For years the hotel was kept intentionally primitive, offering neither bellboys nor indoor bathrooms. It started as a seventeen room inn, though by the start of the 20th century it would grow to 255 rooms with a boathouse with quarters for sixty guides, stables, casino, bowling alley, and a wire to the New York Stock Exchange. It also had woodworking, blacksmith, and electrical shops, a sawmill and a store. Stagecoaches delivered guest to the hotel until 1912, when a short electric railroad connected it to the nearest main line.
Adirondack Daily Enterprise, August 22, 1987
'Pol' Smith made fortune in Adirondacks
While working the freight barges on Lake Champlain a young man from Vermont would often glance across the lake to admire the stately range of mountains ruggedly silhouetted against the western sky. As the bluish mountains seemed to beckon to him, he mused that he would some day go there to seek his fortune. When he did get around to go, he found not only the fortune he sought but also a fame that was destined to exceed his most optimistic dreams. In fact some 56 years later his name would appear in. print more frequently than that of the President of the United States. Strangely, though, it was not his given name.
On the 20th day of August, back in 1825, a proud pair of parents in Milton, Vt. christened their new born son Apollos Austin Smith. As soon as the boy came of age he was off to the woods to pursue his favorite pastimes of hunting, trapping and fishing.
These early leanings later influenced the young man's decision to cross the lake and enter the field of guiding. Family friends, who were former Vermonters, had settled around Loon Lake where they were ideally positioned to introduce young Apollos to the incoming sportsmen. The area offered excellent hunting and fishing and our novice guide had little trouble in building up a clientele of satisfied customers. His background training in woodcraft lore was coupled with a masculine personality which assured his success not only with the patrons but also with the native fellow guides who, although they liked and admired the newcomer, could not cotton up to that mythological Greek moniker Apollos so they quickly shortened it to "Pol."
Phonetically his acquired nickname was mistaken for Paul, and he apparently had no objections to the application. In fact he perhaps didn't care too much for the name himself since he always signed his name A.A. Smith prior to the time he acquiesced to "Paul."
Paul Smith was noted for his sense of humor. On one occasion a group of guided parties decided to join forces for a deer hunt. The hounds were put out to drive a deer to water while the armada of guideboats waited out on the lake. Soon a large buck leaped from the shore to begin its frantic swim. There was a mad rush of boats to intercept while many shots were being fired. With a mighty pull on the oars Paul capsized his boat. After the hunt, when all were gathered on shore, his comrades proceeded to ridicule Paul for falling out of his boat. "Fall out?" cried Paul, "I jumped in to save my life. With all that crazy shooting going on the only safe place was under water!"
In order to add to his income Paul decided to build a small lodge to house his many followers. He purchased some land on the North Branch of the Saranac River adjacent to where the present bridge spans that stream on the road to Loon Lake. Here, in 1852, he built "Hunter's Home" which was soon filled to capacity. The cocktail lounge consisted of a barrel of whiskey standing in one corner of the main room with a tin dipper attached by a piece of string. By placing four cents on the barrelhead a guest could open the spigot and draw off a dipperful of rye. From this humble beginning came the start of the most fabulous career in the annals of Adirondack hostelry.
As Paul gained in knowledge of the surrounding territory he ventured farther afield to explore additional hunting and fishing grounds. On one such expedition he made camp on the north shore of what was then called Follensby Pond but which later became Lower St. Regis Lake. With him was a client nained Daniel Sanders, a lawyer from Boston, who was much taken with the beauty of the place. Sanders suggested to his guide that he should build a larger hotel here where the sportsmen could bring their wives and children for summer vacations.
Upon his return to Hunter's Home Paul mentioned the idea to Dr. Loomis, one of his wealthy patrons. Loomis was all for the plan and offered to loan Paul enough money to get started. The guide quickly bought fifty acres of land and in 1858 began to build a hotel of 20 rooms which was opened for business the next year. From this point on he never stopped building. His popularity drew ever increasing patronage to his establishment and as the money poured in, he reinvested in more plant and more land. His shrewd land deals brought icing to the cake. With a down payment of $1,000 he purchased 13,000 acres of adjoining land, the total cost of which was to be $20,000. Shortly thereafter he sold a campsite on Upper St. Regis, of only 5 acres for $20,000 to a wealthy Baltimore family leaving the remaining parcel free and clear of debt. This was the beginning of a trend whereby the rich and famous suddenly wanted to own a piece of Adirondack shoreline on which they could build their ornate camps. With all of Lower St. Regis, Spitfire, and Upper St. Regis Lakes in his pocket Paul was in the catbird seat. Camps soon dotted the shores with such owner's names as Garrett, Stokes, Polhemus, Reid, Hutton, Earle, Huntington, Trowbridge, Drake, Hoe, Cooper, Ruynon, McAlpin, Slade, Chase, and Bianchi; a who's who in America!
