Old Address: 30 Main Street
Year built: Old Town Hall: 1886; New Town Hall: 1928
Architects: Scopes and Feustmann
A two-story, flat roofed, steel frame, brick and limestone Beaux-Arts-style public building with a prominent bell and clock tower. It contains offices, meeting rooms and a large auditorium. It was built on the site of the previous Town Hall, that burned in 1926.
Probably in 1881, Van Buren Miller, a grandson of Captain Pliny Miller, sold a 220 foot lot on Main Street opposite the foot of River Street. The price was a stunning $1,000. The purchaser was the Town of Harrietstown.
The following year, 1 the Town erected a cavernous, wooden structure with a somewhat ominous looking clock tower. This was the Old Town Hall. It came to be called such by burning to the ground in July, 1926. It was a spectacular and deadly fire. Three prisoners in the village "lock-up" were badly burned. No one else was in the building at the time. Phil Perry, Nicholas Pendergast, Thomas E. Daley, William F. Mulflur, Jr., John Crowley, and George Toupin, members of the Saranac Lake Club at the Empire Hotel next door, heard the cries of the trapped men and went to the rescue, but they could not open the cell doors, and by the time the Riverside Inn night man James Egan, who knew the location of the jailer's keys, arrived on the scene, the place was an inferno. Joseph Shaw, George Hazard, and a man with the Gentry Brothers' Circus were pulled from the flames, but all were seriously injured. Shaw never recovered.
Two years later, a magnificent, "fireproof" structure stood on the same site. Designed by William H. Scopes and Maurice Feustmann, it is their crowning achievement in Saranac Lake. Both men came to the village to cure — Scopes from Utica in 1899 and Feustman some years later. The two architects were quite different in temperament and in the state of their health, but they made a good team. Scopes and Feustmann became one of Saranac Lake's two best and best known architectural firms, the other being Coulter and Westhoff which was continued by William G. Distin, Sr. and is now Wareham-DeLair.
Feustmann was a quiet, slightly withdrawn, distinguished-looking man, slender and of medium height with a white goatee. He was linked by the marriage of a sister to the Gimbel family which, with the Bloomingdales, the Sulzbergers and others founded the Knollwood complex of "cottages" on the north shore of Lower Saranac Lake. Feustmann was a highly cultured person. He received his training at École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, and executed his designs with great care and a concern that the work be "finished" and not just completed. This care and concern in exquisitely illustrated by the home he built for himself and his wife, Grace, at 28 Catherine Street.
William Scopes was both a meticulously organized businessman and a highly energetic entrepreneur. While Feustmann waged a difficult and eventually futile battle against tuberculosis, Scopes overcame his disease quickly. By the time he had been in Saranac Lake one year, he had designed two of the District's buildings.
One of Scopes and Feustmann’s early masterpieces was the Santanoni — a five-story brick and stone building at 34 Church Street (severely damaged by fire in 1973) that offered the ultimate in luxury apartments for wealthy patients. The firm was responsible for many of the cottages and other buildings at Trudeau Sanatorium, including Ludington Infirmary and Trudeau Lab (as distinct from the Saranac Laboratory on Church Street). Scopes and Feustmann also designed a number of the "camps" on nearby lakes, as well as many fine homes in the village and the Glenwood Estates Colony development, one of the village's most elegant residential sections.
While the Hotel Saranac, built about the same time as the Town Hall, was a tremendous disappointment to Scopes and Feustmann, the Harrietstown Town Hall could only have been a source of pride. In fact, it is a symbol of the pride and aspirations of the town and village it was built to serve. It was erected when Saranac Lake was at the very pinnacle of its prosperity. Saranac Lake meant the best and, quite literally, last hope for thousands of people. It meant great opportunity for those who would provide goods, services, and all manner of support for those people.
Hope and opportunity, whether nobly or ignobly manifested, epitomized the spirit of the place. In its brick and steel and concrete, in its festoons and amphor and lanterns, in its columns and arches and dome, from the floor of its vast, vaulted hall to the twin deer and central spruce tree of its weather vane, and in the tolling of its clock-tower bell, the Harrietstown Town Hall embodies this spirit.
Original text by Philip L. Gallos. Apparently unpublished.
The New York State Conservation Department moved out of Harrietstown Hall to a new building in Ray Brook in the early 1950s. (Adirondack Daily Enterprise, March 3, 1952)
From the program for an Odd Fellows Minstrel Show held at the opening of the new Town Hall on October 3 and 4, 1928.
History of the Old Town Hall
Construction of the old Town Hall was started in 1888 following a special election at which time it was voted to bond the town to the amount of $10,000 for the purchase of a suitable site and erection of the building. The town board at that time consisted of: Supervisor J. Herbert Miller; 2 town clerk William A. Walton; justices of the peace, Van Buren Miller, James A. Philbrooks, W. J. Slater and George Williams, Jr.
