Died: January 26, 1933
Married: Ferdinand W. Chase
Mary Howe Chase developed the famous Loon Lake House with her husband and operated it for 54 years.
Adirondack Record-Elizabethtown Post, January 26, 1933
MRS. FERD CHASE OWNER OF LOON LAKE HOUSE, DEAD
Was Pioneer in development of Adirondacks as a Summer Paradise
Mrs. Mary H. Howe Chase, owner and operator of the Loon Lake House and Cottages at Loon Lake and one of the real pioneers in the development of the Adirondacks as the summer playground of America, died at 12:30 o'clock Thursday.
In point of continuous years of active service, Mrs. Chase was the oldest person engaged in the hotel business in the Adirondacks.
Respected and loved by hosts of friends not only among her neighbors throughout northeastern New York, but also among the hundreds who enjoyed each year the charming hospitality which made the Loon Lake House nationally famed, Mrs. Chase was one of the best-known hotel executives in this section of the country.
Long years of service on behalf of the country in which she made her home had earned for her the appellation "Queen of the Adirondacks." In the 50-odd years during which she had guided the policies of one of the best known summer resorts in the state, for a long span of years in cooperation with her husband, the late Ferd Chase and after his death, by her sole direction, Mrs. Chase manifested an energy and executive ability that surprised all who knew her. Although about 80 years old, she had continued in active charge of the management throughout the last season. For the last few weeks, however, she had been under the care of a physician and her death was not entirely unexpected.
Mrs. Chase was a native of Vermont. She came to Loon Lake with her husband October 16, 1878, and there the couple erected a small hotel built of logs, which was first opened July 6, 1879. From the very beginning the hotel venture prospered and year by year the Chase holding's in that section expanded, until today the Loon Lake House embraces one of the most extensive hotel properties in New York State.
Today the Loon Lake House boasts of accommodations for 600 guests and embraces, besides, more than 100 substantial modern cottages located on the hotel property. During the summer season, more than 200 employees are engaged in and about the hotel. Despite this force, however, Mrs. Chase never sacrificed a single detail of the hotel management and was often heard .to remark that her active direction of the house extended to the minutest detail having to do with the comfort of her guests.
The Loon Lake House was especially known for its homelike atmosphere which Mrs. Chase prided herself upon maintaining through the years. The hotel was a favorite vacation spot for families, and children were welcomed and provided with every facility for healthful recreation. Numbered among the guests were prominent personages of all walks of life, many of whom returned year after year to make the resort their summer home. Loon Lake House served as the summer White House for former President Benjamin Harrison during his term as chief executive of the nation.
She is survived by several cousins.
The body was taken to Jericho, Vt., Friday where burial took place. Mrs. Chase expressed a wish before she died that she be buried without "fuss." Burial was at night without any church services.
Franklin Historical Review, August 1966
MRS. CHASE AND THE LOON LAKE HOUSE
By Maitland C. De Sormo
During the final decades of the last century and even until the stack market crash of 1929, the Adirondack region featured many noted hotels. Except for the ill-fated Prospect House (1881-1915) at Blue Mountain Lake, nearly all the largest, most fashionable and most flourishing of these resorts were located in Franklin County.
In the order of their origin three of these were Paul Smith's (1659); Saranac Inn, earlier known as Hough's and the Prospect House, (1864) and the subject of this article — the Loon Lake House (1879).
Although the inexperienced Mr. Hough failed in his venture, Saranac Inn, during the ownership of the Ward-Riddle interests and under subsequent management, became renowned. Paul (Apollos) Smith was a millionaire when he died in a Montreal hospital in 1912. That same year the Statler Hotel Company offered Ferd and Mary Chase a million and a half dollars for their Loon Lake properties. They refused. In all likelihood this decision, undoubtedly a difficult one, was made by the resolute, strong-minded Mary Howe Chase, respectfully called "The Mrs."
Twenty years later, when the advent of the automobile had radically changed the vacation habits of the summer guests, (who no longer spent the entire season in the same place), and after the Wall Street disaster had sealed the fate of even the smaller hotels, the indomitable Mrs. Chase found herself land-poor, over-extended and virtually bankrupt — a situation which undoubtedly hastened her death in 1933.
Obviously the rise and fall in the fortunes of such a person and her creation contain all the elements needed for an intensely interesting life story — and hers is no exception.