All of these owners were, of course, graduates of Paul Smith's Hotel which by the early 1900s had grown to 250 rooms and "Millionaire's Row" offered more privacy. The hotel complex by now boasted a guide house, casino, store, sawmill, men's dorm, girl's dorm, and its own Post Office. (Guess who was postmaster). In 1906 an electric railway was built to carry passengers and private cars from Lake Clear Junction to the hotel grounds. This innovation allowed the wealthy owners of stylish private railroad cars to embark from New York City and arrive at Paul Smith's without having to leave the confines of their ornate parlor cars. Quite a departure from Hunter's Home!
Such affluence did not affect Paul in the least. He rubbed shoulders with millionaires in the same relaxed manner that he displayed while bantering with his guides or the hired help. He maintained a keen sense of humor and was an outstanding story teller to the extent that it was said that his latest joke could buy a drink in any of the northern taverns from Saranac Lake to Malone. Here's an example: Paul was seated on the veranda one morning when a very verbose female guest invaded his reverie with an inane outburst while pointing to some virgin pines along the fringe of the grounds, "My goodness," she cried, "I don't remember seeing those trees last season." The white pines to which she pointed reached up to over 150 feet in height. "No," said Paul, "we have wonderful soil up here. We just set those out this spring."
Before his contemporaries, Paul fully realized the possibilities of electric energy and acted on his insight. He developed hydro generating stations at Keese's Mills, Franklin Falls, and Union Falls with transmission lines reaching into three counties. His own sons doubted his sanity when he instigated these grandiose schemes but papa emerged smelling like a rose. His eldest son, Phelps, died in 1937 leaving an estate of over $2 million in cash, the hotel company, an electric company, a telephone company, and some 50,000 acres of land. All of these assets were willed to establish a Paul Smith's College in memory of his father. The irony of this bit of philanthropy is reflected in Paul's favorite remark "There's no fool like an educated fool."
The former Vermont boy — barge worker, guide and innkeeper has left his indelible mark on the pages of Adirondack history. Through his portals came Presidents, Governors, Mayors, captains of industry, moguls, and a sick doctor named Edward L. Trudeau. More than any one person he brought an impact of prosperity to the vicinity of Saranac Lake.
Today Paul Smith's College is alive and well.
In addition to all of the publicity he received in books, magazines, newspapers, and advertising brochures, his name also was on the mail bearing the Paul Smiths post mark, as well as the address on incoming mail. Add to this list the tickets and time tables associated not only with the Paul Smiths railway but also those same items from the major connecting lines which included the name of their destinations. Finally there were the thousands of letter heads and bills from both. The electric and telephone companies that went out monthly over the years.
Some 50 years ago, when I first joined the electric company, the payment of a customer's monthly bill arrived in the mail with an added notation that I can still recall. Under the billhead banner which read PAUL SMITH'S ELECTRIC LIGHT & POWER COMPANY some wag had scrawled "What no steamship lines?"
Paul died on Dec. 15th 1912 and 18 years later, on Sept. 5th, 1930, the massive hotel structure burned to the ground. This tragic event also heralded the demise of the era of the grand old Adirondack hotels.
Thankfully Paul did not survive to witness the decline and fall of his empire.
Franklin Gazette, June 20, 1879
A very serious and nearly fatal accident occurred to Mr. A. A. Smith, proprietor of the St. Regis Lake House, on the afternoon of Wednesday last. He was standing upon a staging, and had just taken a plank that had been handed to him from one of the windows, when the staging gave way, Mr. SMITH falling with it to the roof of the piazza, a distance of thirteen feet, the plank which he held in his hands striking him in the centre of the forehead just above the eyes, inflicting a terrible wound. Mr. SMITH, upon being taken up, was found to be insensible, and for a short time it was feared that life was extinct— Dr. BRONSON, of New Haven, who was at the time a guest of the house, was immediately called in, and Dr. TRUDEAU sent for. Upon examination, both these gentlemen decided that no bones were broken, and that his injuries were not necessarily of a fatal nature. At last accounts the patient was said to be slowly improving, and every hope of his final recovery is entertained.