No contract was made for the erection of the building but bids were asked for materials used in its construction. R. E. Woodruff was engaged at the salary of $3.50 a day to take charge of the construction work and J. H. Miller was assigned to keep the accounts of expenditures made for the work. The cost of the building was said to have been well within the amount raised by the sale of the $10,000 bonds.
To the residents of the community who viewed the charred ruins on the morning of July 27, 1926, it was not the passing of aneyesore in an up to date community, but rather that of an old homestead hallowed by the many phases of community life which had centered there.
The first use to which the building had been put was that of a school. The old school house was outgrown and three rooms in the town hall were engaged to take care of the older grades. The second floor, which contained the auditorium with a seventeen foot stage, was soon the center of the social life of the village. In it dances, suppers and festivals of every sort were held. As the demand for amusement became greater it was leased to F. M. Jackson, under whose able management a high class of one night stand and repertoire companies were brought here. Several stars whose names have been outlined in lights along Broadway trod the boards in the old town hall before they were discovered by the big cities. Lecturers of national reputation on religious, educational or political subjects were heard here.
For several months the congregation of St. Bernard's church worshipped in the town hall, during the construction of their present edifice. Moving pictures held the boards for a time and later the auditorium was taken over by the Independent Order of Odd Fellows who with the Kiwassa Rebekah Lodge No. 33, occupied it until the building was destroyed.
When the United Slates entered the World War, Troop B of the National Guard was mobilized in the town hall and guard mount in front and the sound of marching feet brought vividly to the community the realization of the part it was to play in the great drama.
Christmas cheer was dispensed at the doors of the building, both by Uncle Sam who used it for immense loads of parcel post which had overflowed the post office space at holiday time and also by the lodges of I.O.O.F. and B.P.O.E., who from time to time made it a distributing point for clothing or free feasts for needy youngsters.
Town and Village Elections were held in the old building and the Adirondack Enterprise, the village newspaper, had its beginning there and that business was conducted in the building from its inception 34 years ago until the plant was wiped out by the fire that destroyed the building.
The darker side of life which came to the old town hall when prisoners were incarcerated in the cells off the first floor corridor, where were also the police offices. How many heartbreaking scenes were enacted there only the guardians ol the law could know.
The town clock, which was placed in the tower shortly after the erection of the building, was like an old friend to the villagers. Its friendly faces could be seen from all parts of the village and the bell not only told the hours but was also, for many years, the only fire alarm in the village it performed another service also for when the armistice was signed its voice was the first to announce to the community that war was ended, when willing hands joyously took turns in pulling at the bell rope.
Faithful to the end it rang the alarm which was its own death knell when early in the morning of July 27th, 1926, fire of unknown origin completely destroyed the wooden structure. As flames were licking up the tower the clock pealed forth the hour of two and a few seconds later it crashed to the ground in ruins.
Adirondack Daily Enterprise, November 13, 1961
Out of the Past
The first Harrietstown Town Hall was built in Saranac Lake in 1886 and burned to the ground on Tuesday, July 27, 1926.
In addition to The Enterprise offices on the first floor and The Enterprise mechanical department in the basement, it housed the village police office and lockup, the election room, town board room and, on the second floor, the Saranac Lake Odd Fellows lodge rooms.
The fire started about 1 a. m. in the rear of the cell room and the shouts of the prisoners attracted the attention of members of the Saranac Lake Club who were playing cards in the Empire building across the alley from the town hall.
Phil Perry, steward of the club at that time, rushed out to rescue the prisoners and turn in the alarm along with club members Nicholas Pendergast, Thomas E. Daly, William F. Mulflur, John Crowley and George Toupin.
Three prisoners were in jail when the blaze started, one man was reported dying from burns and the other two were severely injured.
There was some delay in opening the jail door when the Saranac Lake Club members reached the scene, but James Egan who was night man at the Riverside Inn arrived, and being a close follower of police affairs knew where the key was kept.
Time and again the Walton & Tousley Hardware Inc., building caught fire, but each time the blaze was stopped. The Empire hotel building on the other side of the town hall was damaged when one of the big brick chimneys of the burning building toppled and sheered off a cornice and the rear porch.
It was one of the hottest fires" Saranac Lake had experienced and occupants of all surrounding buildings were driven into the streets with their personal effects as fire burned through the tinder-dry building.
Damage was estimated at $75,000 and valuable records of the Town of Harrietstown were entirely destroyed along with the only complete file of The Enterprise in existence, covering a period of 32 years.
The newspaper report of the firemen was all praise, but it didn't mention one man by name. It said the work of the firemen would have brought joy to the heart of a big city fire chief. Firemen and a pumper from Lake Placid helped in extinguishing the blaze.