As had many other notable Adirondack hotel keepers such as Paul Smith and the Stevens Brothers of Lake Placid, the Chases also migrated from Vermont: Mary Home having been born in Jericho in 1843 and Ferd in Wheelock Hollow, a hamlet up in the northeastern corner, in 1840. Considered to be an accomplished musician as a young girl, she taught piano and voice; she rode her horse sidesaddle while making the rounds to the homes of her students.
Ferd Chase served throughout the Civil War. After his return home he worked for several years as expressman on Central Vermont Railroad before becoming clerk at the Central House in Essex Junction. After their marriage in 1874 the young couple managed that hotel for four years. During that period they, like many other restless Vermont people, listened intently to fascinating reports about the nearly unspoiled wilderness region whose alluring, serrated peaks beckoned irresistibly from beyond the western shore of Lake Champlain. After several vacation trips to Hunter's Home in the Loon Lake vicinity they found exactly the spot they wanted; ten untouched acres on a high knoll overlooking the upper lake. The decision having been reached, the Chases went back to Vermont and made the necessary arrangements for the long-anticipated trip. They arrived at Loon Lake in October, 1878 and Ferd lost no time starting work on his own place. They spent that first winter in the nearby tavern owned by Prentiss (Print) Lovering. This was a log building located on the old Port Kent to Hopkinton turnpike. Later on the Chases bought and improved it and renamed it the President's Cottage after President Harrison who occupied it in 1892-93. Presidents Cleveland and McKinley also stayed there.
On May 19, 1879 the three-story, 31-room log structure was ready for guests, whose first five names appearing in the register were a Mr. Bixby of Plattsburg, C. Turner of Schuyler Falls, Henry Wetherby of Burlington, Vermont, E. Hubert Allen of New York and Jasper Kane of St. Albans. These men were there for the early trout fishing because the hotel did not officially open until July 6th. A total of 455 guests signed the register during that first season.
By 1882 business had been so good that the Chases decided to enlarge appreciably; the first big annex they built in 1893. By continually adding to their holdings they finally owned 4,000 acres, 53 cottages and an 18-hole golf course. The fame of the Loon Lake House or Chase's eventually reached a point when it accommodated nearly 800 people in 1929, the last big season.
This compulsive urge to expand and then keep on expanding became a virtual obsession with "The Mrs." She used to the utmost her exceptional administrative ability and never ceased planning for an even bigger establishment. The profits from one season would be spent to add more annexes, cottages, barns, service buildings and other improvements which, besides the golf course, bowling alleys and tennis courts, also included a private acetylene lighting plant and a mile-long sewerage system that cost $5 for each foot dug through earth and $10 for the rocky sections, where the twin 12-inch tile lines had to be installed in a tunnel 92 feet deep at one point. A two-main water supply system was also a costly development.
Although Ferd Chase had taken an active part in the early development of the enterprise, his wife made all the major management decisions after the turn of the century. He then devoted most of his time to running the hotel farm and the outside operations. He had always felt more at ease with the guides and farm help than with the guests.
Among Ferd's other interests were breeding deer for sale to parks and zoos, heavy philandering and membership in a swank Canadian hunting and fishing club. During that period seemingly irreconcilable personality clashes reached the point that the 0Chases scarcely spoke to each other for the last 15 years of his life. There was, however, a partial reconciliation during the period of illness preceding his death on November 27, 1916.
All through the long estrangement Charles Stevens, a Tufts engineer in their employ, acted as an intermediary. Both the Chases liked and trusted him. In fact Ferd thought so highly of him that he took him along on several European voyages. Moreover, according to the terms of Ferd's will, Charles Stevens was left $50,000 and a half-interest in his estate. "The Mrs." had to buy back the Stevens' share in order to regain full control of the company.
For some reason Mrs. Chase seemed to have no desire to travel. She lived the year round at Loon Lake and left there only infrequently and then only for brief emergency trips to Plattsburg or Burlington. Apparently, she was content to remain close to the place which her administrative skill and persistence had brought into being, The Loon Lake House was her main interest in life.
"The Mrs.1' never allowed herself to show outward indications of anger except for a reddening of her face. She never raised her voice when provoked. Sarcasm was her main recourse against the relatively few people whom she intensely disliked.
A Mrs. Vanderhoff, a very domineering dowager, one rainy day felt the full force of that formidable vocal weapon. That imperious lady had neglected to remove her rubbers before going into the dining room so, when she had been seated, she ordered Laura Hart, her waitress, to take them off. Her tone of voice was so hostile that Laura retorted, "I won't do it! I'm here to wait on your table — but I'm not a maid servant!!"
"Very well," replied Mrs. V., "we'll just see about that. I'm going to report you to Mrs. Chase."
