Died: June 27, 1927
Married: William Bucknell
Emma Ward Bucknell was born in India to parents who were missionaries of the Baptist Church. In 1871, at eighteen she became the third wife of William Bucknell, who was 42 years her senior.
Toward the end of his life, William and Emma became estranged, and Bucknell had planned for the bulk of his estate to go to Bucknell University. He planned to sign the codicil changing his will on his birthday, April 1, but he died March 5, 1890, in Philadelphia. Emma declined to follow his wishes. The Fort Covington Sun reported on June 4, 1891, that “across the lake from Waubeek Lodge [sic], Mrs. Bucknell, of Philadelphia, is building a $20,000 camp.” Pine Point Lodge became the centerpiece of a mile of Bucknell-owned lakefront on Upper Saranac Lake.
In 1901 a section of the shoreline was deeded to their son, Dr. Howard Bucknell, the year he first married. Howard likely built on his own parcel immediately after receiving it.
In 1912, Emma was returning aboard the Titanic from a visit to her daughter Margaret, the Countess Pecorini, when the ship sank. She survived in lifeboat No. eight, the same boat that Ida and Nathan Straus famously refused to board.
Upper Saranac Lake Association Mailboat, May 2019
Emma Bucknell: Upper Saranac Lake Pioneer
By Nancy Cohen
Soon after the great ship Titanic's disaster at sea in 1912, the Philadelphia Enquirer interviewed one of the fortunate survivors of that terrible tragedy. Especially compelling was the survivor's description of the incompetent seaman in charge of lifeboat #8 who had never been taught rowing skills: "It was tragic. I have known how to row for a great many years as the result of much time spent in the Adirondacks, and I slipped into the seat beside the man and showed him how to work the oar." For over 8 hours she and other women on board took turns rowing until they were saved by a passing ship, the Carpathian. The survivor was Emma Bucknell, the original owner of Pine Point Camp on Upper Saranac Lake. That Emma was able to handle her horrific experience on the Titanic with such great fortitude was just one of the many times in her life when she demonstrated an independence unusual for women of the late nineteenth century.
Since 1994 when we purchased Sunset Camp, which was built by Emma's son Howard around 1898, we have been fascinated by the history of this family and their approximately 50 years on Upper Saranac Lake. Emma Bucknell, the matriarch was born in 1852 during her father's Baptist missionary assignment in India, and later grew up in Chestnut Hill, Pennsylvania. It was there that she was introduced to the twice widowed William Bucknell, a member of her father's Baptist parish and a wealthy real estate developer and entrepreneur. Emma became his third wife when she was only 19 and he was 60. After their marriage William continued to build his fortune, and he became an important contributor to Baptist organizations including a small college in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania which was renamed Bucknell University after his generous donations.
Emma bore him four children, but William was reluctant to part with his fortune in order to raise them. He and his wife grew apart. Emma began writing children's stories for the Philadelphia Enquirer so that she could earn money to buy clothing for her own children. Meanwhile, William had more money than he could spend in a lifetime, and Emma was given only a small allowance. Her husband had a habit of revisiting his will every five years, and when he made changes, he would sign the codicil on his birthday. After disagreements with the Board of Trustees of the University; he deleted the institution from his will and left a third to his children from his first marriage, a third to Emma and her four children, and the final third to various charities. Later, after his marriage to Emma became unhappy, he changed his mind again, and meant to leave Emma and her children with only a small inheritance. Fate stepped in, however, and before he could sign the codicil on his 80th birthday, William died of a stroke, leaving Emma a very wealthy widow.
The very next year, in 1891, Emma Bucknell, at the age of 39, came to the Adirondacks to purchase land. It isn't known for sure what drew Emma to Upper Saranac at the time. It may have been the romantic notion of the wilderness prevalent at the end of the nineteenth century. It may have been the draw of the new Inn at the north end of the lake. Or it may have been her connection with other Philadelphians who came north to escape the heat of the city. Whatever it was, the newly widowed Emma purchased one mile of the Gull Bay shoreline on the east side of the lake, and began building Pine Point Camp in 1891. A newspaper article from the Fort Covington Sun that year noted that the structure cost $20,000 to build. At that time, there was no Bartlett Carry Road to the property, and all building material had to be milled at the site or carried down the lake by steamboat. It was so unusual for a woman to take it upon herself to buy land and arrange for builders, that Maitland DeSormo in Summers on the Saranacs suggested that it was William who had built Pine Point Camp.
