Not long ago, buildings were made to last. With care and a little luck, places were passed down to the next generation. And so it wasn’t uncommon to celebrate the birth of a new building.
During the booming years of Saranac Lake’s TB economy, cure cottages sprouted up all around town, and impressive commercial buildings went up at an astonishing rate downtown. New buildings were commemorated with special ceremonies and etched cornerstones, like the Masonic Temple on Broadway.
The Adirondack Daily Enterprise diligently covered groundbreaking ceremonies, printing photos of local citizens, grinning with shovels. Famous people were invited to make the occasion extra special. Remarkably, in 1890, the President of the United States, Benjamin Harrison, attended the groundbreaking of the first Saranac Lake High School. In the summer of 1921, theatrical star Olga Petrova turned the first shovel of earth for a housing project on Lake Street. Saranac Lake’s elementary school now bears her name.
Trudeau Institute opened in 1964 with a formal dedication event. A photo of handsome young Dr. Frank Trudeau, grinning while he ceremoniously opens the front door for the first time, is a lasting reminder of the importance of this new institution in the community.
Groundbreaking ceremonies tend to be held for public buildings; people commemorate homes in more personal ways. In 2003, Howard Riley interviewed Olive Lascore Gardiner, who lived at 56 Riverside Drive (now 135 Kiwassa). Olive’s father was a carpenter, and he carefully built the house for his family of six daughters. Olive remembered the night the house was completed in the winter of 1923. She and her mother walked across the ice on Lake Flower to the new house, carrying a Bible and a freshly baked loaf of bread. Olive’s mother placed the items in the attic rafters and said, “This house will never be without faith or bread.” Olive Gardiner lived in the house her whole life, and she died one year after telling Howard her story.
Down the street from Olive Gardiner is Christy Fontana’s house at 164 Kiwassa (now 3 Kiwassa). A while back, Christy brought us a dime-sized medallion she had found tucked in the foundation of her home. The medallion shows a tiny Star of David over an image of a Torah. Today, we save it in our collection, a symbol of a family’s faith and hope for a happy life in their new home.
Many buildings don’t have a history of their beginning. Either the story has been lost over the years, or like the last sibling in a large family whose photo doesn’t appear in the family album, life was too busy to stop and recognize the occasion.
In 1893, Dr. Trudeau lost his home and makeshift laboratory to fire. A new house and laboratory went up quickly the following year. As a young doctor struggling with his own case of tuberculosis, in a remote place and a difficult climate, there was no time for a ceremony for either the new home or the laboratory. Trudeau moved right in and got to work.
For 125 years, Trudeau’s home on the corner of Church and Main was a busy place. Three generations of doctors Trudeau practiced medicine there. For a while, Garry Trudeau’s grandmother lived upstairs. Dozens of beloved doctors and nurses cared for countless patients. When HSL bought the building from Medical Associates in 2018, Dr. Tony Waickman was still doing house calls with his old fashioned medical bag.
Today, the Trudeau Building stands as a rather forlorn vinyl-clad version of its former self. But it was made to last. We are fixing it up to hand down to the next generation as a museum that preserves Olive Gardiner’s story, Christy Fontana’s Star of David, and so much more.
- Cornerstone of the Masonic Hall in Saranac Lake, Historic Saranac Lake photo, 2023.
- Dr. Frank Trudeau opens the doors of the new Trudeau Institute, 1964. Courtesy of Saranac Lake Free Library.
- Star of David Medallion. Courtesy of Christy Fontana.