In 1893, Albany banker Robert Pruyn and his wife, Anna, completed a “great camp” for their family, on the shores of Newcomb Lake, deep in the Adirondack wilderness of upstate New York.
The camp, named for nearby Santanoni Peak, was designed by famed New York City architect R.H. Robertson and influenced by Pruyn’s time in Japan. The main camp was built in the shape of a phoenix as seen from overhead, with multiple log buildings connected by a pagoda-like rooftop and a sweeping porch, all within view of a wilderness lake and nearby mountains.
Today, Santanoni is empty and unused. Owned by New York state since 1971, it had been left to molder and was at risk of being torn down. But thanks to efforts by historians and carpenters, this Adirondack treasure is now open to the public for day visits.
A public willing to work for it, that is.
A five-hour drive north of Long Island and five miles from the nearest road, the site is accessible for free in the summertime for those willing to walk, bicycle or hop on a horse-drawn wagon.
Santanoni is in Newcomb, a remote community far from touristy Lake George and Lake Placid. For those interested in getting away from the crowds, this and other destinations in the Central Adirondacks offer plenty of appeal.
SEE THE CAMP BY HORSE AND CARRIAGE
Camp Santanoni is the highlight of any visit. If you plan to walk or bike, just park at the obvious lot off Route 28N and head into the woods. If you prefer a horse and carriage, contact Newcombe Farm (518-639-5534, email@example.com). The $25, four-hour trip starts around 10 a.m. on most days in the summer. Reservations are required.
Whatever your mode of transportation, the first sight of interest is right in front of you — a stone-arched gatehouse. A mile past the gate is the farm, where workers grew produce and raised livestock for guests and staff. The most impressive structure, a massive barn, burned down in mysterious circumstances a decade ago. There is talk of rebuilding it to create a visitors’ center.
Another four miles down the road is the camp. It was one of dozens built around the Adirondacks by the wealthy titans of the Industrial Age. Around 40 great camps remain intact, mostly in private hands or operating as resorts. Their builders came here to escape city life, and visitors to Santanoni can see pictures of the early residents paddling canoes in suits and dresses and otherwise enjoying the mountains.
Though devoid of furniture, Santanoni is a study in rustic chic, with its birch-bark wallpaper, stone fireplaces and grand staircase. There’s a boathouse, an artist’s cabin (created for the builder’s son) and miles of lakeside trails to explore.
From June 18 to Labor Day, staff from the nonprofit Adirondack Architectural Heritage (AARCH) are on hand to give free tours to visitors. You might also see master carpenter Michael Frenette, who continues to lead restoration efforts after more than 18 years on the job. AARCH leads more detailed, scheduled tours for a fee (518-834-9328, aarch.org/tours).
TEDDY ROOSEVELT SLEPT HERE
Santanoni was in private hands from the Gilded Age, when Theodore Roosevelt was once a guest, until 1971, when tragedy occurred. At the time, a wealthy Syracuse family owned it, and one summer day their 8-year-old grandson disappeared into the dense woods, never to be seen again. The 12,900-acre property was soon sold to New York state, which initially wanted the site to revert to wilderness.
Over time, those interested in saving this structure prevailed. But it wasn’t easy.
“Every single building needed a new roof,” recalled Steven Engelhart, executive director of AARCH. “Most had been leaking for many years. There was a lot of wood deterioration. You couldn’t walk around the porches because some were just lying on the ground. It was bad.”
Today, after nearly two decades of work and about $2 million in public and private funding, more than a dozen buildings have been restored. Several more years of work will be necessary before the site is deemed complete, Engelhart said.
But there’s no reason to wait — Santanoni already attracts 15,000 visitors each year, according to AARCH.
NEW YORK’S HIGHEST MOUNTAINS
A few miles west is Goodnow Mountain, a 2,690-foot-high peak with a 60-foot fire tower (look for the white Department of Environmental Conservation parking lot sign on the left as you drive toward Long Lake on 28N). From the top, visitors have a sweeping view of New York state’s highest mountains. The two-mile route demands only a 1,000-foot ascent, relatively easy by Adirondack mountain standards. Afterward, hikers can cool off at the free beach on Lake Harris, with a boat launch and lifeguard on duty in summer.
Also in Newcomb is the Adirondack Interpretive Center, run by the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry. The free visitors’ center offers a chance to learn about nature in the Adirondacks, with exhibits, lectures and interpretive walks (518-582-2000).
Farther afield is the Adirondack Museum in Blue Mountain Lake, a multibuilding compound that offers a full day’s worth of historical and artistic immersion ($18, 518-352-7311, adkmuseum.org). The museum encompasses the entire human history of the Adirondacks, from early exploration, trapping and logging to the rise of tourism and the role of the mountains in inspiring art, architecture and writing.
This being the Adirondacks, there are plenty of hikes for all abilities. Two popular but steep mountains are Blue and Snowy, each requiring sturdy legs and about half a day. The Blue Mountain trailhead is at the top of the hill on Route 28N, just north of the museum at the obvious parking lot, and the route gains 1,500 feet in two miles. The start of Snowy Mountain is on Route 30, 3 1⁄2 miles south of Indian Lake, and the challenging trail gains 2,000 feet in 3.8 miles. For an easier hike (1 1⁄2 miles, 700-foot elevation gain), try Castle Rock at the end of Maple Lodge Road off Route 28N, just north of Blue Mountain Lake village.
IF YOU GO
Visitors have numerous choices for overnight stays.
Pitch a tent at Lake Harris Campground (518-582-2503) or at the High Peaks Kitchen and Campground (518-582-2440), both in Newcomb.
Hoot Owl Lodge, 5461 Route 28N, Newcomb. A B&B with four rooms, $99-$150 per night. 518-582-2505, thehootowllodge.com
Adirondack Hotel, 1245 Main St. (Route 30N), Long Lake. A historic hotel with hearty dinners in the first-floor restaurant. Starts at $95 per night, 518-624-4700, adirondackhotel.com
Copperfield Inn, 307 Main St., North Creek. More upscale lodging, 45 minutes south of Newcomb. Starts at $154 per night, 877-235-1466, copperfieldinn.com