Emma's personal property consisted of a large main house which was not built in the style of Adirondack rustic, rather, it was a more formal shingle-style home. The large boathouse was connected to a long dock which served as a stop for The Saranac steamboat, and for her own large 1912 launch, the Sea Gull. Two guest cottages, a pump house, playhouse, laundry building, tennis court, caretaker's home and boathouse, barn, and extensive gardens made up the rest of her property.
Emma was very particular about her flower and vegetable gardens. Several years ago, we found a notebook in which she wrote exact instructions to her caretaker concerning monthly care of her gardens during the off seasons. She was an expert on all kinds of plants and fertilizer. Today, 100 years later, many of her plants and hydrangea trees remain and flourish under the care of present owner, Vida Rothschild.
In 1896 she gave her eldest child, Howard Bucknell, a large parcel of land, probably as a wedding gift, and another large parcel was given to a daughter, Margaret Bucknell Stearns, who later married Count Pecorini of Florence, Italy.
By 1907, Emma sold the Bucknell mansion in Philadelphia, moved to Upper Saranac in the summer and spent winters in Clearwater, Florida where she had purchased a Greek Revival home. Thanks to articles in the Philadelphia Enquirer and the New York Times, some facts about Emma's life on Upper Saranac Lake are documented. One article dated July 31, 1902, describes Emma's daughter Gertrude's wedding on Chapel Island: "A wedding in the forest was the novelty for the campers of the Upper Saranac Lake region... Wild nature contributed to the decorations at the chapel and the house. There were water lilies in profusion among boughs of pine and balsam...It was the most brilliant event of the kind that has taken place here in the forest among the Saranacs... 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. Members of the Wawbeek Orchestra furnished the music." The reception was held at Pine Point Camp.
Emma Bucknell died at Pine Point Camp in June of 1927 at the age of 75. The property stayed with the family until the1950s when her son-in-law sold most of her property and Howard Bucknell's property to the Thompson family of Rochester, New York. Unfortunately her house was torn down 15 years later in an effort to lower taxes. Countess Pecorini's house burned down in the 1950s, but both hers and Emma's large boat houses remain today as well as the caretaker's home, a pump house and a children's playhouse. Howard Bucknell's house is still owned by our family and many of Emma Bucknell's books, some of her furniture, and her guide boat reside with us. All properties were subdivided in the 1970s and thirteen neighbors on the Bartlett Carry Road now share this mile of shoreline.
Brooklyn Daily Eagle, July 8, 1900
...Mrs. E. W. Bucknell of Philadelphia has reopened her Pine Point Lodge...
Adirondack Record-Elizabethtown Post, July 7, 1927
EMMA WARD BUCKNELL
Mrs. Ward Bucknell, 73, widow of William Bucknell founder of Bucknell university, and a survivor of the Titanic disaster of April, 1912, died last week at her camp on Gilpin bay, [sic] Upper Saranac Lake, following a long illness. Her home was in Philadelphia, altho she preferred to claim it in the Adirondacks.
New York Times, Wednesday 29th June 1927
Widow of University Founder Dies at Saranac Lake Camp
Special to The New York Times
SARANAC INN, N. Y., June 28.---Mrs. Emma Ward Bucknell, 75 years old, widow of William Bucknell, founder of Bucknell University, died last night at her camp on Upper Saranac Lake, having recently arrived from Clearwater, Fla., where she spent each Winter.
With her at the time of her death were her son, Dr. Howard Bucknell of Atlanta, Ga., and her daughter, Countess Pecorini, formerly Margaret Bucknell. Mrs. Bucknell is survived by two other daughters, Mrs. Jay Day of Summerville, S. C., and Mrs. S. P. Wetherill of Philadelphia.
- Judith B. Geller, Titanic: Women and Children First, pp, 38-41 (full text)