Monday, January 22, 2024

Preserving Debar Pond Lodge

debar pond lodge

By Erin Tobin, Executive Director, Adirondack Architectural Heritage

For the last thirty years, Adirondack Architectural Heritage (AARCH) and others have advocated for the preservation of Debar Pond Lodge. In 2014, AARCH wrote the successful nomination for Debar Pond Lodge to the National Register of Historic Places. This designation is due to the site’s association with Adirondack tourism in the first half of the twentieth century, as an outstanding example of evolving early/mid-twentieth century Adirondack camp design, and as an important work of noted regional architect William Distin. 

We understand that without the Town of Duane’s support, the Debar Pond Lodge land exchange amendment is unlikely to pass the state legislature. We respect the town’s authority to oppose the amendment and removal of the six acres surrounding Debar Pond Lodge from the Adirondack Forest Preserve. Moving forward, AARCH will continue to work for the lodge’s preservation, seeking a constitutionally appropriate avenue for the building’s reuse. 

Throughout our decades of working to preserve Debar Pond Lodge, AARCH has been impressed by the strength of public support for this historic building. The public opinion survey we conducted with Debar Pond Institute this summer, including some 240 visitors to the site, demonstrated an overwhelming consensus that the building contributes to the site’s landscape and sense of place.

Since our founding in 1990, AARCH has worked in partnership with NYS DEC and the Town of Newcomb on the preservation and interpretation of Camp Santanoni in Newcomb. This partnership exemplifies the very best of what a public/private collaboration can achieve. While Camp Santanoni was built as a private camp for a wealthy Albany family, since it entered public ownership it is now a site open to all. Surely there is a comparable solution for Debar Pond Lodge.

RELATED: Opposition Grows To The Proposed Debar Lodge Constitutional Amendment

While AARCH opposed the demolition of Debar Pond Lodge in DEC’s 2020 Draft Unit Management Plan for the Debar Lodge Day Use Area, we appreciate the state’s interest in creating an accessible entry to Debar Pond. DEC proposed creating infrastructure and path hardening that met standards for use by persons with disabilities. Unlike the main lodge at Camp Santanoni, Debar Pond Lodge is perfectly sited for that accessibility. We believe in democratizing these formerly elite, private spaces, so that all can enjoy them.

The world needs wild places. The world also needs beauty of all kinds, natural and human-made. We wish for all to enjoy experiencing the magic of Debar Pond from the great room’s picture window or picnicking on the front lawn.

Almanack file photo

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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

36 Responses

  1. Phil Fitzpatrick says:

    Having followed this controversy for a couple of years, I agree with AARCH.

    I think it’s unrealistic to compare this property with Lake Lila, largely because Debar Pond is so easily accessible. The buildings may be relatively modern, but their style is entirely Adirondack. I would like to see the buildings restored, handicapped access provided to a slightly improved beach area and some modest amenities like picnic tables.

    My best guess is that the camp will never be overrun with visitors and will be a delightful place to come to if ASRCH has its way.

  2. Todd Miller says:

    I believe the argument to make the Debar Lodge into a historical landmark site is weak. For consideration, here are the Federal Criteria for candidates to be considered for National Landmark Sites.
    National Historic Landmark Criteria
    Criterion 1: Places where nationally significant historical events occurred
    Criterion 2: Places where nationally significant people lived or worked
    Criterion 3: Places that represent an ideal that shaped the nation
    Criterion 4: Outstanding examples of design or construction, architecture
    or engineering
    Criterion 5: Places that outstandingly characterize a way of life (Collective
    Criterion 6: Places that yield or have the potential to yield information of
    major scientific importance

    This site would probably not meet criteria 1,2,3,5, and 6. Perhaps the site meets criteria 4, but is it really outstanding?

    The site is remote. There few or no nearby amenities. I doubt that many people would visit the site for it’s historical merits alone. I would prefer for the site to remain in the public domain (such as an DEC Day Use Area) and be appreciated for it’s outstanding natural beauty and not for the several failed attempts to eke out a living at a remote outpost.

  3. Johnathan Esper says:

    Appreciate AARCH’s decades-long effort to preserve this historic Great Camp, for all to enjoy. Removing it would be a loss, and a dismissal of our heritage and history. Yes, we need wilderness, but we’ve already lost so many buildings that could have been enjoyed the public, especially the Boreas Ponds Lodge tear-down, and I beleive Peter Bauer’s and Protect the Adirondacks’ efforts to tear everything down and turn into wilderness are grossly misplaced, and not in keeping with what the majority of people actually want.

