Mark Twain on the porch of the Mark Twain Camp Mark Twain Camp, 1972 Mark Twain Camp main fireplace, 1979 Mark Twain Camp, 1925 Mark Twain Camp Boat House, c. 1925 North end of the Living Room, 1979 Mark Twain Camp Display by Bobbie Leamer, Shown at History Day 2008. Click on the image to enlarge the display The Mark Twain Camp on Lower Saranac Lake was built by W. L. Coulter, George V.W. Duryee, and Frank Creesy, incorporated as the Adirondack Park Company. It was built in 1900, either as a speculation or as a rental house. The property was purchased from the Ampersand Hotel Company. In 1905, another 25 foot strip was added to the property.

The first family to rent a cottage on the property was Samuel Clemens, his wife Olivia, and daughters Clara and Jean. He called the cottage "The Lair." He said "Everyone knows what a lair is, lairs generally do contain dangerous animals, but I bring tame ones to this one." His cottage is described as having a balcony overhanging the lake "charmingly like sitting snuggled up on a ship's deck with the stretching sea all around" and "the effect engendered is just a deep sense of comfort and contentment."

He wrote in a plank-floored tent that he had set up on the grounds. While here, he wrote "A Double barreled Detective Story" which was published in Harpers Magazine. It was a take-off on Sherlock Holmes fiction. He also was very concerned with the lynchings in the South, and wrote a treatise on the subject, "The United States of Lyncherdom" which was never published.

In parting he said "it has been a paradise to us all summer" and "if we live another year, I hope we shall spend its summer in this house." The family left in September and never returned.

Fred W. Rice, a neighbor on the lake, became friends with Samuel Clemens, and they spent time discussing boats. Ema, Fred's daughter, reported that she was employed to row Clemens around on the lake. Rice was allowed to take this photo of the family, under the provision that it not be published until after their deaths. Rice complied.

The "Mark Twain Camp" as it was subsequently called was rented out by Duryee, and after his death, occupied by his wife from time to time. It was sold in 1920 to John Innes Kane, the husband of Marjorie Elliott Kane. They were married in 1914 and made their home in Saranac Lake from 1917 until Mr. Kane's death in 1936.

Marjorie "Marnie" Kane was a daughter of Emily Elliott Simmons and Jesse G. Simmons. Her sisters were Dorothea Elliott Simmons, who married Charles C. Harris, and Edith Pusey Simmons, who married Howard Seaman.

The camp was apparently called the Delvan Lodge c. 1908.  This sign was found in the basement.  A story in the New York Sun, June 20, 1909 mentions the William Vance family from Delaware, a likely source of the name.
Photograph by Jack Drury

Adirondack Daily Enterprise, March 31, 1990

Life on Lower Saranac: Mark Twain in SL


In year's past Saranac Lake managed to attract its share of famous visitors and in the field of journalism there were no greater names than Robert Louis Stevenson and Mark Twain. Both came to spend a season in our community, Stevenson for a winter and Twain for a summer. During Stevenson's stay his every minute activity was recorded for posterity but of Twain's visit very little information exists. Practically the only remaining memento of that historic event is the cottage where the author vacationed, known locals as the Mark Twain Camp.

Samuel Langhorne Clemons, together with his wife and two daughters, came to Saranac Lake in June of 1901. It is a possibility that George V.W. Duryee had arranged for the rental of the John Kane camp on Lower Saranac because Clemens wrote to him from New York City, "Over on the other side of the river, opposite the Riverside Inn, I saw an old fashioned yawl, a perfectly safe boat and not upsettable in any ordinary seas. If that boat is to be had I shall be glad to rent it when we come." This would indicate that Clemens had been to Saranac Lake prior to his vacation. Duryee was a local real estate dealer who specialized in camp sales and rentals and the two men shared correspondence.

Everyone knows how Clemens assumed the pen name of Mark Twain but very few know that he named the Kane Camp "The Lair." In one of his letters the author wrote "Everybody knows what a lair is, lairs do generally contain dangerous animals, but I bring tame ones to this one. On a certain day a package was delivered to the Lair with the following address:

Mr. S.L. Clemens
The Liar
Lower Saranac Lake

It was stated that Twain accepted the misspelling with great glee. Perhaps the formula for his great literary success can be found in one of his own maxims, "My books are water, those of the great geniuses are wine. Everybody drinks water." The author found water directly below his rustic porch at The Lair, which was located on the south shore of Ampersand Bay at the eastern tip of Lower Saranac Lake. All of his outgoing correspondence bore the one word "Ampersand" as a letterhead rather than the postal designation of Saranac Lake.

