A weekend open house to the New York State owned Camp Santanoni is a great reason to get us to strap on our cross-country skis and hit the backcountry for a family outing. The other reason is there is snow and plenty of it in Newcomb. We leave Saranac Lake and the sky is blue and clear. The conditions are more spring skiing than what we have come to expect at the end of February. It is a perfect day.
I make my family visit the stone gatehouse at the entrance to Camp Santanoni in Newcomb but no one wants to linger. They are impatient to hit the trail. It is a busy day due to the Adirondack Architectural Heritage Open House weekend. Normally the Great Camp buildings are closed but today, tours will be given so we get a property history, explore the buildings and a great easy ski.
After registering we take off. The trail in is actually the 4.7-mile carriage road leading past the original farm to the Great Camp. It was described to me as relatively flat but I found it to be more aptly defined as gently rolling. There are definite uphill climbs but everything still falls under the category of an easy beginner ski.
Since I’m the slowest skier in the family, my kids wait for me at various intersections and landmarks. I come to the farm at one mile and they are already playing around the stone dairy and over to the remains of the burned barn. (A couple passing by mourn the loss of the barn, which burned in 2004. They had not been back since and are shocked to not see it still standing.) We continue our ski and make it to the Great Camp in less than two hours.
Adirondack Architectural Heritage (AARCH) Executive Director Steven Engelhart starts flipping through old photographs documenting much of the history of this New York State owned Great Camp while my family enjoys lunch at one of the picnic tables provided on the connecting porches. We learn an abbreviated history of the Albany banker Robert Pruyn’s (Prīne) vision to be a gentleman farmer and his wife Anna’s quest for a rustic retreat, which combined to form Great Camp Santanoni in the 1890s.
My children are more interested in Pruyn’s interest in Japanese architecture based on his two-year stay in Japan as secretary to his father, an ambassador appointed under President Lincoln. During the talking points we gather it is believed that the Main Camp architecture of Santanoni was designed to resemble a bird in flight, with its Great Room and single roof forming the bird’s body and the connecting porches forming the wings.
My family leaves the tour when Engelhart mentioned hot chocolate is available at the nearby Artist’s Studio. I continue on the tour and it is easy to image a family being comfortable and enjoying the same outdoor activities we still do today.
There are no plans or need to make Great Camp Santanoni anything more than what it already is, a beautiful year-round destination to Newcomb Lake and a glimpse into a piece of Adirondack history.
Camp Santanoni is open year-round to non-motorized use. It has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 2000. Since AARCH’s intervention in 1991 the boathouse has been completely renovated and the many connecting porches were replaced as well as other structural improvements. The trail is accessible in summer by horse and wagon as well used by hikers and mountain bikers.
The next opportunity to attend a Great Camp Santanoni Winter weekend will be March 17-18.
photo of Great Camp Santanoni used with permission of Diane Chase, Adirondack Family Time.
Diane Chase is the author of Adirondack Family Time Lake Placid and High Peaks: Your Four-Season Guide to Over 300 activities. Her second book will be in stores summer 2012 and cover the Champlain Valley from Plattsburgh to Ticonderoga.