A page from Rev. Fred B. Allen Sketchbook #2, August 4, 1869
Courtesy of the Adirondack Experience
The view northeast from Bluff Island (William Henry Jackson, c. 1902) The view from Bluff Island, 2012. The top of the cliffs are at lower left. In the background from left, Mount Baker, Dewey Mountain, McKenzie Mountain, Haystack Mountain. A small section of New York Route 3 can be seen above the water's edge, directly beneath McKenzie. Joe Harley, Robert, Malcolm and Marjorie Specht at Bluff Island, 1936 Bluff Island Display by Bobbie Leamer, History Day 2008. Click on the image to enlarge the display Bluff Island is a nine-acre island in the south end of Lower Saranac Lake, near the point where the Saranac River exits the lake. During Saranac Lake's days as silent film shooting location, local policeman Walt Weir executed a spectacular dive from the cliffs of Bluff Island mounted on a horse and wearing a dress, doubling for Pearl White in an episode of the 1914 "Perils of Pauline" serial. 1

From a display by Bobbie Leamer, part of History Day 2008

Joe Harley and his wife, Mary, leased their campsite on Bluff Island, perhaps as early as 1928. He left albums of photographs dating from 1933.

Joe always said that a state requirement was that he must keep the campsite occupied, and that he did! Besides his own extended family, multitudes of friends, both distant and local, came to share his enthusiasm for the beauty of Lower Saranac Lake and his gracious hospitality at "his" island home.

Several of Joe's friends went on to purchase camps on Lower, Middle and Upper Saranac Lakes. [See Malcolm A. Specht]

At the "Point" end of Bluff there was a tent platform camp leased by the Jaffe family, and at the other end of the island, the camp was leased by the Untermeyer family, and later, Bill Distin.

It was a sad day in 1976 when Joe and Mary had to disassemble their beloved camp on the orders of the DEC. They took down the large cooking and dining tent, the "Chownook", and four platform tents used for sleeping: the Retreat, the Hilltop, the Knoll, and the Rockside, and their dock. The DEC took away all remnants of the structures and made the campsites available to the public, with Bluff Island remaining day use only. The fireplace Joe built is the only memorial on Bluff of the years the Harleys and company enjoyed the camp.

Joe Harley was a well-known photographer and filmmaker. He created several prize winning movies, such as The Little Intruder (first prize at the Cannes Film Festival); My North Country, Design in White and In His Own Judgement. He won eight "ten Best Films" and was selected as the recipient of the Hiram Percy Maxim Memorial Award, the equivalent of an Oscar for independent filmmakers.

He was invited to show his films at the Saranac Lake Free Library, the Adirondack Mountain Club High Peaks Information Center, the Whiteface Mountain Weather Station lectures, and the North Elba Historical Society.

Joe was an engineer at Bell Labs in New Jersey, and was instrumental in getting the telephone cable laid under Ampersand Bay to Pinehurst and under Middle Saranac to provide service to the residents there, some of whom were friends from Bell Labs.

Joe and Mary were possibly the first people to purchase a lot at Pinehurst in the 1950s when Leonie Dieschbourg decided to divide up her hotel property. With the help of Bill Distin, Sr., the architect, Joe and Mary built their dream house with the labor of many friends. Their Hemlock Hill home was completed in the late fifties, but they continued to frequently use their first love, Bluff Island.

October 14,1986

When Saranac Lake was 'Hollywood  of North'



Hilarious incident

One such episode is reported by Seaver Miller Rice, a nonagenarian and former resident of the village during the movie days, recalling a hilarious incident that took place at Bluff Island. The scenario consisted of an escape by the hero and heroine who were being chased by a pack of wolves across the snow-covered ice of Lower Saranac. The part of the "wolves" was being played by Caribou Bill's malemutes and the plot called for an avalanche of snow to fall on the dogs while the victims escaped. An elaborate contrivance had been constructed next to the ledge face on the island which was designed to release the avalanche. A trough was camouflaged with two rows of evergreen trees and at the very top an immense pile of snow was held back by a control gate. "Tige" Martin was hired to operate the release mechanism when a signal was given. He climbed to the top of the bluff well armed with a quart of liquid stimulant to ward off the cold and took his place next to the chute. As the time approached for the main event Tige had finished most of his anti-freeze. Suddenly the signal was given but poor Tige could not get the gate to open. Frustrated he gave the release bar a violent kick, lost his balance and fell into the trough where, after a rapid descent, he landed on top of the pack of “wolves.” The excited dogs worked him over pretty well before Caribou Bill could call them off. There is no record of expletives that Tige uttered as, tattered and torn, he retreated from the scene of his ignoble experience. One might readily surmise, however, that he did not depart singing “There's No Business Like Show Business.”

Lake Placid News, June 30, 2000

Before talkies, Lake Placid was a film mecca


…Segments of “Pauline” may have been shot at Placid in 1913, but it is definite that the 14th episode (when Crane and Pearl jumped off a cliff) was filmed on Bluff Island in Lower Saranac Lake the summer of 1914. Crane and Pearl were hounded by Saranac Lake paparazzi, who scented a spicy story. The two had shared some fishing dalliances at Hatch Brook and a Saranac Hotel room as “Mr. and Mrs. C. White.” Crane's wife Edna had just sued him for divorce, naming as correspondent “a young woman who played a part in one of his pictures…“

[Full story here]


Plan of Bluff Island prepared for the 1978 Island Eye Island Ear experimental art project, never realized. Courtesy of Mary Hotaling. See Adirondack Daily Enterprise, October 2, 2020, "Truths -- unvarnished and otherwise," a column by Bob Seidenstein on the Saranac Lake tradition of jumping off the Bluff, a 70-foot rock face on Bluff Island: "Jumping off the Bluff has been the acid test of My Home Town's machoboys as long as we've had them..."

Also Adirondack Daily Enterprise, July 29, 2005. Taking the Plunge



1. This dive is widely credited to a Harry Duso, but his son, Don has said that, while his father did jump from Bluff Island as a stunt person, he did not do so on horseback.