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History of Raquette Lake

Great Camps Architecture

Great Camps are compounds of buildings meant as a self-contained (often self-sustaining) seasonal retreat for a wealthy family, mimicking a tiny rural village. Great Camp architecture reached its peak around the dawn of 20th Century, as the industrial magnates of the Gilded Age were spending their fortunes on ways to escape the crowded and polluted cites of the Northeast. Each building served a separate purpose, with dining halls, libraries, game rooms, blacksmith shops, boathouses, carriage houses, barns, farms, guest quarters, servants’ quarters and lounges, many connected by covered walkways for protection on rainy days.

Many Great Camps fell into disrepair as the wealthy owners passed away or lost their fortunes in the Great Depression. Some were later purchased by scout groups and other institutions that had the means to keep them in order.

Perhaps the two most important features of Durant’s Great Camps are his use of the landscape to conceal the buildings from view until you are right next to them, and his use of indigenous material (whole logs, twigs, rock and bark) to create a rustic look that matched the landscape but also provided great comfort within. It was a combination of the American log cabin and the opulent European ski chalet. The style has been widely emulated, serving as the prototype for nearly every major lodge and administrative structure built by the National Park Service, including Yellowstone Lodge in Montana.

Durant was the son of Thomas C. Durant (1820-1885), a railroad tycoon and financial manipulator who briefly gained control of the Union Pacific Railroad during the 1860s, and whose machinations resulted in the 1872 Credit Mobilier scandal. By the 1870s Thomas Durant had become the largest private landowner in the Adirondacks, and he had delegated his son to develop portions of his holdings for future sale to the moneyed elite.  Pine Knot was started by Durant’s father as a showplace to draw investors to Durant’s holdings, but it was William West Durant who would develop it into the remarkable model for Adirondack Great Camps to follow.

Scheduled guided tours of Pine Knot in 2018:

 Wed 6/28,Fri 8/3 (Durant Days), Thurs 8/23, 8/30,9/13, 9/27.  An exclusive ADK Experience Members only tour of Pine Knot and St. Williams, packaged with a luncheon cruise on July 13, Fri. 

Camp Pine Knot

Camp Pine Knot #22 on your map, also known as Huntington Memorial Camp, was begun in 1877 and built over a thirteen year period.  It was the first of the “Adirondack Great Camps” and epitomizes the “Great Camp” architectural style. Elements of that style include log and native stonework construction, decorative rustic items of branches and twigs, and layout as a compound of separated structures.  Rather than tack a new wing onto an existing structure to incorporate a new function, it was preferred to construct an entirely separate structure.  Sites were selected for views and within general proximity of each other for convenience of moving about in bad weather.  There were practical reasons as well for the compound-plan tradition.   The separated structures afforded more privacy, while at the same time, creating a sense of community.  The separation of units also afforded some fire protection.

Located on the southwest tip of Long Point, a two mile long point extending into Raquette Lake, the camp consists of some two dozen buildings, including a seven-room “Swiss Cottage”, four “Log Cottages” of one to three rooms, two frame cottages of three and five rooms, a “Glass Dining Room”, and a five-stall horse barn and wagon shed. Covered walkways connect many of the buildings. There is also the Barque, a 20 by 60 foot four-room bark cabin built on a log raft, used to escape from the dreaded black fly in the spring. It was fully equipped, with a kitchen, bath, and running water.

In 1895 West sold the camp to wealthy industrialist, Collis P. Huntington of Southern Pacific Railroad fame.  Huntington enjoyed the property only a few years before he died.  When Huntington died, the family moved out the body, closed up the camp, appointed a caretaker to watch over it and keep people away, and left it empty for the next 47 years.  About 1947 a couple of faculty members from the State University of New York at Cortland were canoeing by.  They were looking for an outdoor education center for their college.  They saw this camp with trees growing out of the roofs.  They made inquiries and one thing led to another.  The son of Collis P. Huntington, Archer Huntington, within the next couple of years, donated the camp to the State of New York.  They’ve used it ever since as an outdoor education center for science teachers and physical education teachers and students learning about the environment.  Cortland runs programs here year-round, hosting primarily school groups.  You’ll see a sign as we go by, Huntington Memorial Camp, named after the donor.

Pine Knot (Collis P Huntington’s place), First Great Camp built, but second to be declared a National Historic Landmark, in 2004.  For more information and photos go to Great Camps history.

Other Great Camps on Raquette Lake

Another of the Great Camps, lying on the very end of Long Point is Echo Camp, #21 on your map.    Along with Pine Knot on Long Point, Echo Camp sustains the finest qualities of the Durant influence on Raquette Lake in the 1880s.  Echo has been in continual use since it was built for Governor Phineas C. Lounsbury of Connecticut in 1883, within five years after Durant began building Pine Knot.   Several generations of Lounsburys vacationed at Echo until it was sold to an individual in 1948 who ran it as a private children’s camp for almost 40 years. It has now evolved back to its original use as a private family estate.  Parts of Echo Camp have been subdivided and sold off to individual owners, but the main complex remains intact and has been carefully and lovingly restored and maintained by its present owners.

