Branch and Callanan was a major local mill and contracting firm that was active in Saranac Lake's first building boom. Augustine Branch and William Callanan formed a partnership on May 16, 1892 and incorporated in 1901; they were originally from the Keeseville area. The firm was located at the end of Depot Street, between Union Depot and Broadway. By 1896, the mill in Saranac Lake was manufacturing doors, sash, and blinds used locally and shipped elsewhere. By 1902, they had two mills as well as contracting services, and were advertising:
We can build your house from the ground and furnish everything. We have the facilities for building a cottage in two weeks as we have more than five hundred men in our employ. Don't wait to see us. Write, wire or telephone. 1
As contractors, Branch and Callanan built sixty buildings in 1908 alone, mostly in Saranac Lake and the vicinity. Many of the finest buildings in Saranac Lake were their work, as well as elegant Adirondack camps and homes elsewhere in the region. William Callanan, cofounder of the company, lived with his family at 19 Academy Street.
In 1960, William G. Distin, Jr., who had been with the firm since 1950 and had been its manager since 1953, bought the firm from the Callanan family; the Callanans had bought out the Branch family previously. 2 The firm closed in 1993, 101 years after it was founded. Buildings constructed
- Distin Cottage
- Dr. Henry Leetch House
- The Pink Palace
- George V.W. Duryee Cottage
- Gabriels Sanatorium
- Will Rogers Memorial Hospital
- First United Methodist Church
- Radwell Cottage
- Knollwood Club
- Saranac Laboratory
- The Porcupine
Adirondack Daily Enterprise, May 16, 1952
Branch and Callanan founded 60 Yrs ago
For many years William J. Callanan was the active head of the business. Following his death in January, 1941, Andrew W. Callanan succeeded to the presidency. At the time of his death in May, 1944, the presidency went to Mrs. Marie C. Jaquet, his sister and daughter of the founder. Mrs. Jaquet continues in that capacity.
Other officers today are Paul F. Jaquet, vice-president; John G. Whelley, secretary-treasurer; Robert Cuneo, assistant treasurer; Joseph Catillaa, assistant manager; Russell Woodruff, yard foreman, and Oakley Thompson, superintendent.
During its early years, Branch & Callanan acquired land and rail-sidings at the end of Depot Street and adjoining the Delaware & Hudson tracks, and proceeded to construct factory buildings which were equipped to turn out doors and window sashes in quantity. A variety of millwork was done in the plant and for many years the firm employed a large number of workers. Its weekly payroll sometimes ran into the thousands of dollars. Employment in those days was steady; men not at work on construction were employed during dull seasons in mill work which was later sold to other builders and contractors.
The days were those of steam-powered machinery and the boiler room, shafts and pulleys that furnished power for lathes and milling machines constituted quite a complicated piece of engineering work. One factory building had been built onto another to accommodate a growing business, and the plant rambled about the acres of ground between Broadway and the railroad tracks. The advent of electricity and faster and more efficient machinery followed. Among the large undertakings in building by the firm were the Hotel Saranac and construction of such extensive plants as those of the Eagles' Nest camp, Blue Mountain Lake and the Cole ranch buildings at Lake Placid. The firm built Gabriels Sanatorium the Will Rogers Memorial Hospital and many of the buiidings at Trudeau Sanatorium. During the last ten years, several houses and the Sara-Placid Drive-in theater have been added to the list.
In 1930 the extensive old frame building of the millwork plant on the Branch and Callanan property went up in flames. Only the brick office building was left and that almost entirely rebuilt. Immediately after the fire, Branch and Callanan entered the retail field and established sales rooms for a paint department, supplies for home owners and small contractors with hardware fixture department and an unfinished furniture stock.
The firm also built several modern and fireproof buildings for the production of special mill work and other woodwork used in quantity.
Adirondack Daily Enterprise, May 22, 1993
Branch and Callanan: A piece of Saranac Lake history
By KATHLEEN HALEY Enterprise Staff Writer
SARANAC LAKE — Take a short jaunt down to the quiet end of Depot Street to find Branch and Callanan; established in 1892 as a builder of houses, hotels and other bits of Tri-Lakes history.
The pale brick-and-wood two-story structure sits solidly across from what was once the bustling train station. Listen closely and a wind-whispering whistle might remind one of the trains passing in and out of the wood green and red camp-like station.
Passengers might have been stepping down off of the train or a coffin might be solemnly loaded into a cargo tram as cement and other building supplies are carried off of the train directly to the supply space of Branch of Callanan.
Within the mills' outbuildings, men in heavy black aprons work machines preparing wood and grinding out wood chips, trucks roll out of the lot filled with lumber and designers and architects plan their next project
Those images are now only remnants of years past as the current owners William "Mo" and Mi Li Distin, Jr. are liquidating their merchandise to close up shop. The Distins reopened the shop Tuesday, May 18 for final liquidation.
