This month, one block at a time, an ice palace emerged again on the shore of Lake Flower. If you had the chance to stop by, you may have felt its warm embrace.
The massive ice blocks of the palace remind me of the stone walls of Machu Picchu. Relying on a system of communal labor called mit’a, the Inca built enormous stone structures and highly engineered roads and bridges. Each citizen who could work was required to donate a number of days of their labor to cultivate crops and build public works. Historians of ancient Peru trace the ways the mit’a system forged a complex society. Working together, people developed friendships and bonds of reciprocity that served the common good throughout the year.
Seeking some historical perspective on the current pandemic, Historic Saranac Lake recently hosted an imaginary panel discussion at St. John’s in the Wilderness Cemetery. Three generations of Doctors Trudeau shared their thoughts on change and continuity in science and public health.
CAST OF CHARACTERS
DOCTOR 1: Dr. Edward Livingston Trudeau (1848-1915) Leader of the sanatorium movement in the U.S., founder of the Adirondack Cottage Sanitarium and the Saranac Laboratory. (Pictured, left, in the Saranac Laboratory. HSL Collection.)
DOCTOR 2: Dr. Francis Berger Trudeau (1887-1956) Saranac Lake physician and leader of the sanatorium after his father’s death. (Pictured, center. Courtesy of the Saranac Free Library)
DOCTOR 3: Dr. Frank B. Trudeau (1919-1995) Prominent local physician and founder of the Trudeau Institute. (Pictured, right, opening the doors of the Trudeau Institute for the first time. HSL Collection.)
During this quiet summer, one of the things we are missing is the theater. From Broadway in New York City to Pendragon in Saranac Lake, stages have gone dark. Actors are a lively, irrepressible bunch, and so it’s a testament to the seriousness of the situation that theaters are closed.
In interesting contrast, through the 1918 flu pandemic, Broadway did not shut down. A New York Times article this past July titled, “’Gotham Refuses to Get Scared’: In 1918, Theaters Stayed Open” described how, at the height of the flu epidemic, New York’s health commissioner declined to close performance spaces. Instead, he instituted public health measures such as staggering show times, eliminating standing room tickets, and mandating that anyone with a cough or sneeze be removed from theaters immediately.
In a time when compassion and logic often seem in short supply, many of us have a newfound appreciation for doctors and scientists. Saranac Lake’s history is full of professionals in medicine and science who had a passion for learning and an intense curiosity about the natural world.
Our own Dr. Edward Livingston Trudeau was a naturalist at heart. He learned an interest in the natural world from his father James, who accompanied his friend John J. Audubon on scientific expeditions. When Edward fell sick with TB, he credited the peace he found in the Adirondack forest for his ability to fight the disease.
Later, that same appreciation for nature inspired Trudeau to pursue the scientific study of tuberculosis. In 1882, Dr. Robert Koch announced his discovery of the tuberculosis bacterium. Trudeau learned of his study and rushed to replicate Koch’s work, despite never having used a microscope himself. Motivated by his desire to find a cure and his own curiosity, Trudeau demonstrated incredible persistence in the face of adversity. He began his work in a remote, freezing village with no running water, electricity, or train service. As he stated in his autobiography, “One of my great problems was to keep my guinea-pigs alive in winter.” Trudeau worked with improvised laboratory equipment, and even when his first home and home laboratory burned down, he didn’t give up.
A winning sports team, like a beautiful ice palace, grows out of a strong community. It’s no surprise that Saranac Lake has a long tradition of athletic achievements. From team sports like bobsledding, baseball, hockey, football, and curling to individual competitions like speed skating and barrel jumping, Saranac Lake history is full of athletic men and women who left their mark.
Today, Covid-19 is disrupting so many traditions, and sporting events are some of the hardest to give up. The cancellation of competitions is heartbreaking for athletes, and it’s hard for the spectators too. In small towns like Saranac Lake, sport brings generations together to enjoy a brief moment when all that matters is the kids on the field or the ice. No matter how fast or slow, each child shines for a moment. Over time, parents come to know each other’s children, and we cheer for their victories too.
In recent months, as the coronavirus jumped from bats to people and spread around the globe, the world suddenly seems much smaller. The situation reminds us of our connectedness to the animal world and to each other. Such an awareness of nature is deeply rooted in the Adirondack traditions of hunting and fishing.
The practice of hunting in the Adirondacks stretches back thousands of years. For countless generations, Native American peoples lived in balance with the natural environment, taking only resources needed for survival, and making use of medicinal plants.
