Melville Louis Kossuth Dewey was born on December 10, 1851, in Adams Center, New York. The youngest of five children, he displayed a propensity for organization and efficiency early in life, rearranging his mother’s kitchen cabinets while she was out. At the age of 12, he walked 11 miles from his family’s home in Oneida to Watertown to buy his first book, a copy of Webster’s Dictionary. In 1874, after graduating from Amherst College, Dewey was hired as the college librarian. Shortly thereafter, he created his first Dewey Decimal System for classifying books.
In 1890, Melville and his wife Annie made their first trip to Lake Placid. Both suffered from seasonal allergies and sought relief in the clear air of the Adirondacks. Three years later, Dewey organized a cooperative venture, which he called the Placid Park Club, by inviting a select few to join: “We are intensely interested in getting for neighbors people whom of all others we would prefer.” The Club was to be “an ideal summer home in ideal surroundings,” where people of like background and interests could socialize in an informal atmosphere. Membership would not be extended to anyone “against whom there can be any reasonable physical, social, or race objection. This excludes absolutely all consumptives or other invalids whose presence might endanger the health or modify the freedom or enjoyment of other members.” The first summer season, in 1895, attracted 30 guests.
Dewey purchased a number of parcels on the east side of Mirror Lake, including a boarding house called “Bonniblink,” which he enlarged and supplemented with tent platforms. In 1900, the club’s name was changed to the “Lake Placid Club.” Over the first 10 years of operation, the club removed 106 buildings to accommodate new structures and other improvements, including a golf course, cottages, a printing shop, and a boathouse. The “Maidery” and the “Menery” housed 1,000 workers, segregated by gender.
Dewey’s emphasis on informality was incorporated into the Club’s rules: “All display and formality are discouraged. Men never wear evening dress…City ball gowns are bad form at the club and should not be brought.” No one who might “outrage sensible mountain standards by over dressing, elaborate jewelry, etc.” would be invited to become a member. Women were not permitted to smoke, and no jazz was played as it was considered vulgar. The club maintained a family atmosphere, as “what is good for children and yung [sic] people is good for adults.”
Melville’s fascination with language and with efficiency also left its mark on the Lake Placid Club, in the form of “simpler spelling.” Designed to “economize time and shorten the years of study” as well as to save publishing costs, Dewey’s system for simplified spelling eliminated “unnecessary letters” from the English language. The daily menu for the club dining room was printed in simpler spelling. “Brekfast” on March 12, 1928, included “stud apricots,” “shredded wheat,” “kiperd herin with lemon,” “egs,” and “cofi.” The other side of the menu featured the “trydaili,” a daily list of activities for members and their families. Guests were invited to join a “sle ryd to Hy falls thru Wilmington Notch if 5 er mor syn at Forest desk by 1.45.” Those interested in a ski trip to “McLenathan bay by Eko Pond” were assured that they would be “bak in tym for lunch.”
Melvil (who simplified his own name) died in 1931. The Lake Placid Club, experiencing financial shortfalls, opened as a hotel to the public for the first time in 1977; by 1980, the club had defaulted on a $3.5 million loan, and declared bankruptcy. In 1992, a fire destroyed much of the club’s main building. The Agora wing, with a theater, chapel, and 90 guest rooms, was torn down in 2002.
Come see Melville Dewey’s menu, and more, in “Let’s Eat! Adirondack Food Traditions” at the Adirondack Museum in Blue Mountain Lake. Opening for the season on May 28, 2010.