Sunday, March 27, 2016

Rock Solid: The Alden Family of Adirondack Stone Masons

BurhansMansionAdirondack architecture often brings to mind the striking use of wood and other forest materials. But stone was also the choice for many structures, from fireplaces and houses to factories, barns, dams, bridges, even castles and towers. It is literally the bedrock of foundations all over the region.

Rarely mentioned are the names and stories of the stone masons who brought these fantastic designs to life from local quarries, fields and river beds. Thanks to research by the Warrensburgh Historical Society, we know something about the Aldens, a family of masons who helped build Camp Santanoni, Camp Uncas, Sagamore, Kamp Kill Kare and many other widely recognized places in the Adirondacks.

Jennifer_GirlsCampAlbert Alden was born in 1835 in Whitehall and lived in Warrensburg. He had three sons, Seth (b.1863), John (b.1864) and William (b.1885) who followed Albert into the trade. (Seth’s son, another Albert, also joined the family business in the 1920s.)

The Aldens were responsible for many of the signature stone buildings in Warrensburg (such as the Church of the Holy Cross, Burhans Mansion, and the Woodward block), and also spent months and sometimes years working in different parts of the region and around the East Coast (and as far away as Michigan).

Great camp designer William West Durant employed Seth and John on some of his projects according to articles in the Warrensburgh News.  In March 1893, John Alden left for Mohegan Lake for three months’ work on Durant’s new summer residence, Camp Uncas. Seth Alden also spent five months, beginning in September 1893, working on Uncas. The large stone fireplaces throughout the camp were more complex than anything Durant had designed before. The raised stone basements were another new architectural feature that provided space for coal – and wood – burning furnaces necessary for year-round living. Schuyler Kathan of Blue Mountain Lake was one of Durant’s chief masons and Seth and John would likely have worked under his direction.

KillKare_chapelSeth moved on to Durant’s largest Adirondack camp, Sagamore, where he worked on the foundations and other masonry between 1897 and 1899. The massive stone chimneys would have been erected first and then the wooden buildings constructed around them. The raised stone basements, stone piers and extraordinary stone fireplaces at Sagamore meant work for several masons.

Seth worked on Durant’s projects in Newcomb as well during this time, at Mossy Camp and Arbutus. The stone work at these sites featured smooth, round stones from the lakes and rivers rather than the quarried finished blocks at Uncas and other Durant camps. Unlike in his previous projects, Durant had spent little time in Newcomb supervising the work and, upon seeing the finished masonry, expressed his dissatisfaction in a letter dated October 21, 1899. He wrote that the masons “did poor work and wasted time,” and Durant told the contractor he would deduct twenty-five percent from the final bill.

Sagamore_BowlingAlley_outsideToday, Arbutus Camp is owned by the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry (SUNY-ESF). Renamed Huntington Lodge, it was extensively renovated in 2008, and the rubble stone fireplace in the main building is the dramatic centerpiece of the common lounge.

Seth Alden is also reported to have worked for Durant at Eagle Lake in 1900 while Eagle’s Nest Country Club was under construction with its casino, golf course and clubhouse.

The striking Santanoni stone work was begun in 1893 and extended over fifteen years. It included the construction of three bridges on the main road, huge double fireplaces and chimneys in the Main Camp, and several signature stone projects that came later. In 1904 and 1906, Seth Alden was in charge of masonry work at Santanoni. The new  structures, designed by Delano & Aldrich, incorporated grand stone arches into three buildings: the Artist’s Studio with its arched stone window (1904), the Gate Lodge with its iconic arched entranceway (1905) and the fieldstone Creamery at the farm with portico arches and pillars (1904).

Santanoni_Creamery_JaneRiley

Based on newspaper reports, Seth and his son Albert were at Kamp Kill Kare from November 1916 through 1918. Built in 1897 by Durant, Kill Kare was mostly destroyed by fire in 1915. The Aldens and other Warrensburg workmen were employed in the rebuilding and significant expansion of the camp. Many of the new structures, designed by architect John Russell Pope, used “cyclopean” construction, incorporating huge native stones that gave the appearance of being held together without mortar. In 1921 a reproduction Norman-style chapel was added using the same technique. Schuyler Kathan was again overseeing the construction and the newspaper reported that he was assisted by Seth “Allen” (a likely misprint of Alden).

The masons’ family patriarch, Albert Alden, died in 1904 and Seth died in 1931 after contracting a cold as he was working on a Stony Creek bridge. Seth’s obituary called him, “one of the most expert workmen in this section. He built a number of stone houses and specialized for many years in cobblestone fireplaces, of which he built hundreds in Adirondack camps.” The Alden family legacy lives on in the stone work all around us.

Special thanks to John T. Hastings and the Warrensburgh Historical Society for information on the Aldens. Visit their website or email whs7396@yahoo.com.

Photos, from above: Burhans Mansion, built by Warrensburg mason Albert Alden; Stone Fireplace at Camp Uncas; Chapel at Kamp Kill Kare built in 1921; Bowling alley chimney at Great Camp Sagamore; stonework outside Santanoni Creamery.


Mary-Nell Bockman

Mary-Nell Bockman is Communications and Development Director of Adirondack Architectural Heritage




3 Responses

  1. Boreas says:

    Great article! My Great-grandfather was a stonemason in PA. But I think he was mostly a foundation kind of guy…

  2. Anthony F. Hall Anthony Hall says:

    I grew up in one of the Aldens’ Warrensburg stone houses and consider myself a student of their distinctive stone work, but I’m embarrassed to say I never knew they worked on the great camps. This is fantastic! Thank you!

  3. Bruce says:

    I wonder if members of the Alden family are still working in stone? It might be interesting to find out if the tradition lives on.

    How many of you have driven the Blue Ridge Parkway? While the stonework was not the work of the Alden family, it is unique in the fact that Italian and Spanish stonemasons immigrated to the US to work on the Parkway. Few people know that descendants of those original families are still building and repairing Parkway stonework, using locally quarried stone.

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