Location: The southeast end of Upper Saranac Lake
Other names: Johnson's Island; Church Island; Chapel Isle; Island Chapel
Year built: c. 1890; replacement 1958
Architect: (second building) William Distin and Arthur Wareham
From A Chapel on an Island by the late Dr. Junie Potter, an advocate of Island Chapel and a lover of the Adirondacks
At the southeast end of Upper Saranac Lake in the Adirondack Mountains of New York State, the glaciers formed a rocky island approximately one acre, measuring 150 feet at its widest diameter. This is Island Chapel.
In 1889, Smith Weed, Martin Turner and John Riley, lawyers who were practicing in Plattsburgh, New York, acquired this island which was then known as Johnson’s Island. According to the abstract, it was to have a chapel built on it within one year and would be open to all Christians worshipers and clergymen in good standing. It was later known as Church Island and finally as Island Chapel.
The original building was a Victorian style building painted gray with white trim. Across the front was a deep porch approached by the building by a stairway at each end. This building served worshippers until disaster stuck in August, 1956.
Apparently, picnickers had had a bonfire [see note] and thought that the fire had been extinguished. However, it would appear that the fire smoldered and spread among the peat, pine needles and moss until it reached the porch of the Chapel. Despite the best efforts of those living and working in the surrounding area, the Chapel burned to the ground. Through the efforts of many dedicated workers, the Chapel was rebuilt and reopened for services on July 22, 1958.
The existing chapel is now 50 years old and looks much like the original replacement of 1958. Some slight repairs and improvements have taken place through the donations of those who have cared so much for Island Chapel. However, stepping on this island and into this chapel takes one back to a simpler time and the beauty of the lake and the mountains enhances the services and weddings held here.
John Fitch served as minister at the chapel from 1967 to 1996.
The Dr. Rev. Newton Greiner Sr. served as music coordinator from 2002 to the present day. Each Sunday he leads an impromptu choir made up of visitors in the congregation who would like to sing. Dr. Greiner has been a Summer resident on Upper Saranac Lake (Saranac Shores) since 1965 and began preaching on the Island in 1968 sharing the Pulpit with Rev. John Fitch. Dr. Greiner continues to preach each year on the Sunday of the 4th of July weekend.
New York Times, August 1, 1902
A DAY'S WEDD1NGS.
Special to The New York Times.
SARANAC INN, N. Y., July 31.—A wedding in the forest was the novelty for the campers of the Upper Saranac Lake region at noon to-day. Dr. Charles Hollister Judd and Miss Gertrude Bucknell, both of Philadelphia, were married at Chapel Island, a picturesque islet near the northern end of the lake, [sic] by the Rev. William C. Richardson, pastor of St. James's Church, Philadelphia. The affair was informal, owing to the recent death of Mrs. Howard Bucknell, but in spite of this it was the most brilliant event of the kind that has taken place here in the forest among the Saranacs.
Wild nature contributed the decorations at the chapel and the house. There were water lilies in profusion among boughs of pine and balsam, while the pretty vista of lakes, mountains, and forests furnished the setting. The ceremony took place at noon, the members of the wedding party and the guests making their way to the island in launches and steamers, of which nearly all in this locality were pressed into service for the occasion. The members of the Wawbeek Orchestra, under the direction of Albert Wycherly of New York, played Schubert's serenade, Wagner's March from Tannhaeuser and Mendelssohn march.
The bride was attended by her cousin. Miss Emma Louise Pendleton of Upland, Penn., and the best man was Charles William West of Philadelphia. The bride was given away at the altar by her brother, Howard Bucknell. She wore a gown of hand-embroidered India mull, with a French neck, a picture hat trimmed with bouquet of roses. The maid of honor was attired in white muslin, trimmed with Valenciennes lace, and wore a white lace hat trimmed with pink roses and pink velvet. She carried a bouquet of White roses.
Immediately after the ceremony there was a reception, followed by a wedding breakfast at Pine Point Lodge. The newly wedded couple left to-night, on a wedding trip, which will include a tour around the world.
