The Saranac Inn, originally called the Prospect House, was a large, luxurious hotel located on a peninsula at the northern end of the Upper Saranac Lake in the town of Santa Clara. It was frequented by US Presidents Grover Cleveland and Chester A. Arthur and New York Governor Charles Evans Hughes. It closed in 1962, and burned to the ground in 1978.
Saranac Inn is also the name of a small hamlet, also called Upper Saranac, that grew up in the vicinity of the Inn, and of the public golf course that was originally part of the Inn. The par 72 Saranac Inn Golf Course was recognized by Golf Digest as one of four U.S. courses that are one hundred years or older that received four and a half stars.
History Originally built as the Prospect House in 1864, it started as a small hotel that accommodated 15 guests. It was gradually enlarged to handle up to 100. In 1886 it was purchased by a group of investors headed by Dr. Samuel B. Ward who renamed it Saranac Inn, and began a program of renovation and construction that brought the capacity to 250 by 1909. The opening of the Mohawk and Malone Railway in 1892, dramatically reducing travel time from major east coast cities to the Adirondacks, had a major impact on the hotel.
In 1916 the hotel was purchased by the owner of the Harrington Hotel in Washington, DC, who completely rebuilt the structure, adding two stories, elevators, and a private bath in each room. It underwent further enlargement in the 1920s, and noted Saranac Lake architect William G. Distin was responsible for much of the design work. At its height, between the enlarged main hotel and the many lakeside cottages and platform tents favored by some guests, it could accommodate a thousand guests.
After the Great Depression, the hotel's business dropped sharply, and it changed hands several times. In 1946, it was purchased by a national hotel chain, who brought in large conventions, briefly improving finances. It changed hands again in 1957, but closed in 1962 as unprofitable. Finally, it was bought for $400,000 by auctioneers, who sold the property piecemeal, the golf course, the cottages, the hotel all going to different owners. In the mid-1970s, the hotel was partially dismembered for salvage materials. Finally, on June 17, 1978, a spectacular seven-hour fire destroyed what was left.
The small collection of cottages that grew up around the Inn (the first dozen were built by the Inn owners) still exists, however, as do some of the Great Camps built in the area. World War I, the Great Depression and the Income Tax combined to put an end to the Great Camp era, however; and like the Inn, many of the Great Camps were abandoned and/or lost for unpaid taxes, burned or left to crumble. 1
Adirondack Daily Enterprise, April 25, 1987
SAGA OF SARANAC INN
Upper Saranac Lake's topographical history is quite interesting since, over the years, it has been split three times into two different civil divisions.
Before the Revolutionary War, all of northern New York State was made up of only two counties, Tryon and Charlotte. The north-south boundary line between these two huge counties traversed the entire length of Upper Saranac. When Franklin County was formed in 1808, a map shows the lake was divided between the Townships of Margate and Killarney in the Town of Brandon. These two townships were originally owned and named by the early land baron, William Constable, and Margate plays a major role in our story. The third and final division placed the northern three quarters of the lake in the Town of Santa Clara and the southern quarter in the Town of Harrietstown.
Long recognized as one of the most attractive of Adirondack waters, Upper Saranac Lake has enjoyed a popularity due, in part, to its favorable location. During the 1850s, when boat travel was the only means of wilderness transportation, the nine-mile, north-south configuration of the lake provided a most convenient waterway to all points of the compass. Its many islands and verdant shores offered choice campsites to the early hunter and fisherman. Also, wherever a carry entered the lake, some sort of lodging was soon to follow. As early as 1859, Jesse Corey had built Rustic Lodge at the extreme southern tip of Upper Saranac where the old Indian Carry came overland from the Raquette River and the Fulton Chain. From the east, by way of Bartlett's Carry came boats from the Middle and Lower Saranac lakes, and from the west, over the Sweeney Carry, arrivals from the Tupper Lake region could bed down at the Wawbeek Inn.
The hotel we're concerned with was situated at the northern head of the lake where the "Seven Carries" route ended. To this spot guides brought their parties from the Paul Smiths and St. Regis Lakes area. Here, in 1864, a former Paul Smith's patron by the name of Hough decided to build a hotel of his own. He chose an ideal site on a promontory extending into the lake. It boasted an excellent vista down the water to the distant mountains. Although he was most astute in his site selection, he apparently lacked that rare ability attributed to such men as Paul Smith and others: the necessary shrewdness to operate a remote hotel. The place was simply called Hough's, surviving for nine years of rather rocky operation before failing.
