Sunday, August 01, 2010


It seems that at least half of the historic homes we visit were once lived in by somebody from the Vanderbilt family. This spring we visited Biltmore in Ashville, NC, and earlier on this trip it was the Breakers in Newport. I wonder if we named our house a Vanderbilt would adopt us. Probably not.

Great Camp Sagamore, smack in the middle of the Adirondacks, is a little different than what I remember from my early camp experience at No-Be-Bo-Sco in northern New Jersey, although there is a lean-to like we had at No-Be-Bo-Sco. But this one was equipped with an intercom so guests staying there could contact the servants. I don’t recall servants at No-Be.

A Vandy didn’t build Sagamore, but Alfred G. Vanderbilt bought the place in 1901 from William West Durant, who’s daddy was involved in the railroad business. This was the third great camp built in the Adirondacks by Willie Durant, who talked New York State into selling him something like a million acres for pennies an acre on the promise that he would run railroad tracks into the forest so the lumber could be more easily removed and so that the forest could be more accessible for tourism. Unfortunately, the railroads didn’t get built, Willie went broke and sold Sagamore to Vandy, who added to it quite a bit. The place was used by various Vanderbilts for summer vacations until 1954 and was visited by luminaries such as Gary Cooper, Richard Rodgers and Hoagy Charmichael. I don’t know that Hoagy was quite the luminary as the other two, but I really like typing Hoagy Charmichael.


Durant is widely credited with developing the Adirondack style of architecture, with rough-hewn logs, bark wall coverings, and naturalistic tree branch railings. Durant didn’t care too much if the stuff was really rustic, as long as it looked rustic. DSC_0368

For example, the logs that give the main lodge it’s log cabin look are really half logs attached to normal frame construction as siding. The idea of these camps was to provide luxury accommodations to family and friends, but with a sense of rustic charm. Even though the camp was built in the late 1800’s it had indoor plumbing with many bathrooms and it’s own hydroelectric generating station, meaning electric lights were installed at Sagamore well before the towns in the area had  them.


The long, narrow building in this picture is the bowling alley. No automatic pin setters though, that’s why they had servants.

Sagamore is the only of the remaining Adirondack Great Camps open to the public. It is operated in cooperation with an organization called EXPLORITAS, Adventures in Lifelong Learning, and although there are some opportunities to stay there without having to learn anything, the purpose of the place is for educational and interpretive uses, many designed to inspire individual responsibility for the preservation of history and nature. Oh, and there are no telephones, no television, no air conditioning and no cell service. Guests are called to meals by a bell at 8am, noon, and 6pm. Our RV has cell service, air conditioning, and TV, and we eat when we want to, so we didn’t stay there. We took a very informative tour of the place instead.

Most of the buildings are now designated as National Historic Landmarks, including one called the Wigwam. I have no pictures of the Wigwam because it is deep in the woods, and besides, it was raining when we visited it. The Wigwam was built by Al Vanderbilt as an escape for himself and his male friends. At the time it included several bedrooms and a wet bar, and was situated so sounds from there couldn’t be heard in the rest of the compound. We have it on good authority that Mr. V. and his friends regularly enjoyed the company of a number of women of questionable reputation from local towns. It is not known whether Mrs. V. was aware of these activities.



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