Sitting in the main building, which houses many remaining building supplies, paint, tools, nails, etc., Mi Li Distin pulled out some of those images from the past 100 years which show the people who worked there, the projects they constructed all over the North Country and maps of Saranac Lake's former self.
Many of the company's ledgers, maps and photos were donated this year by the Distins to the Historic Saranac Lake Society for use by the public.
The Distins held back a few of the photo books and maps just to take a closer look at them before they are all donated to the society. Included in the pile of black and white memories are pictures, possibly of the founders of the business, Augustine Branch and William Callanan, and their workers when they first set up keep in 1892.
William G. Distin, Jr. joined the staff as a designer in 1950 and took over management in 1952. In 1960, he became sole owner of the company.
Mi Li Distin pointed out when Branch and Callanan started their business on Depot Street there wasn't much around except fields, a good place to have stacks of lumber and massive red outbuildings to accommodate that type of manufacturing.
William Distin noted that most wood was cut locally until recently, when it was shipped from Canada and companies such as Georgia-Pacific, The wood would be processed in the mills and formed into lumber or window or other specialty housing frames.
At one time, he continued, the business employed more than 50 people, with the ranks swelling during major construction projects throughout the Adirondacks.
Throughout the worn photo albums are pictures of the mighty projects that Branch and Callanan took on, which have now become historical and celebrated buildings within the Adirondacks.
Pictures of buildings under construction also fill the album. From the Will Rogers Hospital to the Chapel at the Lake Placid Club, the Distins' old time photographs record the laborious process of building some of the most distinguished landmarks in the area.
Notably, William G. Distin, Sr., Distin's father, was an architect who drew up plans for many of Branch and Callanan's projects. William Distin Jr., though not an architect like his father, helped design some of the plans that Branch and Callanan constructed.
Other famous landmarks constructed through the work of Branch and Callanan include the Hotel Saranac, the cottages at Trudeau Sanatorium, the Trudeau chapel, Sunmount Hospital, Gabriels Sanatorium, the Saranac Lake Methodist Church, the Agora at the Lake Placid Club, the Lake Placid Union Free School and the AuSable Chasm School.
Also to their credit, Branch and Callanan designed and constructed many of the Adirondack "great camps" like the William Rockefeller camp now known as "The Point" and the Hochschild camps in Blue Mountain Lake. As an interesting aside, it was at the Hochschild camp — after its completion — where Mi Li Distin first met the men who would later become her father- and brother-in-law.
In other historical materials, Mi Li Distin also pulled out a bill of sale dated 1893 for the home of Edward Livingston Trudeau, built by Branch and Callanan, for services and construction supplies. In a slow, cursive handwriting, the bill is written out: 110 foot of spruce cost $1.98, a can of paint was worth $2.63 and three quarts of varnish, $1.50.
The Distins are also sorting through some blueprints, one from 1888 which plans out the buildings of the Branch and Callanan, showing the "Chateaugay Railroad Company"]. One whole three-foot-long leather-bound book contains pages of mappings and descriptions of the entire Saranac Lake village, including homes, businesses and water lines running underground.
Historic Saranac Lake Director Sharon O'Brien said the old ledgers, maps and other materials, which were donated to the society, can be used for research by individuals at the Historic Society. O'Brien added that the materials "are real gems" from the historical vantage point.
"We've already had a few phone calls" about people wanting to see what their old house might have looked like or designed when it was first built, O'Brien said. She added that a lot of young people moving into the village have wanted to study the blueprints to try and redesign their homes to their former state.
The Distins said they still have some old window frames left to be sold, as well as much lumber — just in time for the building season. After they liquidate, Mi Li Distin said they will continue to live in Saranac Lake for part of the year.
Walking out to the two-story storage buildings, Mi Li Distin showed off some of the remaining window frames and wooden moldings. She said someone suggested, somewhat jokingly, that the high-ceilinged buildings with sturdy cement floors would make a good nightclub.
In one section of a storage building, a charred doorway represents one of several fires that have ravaged the Branch and Callanan buildings throughout the years. The main building escaped largely unscathed, with the exception of a 1930 blaze which slightly damaged the structure.
The buildings – with the exception of the main offices – remain mostly empty of workers and equipment but reminders of the hard work remain.
Adirondack Daily Enterprise, May 1, 1992
Celebrating Their 100th Year
The firm was founded on May 16, 1892, as a partnership by William J. Callanan, then of Keeseville, and Augustine Branch of Keene. The partners incorporated the business under the laws of New York state in 1900.