Ed Derby became the next owner. Among other changes, he rechristened his purchase The Prospect House. Living up to the new name, the hotel prospered until Derby's death in 1884. Two years later his widow sold out to a group headed by Dr. Sam Ward of Albany, who had a camp on Markham Point. This transaction proved to be the turning point not only in the destiny of the hotel but for the entire area as well.
Ward formed and became the first president of the Upper Saranac Association. It soon purchased all of Township 20's 27,000 acres. This was the township that Constable had previously named Margate. Besides the northern third of Upper Saranac, it included more than 30 remote ponds. The hotel was enlarged and renamed Saranac Inn.
During the ensuing years a garden, a dairy farm and a sawmill were added to the complex. A steam boat ran from the front dock to the other hotels and private camps carrying passengers and the mail. One member of the group was Quincy Riddle whose brother, Daniel, had arrived in Saranac Lake at an earlier date to take the cure. By
1913  Daniel Wiltshire Riddle had regained his health and [in 1886] was appointed general manager of Saranac Inn; 2 a better choice could not have been made. Riddle was a man of great integrity, sound judgement and managerial ability. Under his guidance the hotel grew in popularity and the association prospered as the wealthy and the famous began to gather at its portals. From Hough's humble beginning Saranac Inn grew into one of the best known Adirondack resorts.
Many of the Inn's early guests decided to purchase land along the lake shore and build their own summer homes. A colony of these so called "Great Camps" soon blossomed on Upper Saranac, but the owners continued to make the Inn the center of their social activities.
Noted in this group was Thomas Blagden, who owned a log cottage adjacent to the hotel. As a guest of Blagden, President Grover Cleveland spent his honeymoon there. The house became known as either the "Honeymoon Cottage" or the "President's Cottage." Blagden later built a larger camp across the bay from the Inn which he named Deerwood. In a fenced area surrounding his camp and extending to the hotel grounds he maintained a sizable herd of deer. A portion of the deer park bordered the highway between Deerwood's driveway and the entrance road to the Inn. Guests and the public could enjoy deer watching.
Another prominent guest and frequent visitor was New York Governor Charles Evans Hughes, who chose to vacation here between 1907 and 1910.
D.W. Riddle died in 1913, and Dr. Ward passed away two years later. Both of these men played a very important role in the hotel's prosperity and in the general development of the entire area. The next major phase in the growth of the Inn took place when the property was purchased by Harrington Mills. Owner of the Harrington Hotel in Washington, D.C., Mills brought considerable management expertise to the resort. Under his administration the plant was enlarged and many attractive features added. Over the years an 18-hole golf course was built, a hydro-electric generating station on Lake Clear's outlet furnished power to the Inn, and a steamboat left the front dock to deliver passengers and mail around the lake. Riding stables and aquatic sports amused guests outdoors while music and dancing combined with a fine menu satisfied indoor appetites. At its zenith, the hotel could accommodate 700 guests with the addition of lakeside cottages and platform tents to house the overflow from the main building. A huge work force found employment on the premises; the payroll brought a welcome boost to the community's economy.
Under Mills, Willard Boyce served as superintendent for 42 years until he retired in September of 1928. Still not quite ready to take life easy, he moved to the Village of Saranac Lake and, with the firm of Boyce and Roberson, furnished the village with coal, wood, and feed products for many more years. After Mills died his son-in-law, Laurence Slaughter, managed the Inn while James Gillmett took over Boyce's old position of superintendent. By now the popularity of the large summer hotels had begun to wane as a more mobile public no longer wished to spend an entire season in one place. Taking this adversity in stride, the Inn concentrated on attracting conventions. The move paid off.
The 18-hole golf course was a big plus during this period, but the physical condition of the aging hotel was beginning to tell. The Mills family sold out to the Kirkeby Chain in 1946, and this group continued in the convention business until 1957. The ownership changed once more when Sharp Hotels, Ltd., gave it a try for the final four years of the Inn's operation. One of the last of the famous old hotels had finally taken count and closed its doors.
