The hamlet of Loon Lake is one of the few existing late 1800's resort sites, in Franklin County, where clusters of century old buildings are preserved.
The boundaries of Loon Lake's historic district have yet to be defined. Most likely they will encompass the original 10 acres purchased in 1887 by Mary H. H. Chase and Ferd Chase, her husband. There remains a tremendous amount of research to be done about Loon Lake and the large and exclusive hotel resort that it had become over 100 years ago when these Vermonters purchased the land.
Historically, it is important to remember that at the turn of the century (circa 1895) this part of the Northern Adirondacks had many magnificent large hotel resorts.
Loon Lake House was one of the most prosperous. The well-to-do and socially prominent people of that era, including three U.S. Presidents, vacationed here. Artists, writers, musicians, architects, and the very wealthy spent their entire summers at this lakeside community, which boasted its own gravity sewage system, 2 water systems, laundry, farm, lighting plant, blacksmith, carpentry shops, and much more. A self-sufficient woodland oasis removed from the "modern world", it provided every playful possible pastime, including golf, bowling, canoeing, swimming, tennis, shuffleboard, baseball, skeet shooting, billiards, and a movie theater in later years.
The buildings that remain are striking, both in their overall setting and in their architectural beauty. Each has a one-of-a-kind personality, so much so, that they are still referred to by their original names!
Loon Lake House itself burned to the ground in 1956. It was a four-storied, 31-room building with a major annex, perched right above the lake.
The second largest annex, called The Irish House, is a major focal point today due to its size, history, and unique architecture. It exhibits elements of various architectural styles of the period. The gambrel roof with its decorative slate is not found on any of the other buildings.
On entering the first floor one is welcomed by an inviting open space which had served as a gathering room or lobby. A magnificent cherry wood staircase winds up to the second and third stories, which embrace 10 suites of rooms. The heavy wooden doors retain their original hardware and brass room numbers.
Built circa 1905, Irish House continuously served as a hotel. In 1976, Anthony D'Elia of Loon Lake Estates purchased this grand edifice from Mr. and Mrs. Jack Miller of Leisure Properties. The Millers operated it as a hotel since they purchased it at auction from Loon Lake Properties, Inc. in 1958. D'Elia operated Irish House as the Loon Lake Inn for several seasons, until he closed it and relocated across the street to the site of the present Inn at Loon Lake.
In 1991, Irish house was sold to Mr. J. Field and Mr. J. Bacque, who initiated needed repairs. In May of 1999 the house was resold and will be occupied as a private summer residence for the first time.
THE CADDIE HOUSE
The Caddie House was built in 1895. There is a strong possibility that the architect was Stanford White. During this period, there was a Victorian trend toward orientalism, especially among the Great Camps. Japanese teahouse type structures were built for fun and for more formal outdoor entertaining. This decorative building was a gathering place with its wide wraparound porch and pagoda roof with deep-boxed eaves. Golfers and friends could visit in any weather.
In the middle of the 1940's, Harry J. Pimstein of Tupper Lake, who was a PGA pro, purchased it. "Zeke", as Pimstein was called, was also appointed as the Loon Lake Postmaster in 1946. The Caddie House became the Loon Lake Post Office as well as Golf Pro Shop and remained the gathering place for locals and visitors. It ceased being a post office in 1966 and was purchased in 1975 by Anthony D'Elia, who continued to use the building as a Caddie House while operating the golf course.
In 1978 Karl Beckwith Smith III and Hal Truesdale of Charleston, South Carolina purchased the Caddie House. Restoration of the building was begun immediately and it is their summer residence. The interior of this beautiful building is unique, with the original footlockers, bird's eye views from four, 5 window dormers (one on each face) and two handcrafted staircases, side by side to the upper story. Upon entering the Caddie House through the oversized double doors, one stands in awe of the presence of these staircases. The open, airy, relaxed feel that golfers experienced 100 years ago is still there.
HAPPY DAYS COTTAGE
This cottage is the only remaining building in Loon Lake with the original paint color chosen by Mary Chase for all the Loon Lake House resort buildings. The balustrades of the veranda porches are an excellent example of a design specific to Loon Lake House, and are seen on many of the original cottage porches. Somewhat whimsical in detail, it was probably designed by Stanford White. There are four different patterns of shingles and a wonderful cupola with a finial on top. The cottage is best seen from the lake, from where one has a view of the small wooden bridge leading to a little summerhouse gazebo.
Happy Days was built in 1906 by the famous Guggenheim family, probably on a lease basis, which the Chases did for wealthy guests who wanted choice locations.
