By Emily Martz, Executive Director, Great Camp Sagamore
At Great Camp Sagamore, we believe that everyone should have the chance to experience the transformative powers of connecting and learning in the remote Adirondack mountains. For the last seven years, Great Camp Sagamore’s retiring Historian, Robert Engel, has been integral to this vision. As he retires, we ask you to join us in thanking Robert for his dedication to historic preservation and life-long learning, and for all that he has done to inspire staff and tens of thousands of visitors over the years.
For Robert’s first two seasons at Sagamore (2016 & 2017), he was camp’s sous chef. “Despite my History Museum Studies degree and 30+ years working in the field,” Robert says, “including as Director of the Rensselaer County Historical Society, my dream was to create the best restaurant in the Adirondacks. Great Camp Sagamore’s kitchen was practice for that. Then, I became the historian – phew!” We will miss Robert’s sense of humor rooted in his desire to help make everyone feel welcome.
Sagamore and visitors have benefited in many ways from Robert’s talents. Robert relentlessly worked with his staff to deepen our understanding of Sagamore’s history by uncovering increasing amounts of information about the place, its owners, operators, and guests. Robert taught Historical Interpreters how to use the buildings themselves to tell a story.
Two years ago, Robert created three specialty tours using the trails around Sagamore’s property to more fully relay the historically self-sufficient nature of Sagamore. Hiking to the two, century-old spring houses, the 1914 hydroelectric powerhouse, and the historic sites of the farm and sugarhouse, tour visitors learn how Sagamore’s guests from New York City in the early 20th century were able to enjoy their urban comforts of running water, gas and electric lighting, and superb regional foods, while deep in the wilderness.
Through his articles, Robert has helped bring Sagamore’s history to those who can not visit. A particularly popular one is about Margaret Emerson, who owned Sagamore for nearly forty years after her husband, Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt, passed away in 1915. It is called, “I’m New at this, What’s Your Excuse?”, and it reveals Mrs. Emerson’s belief that hospitality and competition go hand in hand.
Robert’s ties to Sagamore also have a personal connection. He is a great grandson of Richard and Margaret Collins, Sagamore’s first caretakers, and has been hearing about Sagamore since the year he was born. But, he never heard gossip about the Vanderbilts or their famous guests. His grandfather, great aunt and uncles would say that you don’t tell stories about the people who helped shape your life.
Margaret and Richard Collins, Co-superintendents (Caretakers), hired by AGV in 1901. Children L-R: Pat (Robert’s grandfather), Margaret, Tom, Dick.
Thank you, Robert, for your leading role in stewarding this historic Great Camp and helping it remain a welcoming place for connection to history, nature, and community. We appreciate you and all that you have made possible.
Photo at top: Robert Engel, who is retiring as historian at Great Camp Sagamore. Photo provided