    • Dana says:

      Peter Bauer and Protect the Adirondacks are simply holding the State’s feet to the fire to follow the law regarding land acquisition in the Park. For some reason, no one else seems to care. Don’t like the law? Change it. Don’t vilify people who choose to follow it.

  4. JohnL says:

    Didn’t we just have a huge discussion of this same subject a couple weeks ago. Has something changed in the last 2 weeks to warrant reopening the subject?

    • Paul says:

      Yes, we needed to hear something from a person that is experienced in historic preservation rather just from an environmental activist. This was much more of a concise and logical description.

    • Boreas says:

      Indeed. This is not an editorial, but a contribution/statement from AARCH point of view. Anybody willing to sign their name can contribute an article.

  5. Lorraine Duvall says:

    Erin – You mentioned ” accessible entry to Debar Pond”. Two years ago Howard Kirshenbaum and I had a friendly email exchange about this. He kindly sent me the map drafting your plan, showing public access. The Pond is certainly accessible, albeit limited. I expressed my concern that the experience of limited public access, vs. private privilege, would be evident. For many of use, this is not about saving buildings. It’s about the Pond. A gem. Think of the waters around Great Camp Santanoni. Unfettered access.

  6. Shlomo Kohn says:

    Tear it down and let the Adirondack forest reclaim it. I don’t know what part of “forever wild” is hard to understand but there is nothing wild about an old hotel. Decaying and wild forest are my idea of true heritage.

  7. william c hill says:

    Keep up the good fight and don’t let Peter Bauer and his ilk bully this through.

  8. Larry Roth says:

    As someone who has been involved in historic preservation for decades, let me say that keeping DeBar Pond Lodge preserved and adapted for reuse is something that needs to be done. It’s impossible to fully appreciate the Adirondacks without recognizing the impact of humans on them, and how the region in turn impacted them.

    Forever Wild purists are fooling themselves with an idealized vision of the park as a pristine wilderness untouched by man. The truth is more complicated.

    Should we return it all to the stewardship of the First Peoples, who lived there for centuries? Are we going to bring back all the species that were eradicated? What are we going to do about invasives? What about the way disease and climate change is shifting the dominant tree species?

    Do we put limits on the size of communities in the region? Do we limit the number of visitors who threaten to overwhelm particular sites? Should we tear up the rail trails and return the landscape to its original contours?

    The lodge is a physical record of a particular time and place. It’s a manifestation of appreciation for the particular qualities of the region. It’s built in a style meant to be compatible with the cultural traditions of the times, the region, and the local aesthetics.

    Tearing it down might make access to the pond easier – though that’s still shaping the wilderness to contemporary human needs – but it would be removing access to the past that has brought us where we are today.

    • Dana says:

      The Adirondack Park was not set aside by historians to preserve history. It was set aside to preserve Nature and promote wilderness and the wild character of the lands and waters. Re-acquaint yourself with the notion of “Forever Wild”.

  9. Jeannine says:

    Very interesting…feedback. I’d just like to mention again the move to Saranac Lake from Raybrook Headquarters, State Police with APA. A $29 million price tag!!
    CRAZY!! Sunmount in Tupper Lake offered space…they have plenty! It’s WRONG from a flood water strand point, enviornmental too. That’s something worth LOOKING into!! My feelings “you have a hell of a lot of nerve” That should S T O P asap!!
    As for Debar…never been inside…would love to see it.

    • Polly says:

      What are you talking about? This is about debar. The new potential APA site is not located in a mapped fema floodplain and there is very little anything pristine environmental about the proposed site. It’s a parking lot with stormwater that flows directly into the river. I imagine the new hq will actually improve stormwater issues there by having required stormwater retention and treatment components. Stop the falsities and fear mongering.

  10. Big Burly says:

    Thank you Erin for a reasoned, calm explanation of the AARCH premise and the promise that preserving the Lodge and public access will bring. The folks who talk about the Preserve and Wild places seemingly overlook the transfer of land to the Preserve that is part of this compromise.

    Mr. Roth has indeed been involved with historic preservation.

    For those who claim that preservation of this facility as proposed does not preserve Nature must consider that somehow humans and their creations are not part of Nature. Hogwash and misguided.

    • Boreas says:

      It is fairly clear that “non-conforming structures” are not hogwash in written SLMPs that govern Forest Preserve land acquisitions with taxpayer money and ultimate usage according to the specific SLMP. Not all taxpayers are on board with land acquisitions that allow existing structures to be preserved. Many beautiful camps and structures have been razed in the past for non-compliance reasons – including simple backcountry lean-tos that were both historic, useful, and a safety feature. It may not be a great plan, but it is the one currently in force.