An auctioneer from Cortland, Charles Vosburgh, was quick to realize that although the hotel was a lost cause, the property itself held tremendous real estate value. Before any local entrepreneur recognized the opportunity, Vosburgh acquired the entire complex. Starting a series of auctions on Sept. 18, 1962, he proceeded to dispose of the buildings, golf course, and some very choice waterfront lots. The venture proved to be a bonanza.
All of the major characters connected with the Inn are now gone. The main hotel building was being razed when a fire completed the demolition. Deerwood Camp became the Adirondack Music Center in 1941, but after a few years that too passed out of existence and the building was removed. Area activity, however, has not perished.
The golf course is more popular than ever. A new community of camps has blossomed among the subdivided lots. A post office has been established. Apparently the name of Saranac Inn is destined to live for many years to come.
Adirondack Daily Enterprise, October 22, 1994
A look at Cleveland's honeymoon hotel
There was once a time, here in our North Country, when we could never be quite sure whether a president might come knocking at our door. In more recent years, however, the region seems to have suffered a dearth of presidential visits.
In 1890 President Harrison came to our village to dedicate Saranac Lake's new high school and certainly all Adirondackers are familiar with the story of how Teddy Roosevelt was summoned down from the side of Mt. Marcy in 1901 to become president upon McKinley's death. President Cal Coolidge came frequently to Saranac Lake in 1926 while spending the summer at White Pine Camp on Osgood Lake near Paul Smiths. During another summer in 1935, FDR came to dedicate the new Whiteface Mountain Highway, but prior to all of these memorable occasions another president spent his honeymoon at Saranac Inn.
In the national election of 1884 Democrat Grover Cleveland won over GOP's James G. Blaine to become the 22nd president of the United States. A former mayor of Buffalo, as well as governor of New York state, he had campaigned under the banner of "clean government," but during the race the "clean" definition did not apply to the bitter mud slinging tactics practiced by both parties. It had been reported that in his youth Cleveland had sired a child out of wedlock and the GOP pounced on the seeming advantage with great glee by using derisive cartoons and a malicious little ditty that went: "Ma, ma, where's my pa? Going to the White House, ha, ha, ha."
Cleveland faced up to the charges and his honesty in the matter apparently gained support rather than having the opposite effect. If he felt any degree of worry over the accusation, it did not cause any lack of appetite since he maintained his normal weight of 260 pounds!
During the summer of 1886 Cleveland was married to Frances Folsom in a wedding that became the first such ceremony to be held in the White House. The bride was a mere 21 years old while the bachelor groom was 49. A friend of Cleveland, Thomas Blagden of Washington, owned a cottage at Saranac Inn which he made available to the couple for their honeymoon vacation. The little log cabin was adjacent to the main hotel. A letter written by a guest at Saranac Inn during that time is worth sharing here in full:
Aug. 25, 1886 My Dear Sister:
How I wish you might take one look at my surroundings tonight as I endeavor to write a few words to you. In a snug little tent about ten feet square, with an awning to form a porch in front, situated in the woods, several hundred feet from the Hotel I am assigned for night quarters.
The floor of my abode is nicely carpeted, the furniture consists of a bed, two stands, two chairs, a cute little stove, looking glass, wash bowl and pitcher, towels, etc. There is also a pair of rubber boots (altogether too small) and an umbrella to go to the House for my meals in case of rain. It's really a charming place to stay. I have fastened the door with a string and feel quite secure. The Hotel is full. I had to choose between this and sleeping on a cot in the parlor after the other guests had retired, so I chose this, probably it will be the only camp meeting I will have this year.
My coming to this place was very unexpected. Learned this morning that our man I must see was here, and that the only way for me to see him was to come, so I started from Keeseville at seven o'clock this morning and have ridden ten hours on top of a four-horse tally-ho coach over a plank road most of the way and to say that I am tired doesn't quite express it. The houses on our route were nearly all made of logs, most of the country very rough. The distance is 53 miles, the last four or five of it being through dense woods. It is eight miles from here to another house, in any direction. A few feet from the Hotel is the little log cabin where Grover and Frances are spooning away their vacation, and they come to the Hotel for their meals. I had the pleasure of seeing them this evening. Mrs. Cleveland is very nice looking, indeed, but, I cannot see anything so wonderful handsome as the papers make her out to be. She looks very young to be his wife — think he might better have married her mother. They are friendly to the guests of the house and seem to be enjoying themselves.