As we pass Echo, you’ll notice there are no two buildings alike.  Every one of them is different.   If you’re a student of architecture, you’ll realize this is a clue that the buildings were built over an extended period of time.  If you see buildings that are clustered and look basically the same design, it’s a pretty good bet they were built in succession, one right after another.  The buildings at Echo were built over a long period of time.  The original log structures nearest the dock are the earliest ones.  All the other buildings along the shore and back were built by the next 6 generations of Lounsburys who held and used this property.  There’s everything here, from vertical log to frame buildings with slabs for siding to frame buildings sheathed with flakes of bark.  The main buildings and the oldest are these horizontal log structures, built in about 1885.  The main building’s design is known as twin-tower.  The design was quite popular in those days.  The 2-story portion on either side of the single story section was for sleeping purposes.  The single story portion with the skylight down the ridge served as a common living area for that building.  The original buildings on Osprey Island, Camp Fairview, and also Camp Cedars on Forked Lake are almost of that exact design.  There’s a very good possibility that the same builders built each of these camps.  Balconies facing the lake emphasize the verticality of the towers.  Twigs and branches spell out “Echo Camp” in the balcony railing of the main lodge.

On the very tip of the point, you’ll see another structure very typical of the Great Camps era- the gazebo.  This one was built in 1890 and is very plain.

St. Williams

St. Williams on Long Point, a National Historic Place,#20 on the map.  Built in 1890 for the mainly Irish immigrants who came to staff the wilderness estates.  A non-profit group has been organized and oversees fundraising and restoration of this architectural treasure.

We’re now coming around to the north side of Long Point.  Originally this shoreline was known as Durant, NY. This was before the village of Raquette Lake was established where it is now.  There was a post office founded here in the 1880’s called Durant, NY.  The postmaster was William West Durant.  There was a store.  There was a hotel called Under the Hemlocks.  On a bright sunny day, you can see the cribs for the hotel’s dock. William West Durant wanted to sell acreage around the lake for people to build their own homes on and he recognized that having a church that prospective home buyers could attend on Sundays, would help make the lake seem more civilized and genteel so out on an island which we’ll be coming to in a little while, he built an Episcopal Church in 1880, the Church of the Good Shepherd.  Ten years later he also built a church for the workers who were predominantly of the Catholic faith.  This was St. Williams Church on Long Point that he built in 1890, #19 on the map.    It remained a retreat center for the Jesuit Order for many years and then wasn’t used for a number of years.  The Catholic Church donated it to a non-profit organization that was set up to preserve this building.  It has been beautifully restored, inside and out, all paid for with private donations of cash, labor and equipment.    It’s open for small groups, families for retreats,  spiritual and educational retreats.

Bluff Point

#10 on your maps is the Collier publishing family’s estate, Bluff Pt.  Many of you have heard of Collier Magazine or Collier Encyclopedia.  This publishing giant and his family enjoyed RL summers for  many years.  It was Frank Stott of Stottville, NY  who came to Raquette Lake to build a camp on Bluff Point in 1877.  He was a textile manufacturer in New York City and returned to the area for several summers on fishing trips before acquiring the peninsula.  The original Stott camp was a collection of one-story log buildings and pavilions framed in logs. The camp as it now exists represents the work of Robert Collier, the magazine publisher, who acquired it in the early 1900s.  Collier modified the earlier Stott buildings and expanded the camp to over twenty structures, interconnected with boardwalks, and finished and furnished in a rustic manner.  An elegant two-story brick fireplace was added to the main lodge, its proportions so huge that there was sitting room within the firebox as well as atop the mantelpiece.   In fact, the orchestra used to set up on the mantelpiece and look down on the festivities and dancing below.

A trophy lodge with an adjoining bowling alley and an elegant boathouse were added.  Finally, Collier constructed a gazebo on a small island connected to the camp by a delicate one hundred-foot-long footbridge.

Carnegie Estate

The Carnegie estate , #13 on the map, at North Point is situated on the site of one of the early camps that existed when Durant started  Pine Knot.  James Ten Eyck of Albany selected sites with views of the lake to the south and the mountains beyond.  Mrs. Lucy Carnegie, widow of Andrew Carnegie’s brother Thomas, bought it in 1902 and refashioned it into a complex of buildings in the Swiss chalet style, evident in the shallow, pitched roofs with broad overhangs at the gable ends and the eaves; in the ribbons of windows; and in the balconies’ fret-work railings.  The main lodge is an H -plan:  one wing containing a two-story living room and family quarters; a connecting wing; and a second wing for dining room and kitchen.