This information is taken from The Enterprise of July 28, 1926, published in Lake Placid through the generosity of George M. Lattimer who then owned the Lake Placid News, and in tabloid form.
The Enterprise was then published only three days a week and until a new plant could be constructed it was published in Malone by the Malone Evening Telegram. The afternoon of the day of the fire, ground was being broken for a new newspaper plant for The Enterprise at its present site, and plans for a new town hall were well under way as well as the work of removing the rubble left at the fire scene. Fast work!
The Enterprise was temporarily located at 96 Main Street, between the Berkeley Hotel and the Chamber of Commerce. From the editorial in that edition, one guesses the offers for floor space for the newspaper were plentiful. E. L. Gray had offered space in his splendid new store. Walter Sagendorf had extended an invitation for use of the Berkeley Hotel, E. J. Kennedy had offend a room in his building. C. S. Barnet publisher of Trotty Veck and A. W. Carrier[sic], proprietor of the Currier Press, had both offered use of their offices. Louis C. Schleip, owner of the Tupper Lake Herald Press, had offered use of the plant there.
The building was apparently held in some esteem, if the following words from an old edition are any indication: "The old building which played a stellar role in the history of this community passed in a glory of flame" and "There was a tense moment and something like a sob from the crowd when the old town clock went crashing down into the ruins of the fire."
Adirondack Daily Enterprise, May 17, 2002
Some history on the Harrietstown Town Hall
The original Harrietstown Town Hall was constructed on the same site as the present structure in 1888, following a special election at which a $10,000 bond was approved for the construction. The Town Board at the time consisted of: Supervisor J. Herbert Miller, Town Clerk William A Walton, Justice of the Peace Van Buren Miller, and councilmen James A. Philbrooks, W.J. Slater and George Williams, Jr. The site was purchased from Van Buren Miller for $1,500, and Zachary Taylor, a local architect, was instructed by the board to draw plans for a building 40-by 85 feet, three stories in height, with a tower in front.
No contract was made for the erection of the building, but bids were put out for materials used in its construction. R.E. Woodruff was hired at the salary of $3.50 per day to take charge of the construction work, and J.H. Miller was assigned to keep the accounts of expenditures made for the work. The cost of the building was said to have been well within the amount raised by the sale of the $10,000 bond.
The old Town Hall was first used as a school: The old school house was overflowing, and three rooms in the town hall housed the older grades. The second floor contained the auditorium, which became the social center of the community. Dances, suppers and festivals of every sort were held in the room.
During the first World War, Troop B of the National Guard was mobilized in the Town Hall and, in "A History of the Old Town Hall," provided by Mary Hotaling of Historic Saranac Lake, the anonymous writer described the patriotic airs of the day:
"The sound of marching feet brought vividly to the community the realization of the part it was to play in the great drama."
The town clock and bell, which were installed in the tower shortly after the building was constructed, announced the war's end on Nov. 11, 1918, "when willing hands joyously took turns in pulling at the bell rope."
Thirty-eight years after its construction, in late July 1926, the old Town Hall burned-to the ground, in, a fire of unknown origin. The sentiments of the townspeople can be described in this passage from "A History of the Old Town Hall":
"To the residents of the community who viewed the charred ruins on the morning of July 27, (it was not the passing of a dilapidated wooden building, out of date, and somewhat of an eyesore in an up to date community, but rather that of an old homestead hallowed by many phases of community life which had centered there."
After the fire, the Town Board, consisting of Supervisor Allen I. Vosburgh, Eugene Keet, Charles Stickney, Seaver A. Miller, Fred Jarvis and H. Ray Williams, took measures to build the new Town Hall, and they did — quickly.
On Oct. 3, 1928, most of the major construction of the present Town Hall was completed.
The exterior treatment adopted was colonial. The masonry materials used were a deep shade of cherry red brick, laid up in Flemish bond. The trimmings are of Indiana limestone, the most reasonably priced of all ornamental building stones."
The Town Hall had numerous functions in 1928. The Main Street floor contained four meeting rooms which doubled as election centers, one of which would be converted into a court room. The ground floor, as it is today, housed a large auditorium with a stage and men's and women's dressing rooms.
Another interesting feature of the 1928 building was the housing of the police department, consisting of a police justice court room, a room for the police chief and an exercise room for patrolmen, as well as a jail with seven cells for male prisoners and one double cell for female prisoners. The story above the Main Street floor contained the Harrietstown government offices.
Adirondack Daily Enterprise, November 1, 2003
The light in the clock tower
You know what...
By Howard Riley
There is what looks like a traffic light in the clock tower of the town hall that was uncovered during repair work there, and the town and village offices have been deluged with phone calls about what it means.