The bride is the daughter of Mrs. K. W. Bucknell and the late William Bucknell, the founder of Bucknell University. With Madeline Goddardt she was at Camp Meade for some months, where she was engaged in work for the Red Cross Society. The bridegroom is a son of the late Lieut. Commander Judd of the United States Navy and a graduate, of the University of Pennsylvania, where he took a post-graduate course, and where he is now an assistant in the physiological department.
Adirondack Daily Enterprise, July 6, 1957
INDIAN CARRY CHAPEL OPENS
Announcement has been made by the Rev. Alvin B. Gurley for the Champlain Presbytery that the Indian Carry Chapel will be open for the summer months beginning tomorrow, with services to be held at 9:30 o'clock.
Open air services will be held on Chapel Isle on Upper Saranac Lake throughout the summer at 11 o'clock. Transportation will be provided from the Wawbeek Hotel dock. Church school for vacationing youngsters will be held at the Indian Carry Chapel under the direction of the summer pastor and his wife, assisted by Mrs. Judy Butterfield, wife of William Butterfield, a teacher at the local high school.
Residents of the area will remember that the church on Chapel Isle, which was nearly eighty years old, burned to the ground last summer. It is hoped that plans will be completed this summer for a permanent place of worship to be constructed on the fire razed island in the middle of Upper Saranac. A refuge from storms to canoeists as well as a famous Adirondack landmark, the church belonged to the Champlain Presbytery, and was believed to have been constructed from timbers carried across the ice in the 1870's.
The Rev. William W. Clark is summer pastor for the two parishes. He and his wife and two children will make their home on Birch Island, Upper Saranac, during the summer.
Both Mr. and Mrs. Clark are ordained ministers, having studied at the Hartford Seminary. Rev. Clark is a former preparatory school headmaster and a teacher at Earlham College, Richmond, Indiana. He is now a graduate student at Boston University.
The Indian Carry Chapel has been recently completely renovated inside and out under the direction of the trustees of the Champlain Presbytery. The work was done by Ross C. Freeman of Coreys.
A cordial welcome has been extended to visitors in the area to attend either of these rustic Adirondack churches.
Adirondack Daily Enterprise, August 26, 1965
Late General Minty Honored at Chapel
The late Brig. General Russell J. Minty of Rainbow Lake was honored at a dedication services Sunday at Island Chapel, Upper Saranac Lake. Two flags for the chapel, the church flag and the American flag were dedicated in General Minty's honor.
The flags were the gift of the Francis Remington Camp on Deer Island, Upper Saranac. Rev. William Clark conducted the service of dedication and the Girls Scouts from Eagle Island furnished the music.
General Minty was treasurer of the chapel for 12 years.
Following the service the annual picnic for those who attend chapel was held.
Adirondack Daily Enterprise, August 1, 1967
Chapel Island on Upper Saranac Lake was pictured in color in the Sunday Daily News, also the interior of the church. The Rev. William Clark in his outboard and summer guests preparing to go to the island for services. Fifty years ago this summer Mr. and Mrs. Edmund Lyon of nearby Deer Island started ferrying churchgoers from points around the lake to services in their launch, and since 1929 the Lyons' twin daughters, Mrs. John Van Voorhis, and Mrs. Francis Remington, have provided this same neighborly service in their launch.
Boy and girl scouts from area camps are the members of the choir. The Presbyterian-sponsored church welcomes worshipers of all races and nations. The quiet dignity of the church provides an ideal atmosphere for its worshippers. The boat leaves Deer Island at 10:15 a. m every Sunday in July and August.
Adirondack Daily Enterprise, August 26, 1995
Churchgoers continue the tradition on Chapel Island
By ANDY FLYNN Enterprise Staff Writer
UPPER SARANAC LAKE -
Every summer Sunday, preachers, tourists, and seasonal residents here put on their best life jackets - and go to church.
Now, it's not your ordinary church, mind you. It's on an island - Chapel Island. And in order to get there, people either have to take a boat or swim.
Getting to the island is easy, as long as you're not swimming.
For the Churchgoers without water transportation, there's a shuttle boat called the Chapel Bound that takes people from the Indian Carry to the Island Chapel, both at the southern end of Upper Saranac Lake. The boat starts ferrying people at 10:15 a.m., and it's known to make two or three trips per service. The ride takes about five minutes.
