In the Adirondack Mountains, “camp” does not always mean roughing it in the outdoors, with canvas tents, cooking over a campfire, and fending off the worst of the elements. Instead, a “camp” is a cabin, often built near or overlooking one of the hundreds of lakes that are found in this region. The Great Camps are palatial compounds, constructed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries by the wealthiest families in America. These homes, set on enormous tracts of land, often copy the style of Swiss chalets, beautiful wooden homes that allowed them to bring the comforts of their mansions and Park Avenue apartments to the wilderness. With names like Vanderbilt, Huntington, Post, Morgan, and Lounsbury, the families that built the Great Camps wanted their mountaintop vacations to meet their expectations of luxury (via Wikipedia).
Over Memorial Day weekend, my wife and I headed up to visit family in the Adirondack Mountains. On Sunday, we ventured to Great Camp Sagamore to learn more about the historic Great Camps. Designed by William Durant, who designed many of the Great Camps, Sagamore was built between 1895 to 1897. It was sold to the Vanderbilt family, who upgraded the facilities to include indoor plumbing, hot and cold running water, a tennis court, and a farm. After passing from the Vanderbilt family, the home was next owned by Syracuse University, and then finally by the Preservation League of New York State, a private organization that preserves famous buildings in the state (for more information, you should read Great Camps of the Adirondacks by Harvey H. Kaiser). Enshrined as a National Historic Landmark in 2000, Camp Sagamore is open to the public, both as a working resort and also for educational programming.
Similar to the mansions of Newport, Rhode Island that I visited last year, the Great Camps of the Adirondacks allow you to step back in time and visit the lives of the upper crust from over a century ago. We spent a fascinating afternoon at Sagamore, and would happily return again (although maybe not during black fly season!). Great Camp Sagamore is open from late May through early October every year, although tour availability depends upon the day of the week, so check the website before you go. Admission for a guided tour of the camp is $18 for adults, $16 for seniors and military (with ID), and $10 for students. If you’re in the Adirondack Mountains, it is definitely worth a visit.
Thanks for coming along on another journey down the open road ahead!