Thursday, May 9, 2024

Wiawaka Center for Women: A rich, historic gem along Lake George

A few days ago, the Ethel Gathering Group (a group of women who meet for lunch and other activities) posted on Facebook that Wiawaka needed volunteers for spring cleanup in anticipation of opening for the season.
This caught my attention because I remembered that last year Lake George’s Minne-Ha-Ha captain pulled close to shore and specifically pointed out Wiawaka, briefly explaining that it’s a center for women.

After reading the Facebook post, I checked the center’s website. When I saw that one of this summer’s events will be about Katrina Trask, I knew I had to visit. A few years ago, I was able to take a 3-hour, in depth tour of the very private Yaddo where we heard about Katrina’s amazing (and tragic) life.

I left my house in Ephratah this morning, May 4, at 7 a.m. and decided to travel via Northville and Edinburgh, rather than the Northway. This decision proved to be fortuitous. There is a pull off over the Conklingville Dam where my friend, Scott (1959-2022), and I always stopped. I figured there was time to quickly salute him with my coffee. As I sat there, I noticed movement in a tree. I got out for a closer look and saw it was a small porcupine. How cool is that? It was quite busy foraging in the branches for leaves. I took photos and a video. No matter what happened the rest of the day, that made the trip worth it.

YouTube video

Once I reached Lake George, I took a right onto Route 9L and found Wiawaka quite easily. Three other ladies arrived to volunteer: Nan, Karen, and Tracy. Deanna, Wiawaka Coordinator, provided us with gloves, garbage bags, spray bottles, and paper towels, and we were off. We cleaned guest rooms in the Mayflower Cottage and the Fuller House. Nan is quite active at Wiawaka and if you look from one of the Lake George tour boats at 7 p.m. on a Wednesday, you might catch her belly dancing! (see Wiawaka’s calendar for this activity.)

View of Sacandaga Lake overlooking the Dam

View of Sacandaga Lake overlooking the Dam

Guest bathroom

Guest bathroom in Wiawaka.

Guest bedroom

One of the guest rooms. Everything is simple. No TVs. No locks on doors.

Eventually, Executive Director Doreen Kelly met us at the Fuller House to introduce herself. Doreen is perfect for her job! She is outgoing and enthusiastic. She explained that some people think Wiawaka is private or exclusive. She wants to spread the word that they are open to the public and encourage women to come for an event, for the day, or to stay in one of the cottages. She explained the relationship between Mary Fuller and Katrina Trask. Katrina and her husband actually owned the land. Katrina, fully supportive of Mary’s mission, sold the property to her friend for $1 and a bouquet of Mayflowers. This is actually written in the deed.

When we finished cleaning, we walked the lovely grounds and met Joe the Caretaker. He is quite the character and has lots of stories. He said he used to bring his daughters to work with him. One time he heard loud running, etc. in the Fuller House. He walked around the side to see what the girls were up to, but they weren’t there. He figured it was Mary Fuller, who is a friendly apparition. There is also one room that tends to attract bees. He said, “No worries, Mary will clear them away.”

View of Lake George village from a cottage window.

View of Lake George village from a Wiawaka cottage window.

Woman in hallway

Volunteer (and belly dancer!) Nan

Caretaker Joe

Caretaker Joe

Director Doreen also met us outside. She explained that Wiawaka is the only place in Lake George that can prove its connection to artist Georgia O’Keeffe.

“In the summer of 1908, she won a General Scholarship for still-life painting award from the Art Students’ League in New York City. She joined teacher Spencer Task, with 20 other young artists at the country retreat of Wiawaka in Lake George, NY. (American Art News, 1908) The Wiawaka guest register shows that she stayed there from June 8 to June 29.”

Sign on the Fuller House

Sign on the Fuller House

White Cedar

White Cedar

Sign near Wiawaka's driveway

Sign near Wiawaka’s driveway

Volunteer Nan with Wiawaka Coordinator DeAnna Wardwell

Volunteer Nan with Wiawaka Coordinator DeAnna Wardwell

Volunteer Tracy with Executive Director Doreen Kelly

Volunteer Tracy with Executive Director Doreen Kelly

At the end of our visit, we also met Gail Oakes, the Wiawaka gardener. She is responsible for 26 areas of the property. She also built a labyrinth! She invited us to walk this at 1 p.m. in recognition of World Labyrinth Day.

Gardener next to a stone labyrinth

Gardener Gail in front of the labyrinth she built.

This year’s participants were asked to walk mindfully and to channel “world peace.” When it was time to leave, all the volunteers exchanged phone numbers with the hopes of meeting at the center this summer. Doreen provided us with two free day passes each.
So, if you’re looking for something to do this summer, consider a visit to Wiawaka. The grounds are a peaceful hidden gem on the shores of Lake George. The staff consider themselves family and tear up when they close in the fall. I’m sure guests feel the same way.

All photos by Laura Bellinger.

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I am a retired teacher who enjoys the outdoors, especially the Adirondacks. My parents took us camping when we were kids, then we attended 4-H Camp in Speculator (a former CCC camp). As an adult, I served on the Camp board for 8 years. I went to my friend's camp in Bloomingdale (Saranac) for 10 years. We enjoyed cross country skiing, canoeing, fishing, snowshoeing, etc. I still hike, cross country and downhill ski, snowshoe. I bicycle and ride a Harley. I play the organ at a 300 year old church.

9 Responses

  1. Susan Sweeney Smith says:

    Laura – this is a lovely article! Thanks for sharing. The porcupine would have made my day too but it sounds like the visit to the camp was awesome as well.

  2. gwen says:

    yeah, but what exactly is a center for women? what do they do? what is their purpose?

  3. laura bellinger says:

    Their website tells the history of Wiawaka and has a calendar of upcoming events.

  4. Worth Gretter says:

    Gwen, Wiawaka started as a place for working women in the Capital area to get away for a few days. It still serves that purpose among others. Check out their website at
    And men are allowed with some restrictions, including that they must be accompanied by a woman!

  5. Pat Boomhower says:

    Wiawaka was established in 1903 as a retreat for women who worked in the shirt factories of Troy and Watervliet. For quite a few years it was our secret place. My sister and I would buy a season day pass. We would pack a small cooler, beach bag and chairs for a day of relaxing on the boathouse dock, swimming, reading, watching activities on the lake and chatting with other ladies. It’s well worth a visit.


    Thank you. I came upon your article and pictures on Mother’s Day. It brought back some memories of Mom who used to stay there a few days in the mid 1970s with some of her sisters and friends. Mom was a hard worker and devoted to the her family. Getting away to Wiawaka for a few days was great for her. She was not an artist but one summer she came home with a painting on slate that she did at one of the activity classes. I still cherish it and gave it a loving look today thanks to your article.

    • laura bellinger says:

      Thank you so much for your comments, Andrew! I’m glad you had good memories of your Mom today.

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