For many years William J. Callanan was the active head of the business and he remained so until his death in January of 1941. Mr. Callanan was a man of wide interests, and under his aggressive management Branch & Callanan extended its contracting business to large undertakings in various parts of the North Country. It was under his management that the firm built the Hotel Saranac.
Developed Large Factory
During its early years Branch an Callanan acquired land and rail sidings at the end of Depot Street and adjoining the Delaware & Hudson tracks, and proceeded to construct factory buildings which were equipped to turn our doors and window sash in quantity.
A variety of millwork was made in the plant, and for many years the firm employed a large number of workers and its weekly payroll to Saranac Lake some times ran into the thousands of dollars. Employment in those days was steady, men not at work on construction being employed during dull seasons in millwork which was later sold to other builders and contractors.
Asset to Saranac Lake
In its years of activity Branch & Callanan has been an asset to the commercial and industrial life of Saranac Lake. Many of the projects completed in the community have been brought into being through the efforts of the officers of the firm, regardless of the subsequent awarding of contracts.
Cheryl Lyon, office manageress, whose father and grandfather also worked for Branch & Callanan, adds her third generation heritage of building experience to the company's background of knowledge.
Bill Distin's association with the business goes back far in the construction firm's long history. His father, also William G. Distin, was a renowned architect in the area who designed famous landmark Adirondack buildings, some of which are The Point on Upper Saranac Lake, Eagle's Nest Camp in Blue Mt. Lake and the Agora and Chapel buildings at the Lake Placid Club, all of which were built by Branch & Callanan. Mr. Distin joined Branch and Callanan in 1950, became manager of the business in 1953 and bought the business in 1961. He has chosen to approach the design and construction of buildings through hands-on experience, to offer his customers the practical construction expertise they need.
Although the firm has built many area landmarks and is known for high-quality construction, it still offers highly competitive prices. Being able to offer its customers construction services from raw materials to actual contracting work gives Branch & Callanan a competitive edge. The firm can compete with the chain lumberyards because, since it also runs a construction business, it can afford to order wood wholesale. Having its own lumber supply also ensures that the construction business will obtain wood and other supplies at reasonable prices, and pass the savings on to customers.
Elizabethtown Post, May 2, 1901
Saranac Lake Village Suffers a Heavy Loss by the Burning of Branch & Callanan's Planing Mill.
Branch & Callanan's woodworking shops and lumber yards at Saranac Lake village were destroyed by fire Sunday evening, entailing a loss estimated at from $40,000 to $50,000. The insurance is $24,000. Two cars on tracks in the lumber yard were also burned and many near by dwellings damaged.
The Saranac Lake fire department was assisted by the Malone department, which came by special train, reaching Saranac Lake village at 8:30 o'clock Sunday evening. At 10:80 o'clock the fire was under control.
The fire was the most disastrous that ever visited Saranac Lake village. It started about 4 o'clock Sunday afternoon in the drying room of the planing mill and burned rapidly. The mill, operated by steam, was near the Chateaugay R. R. depot. The firm's property was located in that part of the village about seven years ago, having been removed from a site near the Riverside Hotel.
Branch & Callanan are large contractors and builders. Augustine Branch went to Saranac Lake eleven years ago from the town of Keene, Essex County, being a brother of Frantz and Ruthvon Branch, still residents of that town. Mr. Callanan went to Saranac Lake from Keeseville and the two men have worked well in the business harness together, building up a large and lucrative trade. Unquestionably they have erected more Adirondack hotels and cottages than any other firm. Their business is the largest industry in the Saranac Lake section. The firm used much dressed lumber and their planing mill was established to accommodate their own business. The firm erected many of the dwelling houses in Saranac Lake village, the summer cottages on Upper and Lower Saranac Lakes, Paul Smith's and many buildings in the entire vicinity of the Saranacs. They also erected D. Crawford Clark 's fine house near the line between the towns of Essex and Willsborough and the exceptionally well appointed cottage which adorns the Sage property in the Aiden Lair section of the town of Minerva.
Lewis L. Lobdell, eldest son of Jerome T. Lobdell of Elizabethtown, is one of Branch & Callanan's most trusted lieutenants, having been with them the past ten years. Mr. Lobdell superintended the construction of the D. Crawford Clark house and the Sage cottage above referred to and has been an invaluable man to Branch & Callanan.
The firm had a large amount of work on hand for the. opening of the season. It is understood that the mill will be rebuilt at once. About 200 men are temporarily thrown out of employment. The firm will use their upper mill, so called, while the burned building is being reconstructed.
A house belonging to Mrs. Rose Scriver, widow of the late Wm. Scriver of Elizabethtown, caught fire repeatedly Sunday evening and was saved only through the heroic exertions of several men constantly employed on it.
Other local builders
1. Adirondack Daily Enterprise July 3, 1902.
2. Adirondack Daily Enterprise May 16, 1962.