In a letter to his old friend, Rev. Joseph H. Twichell, Twain wrote, "I am on the front porch of our little bijou of a dwelling house. The Lower Saranac Lake edge is so nearly under me that I can't see the shore, but only the water, small-poxed with rain splashes for there is a heavy downpour." Next the Mark Twain brand of wit becomes evident with, "There are beautiful little tan colored impudent squirrels about. They take their tea, 5 p.m. (not invited) at the table in the woods where Jean does my typewriting and one of them has been brave enough to sit upon Jean's knee with his tail curved over his back and munch his food. They come to dinner, 7 p.m. on the front porch (not invited). They all have one name, Blennerhasset, from Burr's friend, and none of them answer to it except when hungry." Perhaps it might be considered audacious to correct the dean of writers but his "squirrels" were most certainly chipmunks. Red Squirrels, for reasons known only to them selves, have never been so friendly with humans. (The Rev. Twichell had married Samuel Clemens to Olivia Langdon at Elmira on Feb. 2, 1870) With Sam and Olivia at camp were their two daughters, Jean and Clara. The only newspaper allowed at The Lair was the Adirondack Enterprise which, at that time, was a weekly. Apparently Twain wished to escape from worldly troubles during his vacation and left orders that no dailies were to be delivered.

In a literary journal, The Book man, for January, 1924 , there appears an interesting account by Rev. Walter H. Larom, Pastor of St. Luke's Church in Saranac Lake. The minister had been assigned the task of requesting the author to speak at a fundraising event for the library. Fearing that he might be stopped at the front door, Larom derided lo approach the Lair by water so with a companion he came to the camp by canoe. To his surprise he was greeted warmly by Twain and invited to the "main deck" where he was treated to a discourse on the beauty of their surroundings even before he could broach his subject. When finally Larom made his request, the author exclaimed "No, No No," I hate the platform, it scares me." Walking down to the dock with his disappointed caller, Twain showed an interest in the canoe. Larom explained about all the canoe trips that could be enjoyed along the connected waterways throughout the region. As the minister and his companion started to paddle away, the author said "I see that all of the work is taking place in the bow and in the stern. If I were to go along I would prefer the middle seat."

Twain was very observant and from his seat on the porch he took notice of the graceful Adirondack guide boats that plied the waters of the bay. Expressing an interest in their construction, he was introduced to Fred Rice, a local builder of the exquisite craft, and the two men spent many visits discussing the intricate details of spruce ribs, pine planking, and cherry gunwales. Perhaps Twain was wondering how such a boat would fare on the Mississippi.

Directly across the bay, on the north shore, was another camp which 14 years earlier had played host to Twain's friend Robert Louis Stevenson. Arriving early in October of 1887 the famous Scot avoided all social activity with one exception. He enjoyed visiting the Louis Ehrich camp on Lower Saranac Lake because of the informal atmosphere which prevailed. The camp was later purchased by the Haase family and became well known as Pinehurst. Twain and Stevenson had frequently visited in New York City, and it is remotely possible that Stevenson could have mentioned Saranac Lake to his friends. In any event Mark Twain thoroughly enjoyed his stay and even expressed a desire to return for another summer but, unfortunately, it didn't happen.

On September 19, he wrote to his friends, Mr. and Mrs. Duryee,."Hail and farewell. It has been paradise to us all summer. One doesn’t need to go to the Swiss lakes to find that condition."

It would be impossible to cover a biography of Mark Twain in this limited space but it might be of interest to touch on the several years prior to his coming to Saranac Lake. This period of his life was interspersed with both great joy and great sorrow.

In 1868, Mark Twain came to Hartford to approach the American Publishing Co. with his latest volume, The Innocents Abroad, and he was delighted with the city. Three years later, a year after his marriage to Olivia, the couple moved to Hartford. Here he met Charles Dudley Warner and Harriet Beecher Stowe and leased a house in what was called the "literary part of Hartford so as to be near his new friends.

Since both he and his wife were convinced that this was where they wanted to live they bought land on Farmington Ave. and proceeded to build a new home. The design of the house was so elaborate as to cause much raising of eyebrows and even drew editorial comment in the Hartford Daily Times with: "it is one of the oddest buildings in the state ever designed for a dwelling, if not in, the whole country." It was three stories, with tall chimneys, endless gables, porches abounding, and high peaked roofs. Some referred to it as Mark Twain's practical joke. The author had a passion for billiards and on Friday evenings his friends would gather in the new billiard room where the host had installed a massive table with black and gold legs. After hours of play the room would reek with layers of smoke. Twain, an avid cigar smoker, ones wrote that "excessive smoking is more than one cigar at a time."