Happy Days was featured in a New York Times article in 1980 accompanying the review of E. L. Doctorow's Loon Lake. It is local folklore (and very possibly true) that Theodore Drieser spent one season in this cottage getting the feel of an isolated lake community while writing his book An American Tragedy.
Happy Days was bought in 1958 by Mr. and Mrs. Hyman Muss of Forest Hills, New York, who had stayed there as guests of the Loon Lake Hotel. They have kept the cottage just the way it was inside and out, a wonderfully preserved specimen of a by-gone era.
The cottage known as President was built in 1885. It served as a summer White House to three presidents; Harrison, Cleveland, and McKinley.
President and Mrs. Harrison resided there during the summer of 1892. Mrs. Harrison, an invalid, went to Loon Lake at the suggestion of her physician to help restore her health. It is said that at that time a custom sized bathtub was installed (and still remains) to accommodate the president. President Grover Cleveland stayed here in the summer of 1895, and President William McKinley occupied it in the summer from 1897 to 1901.
According to an authentic Loon Lake House ledger, the going rate for the rental of the house was $150.00 per week, which probably included meals, since none of the Loon Lake House cottages had kitchens.
The Presidents cottage was originally called Sunset, and most likely changed after 1892. There is reference to this cottage being the Prentiss Loverin Inn, at which the Chases stayed in 1878, when they first arrived from Vermont. However, the Loverin Inn was directly across the road, and later bought by the Chases, who improved it and named it Wayside. It is possible that the President was a guest cottage of the original Loverin Inn, which was also purchased by the Chases, who improved it and named it Sunset.
The cottage has a wonderful square tower with a pyramid roof, topped with a flagpole! New owners Owen and Florence Gilmore of Cazenovia, New York are now restoring the cottage.
THE THREE SISTERS
The cottages now known as Shady Lawn, Echoes, and Friends were originally designated as cottages A, B, and C of the Hotel complex. At the time of the Hotel Buildings auction in 1958, these Victorian charmers were sold separately and have been preserved meticulously. Friends, owned by Mr. and Mrs. Frank Burton received its name from the two sisters who owned it previously; i.e., Miss Friend and Miss Friend. This glorious vestige of the past shares the unique porch balustrades commonly exhibited by several other Loon Lake cottages. Mrs. S. Lichtenstein and Mr. and Mrs. Stan Unger own impressive, Shady Lawn and Echoes (the middle building), respectively. Collectively, these architectural treasures are affectionately referred to as The Three Sisters.
THE SMITH HOUSE
The Inn at Loon Lake is a strikingly attractive building with its double-decked veranda porches, which curve gracefully around corners and wrap the house on three sides. Businessman Freemont Smith built the house, on land leased from the Chases, about 1895. In addition, Mr. Smith built a general store next door, presently the Golf Shop. His was the only privately owned business connected with Loon Lake House. This may account for the different style of brackets and balustrades, which could be the work of a very creative carpenter.
It appears that there was a separate apartment at the rear of the Smith House, which probably was used for Loon Lake Houseguests or staff. In 1959 Mr. and Mrs. Eisner, who used it as a summer residence for many years, purchased it. In the mid 1970s, it was operated as the Loon Lake Inn by Anthony D'Elia.
In 1991, in need of repair and restoration, it was purchased by Stephen Blendowski and Richard Northrop. After two years of extensive restoration and renovation, this extraordinary structure opened as the Inn at Loon Lake, a bed and breakfast.
THE OLD GENERAL STORE
In a resort community as remote as Loon Lake House, there would be a great need for guests to have access to a general store. The Chases leased one of the most prominent locations to Freemont Smith, who built such an establishment c. 1905 after building his home next door (Smith House). The upstairs originally had several small bedrooms, probably for the Hotel staff. The two large plate glass display windows in front are graced with bands of leaded, textured glass lights, which are unique and rare today. The interior still has the stamped tin ceiling.
Presently owned by Carol Long, it serves as the Loon Lake Golf Course pro-shop, restaurant, and offers prints, lithographs, and paintings. It was opened by Anthony D'Elia as the Old Art Gallery Restaurant and Gallery in the late 1970's. Mr. D'Elia also operated it as the pro-shop.
Prior to that it was owned by Zeke and Ruth Collins, who operated a store for a short time. In 1935, Isadore (Zeke) Collins started work as a caddie at the Loon Lake House when he was a young boy of nine years of age. His parents Alexander and Alma Collins, lived in one of Mrs. Chase's houses on Old Route 99. Starting in 1928, both were employees of Loon Lake House.