      But I do feel the structure/improvement issues should be ironed out BEFORE the sale takes place – even at the risk of losing the parcel to a private bidder. Litigating after-the-fact is not fair to taxpayers. There are few private concerns that would result in a worse environmental impact on the FP than open public access.

      • Ellie wall says:

        Honestly reading all this just brings me back to what do taxpayers want? I also wish to respond to the comment that the area offers little amenities. Not so within10
        Miles of debar is owls head mtview community which has gen store, community center, 3 restaurants. I have been interested involved in saving debar pond for over 12 years and without a doubt accessing commentary via petitions,emails surveys etc without a doubt we the people wish to have the lodge saved..

  11. Paul says:

    Why do they not need a constitutional amendment to save the old train depot in Saranac Lake. There they are just doing it. Was there one when NYS acquired the land from the RR?

  12. John Delesky says:

    Have we all paddled around a remote lake before? Don’t we paddle close to shore to see what is around the next bend? Oh look, another 1/4 mile of the exact same shoreline. How interesting. In Debar we paddle around the bend and see a rustic lodge. Tall, spaced pines. That’s what we explore for-the differences-not the same thing for miles. The couple of times we visited Debar at most there were 10 other visitors there. That added to the experience also. This was not another state park with a nice sand beach and crowds of people BBQs with kids yelling for mom or dad. Leave Debar as it is. Let the building be preserved and access left for the public to walk to the lake and launch their canoe/kayak. Sit at the lake side admiring the quiet. Don’t make a two-lane car access so hoards will be tempted to bring in their coolers for a day at the beach. You already have Fish Creek & Lake Meachem SPs just down the road for that. Haven’t we all visited Great Camps Santanoni, Sagamore, White Pine Camp with curiosity how people recreated and kept beauty intact in the past? To me they don’t intrude on my forest experience. We have because they provided a different prospective. As does Debar Lodge. Let the Debar Pond group restore it for us to see the inside as it was. jd

    • Todd M. says:

      John, first there are no bays or coves in Debar Pond. The pond has a smooth shoreline where the Debar structure is visible from everywhere on the pond. There are no bends that you mention where one would “paddle around the bend and see a rustic lodge”. All vistas from the pond include the structure. At first, I once thought that the Lake Nehasane Lodge on Lake Lila shouldn’t had been razed, but now that it’s gone, I believe that it was the right decision. There are a number of other Great Camps in Ads that you can view from a paddle craft other than Santanoni, Sagamore, and White Pine. I want also point out that Fish Creek Ponds and Meachem are campgrounds, which are a different vibe than the proposed DEC Day Use area for Debar–it’s comparing oranges and apples.

      • Ellie wall says:

        Meacham can be accessed for the day use
        also besides camping. I agree wholeheartedly with John and only wish that debar pond can be saved rather than seeing ugly day use pavilion with picnic tables and outhouses. The sad part is that we as tax payers once again have not been heard.

        • Todd M. says:

          Ellie, I just want to point out that the Debar site is owned by NYS and therefore is owned by all the taxpayers in this state–from Buffalo to Albany, from Plattsburgh to NYC.

  13. Raymond Budnick says:

    Not to be trite or crass. But frankly; If I want to see a remote pond without structures, I have my choice of thousands of forever wild protected ponds in the Adirondacks.
    If I want to see the Adirondacks unique architecture of bygone years. I have but perhaps, less than 5 such structures open to the general public in the entire 6 million acre park.
    We CAN have both, and the eagle will still nest and the otter will still frolic.

  14. upstater says:

    Rip. It. Down. Back to nature.

  15. Todd R. Sherry says:

    My family has spent many wonderful times at Drbar Pond. Picnics,fishing, swimming, ect. I also started to visit Santanoni back in the 1972 when clothes and dishes were still there. It is Important that we realize all parts of the Adirondack history.

  16. Chris says:

    Sadly there seems to be a culture of abandonment, rather than preservation. So many buildings have been lost or are deserted.

    The benefits of saving Debar Lodge is about showing pride by saving what once was. The soon long forgotten skills can be taught to others with this restoration. This place is a perfect example of true Adirondack build; when the land provided the raw materials and most of the work was done by hand.

    The pond is stunning and having a functioning Lodge nearby would be a bonus. The area is open to the public now and will continue to be open to the public without motorized watercraft.

    Wilderness exists and would expand with hundreds of additional acres swapped for the 6 around the Lodge.

    How can one find issues with AARCH’s proposal?

  17. Ellie wall says:

    Once again a thoughtful response down to the nitty gritty. Chris your response is like manna in the desert. I often wonder if the naysayers have actually visited the site and if so why they can’t see the value of keeping the lodge..

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