Three children were born to Mark and Olivia, daughters — Clara, Jean, and Susy. It was a happy family that settled in at Hartford and the author had reached the peak of his literary achievements. It was in the billiard room, which also served as his writing den, that he turned out such all time favorites as, "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn, and Life on the Mississippi. It is unfortunate, indeed, that Twain's business acumen did match his writing ability. He continually invested in pie-in-the-sky schemes that were doomed to failure. His one major fiasco, that cost him $300,000, was his pe [illegible] tent involvement in the invention of a typesetting machine that turned out to be a white elephant.

In 1891, Twain decided to move the family to Europe where they could live in a more reasonable setting while awaiting an upturn in their fortunes. It did not happen. In April, 1894 Mark Twain's publishing house went bankrupt and he decided to go on an around-the-world lecture tour to recoup his losses. Olivia and Clara went with him while Jean and Susy remained in Hartford. The global trip began with a departure from California for Australia and continued on a westerly circuit that terminated in London where the family intended to settle for a while. Jean and Susy were preparing to join them when Susy was taken ill at the very point of departure. Stricken with spinal meningitis, Susy suddenly died in the Hartford house and her mother refused to ever enter the house again. Twain visited it only once while it was vacant and then in the year after their coming to Saranac Lake, the Hartford Courant carried an ad offering "Mark Twain's Home For Sale."

Today, while traveling on I-84 between Hartford and New Britain, one can read a highway sign inviting the tourist to stop at the Mark Twain House now open to the public. In Saranac Lake, the tourist is encouraged to visit the Robert Louis Stevenson Memorial Cottage — but where is the Twain Camp?

On the there of Ampersand Bay, between Lake Street and Algonquin Avenue, the Mark Twain Camp is quietly occupied by Jack and Carmen Drury. There may even be a few chipmunk sharing the premises.

Adirondack Daily Enterprise, July 2, 1960

Mark Twain A Legend Shared by Our Village


A mischievous nature is seldom contained by geographical boundaries. Those irrepressible youngsters Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn would probably have been as happy and contended growing up in the lush green hills of the Adirondacks as they were in the Mississippi bottom lands.

And too, if Mark Twain had been a younger men when he spent the summer of 1901 in a rustic camp on Lower Saranac Lake . . . other legendary youngsters might have whistled and capered across the pages of America's best known literature.

Mark Twain was 64 years old when, he came to spend the summer on the "lake of the clustered stars". His great fruitful years as a writer were behind him.

Tom Sawyer, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, Huckleberry Finn, The Prince and The Pauper all had been set down for posterity between the years 1870 and 1889.

The only remaining link between Twain's occupancy of the camp and our present day is the man who served this white maned giant of the pen during that memorable year on one of the north country's most beautiful lakes.

He is Frank Davis who lives on Algonquin Avenue almost within a stone's throw of the fading Mark Twain Camp. Frank is a very alert ex-guide and woodsmen who has retained a treasury of memories about Sam Clemens, his wife, his daughters Clara and Jean and of the renowned Katie Leary, house-keeper and bellwether of the family circle.

Twain Finds Peace

He recalled with clarity many of the incidents that have since become a part of the legend of Mark Twain. We walked together through the grounds, beside the lakeshore and along the grown up trails where the celebrated teller of tales once strolled in deep contentment.

Mark Twain loved this camp and the lake and the mountains. According to Frank, who was in attendance most of the time, Twain never left the retreat except for a two week cruise with oil millionaire H. H. Rogers off the coast of Maine.

He spent his writing hours secluded in a small tent near the camp asking not to be disturbed. His wife who was very solicitous of his well being often interrupted his labors to ask if he needed a fire or some such triviality. On one occasion she had inquired numerous times when in exasperation Twain shouted that if she mentioned "fire" again he would "burn the place down!"

Only once does Davis recall Mark Twain losing his temper. It was Frank's chore to go to the Ampersand Hotel for the mail each afternoon. On one of his daily trips he met a local drayman named Barn Wilson driving Clara Clemens, Mark's eldest daughter, in to the camp.

On arriving at the Ampersand for the mail Frank found a telegram noting the impending arrival of Clara. The girl had reached her father before the telegram and, says Frank, Mark Twain exploded with the finest stream of curses it has ever been my pleasure to hear.

Twain's a Smoker


…Mark Twain's coat to be brushed after breakfast each day . . she would wink and say "Smoke up any cigars you find in the pockets." Frank always figured Katie filled the pockets before she handed out the coat.

Twain was a great smoker according to Frank who often swept as many as fifteen cigar butts out of his tent after a writing session.

Hated To Lecture

Mark Twain was a prolific contributor to Harpers Magazine, one of the most famous American periodicals published. In these tales his talent for humor filled page after page with delightful satire and undiluted wit.