THE MERRILL INN
Merrillsville takes its name from John Robertson Merrill, the man who built the Merrill Inn house in 1831. This sizable and versatile building served as the first post office in the Town of Franklin, having been designated as such on July 29, 1837. In addition, it hosted Town meetings for many years and was a stagecoach stop on the historic Port Kent to Hopkinton Turnpike. Paul Smith, a famous hotelier, was a frequent guest.
Today, this picturesque house in its bucolic setting is as welcoming as it was over 150 years ago. Mary Maxine Summers, the present owner, opens her antique carriage house and barn each summer to locals and visitors, who thrill with anticipation of treasures to be uncovered.
In 1860 the Merrill Inn was sold to James W. Littlejohn, who operated it as the Littlejohn Tavern for the next 50 years. The tavern, parlor, and dining room were on the first floor. Mary Maxine will tell you about stagecoach passengers of days gone by, who would stop and partake of refreshments - the ladies in the parlor, the men in the tavern. There was a ballroom in the front part of the second floor. The kitchen in the rear of the house retains its nostalgic charm. A large black wood cook stove presides and takes you back to a time of simple pleasures. Framed by an antique cedar post and rail fence, the house, property and Mary Maxine at her mailbox, is a vision from Currier and Ives.
The museum curator-like efforts of Mary Maxine over the years have made the building and property a living testament to the history of the Town of Franklin. A visit to the Merrill Inn is not easily forgotten.
THE ABBOTT FARM HOUSE - By Ralph Etienne
When driving to Loon Lake, perhaps you've seen a rail-thin man walking up or down the hill, leading to the north branch of the Saranac River. Maybe you've seen him standing above the river in springtime, observing the cascading snow-melt current; other times leaning forward on his wooden cane, he may have been noting deer tracks in the sandy banks beside the pavement. This man - Gerald Abbott - is, at 83, the oldest living Loon Lake native.
Gerald lives in a two story, wood frame farmhouse, built by his grandfather, Henry Abbott, and a 'carpenter from Loon Lake' (presumably an off-season employee of the Chases 'Loon Lake House'). Construction began in 1902, and was completed the following year. Prior to the frame home, Gerald's grandparents lived in a log home. They also had a barn and outbuildings. Old route 99 passed close to the north side of the house, the Chases owned the property on the other side of the road. There is a long dirt driveway leading to the front of the house from what is now county route 26. The lane passes over-grown fields on its way to the huge mowed lawn, where the old green, white-trimmed house stands like an icon to the time when this area was populated by subsistence-farm families.
The ridge-roofed Abbott home has seven rooms, a bath and a large root cellar. An expansive open porch with a lean-to roof adjoins the north and the east sides of the house. White wooden pillars support the porch. A woodshed is attached to the back of the house. The first floor windows are low to the ground. The house is basically unchanged since construction. Electricity was added only in this decade.
Gerald Abbott has been living here since he was seven years old. When his grandmother died, his family moved the one-half mile down the hill from what became the home of his sister and brother-in-law, Myrtle and Leo Collins (He had another sister, Hazel). Except for army service in World War II, and the workweeks on the railroad, this is where Gerald has lived. Sitting in his burgundy chair, looking out the three front-room bay windows for traffic or wildlife, by the crabapple tree, Gerald talks of changes in Loon Lake and his life. He removes his hat to rub his head, thick with white hair. The house is cool on this muggy summer day, but I know in winter, he keeps hot with the wood-stove.
I bid Gerald good-bye, and step out to the wooden floor porch. A black pot of lavender petunias sits near Gerald's door. A gift I assume. They look perfect on this worn floor. The sloping gray boards have felt the weight of local history, the small, important family-and-friends history of visitations and farewells, of morning talk and evening silence; of a time well spent on a porch, on a farmhouse, in the mountains.
The compilation of information and stories for this project was a collaborative effort.
I would like to give special thanks to Stephen Blendowski for his time, support, patience and expertise in taking photographs that capture the true architectural beauty of these historic buildings.
Thank you also to Karl Beckwith Smith III for sharing his artistic talent in producing a definitive map of Loon Lake. Thank you to Marilyn Wechsler for research, to Richard Northrop for technical assistance, and to Ralph Etienne for providing us with a personal portrait of Gerald Abbott.
This project is close to the heart of many people who are interested in preserving the history of Loon Lake. The information presented here comes from years of discussing, researching, talking, and discovering by a small group of people who have started an association for the preservation and revitalization in Loon Lake.
We are especially indebted to Phil Gallos of Historic Saranac Lake for his survey of historical structures done in 1985, which served as one of the sources for this article.
And to those not mentioned, thanks, no contribution was too small.