From the mid-1800s, growing numbers of tourists came to the Adirondacks to experience the wilderness. They relied on Adirondack guides’ deep knowledge of the woods and waters to explore the wilderness in comfort and safety.
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.
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?”
Wednesday, October 5th marks Dr. E. L. Trudeau’s 168th birthday. A pioneer in the fields of medicine and science, Trudeau shaped the character of Saranac Lake as a world-famous health resort for people suffering from tuberculosis. Historic Saranac Lake (HSL) will celebrate the occasion of his birth by offering two special tours.
A tour the grounds of the former Trudeau Sanatorium will meet at 10:30 am at the Park Avenue gates of the American Management Association. A guided tour of the Saranac Laboratory Museum will also be offered that afternoon, provided by Executive Director Amy Catania. The museum tour starts at 2 pm. Both tours are $5/person. Members of HSL and children are free of charge. » Continue Reading.
Historic Saranac Lake has announced the release of a major biography of Dr. E. L. Trudeau by Mary B. Hotaling. The book, entitled A Rare Romance in Medicine: The Life and Legacy of Edward Livingston Trudeau, is now available to purchase from Historic Saranac Lake, and will soon be for sale in local bookstores.
The new biography expands upon Dr. Trudeau’s autobiography, published posthumously in 1915. The doctor’s great-great-grandson, Doonesbury Cartoonist Garry Trudeau, wrote the Foreword. Dr. Andrea Cooper, former Francis B. Trudeau Chair in Tuberculosis and Related Research at the Trudeau Institute, and Dr. Ian Orme, professor of Microbiology, Immunology, and Pathology at Colorado State University, contributed the closing chapter. The final chapter sets Dr. Trudeau’s work in the context of the continuing study of the cellular immune response to TB. » Continue Reading.
William Seward Webb’s company began building the Adirondack & St. Lawrence Railroad in the spring of 1891. A year later, the line had not been completed when Webb made a promise to President Benjamin Harrison he was not sure he could fulfill. He promised the President and First Lady, Caroline Scott Harrison, they could ride his train to the Loon Lake House so she could spend the summer there to recover her health.
Near the end of Harrison’s term in 1892, Caroline’s tubercular condition worsened. The Harrisons and her physician considered a stay for her in the North Woods in a desperate move to improve her prospects. They contacted Ferd Chase of the Loon Lake House who offered a cottage for the summer. Learning this, Webb offered his assistance since Caroline’s condition limited her ability to withstand stage travel. He promised a ride by rail for most of the distance but Mrs. Harrison’s condition would determine the timing of the trip. » Continue Reading.
A recent “discovery” brought me great pleasure: a beautifully written book about a very popular Adirondack subject. The book was written more than a century ago (thus the quotation marks), and many are familiar with it. It was a discovery for me because I had never read it and had never seen it among the genres of history or medicine on area bookshelves. In fact, I only came across it as part of a new venture here at Bloated Toe Publishing.
An excellent perk of producing this collection is being “forced” to read great books that I otherwise might not find time to enjoy. It adds to all the busyness, but what a payoff! Trudeau’s own story is a gem. » Continue Reading.
Governor Andrew Cuomo has announced that the North Country Regional Council Strategic Plan will be awarded a $40 million bonus to fund economic development, one of four regions sop awarded. The complete North Country regional plan includes 70 projects totaling $103.2 million in state support. A number of additional projects were funded through the Mohawk Valley and Capital District regional councils which could also impact residents of the Adirondack region.
According to a statement released by the Governor’s Office, the North Country Regional Council Strategic Plan is designed as a long-term roadmap “to attract private investment, promote and facilitate connectivity between communities, and create a climate that will allow entrepreneurs to flourish. It put forth ways to achieve its vision by capitalizing on the region’s natural assets, talented labor pool, and entrepreneurial population.” The projects are expected to focus on high-tech and traditional manufacturing, green energy production, agriculture, tourism, and arts and culture. Included are a number of large grants:
$9.9 million will rehabilitate the Newton Falls Rail Project to rehabilitate, reopening the 46 mile Newton Falls Rail Line. This project will service the paper mill at Newton Falls and the operations at Benson Mines.
$900,000 will support improvements to the Village of Gouverneur water distribution system in support of the Kinney Drugs Distribution warehouse.
$4 million will support the development of community rental housing in the area of Fort Drum.
$3 million will support the construction of the new Clayton Hotel along the St. Lawrence River.
