After three days of using my boot drier last week I was pretty excited about a hike on a dirt road instead of soggy trails. I had the good fortune to join Steven Engelhart of Adirondack Architectural Heritage on a trip into the magical Camp Santononi. Steven and 2012 intern Charlotte Barrett were launching a new interpretive guide which Barrett wrote. Despite downpours throughout the drive to Newcomb, Steven and I talked excitedly about the work that's been done at Santononi. Michael Frenette, a Tupper Lake craftsman, has been working for 16 years on the restoration of the historical buildings and lots of progress has been made since I was last there in 2006.
Curiosity about this National Historic Landmark runs deep. Donning rain gear, bug nets and great attitudes, over 20 members of the tour listened while Steven began the interesting history of Robert and Anna Pruyn and Camp Santononi, beginning at the Gatehouse. The Gate Lodge was built in the 1905 and has its own history of occupancy by interesting employees and family members while the Pruyn family developed the compound which eventually included over 40 buildings.
Our group set out along the dirt road which was built to travel the five miles from the Gatehouse, through the Farm Complex, to the Main Lodge. One hundred years ago the road was groomed along both sides but now the farm fields have grown in. The forest has reclaimed the right-of-way with wild plants and trees. The dirt roadway made walking easy and pleasant as we listened to the sound of brooks and streams that are flowing from all the recent rain.
The first stop at the Farm Complex was a chance to explore the Creamery, one of the stone buildings built during the era when barns, animals and gardens surrounded the homes of the Farm Manager and other members of the Pruyn's staff. The Farm staff were committed to modernizing farming practices and the new guide gives a well-researched review of the buildings and planning that modernization required. Unfortunately many of the oldest buildings were destroyed when the property was incorporated into the Forest Preserve in 1972. Later the barn was destroyed by a fire in 2002.
Our hike went quickly as Steven and Charlotte and 2013 AARCH intern Nina Caruso offered stories about the history of the Pruyn family. The forest on both sides of the road are full of the majestic yellow birches, beeches and maples that make the canopy lush and green.
The distance on such a quiet road makes it easy to feel the way the Pruyns must have felt arriving at their destination. The first steps onto the wide porches draw you immediately to the lake side of the house. The architecture is unique and well-explained by the AARCH staff. AARCH also has published an excellent book about the influence of Japanese architecture on Camp Santononi (Santanoni: From Japanese Temple to Life at an Adirondack Great Camp, Keesville, NY: Adirondack Architectural Heritage, 2000.)
As rain continued to fall we were grateful for the porches. Everyone who lives in the Adirondacks is grateful for porches. Everyone who visits should have the experience of being on a wide, dry porch as rain falls on surrounding trees and lakes. History and habit made me want a cup of tea. If one had the privelege to stay for a few hours a nap, a book or a deck of cards for solitaire would be in order.
We did not have those few extra hours to spend so were satisfied to explore the architecture of the house and the enviable boathouse. More sunshine would have made a swim or paddle in order to fully take advantage of what the Pruyn's enjoyed at camp. Instead we walked the five miles back, taking in the bird calls and the work of elven rock builders. Ten miles and 250 years round trip.