Skating was previously much more popular than it is today, and there were many more opportunities to skate. Winter Carnival featured international speed skating and ice hockey competitions at the Pontiac rink. In the winter, the fields beside Petrova School were flooded, creating 16-acre Petrova Rink, said to be the largest artificial outdoor ice rink in North America. Saranac Lake High School had a skating team that tied for second in the 1928 state meet, and won the state championship in 1929 and 1930. Today, the Saranac Lake Civic Center provides reliable indoor ice for recreational skating and hockey, as well as a small outdoor rink, weather permitting.
Adirondack Daily Enterprise, May 1,1999
The days of the blade runners
By MARK SMITH
Enterprise Correspondent The nostalgia is so powerful, images of Doris Day are immediately brought to mind. There she is with her Hollywood beau, gliding gracefully, arm in arm, across a perfect, glass-smooth rink somewhere in small-town America. The stars twinkle as the couple dodge through the throng of fellow skaters. And then, of course, there's the light of that silvery moon.
Well, take away the Hollywood schmaltz, move the scene some 3000 miles northeast, and what you've got is winter in Saranac Lake, pre-1980 — the largest, smoothest and some say the best naturally refrigerated, man-made outdoor skating rink the world has ever seen.
It sprawled across Petrova field, just adjacent to Saranac Lake High School. It was a massive thing, beautifully maintained, stretching a quarter of the way across the giant 16-acre expanse, circled by a speed-skating track and flanked by a couple of ice-hockey pens. For 21 winters, it was open from 1 to 9 p.m. seven days a week. And it was packed, sometimes with between 500 and 600 skaters — kids and adults alike.
Those twinkling stars, of course, were blotted out by the gleam of the flood lights, but that big old silvery moon shone down on Petrova Park just the same as it did in Hollywood.
Then, in 1980, the fun came to an abrupt stop and the field was turned into a parking lot for the Lake Placid Olympic Games. A $50,000 landscaping investment the following summer and concerns over drainage not only ended skating at Petrova Park, but also marked the close of a century-old tradition of vast outdoor rinks in Saranac Lake.
Although public skating is available at the civic center, complaints abound about its size and its busy schedule of instruction and ice hockey practice, which allows for only five or six hours of public skating a week.
The frozen ponds and lakes are there of course, as is a small, volunteer-run outdoor rink on Ampersand Avenue, but no skater can deny the magic of gliding across a huge open expanse of ice that's as smooth and flat as a sheet of glass.
Skating has always been an integral part of the culture and history of the village. The first rink in Saranac Lake was constructed down on Pontiac Bay before the turn of the century. And it was here that the village held dozens of world-class skating contests and ice shows. The 1909 Winter Carnival hosted the World Outdoor Skating Championships. Competitors and spectators from all over the world came to Saranac Lake in those days.
It was this same village tradition that spawned Ed Lamy, one of the world's greatest speed skaters. Lamy was born in Saranac Lake in 1891 and by the age of six he was already racing full-speed around the rink at Pontiac Bay. At 17, Lamy earned the World Champion Speed Skater title, and over the next dozen or so years he broke world record after world record. It was an illustrious career that brought him 370 gold medals at home and abroad.
There were others. Saranac Lake gained a reputation as the cradle of American speed skating. Their names are mostly forgotten, but they are still worth recalling for their place in the history of ice skating and the history of Saranac Lake. There was Jimmy and Neil McCarthy, Bo Smith, Punk Buehler, Sid Hodson, Gunk Stearns and Tommy Bulrice — all worldclass skating stars during the early decades of the century and all from Saranac Lake. Mel Deitz, another Saranac Laker, was the youngest member of the U.S. Olympic team at the 1932 Games in Lake Placid. For decades on end, the high school speed skating team held the state title almost by habit.
Lamy was also expert in the acrobatic art of barrel jumping and his feats attracted crowds in the thousands to Pontiac Bay rink. It may even have been Lamy's world-record breaking jump of 27 feet, 7 inches in 1913 that brought Saranac Lake to the attention of the burgeoning silent movie industry.
Between 1913 and 1917, more than a dozen "Yukon" movies were produced around the village. And in one, "DeLux Annie," Lamy - clad in a fur coat, hat and skates - doubled for Hollywood star Norma Talmadge to make a jump across a water channel on Lower Saranac Lake.
But the village's outdoor rinks represented more than a fast track to fame for America's early speed skating champions. For those 21 winters at Petrova Park and decades before it at Pontiac Bay, the public rink was the social hub of the village.