Sure enough: after she had finished dinner she flounced herself directly out to the front office and demanded to see "The Mrs.", who came out of her own office to hear the complaint. After sounding off vehemently for several long minutes, the irate lady finally delivered her ultimatum: "There is only one way to settle this: Either that girl goes or I go."
"All right," said Mrs. Chase, who had listened quietly to the tirade, "if that's the way you want it, one of you certainly will have to go. But Laura is the one who stays. You go!" And she meant it, too.
Although she usually was seen in black silk dresses and sweaters, Mrs. Chase sometimes wore light green, her favorite color. This provided a strong contrast for her sand-colored wigs of which she had four. Scarlet fever had left her nearly bald.
She invariably read two New York papers each day not only to keep posted on world happenings but also to keep tabs on regular and prospective guests. If any of her summer people got involved in scandals, those individuals found it extremely difficult or even impossible to get reservations at Loon Lake the following season.
Apparently she had no strong religious convictions or, if she did, she never discussed them. As a girl she was a member of the Baptist Church but evidently something happened that soured her against ministers and religion. She declared that she wanted to know exactly where her money went, so her practical Christianity found expression in gifts of money to countless deserving or needy people. She often paid the funeral expenses of indigent former employees and several times paid the expenses for rebuilding the homes of burned-out people. Moreover, she sent several hundred young people — mostly bays but also several girls — through medical and law courses.
Although she was usually nearly psychic in her ability to judge character, she was nevertheless "taken" by two employees who lost nearly $200,000 of her money in deals involving a laundry and an airport.
Mrs. Chase firmly believed in the transmigration of souls and that conviction probably helped explain her love for animals — particularly dogs and cats. She was especially solicitous of a donkey which had nearly lost its sight hauling cartloads of dirt and rocks when the sewerage system was being installed. "The Mrs." once declared to her secretary that dogs and cats came first in her affections, men came next, and women and children were welcome to whatever love she had left over.
Besides numerous dogs and cats "The Mrs." also had a parrot named Drexy, an ill-tempered, finger-biting creature that hated the narrow confines of a regular cage and was kept in a monkey cage instead. For several months after its acquisition the caged carnivore was on display behind the main desk, near the bellhops' bench. Its location was changed shortly afterward when the bright-feathered bird was heard screaming raucously — "Tip the bellboys! Tip the bellboys!" A resourceful lad from Malone named Walter Mullarney was credited with that mercenary exploit.
The seasons of 1930-31 were critical for the Loon Lake Hotel Corporation and Mrs. Chase. By then the depression was well underway and business was going from bad to worse. A receivership representing the creditors took over and finally, on one grim afternoon in late 1931, Mrs. Chase was called into a meeting and summarily told that while she would of course be welcome to remain at Loon Lake House as long as she wished, from that day on she would have nothing to do or say about its management. According to Henrietta Earle, her secretary, when "The Mrs." came out of the room, she burst into tears — the first such display of emotion the former had ever seen during the more than 20 years of her employment.
The bitter experience seemed to break her spirit because she never showed much interest in life or living thereafter, according to her maid, June Jarvis. Had she lived until the following October 7th she would have been 90, but "The Mrs." died of pneumonia on Thursday, January 18, 1933. As she lay there four kittens played around and even on the deathbed. Her secretary watched but did not disturb them because she felt that their antics would have amused Mrs. Chase.
In accordance with her wishes that no fuss be made, no church service was held. She had also requested that burial take place as soon as possible so the committal services were held the next afternoon in Jericho, Vermont, her birthplace. The pallbearers were all former employees — clerks and bellboys.
For hours after her death became known the hotel phones rang constantly. People called from all over the country asking that the funeral be delayed so that they might attend, but her wishes were honored and there was no postponement.
A hotel syndicate bought the Loon Lake House and ran it for a number of years before converting it into a summer camp. Then about midnight of September 19, 1956 a fire of unknown origin broke out in the kitchen of the Main House. Within a few hours that building was completely destroyed. The nearby annexes and cottages were spared; most of the latter were sold at auction about five years ago.
Although for most people the old Loon Lake has now become just a fascinating phase of Franklin County history, there are still a few of us left who will always have pleasant memories of the place and the person who made it memorable — the legendary, unforgettable Mrs. Chase.
