Long after people die, the buildings where they made their lives often remain. Many visitors to the museum follow the footsteps of a family member who came to Saranac Lake with tuberculosis. Often the only trace that remains is the address of a cure cottage and a porch where their relative once took the fresh air.
Places anchor the past. Together with our partners at Adirondack Architectural Heritage, we work to document the places that anchor the history of the Saranac Lake region — from cure cottages to churches to great camps — these structures stand as lasting memorials to the humans who built and cared for them over generations.
We at Adirondack Architectural Heritage were devastated to hear of the terrible fire that engulfed several of the buildings at White Pine Camp on Sunday evening. By Monday morning, we learned that the fire had been contained to a cluster of buildings in what was the former service complex and that the camp’s Main Lodge, lakeside cabins, boathouses, and other buildings were spared.
Azure Mountain is a 2,518-ft peak located in the Town of Waverly in Franklin County, about 1.5 miles west of the St. Regis River and almost four miles east of the St. Lawrence County line. Although it is a short, easy, one-mile hike to the summit, you gain about 1,000 feet on the ascent. On the summit is a steel, 35-foot Aermotor fire tower built in 1918 (pictured here). From the cab of the tower, you can enjoy a beautiful panorama of the northern Adirondacks, the High Peaks, and the hills of the St. Lawrence region. In regard to peak-bagging challenges, it is part of the Fire Tower Challenge. (Editor’s note: Fire towers are currently closed due to COVID-19.)
Much of the history given here is prior to Azure Mountain being established for fire observation in 1914. I delve into the history of its name, appearance on maps, its use in early surveys, and the lodge which once stood at its base: the Blue Mountain House.
Graveyards are for the living. It’s something I think about every autumn, when Pine Ridge Cemetery comes alive with children on our annual fifth grade field trip. Ahead of time, the students research a person buried there. As we walk down to the graveyard from school, excitement builds. Upon arrival the kids race around, looking excitedly for their person. It’s like a bizarre version of an Easter egg hunt.
With the help of friendly and unflappable volunteer, Jim Clark, the kids eventually find their gravestones. We stop at the resting places of Charlie Green, Julia Miller, Don Duso, and many others. We notice the memorials for veterans, fire fighters, and children. Jim Clark fills in with stories he remembers. The simple lesson of the day is that our lives matter.
Since we first opened our museum doors in 2009, thousands have come to learn about Saranac Lake’s history as a center for tuberculosis research and treatment. Visitors often ask about the cost of care and who was able to afford it. Was Saranac Lake’s fresh air treatment just for rich people? Did people of different ethnic groups and social classes have access to the cure?
These were topics we discussed with a school group this past March. The students were participating in the spring break program of the Division of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion at SUNY Potsdam. We were days away from the pandemic shutdown, and Saranac Lake’s historic connection to infectious disease felt newly relevant that morning.
In the late 1800s, when Saranac Lake was becoming famous as a health resort, one in seven people in the United States was dying of TB. The disease afflicted people from all walks of life. Public health measures and improved living conditions were beginning to lower the rate of infection in the United States. Still, TB continued to spread. It especially plagued poor people, living and working in crowded, poorly ventilated spaces.
Spending time at home lately? Maybe it’s an opportunity to pick up a musical instrument.
Good parties need great music, ‘twas always thus. If you can play, you’re the life of the party. Okay, maybe this was truer before the invention of DJs, but it’s still true.
Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt grew up in the 1880s–1890s hearing superb orchestras play at lavish parties hosted by his parents and others in their social set. Years later, the parties Alfred threw at Sagamore, his Adirondack camp, would not have orchestras, but guests would play the piano.
And it appears that the host himself had skills. The photo is a little blurry, but just look at Alfred’s smile while he strums his mandolin, sitting on his Main Lodge porch in the summer of 1913. Let’s imagine the scene at the Playhouse that night: “Alfred, where’s your mandolin.” “No, no…well, ok!”
The 25th annual AARCH Preservation Awards, which recognize exemplary historic preservation work throughout the Adirondacks, will take place on Saturday, Sept. 19, 2020.