The four-pontoon Chapel Bound was christened during the summer of 1987 as the church's new mode of transportation, and it was purchased after a fund-raising campaign netted about $20,000.
The boat replaced the To 'N Fro, a 1929 Richardson cruiser owned by the descendants of the Lyon family of Upper Saranac Lake's Deer Island. For years, the To 'N Fro was used to shuttle worshippers back and forth between shore and island, but it was retired due to heightened safety concerns and liability pressure.
Lake residents, on the other hand, either go to church in their own boats or hitch rides with neighbors. Smaller crafts (guideboats, canoes, etc.) are tied to the series of docks on the eastern shore of the island. Bigger motor boats, which sometimes include the To 'N Fro and the Eagle Island Girl Scout boat, are anchored off the eastern shore in a non-distinct parking lot. A person in a small motor boat shuttles those passengers between the parking lot and the dock.
Once on the island, visitors can begin roaming the one-acre parcel, taking in a 360-degree view of the lake and surrounding mountains. If on the first Chapel Bound ferry, worshippers have more than enough time to explore the island's perimeters, see the enormous birch tree cross on the water's edge, and marvel at the rustic chapel.
The brown exterior of the building is accentuated by the bell tower and by its buttresses, the logs leaning against the church. The flying buttresses here can't compare with the ones at another famous island chapel - the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. But they are unique. They're rustic; they're simple. They're spruce.
The simple design of the church was the brainchild of two Saranac Lake architects, William Distin and Arthur Wareham, according to Maitland DeSormo's book Summers on the Saranacs.
The Farnham Yardley family donated the spruce logs for the church, and the Bartlett Carry Co. gave bumpers for the docks, according to DeSormo.
Although the current church was built in 1957, worshiping on Chapel Island dates back more than 100 years - to 1892.
The former Tupper Lake Rev. Aaron Maddox, one of several lumberjack sky pilots in the area, was the first ordained minister to serve on Chapel Island, according to DeSormo. He's credited with being largely responsible for the creation of the Island Chapel.
The island, originally Johnson's Island, was deeded to the Presbytery of Lake Champlain on Oct. 4, 1892 by Weed, Turner, and Riley. The original structure, a light-colored Victorian chapel, was built in 1889 and burned in 1956.
Many changes have occurred over the years on Chapel Island; most are attributed to swings in the national economy.
In the 1880s, wealthy families began constructing great camps on Upper Saranac Lake, and the area became a summer resort destination for the upper middle class. A growing number of summer residents and visitors worshiped on the island until the Great Depression hit.
Beginning in 1929, the depression took its toll on attendance at the Island Chapel. Few camp owners were financially able to survive without drastic lifestyle changes, and the population of Upper Saranac Lake declined dramatically through the 1930s and into the World War II years. But some families, such as the Lyons, continued to maintain their summer retreats, and the chapel.
Since the end of World War II, there was a sharp increase in the number of families coming to the area.
But disaster hit Chapel Island again in August 1956. This time, fire took its toll on the church, razing the structure, despite the heroic efforts of neighbors.
The new, rustic chapel took almost two years to construct. During the summer of 1957, church services were held outside; the congregation sat on the rocks.
Island pews were again occupied on July 23, 1958 when members of the North Country's Presbyterian hierarchy, summer residents, and a choir from the Eagle Island Girl Scout Camp attended opening services.
Today, going to Chapel Island is a weekly routine for some. It's a tourist destination for others. But above all - it's church.
Service begins at 11 a.m.
Although it was built by Presbyterians, the services are interdenominational (a big word meaning worship-friendly). Ministers of several denominations preach each Sunday, and the congregation is usually a conglomerate of many Christian faiths.
The preachers change. The worshippers change. Even the chapel's flower arrangements are different each week.
The Rev. Bob Scholz, a seasonal Upper Saranac Lake resident, lead the service on Chapel Island recently and asked the congregation where they were from Massachusetts, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Mississippi, New Jersey, Louisiana, Texas, and Florida were the homes of some Churchgoers a few Sundays ago.
The island chapel is currently administered by a committee of seasonal residents. Music has been traditionally supplied by the campers and staff of the Eagle Island Girl Scout Camp in the past.
And thousands of visitors have worshiped here over the years.