Besides the sources already cited in the article I drew on material from Titus' Adirondack Pioneers, from Seaver's Historical Sketches of Franklin County and the files of the Plattsburgh Press-Republican, with the assistance of Anthony Vecchio, Director, and Mrs. Mary Leggett of the Clinton-Essex-Franklin Library. Also included are my own recollections based on 12 years' summer employment at the Loon Lake House from 1918-1930 — as well as those of Zeke Pimstein, Postmaster at Loon Lake.
Mary Howe Chase, The Founder of the Loon Lake House
Adirondack Women in History, July 1997
Kendra Bailey Lake Placid 1996 Writing Contest Winner
Mary Howe Chase was born in Jericho, Vermont in 1843. She was an excellent musician and taught piano and voice. In 1874 she married Ferd Chase. Ferd had served in the Civil War. They owned a beautiful piece of land on Loon Lake. Statler Hotel Company offered them a million dollars, but they refused and decided to build a hotel there themselves.
Ferd and Mary visited their property until they found just the right spot for their hotel. They moved to Loon Lake in October of 1878. The first building they built was called Prentiss Lovering. On May 19,1879, the building was ready for its first five guests. It was three stories tall and had 31 rooms! Prentiss Lovering's name was changed to President's Cottage. Presidents Harrison, Cleveland and McKinley stayed there. Mrs. Chase had a natural talent for nursing. She helped many people recover from tuberculosis. One of her patients was Benjamin Harrison's wife who made two trips all the way from Washington, D.C. just to see Mrs. Chase!
Mrs. Chase was one of those people who loved to make things bigger and better. She wanted to keep adding on more and more things to the Loon Lake House. One of the most well-known things about Mrs. Chase's marvelous hotel was its gourmet food. Mrs. Chase believed that if a hotel had good food not much else mattered.
In 1884, the Loon Lake House hosted a huge party. There were 168 guests that attended it. The party lasted for several days. Mrs. Chase didn't like the party because of all the liquor. She hated alcohol.
Mrs. Chase was called "The Mrs." by the people who knew her. One of Mrs. Chase's clever business plans was one that helped her add many cottages to the Loon Lake House. She would lease (rent) her land to someone for sometimes as short as 10 years. They would build a cottage for their visits, and when the lease was due they would either lease it again or sell it to "The Mrs.". The most expensive and elegant of all the cottages was one built by William Ziegler from Philadelphia in 1890.
The cottage he built was huge with several buildings. The cost of the whole thing was $300,000! After William Ziegler and his family stopped spending their summers at the Loon Lake House, their cottage was turned into a summer camp for girls. It was called Greylock. All the girls were thought of as a distraction by Mrs. Chase, so she bought back the camp in 1915. It was sometimes used for guests to stay in, but mainly it was used for big parties.
On November, 27, 1916, Ferd died of pneumonia. In his will he left his half of the estate to one of his good friends named Charles Stevens. Mrs. Chase had to buy back Ferd's share from Mr. Stevens so she could own the Loon Lake House again.
Mrs. Chase was a very generous lady. She put many boys arid some girls through medical or law school. She donated money to many organizations.
Mrs. Chase usually wore black even though her favorite color was light green. After having a case of scarlet fever, she was left bald. She had four wigs. Mrs. Chase did not like hats. Even though she was very old, she only slept four or five hours each night. She believed that nobody needed more sleep than that!
During just 30 years Mrs. Chase had expanded so much that the Loon Lake House covered 4,000 acres! It had a hotel, two annexes, a golf course, etc.! It also had 53 cottages.
In 1930-1931, the Great Depression was at its worst. In 1931, Mrs. Chase was told that she could not run the Loon Lake House anymore, but was welcome to stay there as long as she liked. Mrs. Chase cried and cried.
Mrs. Chase loved animals. She had many cats and dogs and a parrot named Drexie. Before she died, she asked her maid, June Jarvis, if she wanted the bird. Drexie was such a terrible creature that June refused. The parrot was buried in the coffin with Mrs. Chase. Mrs. Chase died on January 18, 1933 while four kittens played on her bed. She didn't want there to be any fuss made about her funeral, so she was buried the next day in Jericho, Vermont. Many people called asking that the funeral be postponed so they could come, but Mrs. Chase's wishes were obeyed.
Mrs. Chase's beloved Loon Lake House was turned into a girls and boys' summer camp in 1950. It then burned down on September 19,1956. Very little of it remains today.
Mrs. Chase was a very motivated lady who brought people from everywhere to the Adirondacks. She even got three presidents to come! She never gave up and came out on top most of the time. She devoted herself to the Loon Lake House. I hope I am just as motivated as she in whatever I decide to be or do when I grow up.