Franklin Gazette, June 27, 1879
St. Regis Lake House.
The following is the list of arrivals at St. Regis Lake House to June, 1879:
Jas. T. Hayden, Boston; R. J. Morgan, John F. Lindsley and wife, Miss Jennie J. Rice, T. J. Van Wagner, J. M. Ross, New York; C. B. Whitney, wife and child, San Francisco; J. B. Atkinson, S. B. Church, Jr., W. H. Penfold, New York; A. Moore, Rutland, Vt.; Cap't W. B. Robinson, Troy, N. Y.; L. G. Cornell, Dr. Bixby, Pittsburgh; Chancey Turner, South Plattsburgh; Fred C. Rogers Troy, N Y.; Chas. B. Meader, Danemora; Louis D. Pilsbury, Millie A. Pilsbury, Mrs. A. K. Kimball, Albany; Wm. C. Simonds, D. J. Mercure, Brandon, Vt.; W.C. Rice, Albert McKenzie, F. O. Brien, Frank Jordan, F. G. Halleck, Chas. Greeno, Saranac Lake; Z. T. Hollingsworth, Boston; S. S. Whittelsey, R. Bailey, Malone; M. Derby, Prospect House; Dr. Trudeau and family, New York, Wm. Anderson, Geo. W. Parkhurst, David Barton, Potsdam, N. Y.; Lute Andrus, Malone; J. W. Brown, S.S. Moore, Albany; J. C. Duane, Bellmont, E. Cooley, Plattsburgh; Peter Duffy, Ausable Forks; A. Goldsmith, Keeseville; Eugene Gattle, H. Barber, Jr., W. E. Smith, Plattsburgh; J. H. Smith, Ogdensburgh; C. A. Burt, Oneida, N. Y.; S. A. Ellsworth, Burke Centre; Edson Harper, Wm. Shelley, Keeseville; Thos. Law, Geo. Hawkins, wife and child, Malone, Miles Smith, Saranac Lake; Theo. Melvin, Franklin; Justice S. Hotchkiss and wife. Dr. H. Bronson, New Haven, Ct.; Jas. Shanahan, Tribes Hill; B. S. W. Clark, Albany; Chas. B. Christy, Stamford, Ct.; M. Cook and wife, Wm. C. Hicks and son, J. V. Van Woert, J. V. Van Voert, Jr., B. F. Lee, New York; Henry Hall, Saranac Lake; W. E. Smallman and wife, H. A. Paddock and wife, Fred. Paddock, Malone; Isaac Chesley, Bloomingdale; Wm. H. Hinds, Leroy Jordan, Ausable; Henry Meyer, daughter and grandson, New York; Geo. Staves, Chas. Liberty, Plattsburgh; Mrs. Edward T. Pusey and maid, Philadelphia, Pa.; J. Slater, Saranac Lake; W. H. Tracy, Plattsburgh; H. A. Roy, Miss J. Roy, Buffalo, N. Y.; Geo. S. Adams and wife, Wm. B. Earle and wife, A. W. Merrick, H. A. Paddock and wife, Mrs. D. W. Lawrence, Malone; Mrs. R. T. Jones, nephew and maid, Philadelphia; Mrs. C. J. Acton, Columbus, Ohio; Mrs. A. W. Durkee, Rev. Chas. S. Knapp, New York; Lowell Brown, Saranac Lake; H. K. Jones, Hartford, Ct.; John M. Spann, wife and child, Indianapolis; Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Brock, Lebanan, Pa.
Franklin Gazette, October 10, 1879
St. Regis Lake House.