Chapel Island Upper Saranac Lake Summer 2011 Interdenominational Services 11 a.m. Sundays June 21st through September 4th Please join us for a unique experience in a worshipful atmosphere. Free boat service is provided to the island for those who do not have their own boat transportation. The Chapel Bound [boat] leaves from the Indian Carry Public Access off of Route 3 and Old Dock Road. Departure times: 10:15 AM and 10:35 AM June 26th The Rev. Rick Wilburn July 3rd The Rev. Dr. Newton W. Greiner, Sr. July 10th The Rev. Andy Pedersen July 17th The Rev. Joanne White July 24th The Rev. Lina Hart July 31st The Rev. Susan Kenna August 7th The Rev. Dr. Newton W. Greiner, Sr. August 14th Dr. Charles Melchert August 21st Mr. John Massela August 28th The Rev. Dr. Kenneth Parker September 4th The Rev. Dr. Larry Selig Questions? Contact Coordinator of Clergy: The Rev. Dr. Newton W. Greiner, Sr. 518-359-2848 <www.chapelisland.org>
Note: A reader comments on Chapel Island fire of August 1956:
I was a 13-year-old, one of six Chapel Island picnickers from two boats that bright sunny August 1956 day. It was not a bonfire, but a collapsible portable small metal grill set up on the shaded relatively flat footpath in front of the porch’s wood lattice. The ground started smoldering under the grill and we thought that we had extinguished all smoldering by stepping it out, pouring lake water and stirring it into the ground. The grill’s removable charcoal pan had small holes in the bottom that permitted embers to fall onto the pine needles and other organic material. After eating we went inside the chapel. We were not aware of any further smoldering before leaving Chapel Island. I have regretted that day the rest of my life that we did not stay longer on Chapel Island and done more to insure the smoldering was totally extinguished.
An Island Gets an Identity
Al the southeast end of Upper Saranac Lake, in the Adirondack Mountains of New York State, the glaciers formed a rocky island of approximately one acre, measuring 150 feet at its widest diameter. The small island is located within the Macomb's Purchase, Great Tract One. The first documented owner was Enoch Rosenkrans, who purchased much of the south end of Upper Saranac in 1803.
In 1865 the land was transferred to Colonel Christopher Norton. Colonel Norton of Plattsburgh, owner of a large timber empire which included the Saranac waterways and surrounding land, was known as "King of the Saranacs." At a later date, his land was acquired by the Meigs family and associates. Meigs, a lumber baron of fame, also purchased the Northern Adirondack Railroad from John Hurd, who had named the county of Santa Clara after his wife, Clara. Thus, the Santa Clara Lumber Company was formed with land on both sides of the Racquette River from Cold River to Stoney Creek Ponds, including the Indian and Sweeney Carries and a good portion of the Saranacs.
In 1889 the southern portion of Upper Saranac was transferred to Smith Weed and his two partners, Martin Turner and John Riley, lawyers practicing in Plattsburgh, N.Y. They acquired Birch Island, "The Wawbeek Hotel Property,'' and "the Bartlett Place," by virtue of a mortgage sale, for ten thousand six hundred and sixty-two dollars [Liber 85. Page 384] In October of 1892, an island known as Johnson's Island was transferred to the Trustees of the Presbytery of Champlain and their Successors in Office. [Liber 93 of Deeds, Page 446] The deed was filed in Malone.
From the abstract to Title: "This conveyance is upon the express condition that a church or chapel shall be abuilt (sic) upon said island within one year from this date and that said island shall revert to the parties of the first part [Weed, Turner and Riley] whenever said church shall be abandoned or said property shall be used for other purposes. Also upon the condition that said church or chapel shall be open to all Christian worshipers and the pulpit there open to all clergymen in good standing in their respective denominations."
According to the papers in Malone. under the aegis of the Presbyterian Church and with the support of a few local people, a chapel was built in 1889, prior to the transfer to the Champlain Presbytery, and the name of the island was changed to Church (sic) Island.
A Victorian Chapel Emerges
William G. Distin of Montreal is credited with designing and overseeing the building of the first Island Chapel in 1889. He moved his family to Saranac Lake in 1898. His son William L. later became a noted Adirondack architect and partner of the Distin and Wareham firm.
