Friday, June 9, 2023

Historical Places Enrich our Adirondack Landscapes, Informing the Present and Future

Great Camp Sagamore

By Emily Martz, Executive Director, and Connor Williams, Historian, Great Camp Sagamore

Recently, Great Camp Sagamore was mentioned by Peter Baur’s recent article in which he discussed the value that comes from the various uses of lands and waters within the Adirondack Park. This healthy conversation began before the blue line of the Adirondack Park was drawn in 1892 and will continue for as long as the Park exists.

Great Camp Sagamore, a National Historic Landmark, is a nonprofit educational center devoted to historic preservation and life-long learning. Because of its former ownership by William West Durant and Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt, it is tempting to paint Great Camp Sagamore today as another retreat for only well-to-do and well-connected people “from away.” We think this is an error. 

The vast majority of Great Camp Sagamore programs are subsidized, and accessibility remains at the forefront of our mission–including events like this Sunday’s Community Day, when all are welcome to experience the Camp for free. We can confirm that those visitors will find far more education than exclusivity. 

Great Camp Sagamore provides an unparalleled opportunity for visitors to the region to reflect on how generations of Americans have interacted with Adirondack lands. Through Sagamore’s historical programming and interpretive efforts, we encourage visitors to find human experiences not only in stories of pitchers of martinis enjoyed or croquet matches played, but also in the hard and underherladed labors it took to harvest ice in January, fell trees in April, wash clothes and dishes in August, split wood in November, or work a blacksmith’s forge in any season.  

Our guests also consider the experiences of the railroad workers whose low-paid labor fed the railroad fortunes that historically built and maintained Sagamore, and the natural exploitation that fueled New York City’s growth for centuries before some of its elites began seeking private preserves in the North Country.  Visitors today encounter narratives of the Native Americans who lost land in both the Adirondack developments and the transcontinental expansions that enriched our nation’s industrial empires.  And they feel the absence of the people who–because of the colors of their skin or the places of their progenitors–have not historically found great representation within these mountains.

In all these discussions, we ask visitors to find empathy for the hopes, dreams, fears, losses, joys, hardships, contradictions and complex human lives that have come before us, set against surroundings that have changed little for more than one hundred years.  Sagamore is a place of education, experience, and reflection.  And Sagamore is a place to find the human experience within the natural past.

Photo provided by Great Camp Sagamore

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The Adirondack Almanack publishes occasional guest essays from Adirondack residents, visitors, and those with an interest in the Adirondack Park. Submissions should be directed to Almanack editor Melissa Hart at

3 Responses

  1. Hugh Canham says:

    Good article. It should remind us that the Adirondacks is much more than the ecology of the Forest Preserve. The rich history of generations who worked, recreated, and explored the region are a vital part of the “Sense of Place” that the Adirondacks has. That social history needs constant visibility, so people do not forget how the region got to where it is now.

  2. LeRoy Hogan says:

    I hope this place is APA “conforming.”

  3. JD says:

    That is a good comment; “sense of place”. i think we all know of Adirondack great camps. they are part of our history. They tell their own story. To take away their stories are to change history. History is part of sense of place. We visited Debar Pond twice. Once walked to the shore and marveled at the setting and lodge. Next year came back with our kayaks. No problem carrying in and launching. We had one other kayaker for company. A handful of people on shore wishing they had a kayak or canoe. The lodge was there and in no way detracted from our kayaking experience. But it brought history up to us. We wondered about the family that built it. Wondered about the families that had lived there. it was history. We don’t like how some in the country are tearing down history. Let’s see it and wonder about it. We got our present day experience and were presented with history to think about the past. We have stayed at GC Sagamore and paddled that lake. Lodge did not change that paddling experience. Toured White Pine Camp and paddled that lake also. Lodge only made us realize history was there also. Let AARCH take stewardship of Debar Pond Lodge and leave the lake to us paddlers. jd

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