Back to the future
Now back in 1985 when the movie "Back to the Future" was being made, Saranac Lake was being considered (because the setting was perfect) for the scene with the clock tower on Main Street when a bolt of lightning hitting the clock would send the actor Michael J. Fox as Marty McFly back to the future. When the traffic light turned green, Marty Would hit the gas pedal and off he'd go. Remember, he had been rocketed into 1955 in a DeLorean car fueled with plutohium that Christopher Lloyd, as the eccentric Doc Brown, had purchased in Libya.
Now when Marty met Doc Brown in 1955 there was no plutonium around, but luckily he had a newspaper clipping with him that reported (in the future) lightning hitting the clock tower and Doc Brown said that was the only thing powerful enough to send him back to 1985. Had the scene been shot in Saranac Lake, they were going to use Dr. Manny Bernstein's 1930 Model A Ford Convertible instead of the; DeLorean. Now my friend Manny is a pretty good actor and I think the director would have let him stand in for Doc Brown. Well anyway, that is not why the traffic light is in the tower, I just made it up.
The real story of the light in the tower
Now here is the unvarnished truth about the traffic light in the clock tower. When Francis Gauthier was discharged from the Navy (he was aboard a Destroyer, the USS Richard P. Leary and took part in six invasions and the major sea battle of the Pacific) and joined the Saranac Lake police force, the traffic light was in the clock tower and the police station was in the basement of the town hall. There were no radios in the police cars, so when the men were out on patrol the phone ringing in the police station activated the red light on the tower (apparently the traffic light was used because it had a red light attached and the green and yellow had no significance).
The secret's at the pump house
The phone in the police station also activated red lights on telephone call boxes located on Berkeley Square and at Broadway and Bloomingdale avenues. But obviously there were no answering machines, and of course the phone would not keep ringing until the officers answered it but here is the secret ... Lonnie Darrah worked at the pump house (that brick building that used to be the village office), and he answered the telephone for the police, which was connected to the police station phone. Now the whole purpose of the red lights was to have the police hightail it down to the pump house and find out what the call was about from Mr. Darrah. The police could call in from the call boxes or answer them if they happened to be next to one when it rang, but otherwise the red lights and the pump house phone were the high-tech system of the day. At that time, there was someone at the pump house 24/7. Francis was on the police force from 1946 until 1961.
So there goes the theory that the light was placed there for low-flying planes or that it was signal for UFOs to contact local residents... or it was the only traffic light at the intersection of Main and River back then and the police could write a lot of tickets with drivers using the flimsy defense that they didn't see the light .. or that someone hit the traffic light that was then mounted on a post and it flew up and lodged in the tower and nobody ever bothered to take It down ... or that it was hooked to the air raid warden's tower on top the Hotel Saranac during World War II (much like the terrorist color alert that we have to day) which could signal the all-clear but they actually used a siren.
I hope this story stops all the light in the tower calls at the town and village offices.
Plattsburgh Sentinel, July 5, 1907
Malone has adopted the Saranac Lake system of calling the police by a red light at night.
In a letter dated Nov. 29, 1990, Dean Lobdell wrote: "It has been over 50 years now but I remember well the nite the old green frame building that was City Hall [sic] burned. In the twenties I think."
Adirondack Daily Enterprise, January 19, 2013
You Know What...?
By Howard Riley
"Enterprise history, 1906-1918," quoting E.K. Goldthwaite, who wrote a story about his father, Kenneth W. Goldthwaite, and the Adirondack Enterprise, which he published, for the paper's 75th anniversary in 1969:
Eye-witness description of the old Town Hall: "From Main Street, under the clock tower, one entered a generous doorway leading to a broad hall; immediately to the right were stairs leading up to the Odd Fellows hall which, on occasion, doubled as a movie theater. On the right, past the stairs, was the headquarters of the village Police Department; on the left, the editorial and business offices of the Enterprise.
"Also to the left, just past the Enterprise office was the lockup, a frequently occupied place. At the end of the corridor was the meeting room for the town."
Adirondack Daily Enterprise, Letter to the editor, January 17, 2017
Field trip idea
. . . I looked down at the steps that lead to the bowels of the building. To my surprise, I saw the fossilized remains of nautilidae. These are precursors of octopuses, cuttle fish, squids, modern nautilus and others. They lived in the Late Cambrian period, long before any dinosaurs roamed the earth.
Like cockroaches, the common house fly, dragonflies and sharks, the nautilus that lives today in our warm shallow seas is a living fossil.
. . . Next time you go to Town Hall, look at those steps, and try to make out the numerous spiraling shapes etched in the half-billion-year-old rock.
Ira Weinberg, Saranac Lake
1. 1882 is almost certainly too early: other sources place the date from 1886 to 1888; the date prominently displayed on the building was 1889, presumably the date the building was completed.
2. J. Herbert Miller was supervisor from 1884 to 1886