Moms and pops came - some guiding their toddlers' first uneasy movements across the ice; others, spending a rare and peaceful half hour together, coasting arm-in-arm around the rink. Grandparents came, too. Friendships were born and even business deals were struck there. Romances were made and courtships were played out. And kids came in the hundreds, playing tag and flipping each other's hats. Petrova Park rink was as much a part of the heart and soul of Saranac Lake as Main Street.
Native Saranac Laker Ron Keough, who has also been the Franklin County coroner since 1959, said, "I went to the high school just next to the rink in the 1950s. When I was a kid I just about lived on that rink all through winter. It didn't matter how cold "it was, sometimes 30 below, I was there with all my friends.
"I remember there was always music blaring through the loudspeakers, and I remember the couples skating hand-in-hand and the families, the kids playing and speed skaters flying by on the ice track that went around the rink.
"And the Winter Carnival up there was really something else. There'd be 400 kids in costumes all skating on the ice. That was really something to see. I taught my own kids to skate there. I miss a big outdoor rink," Keough, added. "Skating indoors just isn't the same."
In the 1950s, when public skating moved from Pontiac Bay to Petrova field, Ed Lamy became the new rink's first supervisor.
"That was a great time for the village," recalled Saranac Lake Winter Carnival Chairman Don Duso. "It was a lot of fun with Ed Lamy in charge up there. He had a big tractor with a broom at the front for sweeping the ice. As kids, we used to hang on to the back of it and get a free ride around the rink. Sometimes, there'd be a hundred kids hanging on to each other getting pulled along the ice. That kind of thing wouldn't be allowed today, but it was terrific fun."
George Bedore, who built the biggest rinks at Petrova Park in the late 1960s and through the 1970s, is just as enthusiastic about his era.
"I built the world's largest, naturally refrigerated ice-skating rink up at Petrova, and I'm damn proud of that," said Bedore, now 75.
"We held the North American Speed Skating Championships there and the Eastern Seaboard Championships. Lake Placid is where all that kind of thing happens now, but in those days it was Saranac Lake. We had the rink for it and it was a real credit to the village.
"In 1973, we held the World Championship Barrel Jumping contest here. It was called the Ed Lamy Gold Cup. More than 15,000 people from all over the world were packed into the stands at Petrova for that event.
"But more important than that, every day and night, seven days a week, there'd be 500, maybe 600 kids out there. It made me proud just to watch them skate around my rink. When you make a rink like that, it's something you live with. I used to put in 75 to 80 hours a week up there. My wife will tell you about that."
Nostalgia doesn't die easily. Although there is currently no official movement to bring such a rink back to the village, something is bubbling beneath the surface.
Village Manager and former mayor of Saranac Lake Howard Riley said; "I've had more requests to bring back that rink than anything else. It's almost a regular occurrence. People come up to me in the street and say to me, "If there's one thing you do while you're in office, bring back our outdoor skating rink."
And Riley added- "I have fond memories of that outdoor skating rink as well. I had six sons who all skated there. In the 1960s, when I was the mayor here, I used to go down and shovel snow there. People used to get a kick out of that.
"Personally, I'm in favor of bringing the rink back. It would be a place for the kids to go in the winter and a place for parents to take their children. It would just be a great thing for the town, a real community service."
On a legal level, a new outdoor rink at Petrova field is certainly a possibility. According to an agreement between the village of Saranac Lake and the school, dated May 15, 1958, and recorded in the Franklin County Clerk's Office on Nov. 9, 1960, "the village specifically retains the right to use the field "at such times as they do not interfere with the activities of Saranac Lake Public Schools."
Yet the old concerns about drainage and the damaging effects of four months of packed ice on the school athletic field remain. But, of course, a new outdoor rink would not necessarily have to return to Petrova Park. According to one source, village officials are currently looking tentatively into the possibility of a new rink at Lake Colby.
So what would it take to bring a big outdoor skating rink back to Saranac Lake?
"Money in the budget," said Riley; with a smile. "But more than that; the cause needs a public voice. That would go a long way. If enough people pulled together, perhaps a big outdoor skating rink in Saranac Lake, could become a reality."
Lake Placid News, December 8, 1933
To Have Indoor Skating Rink at Saranac Lake
An indoor skating rink for Saranac Lake will be made available by the Curling club, according to announcement by Dr. Sidney F. Blanchet Sunday following a meeting of the club directors.
The skating rink will encircle the curling rinks at the club house in River street, providing a maximum of comfort and assurance of good skating conditions for the bladsters. At the same time the center rinks of the curlers may be used by devotees of the ancient Scottish game.
Memberships of skaters are to be arranged by a new committee. The tentative plans call for family as well as individual memberships. Non-members will also be permitted to use the skating rinks.
It is expected that the skating rinks will be ready for use in about two weeks. A caretaker and instructor will be in attendance.