The building, facing the southwest, was constructed of clapboards painted gray with white trim. Across the front was a deep porch approached by a stairway at each end. and surrounded by a railing A bell tower rose above the porch, but no one recalls the presence of a bell. The building projected a subtle Victorian picture. Although entering the nave by two doors, there was a center aisle and about ten rows of pews. Tall narrow windows gave views of the lake. The altar, at the northeast end, was merely a wooden table. A small cross constructed (at a later date) by Judge John Van Voorhis, from limbs of white birch, stood on the table. A simple wooden chair was behind the altar, given (in the 1920's) in memory of Edmond Lyon by "Rochester Friends." Above this section was a peaked roof. The walls around the altar were of unstained pine boards laid in a geometric parquet design. There were no windows in the altar section.
At this time the Chapel was under the Adirondack Mission, catering to the lumber camps in the area. Also built in 1889 was the Indian Carry Chapel. The Rev. Aaron Maddox, a lumberjack sky pilot who lived in Tupper Lake, assumed the leadership of both Chapels.
It has been suggested by De Sormo (Summers on the Saranacs) that financial support came from William Bucknell. who also supported a university in Pennsylvania which bears his name. He lived on the north shore of Gull Bay at Pine Point Lodge. De Sormo also wrote that Mr. Bucknell's daughter Edith was married on the island in 1890, supporting the possibility that he was very interested in the Chapel.
In 1917 Mr. and Mrs. Edmond Lyon, living on the western portion of Deer Island, became the principal providers for the maintenance of the building and the island. As the depression took its toll in the 1930's. the support of others on Upper Saranac began to dwindle.
The Lean Years
Although the Chapel thrived during the first part of the century, the depression eroded attendance. The summer population dwindled as the economic crisis scarred lives. Vacationers as well as hunters, fishermen, and skilled laborers were drained from the area. Fortunately, the Lyon family, summering on the west end of Deer Island since 1917, were able to continue their trips to Upper Saranac and play a major part in maintaining Chapel Island. But decreased revenue, due to a paucity of worshipers, took its toll and ultimately led to the transfer of the property from the Adirondack Mission to the Champlain Presbytery, who then underwrote the church expenses.
The Lyon family and remaining neighbors continued to hold Sunday services. Since ministers were not vacationing in the area, the Lyon family and their guests too an active part in the service. Carolyn (May) Lyon Remington, an elder in her church in Rochester, N.Y., used her story-telling talent to deliver interesting sermons A variety of people took turns playing the organ, frequently utilizing a second person to do the pumping.
By 1939, Church Island (now Chapel island) was fifty years old. Grateful for the survival during the lean years, a celebration was planned. The building was reconditioned inside and out by volunteers. Sea Scouts from Eagle Island supplied lively music. Rev. Aaron Maddox, still active in the Adirondacks, joined in the festivities and acknowledged the official transfer of his lumberjack mission to the Northern New York Presbytery.
However, attendance continued to dwindle as the country became involved in World War II. Citizens were fighting abroad others were manufacturing weapons, but the limiting factor to the Adirondack population was gas rationing. As an example, to get from Rochester to Tupper Lake, we saved "A" coupons for months and drove up with five 5-gallon cans of gas strapped on the tailgate of our "woody" Ford wagon. The speed limit was 35 mph, and the trip took nine hours.
Nevertheless, the Chapel survived and, during the l950's, attendance began to grow–and so did the volunteer projects. The entire building was painted by Dr. J. Craig Potter of Deer Island in 1954. Emerson Wertz of Douglas Point wearing a captain's hat and nattily dressed, manned the docks and helped worshipers disembark. Motor boats were encouraged to anchor off the island, and the skippers were ferried ashore by local boys.
Two students from Union Theological School came up from New York City every summer and held services at Chapel Island, Indian Carry, and in Childwold. They lived austerely, in donated quarters, often without electricity or running water so I have been told. They were animated and gregarious young men who gave theatrical sermons and kept the attention of the youngest child (particularly with their story about a snake!). Later. Dr. Dunham Kirkham, who lived in the Wenonah guide house donated an apartment for the students. It was located over the boat house and offered modern improvements.