At the camp he rarely exhibited this inherent gift unless an old friend joined him unexpectedly or unannounced as fellow-writer Dean Howells once did. On this occasion the two laughed over shared remembrances until tears filled their eyes.

Frank also recalls the time when Episcopal minister Walter Larom was picked to approach Twain about speaking in behalf of a group who were trying to get a library started in Saranac Lake.

Larom reasoned that he would be rebuffed by domestics if he tried to get in the front door. He and a friend paddled a canoe across the Lake and found the white haired elderly humorist seated on a rear porch overlooking the water.

He greeted them graciously and immediately broke into a torrent of appreciation about the beauties of the lake and the mountains and the" wonderful life giving air of the Adirondacks.

When Larom finally presented his appeal Twain replied with emphasis "No no no, I hate the platform . . . it scares me! I know it might do good. It might do good to cut off my head but I would rather do good some other way."

As Larom and his companion started to paddle away Twain said "I see you do all the work in the stern and in the bow . . well, if I were going with you I'd take the middle seat."

Attaching much sentimentality to places where he lived he named the camp "The Lair". In a letter to a friend he says "we have named it 'The Lair'. Everybody knows what a lair is. It is a good and unworn name. Lairs do generally contain dangerous animals but I bring only tame ones to this one."

A local tradesman once sent a package or communication to the camp addressed to Mr. S. L. Clemens . . .The Liars, Lower Saranac Lake. Mr. Clemens gleeful acceptance of this missive may be well imagined.

Another letter to George V. Duryee gives some indication of his love for the Adirondacks. He says, 'It has been paradise to us all summer. One doesn't need to go to the Swiss lakes to find that condition.'

Twain wished to come back to the Mountains to journey through the lakes and rivers by canoe and portage but never returned.

He died of a heart condition at the age of 73 at his beloved "storm-field" near Redding, Connecticut.

The Mark Twain Camp is now owned by Mrs. John L. Kane of New York City and Saranac Lake.

Malone Farmer, May 1, 1901

Mark Twain has been in Saranac Lake looking over several cottages there with the intent of selecting one for his home. He, like many other over-worked men, is searching for health, but his age, 70 years, is against him. The county will be glad to welcome so distinguished an author to a domicile within its boundaries.

Malone Farmer, September 18, 1901

Mark Twain is still stopping at the handsome bark covered cottage near the Ampersand on Lower Saranac Lake and his snowy locks can be seen almost any day on the spacious balcony from which is presented a beautiful view of the lake.

Malone Farmer, June 25, 1902

Mark Twain is again at Saranac Lake for the summer. [This appears to have been misinformation]


The Adirondack Enterprise, July 17, 1902

Mark Twain has chosen Colby po[nd] as his camping ground this season. Th[is] is a picturesque place near Saranac Lake village and near the Philosophers' camp where Emerson, Lowell and Agassiz used to meet. . . .

Adirondack Daily Enterprise, September 24, 1920


J. I. Kane, of El Paso, Texas, and Ossining, N. Y., Is the New Owner


Mrs. G. V. W. Duryee Was Former Owner; Deal Closed This Week

One of the most interesting real estate deals which has taken place in Saranac Lake in some time was the sale of the noted Mark Twain camp, situated in Ampersand Bay in Lower Saranac Lake. J. I. Kane of El Paso, Texas, and Ossining, N. Y. purchased the property from Mrs. G. V. W. Duryee and the deal was transacted through Duryee & Company, real estate agents. The price paid for the camp was not made public.

The Mark Twain camp is one of the best known in the Adirondacks and it was in that two-story structure which overlooks the beautiful Lower Saranac Lake that Samuel Clemens, the noted author and humorist, spent many enjoyable hours planning his stories which have gained renown throughout the world. Mark Twain, as he was better known, was the first occupant of the camp, which was built some twenty years ago, and since then it has changed hands several times. It was owned by Mr. Duryee until his death and since then his widow has occupied it from time to time.

Mr. Kane, the new owner, has been a visitor to Lower Saranac Lake for many years and this summer he was a guest at the Algonquin Hotel until he purchased the camp. Just prior to the final arrangements of the transactions, Mr. Kane and his family were camping on the upper part of the lake.

In connection with the camp, there is a boat house where Mr. Kane is now storing his large motor boat which he has maintained on the lake for several years. The camp is being occupied at the present time by a pair of "honeymooners" whose names could not be learned.

It was reported yesterday there are several large camps on the lake which are idle at the present time but it is understood several parties are contemplating renting them during the coming two or three months. Countess Otto Salm of New York, who has been occupying the Otis Williams' camp, has returned home and it is understood a deal is pending for the rental.