These two houses are all that there is here, they both face the lake and have nice grounds around there making it a quiet and very desirable place for rest.
But I must say goodnight and go to bed. Am too tired and sleepy to write more."
The letter is written in longhand on Saranac Inn stationery and a little guess work was necessary here and there to make out the handwriting. It was composed by a Mr. C. M. Fellows and affords an interesting insight to the time and place. The little log cabin mentioned in the letter was, of course, the Blagden cottage. The tent occupied by Fellows was one of several adjacent to the hotel to house the overflow from the main building and in later years were replaced with regular cottages (without any kitchens so that the guests would have to come to the hotel for meals).
Although the hotel is long gone the little log cabin remains and has been christened with separate designations. To the formally correct it is called the "President's Cottage," but to the more romantically inclined it will always be the "Honeymoon Cottage."
Adirondack Daily Enterprise, June 19, 1978
Inn's demise shows changes
By WILLIAM DOOLITTLE
SARANAC INN - The glorious history of the Saranac Inn, and its sad, slow demise mirrors the social changes in American society in the past century.
The heyday of the inn, which employed as many as 400 persons during the height of the season, was a time in America of great social and financial division — when the rich were very rich, and then there were the rest of the people.
With the rise of the middle class and the redistribution of wealth in the United States, such resorts catering to the rich and famous become more and more of an anachronism.
The early days of the Inn are described by Alfred L. Donaldson in his famous A History of the Adirondacks, "this now famous hotel at the north end of Upper Saranac Lake, was originally built by a Mr. Hough, as early as 1864. He was a man of means and social position, who was among the earliest patrons of Paul Smith's, on St. Regis Lake. Mr. Hough always occupied the same suite of rooms, which he had fitted up luxuriously at his own expense. Long after he had ceased to occupy them they were known as the "Hough suite." He gave them up because he suddenly lost most of his money, and was confronted by the necessity of earning a living. It occurred to him — not unnaturally, perhaps — that a hotel in the Adirondacks might be a paying proposition. So he bought land and built one. He ran it for nine years, till 1875, and then failed.
"When Hough was forced out, the hotel passed under the control of Ed Derby, who ran it, much more successfully, until his death in the spring of 1884. After that his widow continued to run it for two seasons, with Edward L. Pearse as manager — the same gentleman who later was for years the popular and well-known manager of the Saranac Club.
Mrs. Derby sold the Prospect House, in 1886, to Dr. Samuel B. Ward of Albany, and some other gentlemen, who incorporated as "The Upper Saranac Association." At the same time they secured control of the entire township surrounding the hotel — Township 20, Macomb's Purchase, Great Tract I. This contained 26,880 acres, and twenty-five years before had been lumbered over by C. F. Norton.
"They continued to run the hotel as a public house, but changed its named to "Saranac inn." As such it has become one of the most popular and successful hotels in the mountains. It has been enlarged and improved, of course, but the original building has never been torn down. "One of the organizers of The Upper Saranac Association was Quincy Riddle, a lawyer of New York. He had a brother D.W. Riddle who had gone to Saranac Lake for his health several years before. His condition having greatly improved, he was offered the position of manager at the new Saranac Inn. He accepted, and remained with the association, until his death in 1913. During the later years, owing to failing health, his duties were lightened and he was given the title of superintendent. He died at a cottage of his own — "The Gables" — which he had built near the hotel.
"Dr. Ward, the first president of the association and an ardent Adirondacker, was an Albany physician of note. He died in 1915. During his life he numbered many distinguished people among his friends and patients, and lured many of them to the inn or its neighborhood. Grover Cleveland spent several summers there, occupying a cottage belonging to Mr. Thomas Blagden, who owns a large estate near the hotel."
During those years President Grover Cleveland's second honeymoon occurred at the hotel and the following letter written from the hotel and made available to The Daily Enterprise yesterday gives a wry look at that occasion through the eyes of a guest writing to her sister on August 23, 1889:
[Here the letter in the article above is quoted.]