List of arrivals for the week ending Ocl. th, 1879: H. T. Williams, L. D. Parsons, Sems Warner, Northampton, Mass.; E. C. Barr, Springfield, Mass.; John Robb, Malone; Geo. C. Sharp, New York; O. Covil, Sweeney Carry; Jas. R. Cowing and wife, Brooklyn; Mrs. Wm. E. Curtis, F. R. Curtis, New York; C. H. Foote, Plattsburgh, Isaac Chesley, Bloomingdale; J. Merkel, E. Gattle, Pittsburgh; Chas. Greeno, Saranac Lake; H. G. Mochring, Germany; R. S. Bradley, Mark Hollingsworth, Geo. H. Richards, Jr., Boston; Geo. Sweenyer, Saranac Lake; P. A. Robbins, Tupper's Lake; Reuben Reynolds, Saranac Lake; Jake Hayes, Bloomingdale; H. Belden, Simsbury, Ct.; C. B. Ingraham, Hartford; Fred. A. Blandy, Cincinnati, O.; C. R. Christy, Dr. J. P. Lundy, C. O. Dwight, Fred. Barnes, Camp Square; J. I. Perry, W. H. Holman, W. H. Perry, Southport, Conn.; Geo. W. Paye, Saranac Lake; H. D. Polhemus, E. Penfold, Lem. Corey, Buck Camp; Mrs. D. McCarthy, D. R. McCarthy, Syracuse; A. Bussing and wife, New York; Dr. J. R. Romeyn and wife, Keeseville.
Franklin Gazette, May 11, 1883
The proprietors of all the sporting houses in the Adirondacks are making preparations for a busy season the coming summer. "PAUL" SMITH, of the St. Regis Lake House has put in a twenty-five horse power engine and boiler, and all the cooking, washing and ironing will be done by steam. He has also a quantity of hose to be attached for use in case of fire and will be as well prepared in an emergency as any of the city hotels with a fire department at hand. The house has also been refitted and refurnished throughout, and its proprietor will save no expense to keep up its reputation as one of the best and most popular resorts for tourists and pleasure seekers in the Adirondacks, and it will be more than ever entitled to the name it has been given, that of the Saratoga of the Adirondacks.
New York Times, June 27, 1897 (A pdf of the full article is here)
ON MOUNTAINS AND LAKES
The Numerous Adirondack Resorts Now Ready to Receive the Summer Visitor.
Paul Smith's and Vicinity.
"Paul Smith's" is one of the landmarks and most attractive features of the North Woods. The station is on the Adirondack Division of the New York Central, 130 miles north of Utica, and Paul Smith's hotel is about three miles and a half distant, situated on St. Regis Lake. This lake is about 2000 feet above tide water, and is surrounded by a dense growth of pine and balsam forest. For a long period of years "Paul Smith's (meaning practically the whole of the St. Regis Lake region) has held a first class reputation as a fishing and hunting ground. Lately it has become more and more of a fashionable resort. The hotel opened for the season on June 15, and there are already several guests there. The veteran Paul Smith is a picturesque character, and his abilities as a story teller form no insignificant part of the attractions of this resort. Paul has just returned from a visit to Cripple Creek and the Pacific coast, and his stock of thrilling narratives has been quaintly replenished.
Paul Smith's hotel and cottages will accommodate .about 350 guests. A large addition to the hotel was built two or three years ago. There is a general store in the hotel containing all necessaries for supplying camping parties, excepting tents and blankets. There are a Post Office and a telegraph office, also telephone connection with all of the principal resorts in the Adirondacks. The popular forms of diversion are boating, shooting, fishing, driving, bowling, lawn tennis, and billiards. Brook trout fishing is at its best in the months of May and June. Fly fishing is best in July, August, and September, up to the 15th. The law permits the killing of deer from Aug. 15 to Nov. 1. The hounding of deer is permitted between Sept. 1 and Oct. 5. The waters of the lower St. Regis are stocked yearly with brook and lake trout from the Adirondack State Hatchery...
• Donaldson, Alfred L., A History of the Adirondacks. New York: Century, 1921. ISBN 0-916346-26-8. (reprint)
• Jerome, Christine Adirondack Passage: Cruise of Canoe Sairy Gamp, HarperCollins, 1994. ISBN 0-93527294-1.
• ''New York Times'', August 30, 1903, "Season in the Adirondacks Shows No Signs of Waning; Outdoor Sports of All Kinds Followed by Fancy Dress Balls and Bowling and Pool Tournaments -- Fair at Paul Smith's Hotel a Big Success."