Our Own Architecture

August 06, 2012
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A distinctive building style that uses natural materials such as birch bark, unpeeled logs and twisting branches was born here in the Adirondack Wild. William West Durant, son of one of the principals of the Trans-Continental Railroad, developed what is known as "Great Camp Architecture." Its best examples are found in Hamilton County, but it is a style that was adopted and adapted by everyone from Ralph Lauren to the civil service architects who called on elements of the style for NYS Thruway rest stops. (Some of these have been dubbed "Great Camps on steroids.")
Durant built Camp Pine Knot on Raquette Lake in 1876, and then refined the style with Camp Uncas, finally building Great Camp Sagamore on its own lake in the 1890's. A use of rustic materials belied an intention to create luxury in the wilderness. Perhaps the greatest things about Great Camps are their locations – always on water with spectacular views. Great Camps were private wilderness compounds for the uber wealthy of the Gilded Age. J.P Morgan bought Camp Uncas and Alfred Vanderbilt, Camp Sagamore, for example.
Great Camps were distinguished by main lodges and separate buildings for other uses, such as dining, billiards, and at Great Camp Sagamore, illicit sex. Well, the building was supposedly for bachelors, but no doubt there were married men who took advantage of the remote location.
Today, Great Camp Sagamore is the only Durant-built Great Camp at which the public may spend the night. You can also take a tour. Other camps from the Great Camp era are best seen from the water. Take the dinner cruise on the W.W. Durant in Raquette Lake for a guided tour and terrific meal.
But as our picture shows, the Great Camp style was inspiration for more modest camps, and these can be seen on lakes throughout the region. Above is Hemlock Hall, a resort on Blue Mountain Lake. Can you read what the branches on the rustic second floor railing spell out? 


Far as I can tell the railing

Far as I can tell the railing says NA-WA-HA-HA. Translation: "Don't tell my wife." Maybe?