Residents of the Adirondack North Country region may submit their nominations of historic buildings in their communities that have been brought back to life.
The 2020 recipients will be honored during an event held at the Grace Memorial Chapel on Sabbath Day Point near Silver Bay on Lake George. Refreshments will be served post gathering. Projects of any size are eligible, and the deadline is June 1 to send in your nominations. To find applications and additional information, go to https://www.aarch.org/preserve/aarch-awards/nominations/.
During these days of solitude, many of us are finding great comfort in our animal friends. Blissfully unaware of troubles in the world, our pets are thrilled that their humans are spending more time at home.
Pets are a source of companionship and joy for us now, just as they were for the TB patients of the past. During the TB years, many patients spent two years or more, mostly in bed. Cut off from family and friends, patients were often lonely, scared, and anxious. Animals provided friendship and distraction from worry. Some wealthy patients rented entire houses for their cure, and they were able to bring their pets with them to Saranac Lake. John Black came from Mansfield, Ohio, with his dog, Buddy. Sadly, John eventually lost his struggle against TB, and the John Black Room Room at the Saranac Laboratory Museum was built in his memory. In this photo, John looks very frail, but you can see how happy he was to be with his dog.
Adirondack Experience, The Museum on Blue Mountain Lake has launched [email protected], a range of digital content that focuses on a new pandemic collecting initiative, fun educational activities for the whole family, and making the ADKX’s world-class collections and experts accessible to the public in new ways.
Today, the planet is taking a crash course on the limitations of modern medicine and the complications of human disease. It is a good time to look back and see what Saranac Lake’s history might teach us about public health.
From our place in the world of modern medicine and science, it can be easy to see healthcare in the past as quackery. Many visitors to the museum skeptically ask, “Was there anything to it? Was there any benefit to the Saranac Lake treatment?”
Saranac Lake’s tuberculosis economy depended on the labor of many essential workers. In honor of today’s heroes, here are a few favorite stories of brave helpers in local history.
Nurses and doctors risked their own health providing care and companionship to tuberculosis patients far from home. Our museum archive is full of hundreds of photos and stories of these courageous women and men. In her book, Wish I Might, Isabel Smith writes warmly about her doctor, Francis B. Trudeau. He is somewhat overshadowed in history by his famous father, founder of Saranac Lake’s TB industry, Dr. E. L. Trudeau. But Francis was widely respected for his kindness and his fierce dedication to his patients. Ms. Smith described his “inimitable hearty roar of good spirits which, then and always, enveloped me like a blaze of sunlight.”
Grow-it-yourself food. During this time of pandemic it makes perfect sense, doesn’t it? Especially if you’re, like me, extremely apprehensive about the possibility of becoming exposed to Covid-19 while grocery shopping. In fact, I can’t think of a better way to avoid going out in public, while securing nutritious food, than growing your own.
The majority of Americans have become accustomed to having abundant supplies of relatively inexpensive food readily available at neighborhood grocery stores and supermarkets. And we’ve become so, even as a greater and greater number of our neighbors have grown increasingly more reliant on food banks and pantries for some, if not all, of their food. That number now includes many of the nearly 17-million Americans who applied for unemployment insurance in April, and numerous others who have (or had) jobs without unemployment insurance (e.g. freelancers, contractors, gig workers). Poverty, which has already been a reality for many in our communities, could become so for many more.
And, concerns about food supply chains are growing as well, as the pandemic impacts food storage, processing, and transportation. Are farm workers going to be able to work? And if so, how will those crops get to retail markets? Food security has never been more of an issue.
We take roads for granted. I sure did as a kid riding from Syracuse up to my Grandma and Grandpa’s house in Blue Mountain Lake. We drove on Friday nights with my parents and eight brothers and sisters, all stuffed into a station wagon (they were like minivans in 1960s and 70s). My grandfather told us stories about when he was a kid and Route 28 did not exist!
Adirondack storytellers have recorded 160 first-person accounts about life in the Town of Keene, yesterday and today, and there are opportunities for all to participate in this Keene Valley Library project, even while staying home.