$397,000 will restore the 1924 Strand Theatre to the Strand Performing Arts Center in downtown Plattsburgh.
$2.5 million will support the expansion of Bombardier’s plant in Plattsburgh. The project includes a 57,000 square foot increase of the main plant, a 2,100 square foot expansion at the off-site testing facility, and electrification of an additional half mile of railroad track at the test facility.
$1.8 million will expand C Speed’s manufacturing center in Potsdam.
$1.2 million will support modernization new hiring at Saranac Lake’s Trudeau Institute research campus.
$472,000 will be provided to Frontier Communications to increase Hamilton County broadband access. This project is expected to install fiber optic broadband service to several communities that currently have no existing broadband capacity.
A full list of funded projects is available online [pdf]. Warren, Washington and Saratoga counties can be found in the Capital Region section; Fulton, Herkimer and Oneida counties are in the Mohawk Valley region; Clinton, Essex, Franklin, Hamilton, Lewis and St. Lawrence are in the North Country Council.
The library of the Adirondack Museum at Blue Mountain Lake, New York has acquired the archives of a major Adirondack architectural firm that include what museum officials are calling “the most important collection of historic architectural records in the Adirondack Park.”
The Saranac Lake firm began as William L. Coulter, Architect and ended more than a century of notable work as Wareham, DeLair Architects (WDA). Principals in the firm over time included Coulter; his partner, Max H. Westhoff who practiced solo after Coulter’s death; William G. Distin, Coulter’s protégé and Westhoff’s partner; Arthur Wareham, Distin’s partner; and Ronald H. Delair, partner since 1970. The Adirondack Museum received the materials as a donation from Ronald DeLair, the firm’s final principal. According to museum librarian Jerry Pepper, the process to receive the collection began in the late 1970s. Official transfer of custody was completed in the late summer, 2010.
Pepper notes that DeLair took extraordinary care of the collection over time, and that the extensive material is very well organized. The collection is diverse as well as wide-ranging. The index alone is comprised of forty single-spaced pages.
Including thousands of architectural drawings and renderings for camps, residences, businesses, sanitarium, Olympic facilities, municipal buildings and churches, a certificate signed by President Theodore Roosevelt, as well as forty boxes of records and three-dimensional models, the collection documents some of the region’s most important architects.
Coulter was the first resident architect to establish a practice in the Adirondacks. Distin was a pioneer of the Adirondack style of architecture. A sample of his classic designs include “Camp Mossrock” on Upper Saranac Lake, “Camp Wonundra” built for William Rockefeller in 1934, and Eagle Nest, designed for Walter Hochschild in 1938.
Westhoff was a member of the original class at Pratt Institute and introduced a Swiss motif into the firm’s repertoire. Wareham completed design work for the Trudeau Institute and worked on numbers of libraries and municipal buildings. DeLair designed fewer camps than his predecessors, concentrating on public projects.
Wareham DeLair Architects, which celebrated it centennial in 1997, is the fifth oldest firm in continuous practice in New York State.
In addition to capturing the wide spectrum of regional architecture, the collection also illustrates changing tastes and building technology over time, and provides a unique and invaluable insight into the history of the Adirondacks.
Jerry Pepper says that the DeLair material builds on the Adirondack Museum’s already significant collections of architectural records that include drawings by William West Durant, Grosvenor Atterbury, Augustus Shepard, and John Burnham. Photo: Trudeau Foundation Research Laboratory, Saranac Lake, NY. Distin and Wareham Architects, 1964. Collection of the Adirondack Museum.
In Rules for Recovery from Tuberculosis, published in Saranac Lake in 1915, Dr. Lawrason Brown stated that “there are no more difficult problems in the treatment of pulmonary tuberculosis than to make some patients gain weight and to help others avoid digestive disturbances.”
Diet was an important part of treatment for tuberculosis, the “white plague.” Highly contagious, tuberculosis (or TB) was one of the most dreaded diseases in the 19th century. Caused by a bacterial infection, TB most commonly affects the lungs, although it may infect other organs as well. Today, a combination of antibiotics, taken for period of several months, will cure most patients. The drugs used to treat tuberculosis were developed more than fifty years ago. Before then, thousands came to the Adirondack Mountains seeking a cure in the fresh air, away from the close quarters and heat of urban streets. Doctors prescribed a strict regimen of rest, mild exercise, plenty of fresh air, and healthy, easy to digest meals. » Continue Reading.
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