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Adirondack Great Camps

In the mid-to-late-1800's, America's well-to-do families began taking an interest in securing lakeside summer homes in the Adirondacks. They were primarily seeking a romanticized version of the wilderness, where they could live in comfort, but in an environment different from the big cities they called home. As railroad tycoon Dr. Thomas Clark Durant worked to expand rail lines that could transport tourists into the region, his son - William West Durant - explored his passion for building. The younger Durant's architectural explorations would grow into an Adirondack phenomenon: Great Camps.

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Constructed from logs, bark, and other native materials, Great Camps featured a wilderness-oriented aesthetic on a much grander scale than buildings normally found in Adirondack municipalities. Their intricacy and sheer size made them stand out, and enhanced the appeal for their wealthy owners. Many Great Camps were made up of multiple buildings, including a main house, guest houses, boat houses, and other structures.

W.W. Durant's first Great Camp resulted from transformations he applied to his father's property on Raquette Lake. The end result was Camp Pine Knot, completed in 1885. Camp Pine Knot was the first building to exhibit such a unique rustic architecture on a distinctly large scale, and it inspired Durant to build additional Great Camps.

In 1892-93, Camp Santanoni was built in Newcomb, and its first owners were Robert Pruyn - a wealthy banker from Albany - and his wife, Anna. Santanoni was designed by architect Robert H. Robertson, with later additions being made by the firm of Delano and Aldrich. It consisted of three groupings of buildings: the Gatehouse Complex, the Farm Complex, and the Main Complex. In its prime, Camp Santanoni encompassed more than 12,900 acres.

In 1896, Durant and architect Grosvenor Atterbury completed the buildings at Camp Uncas, once again using logs and native stones as the primary building materials, but incorporating fewer elaborate details than Durant did at Camp Pine Knot. One of the most unique features of Camp Uncas was its built-in log furniture. Upon its completion, Durant sold Camp Uncas to financier J.P. Morgan.

The next year, Durant completed the 27-building Great Camp Sagamore on Raquette Lake. Four years after its completion, Durant sold the camp to businessman Alfred Vanderbilt, whose family used it for the next 54 years.

In 1910, Durant sold a piece of property near Lake Sumner to then Lieutenant-Governor Timothy L. Woodruff, along with the small Camp Omonson that had been built on the land by Dr. Arpad Gerster. The Woodruff Family expanded and re-named the camp "Kamp Kill Kare." In 1914, it was purchased by philanthropist Francis P. Garvan, who renovated and customized it. Kamp Kill Kare is said to be "the epitome of Adirondack rustic design."

In 1920, heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post purchased Camp Topridge on Upper St. Regis Lake, and hired a pair of architects to re-design it. When they were finished, the 68-building Camp Topridge complex was one of the largest of the Great Camps.

In total, several dozen Great Camps were built throughout the Adirondack Park in the 19th and 20th Centuries. Along with the Camps themselves, Durant and others also installed telegraph lines, built roads and dams, and developed entire villages - with churches, post offices, and more - to support summer residents. Many of the Great Camps have been preserved, and some have even been transformed into summer camps or historical sites that you can visit for yourself.

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