story of the camp’s preservation demonstrates how one nonprofit organization could take the lead in coping with the Adirondack Park ‘Forever Wild’ provisions while attracting and developing a volunteer restoration and interpretation staff,” Mr. Kaiser wrote.
In 1997, AAH helped to create the Friends of Camp Santanoni, in order to provide long-term financial and volunteer support for conservation, interpretation and public use of the complex.
It’s a partnership of nonprofit organizations, the town of Newcomb, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and members of the public.
n White Pine Camp: In 1907, Archibald S. White, a prominent New York banker, hired New York architect William Massarene to design the camp on Osgood Pond near Paul Smiths. Buildings were also designed by Addison Mizner.
Its 20 original buildings over 35 acres included an owner’s cabin, dining hall, four sleeping cabins, two boat houses, an indoor tennis house, a bowling alley and even a Japanese tea house. The eclectic collection of buildings make it unique among the Great Camps.
In 1926, it served as summer White House for President Calvin Coolidge.
The camp was later owned by Adele Levy and Edith Sterns, daughters of the president of Sears-Roebuck. In 1948, they donated it to Paul Smiths College, which used it for student housing for 35 years.
The camp was purchased in 1993 by Adirondack historic preservationist Howard Kirschenbaum of Rochester and Raquette Lake and a restoration project began.
White Pine Camp Associates LLC was created in January, 1997. According to the White Pine Camp website, “Today, nearly 40 owners operate White Pine Camp as a historic site to educate and inspire future generations. While the owners enjoy use of the camp’s 13 unique structures for up to four weeks each year, all of White Pine Camp’s facilities are open to the public on a rental basis.”
In June, a fire at White Pine Camp destroyed four buildings at its rental units. The fire began in a large work shed built in 1907 and quickly spread to nearby cabins which originally housed staff such as grounds keepers, guides and cooks. The original owner’s and guest cabins are on the western side of the ridge well beyond a fire break.
“Luckily, the most beautiful cabins and common buildings were untouched and we are currently renting eight cottages,” Ed Neuburger, assistant innkeeper, wrote in an email to the Times. “We are planning to rebuild soon and incorporate some of the original historic stonework.”
Mr. Engelhart said that for the past 30 years, the level of good stewardship for Adirondack Great Camps has been “off the charts.”
“Part of it is aesthetic,” he said of the reasons. “They’re just wonderfully attractive places in the architecture and it’s also the setting, the craftsmanship and design. As human beings, we are attracted to beauty in many different ways. I just think being in and around beautiful places like these Great Camps is just a lovely, basic human experience.”
The attraction is also related to the stories behind the camps, he added.
“It’s not just the stories of Alfred Vanderbilt and Collis Huntington — the wealthy industrial magnates,” he said. “It’s also the story of people who built these camps, the craftspeople who made them so beautiful. It’s the people who worked there as guides and cooks and ran the farm and took care of the place that made living there possible. Their stories are very compelling too.”
Mr. Engelhart believes the matching timelines of renewed interest in Great Camps and a growing environmental movement is no coincidence.
“People see this kind of rustic architecture growing out of nature, being respectful of nature,” Mr. Engelhart said. “Even though you could argue it’s a bit of a fantasy, they embody a basic human wish: to do a better job of our relationship with the natural environment.”