In later years the hotel was purchased by Mrs. Evelyn Sharpe and Sharpe Hotels Ltd. In 1958 she spent $300,000 to redecorate the hotel which was part of a chain consisting of the Beverly Wilshire, in Beverly Hills, Calif.; The Stanhope and The Gotham in New York City.
Later the hotel changed hands again and was sold to the Fields Organization, a holding company.
In 1961 the massive structures and 3,500 acres of prime resort land, including thousands of feet of frontage on the upper lake, and the entire shoreline of Church Pond, and a large portion of the private land on Hoel and Green Ponds was put on the market.
According to Charles Vosburgh, the Cortland auctioneers who purchased the holdings in 1961 from the Fields organization, the total price at that time was $400,000. He said yesterday that he had paid $100,00 down. "It has turned out to have been a very good investment," said the ailing auctioneer. "Others have not worked out so well."
Vosburgh has a great deal of memorabilia from the hotel, including the old registers which included names of famous wealthy families such as Thaw and Seligman.
Vosburgh sold the inn at auction in 1961 to Ralph H. Bowles of Deland, Fla., for $75,000. It was never reopened and Vosburgh reacquired title in 1962 and resold the Inn in 1963 to Robert Duley of Pittsburgh, whose company, the Ellenburg Creamery, is the owner of record today, according to Santa Clara tax rolls.
During the auctions many parcels of waterfront property were sold for as little as $15 a foot. Today Upper Saranac Lake frontage sells for as high as $200 a foot.
Over the years Vosburgh has sold off much of the land in sub-divided parcels, and, according to the county, records, he himself holds more than 300 mortgages on parcels he has sold.
In addition, Vosburgh, a colorful character, has been involved in numerous public squabbles with purchasers over such matters as rights-of-way and property lines. Vosburgh subdivided all of his property before the Adirondack Park Agency law took effect and therefore was virtually untouched by its restrictions on lot size.
Over the years there have been numerous rumors and allegations by owners of nearby camps that Vosburgh himself was the real owner of the Saranac Inn itself. Those properly owners— fearful of fire — were trying to force the demolition of the inn.
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.
Saranac inn, at the head of Upper Saranac Lake, will be conducted this season on the same methods as of yore. For a generation this inn has been one of the favorite resorts of sojourner's in the Adirondacks. It remains under the management of D. W. Riddle, with J. Ben Hart as assistant. Old patrons of this place will be interested in learning that the operation of the township reclamation land law will deprive Saranac Inn of a very large slice of its landed estate. The inn is reached by a two-mile stage ride from Saranac Inn Station, and from the convenient steamboat landing near the inn the tourist may board a small steamer and go to the foot of the lake, where are situated the Hotel Wawbeek, Rustic Lodge, Saranac Club, and the Hiawatha House. The Wawbeek, which is one of the largest and best-known hotels in this region, will continue under the management of Uriah Welch, the same as last year. Some minor improvements, were made about the premises this Spring.
New York Times, June 8, 1902
Frederick H. Gibbons, Treasurer of the Saranac Inn Association, is completing a new cottage, containing ten rooms. A feature of the cottage is a Scotch fireplace in the living room. It is of brick and is something new for the Adirondacks. The fireplace connects with a great gray stone chimney, which is erected on the southeast side of the cottage.
New York Times, August 21, 1904
CAKEWALK AT SARANAC.
Special to The New York Times.
SARANAC INN. N. Y. Aug. 20.—The feature of the week at Saranac Inn was the cakewalk which took place Tuesday evening, the proceed of which were devoted to the fund for the benefit of the Adirondack Cottage Sanitarium. The various numbers and parts of the entertainment were contributed by the visitors to the Inn, and it was a very successful affair.
On April 7, 1958, the Adirondack Daily Enterprise published a letter to the editor from Dan McMasters, who by then was working for the Los Angeles Examiner. The Enterprise reprinted their own front page on April 15, 2006. In part the letter read: "In 1933 and 1934 I worked in the summer as a chore boy at the McAlpine camp on the slough between Upper St. Regis and Spitfire lakes. . . The next four years I spent in college and worked summertimes at Saranac Inn, on the newsstand. There I developed a taste for Havana cigars (that I never since could indulge) and could read omnivorously in the newspapers of the day. We got the best of them . . ."
Adirondack Daily Enterprise, October 1, 1968
Saranac Inn Landowners In Answer to Supervisor
Four members of the Saranac Inn Lake Front Association, headed by its president, Frank Goldman, have sent The Enterprise a bitter reply in the form of a "press release" to the statement issued recently by Santa Clara Supervisor David B. Vanderwalker on the issue of the Saranac Inn and the extent of danger stemming from its deterioration and the fire hazard.
Claiming that Mr. Vanderwalker's statement "gave off a lot of heat but not much light," the statement insisted that "His emotional outburst to the press was fraught with misstatement and pregnant with prejudice."
The four said that "Our fear grows with each passing day, especially as the hay surrounding it (the Inn) grows drier and the dirty pine needles more numerous..."
The statement points out that two other large buildings "on or near this beautiful peninsula" had become "raging conflagrations and the adjacent structures were only saved by "the valiant work of the Saranac Lake and Tupper Lake fire departments."
Taking issue with the Supervisor's claim that "Santa Clara is a very small town" with big city taxes, the four property owners maintain that local residents and a few wealthy long- time owners are favored in the assessments.
The statement further says the property owners do not ask that the Town pay for the tearing down of the Inn but that it "serve notice on the titular owner (or owners) and if they fail to do so then tear it down, sue the owner and if the cost is not realized this way, sell the land."
The signers of the statement estimate the value of this "prime land" at "at least $75.00 the front foot or approximately $30,000.00."
They also say that at the "heralded inspection tour on September 21 no member of the association was invited to appear although its president and one other member were present. The statement says that two men "both having been titular owners" were present and names "Mr. Vosburgh and Mr. Duley."
The statement claims that a number of aspects of the Inn's condition were not shown, including the water in the cellar, the "sagging and dangling fire escapes, the disrepair of the roof... the antiquated and defective wiring.
It is also maintained that taxes on the property have not been paid "for at least four years."
Though the main building of the Saranac Inn is gone, what's left from the property includes:
1) the 18-hole, par 72 golf course of 6535 yards, an historically important sport in the area. The golf course is not mentioned in the Stoddard Guide of 1898, but does appear in 1901, and the 1902 guide describes the golf course "being extended."
2) the Church of the Ascension. In 1951 the church property of about 2.4 acres was bought from the Upper Saranac Association for $2,600 on the basis of about $1,000 per acre. No value was ascribed to the church building which had not been built or enlarged by the Association but rather with funds and labor contributed by individuals. Source: Samuel T. Bodine & William T. Hord, Church of the Ascension: The First 100 Years, 1884 to 1984, (Saranac Inn Post Office, NY: Church of the Ascension, 1984), 12.
3) about 10 cottages, including President Grover Cleveland's 1888 Honeymoon Cottage.
4) a possible historical connection with the Fish Hatchery.
The Adirondack Collection of the Saranac Lake Free Library has a couple of maps of the property.
The above is from research done July 8, 1996.
Tolles, Bryant F., Jr., Resort Hotels of the Adirondacks, University Press of New England, 2003. ISBN 1-58465-096-6.
2012-04-12 01:16:03 In 1961 my parents attended the auction mentioned above with the idea of just enjoying the experience and with no intention of bidding. At the time they lived on Long Island, 5-6 hours away. They came home with the astounding news that they had purchased the "Prospect House" parcel! For $6,000! Our large extended family and many friends spent close to 16 wonderful summers at the Saranac. I have several pieces of memorabilia that I treasure. My father was the only person who had the patience and skill to keep the antiquated heating system going. The row of evergreens that lined the roadway down to the lake were all planted by my dad. All the summer residents grew into a close community through the years, helping each other out when necessary and socializing often. When my Dad died unexpectedly in 1977, Mom felt that she couldn't keep the place up by herself and sold it. We still speak lovingly of our summers there.
I and my children have enjoyed reading this interesting information - thank you.
Judith Wexler Rosenbaum —220.127.116.11
2012-04-12 07:51:52 Thanks, Judith. Sounds like it was a great impulse buy! —Mwanner
1. This article appeared originally on "Wikipedia" as Saranac Inn; its edit history there reflects its authorship. It is licensed under the GDFL.
2. These changes are according to a note appended to the article in the files of the Adirondack Research Room, Saranac Lake Free Library.