The St. Regis Lakes are Upper St. Regis Lake, Lower St. Regis Lake, and Spitfire Lake. By the 1890s, Paul Smith owned most of the land surrounding the lakes. Surveying his holdings, he said "I never saw anything like it! There's not a foot of land on that lake for sale this minute, and there's not a man in it but what's a millionaire, and some of them ten times over. There's that camp there, do you mind, that camp rented this summer to H. McKown Twombly for $5,000, and now he's bought land and has got seventy-five men clearing it and they will work all winter. There are the Stokeses, millionaires, all of 'em, and George Dodge, as nice a man as ever put his foot into a boat. There are the Lymans, there's Whitelaw Reid's and there's the Garrett's. I tell you if there's a spot on the face of the earth where millionaires go to play at house keeping in log cabins and tents as they do here I have it yet to hear about." 1
In the summer of 1859, English author Charles Dickens visited the area, staying at Paul Smith's Hotel, with Paul Smith himself serving as guide, as recounted in Dickens' periodical All The Year Round, published on September 29, 1860, in which he wrote:
Hurrah for St. Regis! It was a beautiful morning after the two days’ rain when we rowed up that broad river, six miles, through Spitfire Pond, and into that superb lake, always overshadowed by those noble mountains. St. Regis Lake is one of the grandest of the region, and comparatively little visited. Sixteen miles of unbroken forest make its margin, numerous islands stud its surface, and high mountains frown upon it from every side. What a week we passed there! We leaped and halloed like madmen. Hurrah! No more artificial restraints, not even a fence! Our log-shanty, on an island in the middle of the lake, was a model one, perfectly new. Its owner, or rather its builder, was a friend and patron of Smith, and kindly offered it to us. By day our hounds bayed in the forest, while we watched on some shady point for the deer to come into the lake
From Anson Phelps Stokes' Stokes Records, 1898
"Returned to Birch Island, where I arrived, July 4th, ill, but soon got better. Had a great deal of sail boat racing this summer, as in-deed I have had for many years, with the St. Regis Yacht Club, of which I have been commodore from the beginning. The first sail-boat ever seen on these lakes' was a catamaran that I built in 1876, the first year we were there." Stokes Records, Vol. III, p. 68
Malone Farmer, June 17, 1903
Some New Ones--Some Greatly Improved.
A Paul Smith's dispatch of recent date says:
"There has been much building by the owners of private camps along the lakes of the St. Regis Chain this spring, and a lively interest is manifest in the rental of furnished camps and cottages and in the securing of accommodations at Paul Smith's Hotel.
"George H. Earle, of Philadelphia, who bought the camp of Mrs. E. C. Brooks, of New York, on Spitfire Lake last year, has recently completed many improvements. All of the new buildings are or stone, The main structure is octagonal, while the sleeping apartments are in a long building, the wails being of stone two feet thick.
"In the H. McK. Twombly camp on the Upper St. Regis Lake, purchased by F. W. Vanderbilt a year ago, have been erected three Japanese buildings for sleeping apartments. The work is being done by Japanese carpenters, and will be finished for the coming of the Vanderbilts in July.
"Extensive improvements are being made to the camp of Mr. and Mrs. C. H. McCormick, on Upper St. Regis Lake, for the accommodation of Mrs. McCormick's father, John D. Rockefeller, who will spend the summer there.
"Dr. Walter B. James, of New York, who purchased the Schlessinger camp on Upper St. Regis Lake two years ago, has added several new buildings. An interesting feature is the use of old fence boards in the interior and in doors and other places quickly noticed by the eye, with the object of giving the camp a weathered and rustic appearance. Another feature of the James camp is the winter building, the exterior of which is of two by six inch beams ship-lapped...
New York Tribune, July 3, 1910
PAUL, SMITH'S. N. Y., July 2.— Dr. George Fales Baker has been bringing in good catches of brook trout this week, and on one trip to Long Pond captured eleven trout that weighed on the average a pound each. While stream fishing Dr. Baker caught fifty brook trout. C. M. Gilligan, of New York, also made some enviable fishing records early in the week.
The events of the St. Regis Yacht Club will be started within a fortnight, for Simeon J. Drake, chairman of the race committee, is at Twin Pines camp, on Spitfire Lake, and is completing arrangements for marking the club course on Upper St. Regis Lake.
Dr. and Mrs. Edward L. Trudeau came yesterday and opened their cottage at Paul Smith's for the reason. Dr. A. Schuyler Clarke, of New York, is staying at the Trudeau Cottage. Francis Trudeau is also here, and has brought his new automobile with him. Mr. Trudeau has placed his fast boat, the P. D. Q., in commission for the season's events.
Mr. and Mrs. George S. Brewster arrived at their Spitfire Lake camp this week. Mr. Brewster is a member of the race committee of the St. Regis Yacht Club, and has been busy with club work.
Mrs. Clarence Mitchell is occupying her Upper St. Regis camp, after an absence from the resort of several years. Other members at the camp colony to arrive this week were Mrs. J. C. R. Peabody and Richard Peabody at Camp Medamine, Mr. and Mrs. Justus Hotchkiss and Miss Grace Mitchell at their respective camps on Spitfire Lake. Mr. and Mrs. Lewis Thompson at Camp Wyndover and Mrs. T. Harrison Garrett at the Upper St. Regis camp of her son, Robert Garrett.
Mrs. M. F. Goddard, of New York, will end a month's stay at Paul Smith's Hotel this week and go to Watch Hill for the remainder of the season. Miss Josephine Garretson and her sister, Miss Helen Garretson, are occupying a camp on Lower St. Regis Lake.
Mr. and Mrs. E. Heyward Ferry, of New York, have taken the Wiser camp for the season, and are here with Miss Ferry. Frank Bianchi, of New York, is also in camp on Lower St. Regis Lake and is accompanied by his sisters, the Misses Whittemore.
Signor Lopez, of Havana, who spent last summer in the Adirondacks, is negotiating for a cottage at Paul Smith's. Signor Lopez and his three sons spent several days at the resort this week.
James M. Bell, of New York, motored up this week to remain for some time. Mrs. Bell will come later.
William Rauch and his son, William P. Rauch, are going to Canada in a few days to join Rudolph Rauch at the Restigouche Club, in quest of Salmon trout. Mr. Rauch has been at his camp on Spitfire Lake for a fortnight.
New York Times, July 18, 1937
MANY GIVE PARTIES ON ST. REGIS CHAIN
Colonists Entertain After the Sailing Race Sponsored by the Yacht Club
Special to The new York Times PAUL SMITH'S, N. Y., July 17.—
After this afternoon's sail race, sponsored by the Upper St. Regis Yacht Club, several members of the colony entertained at their camps on the St. Regis Chain of Lakes.
The Lusk camp on the Upper Lake has been opened for the season by Mr. and Mrs. Avery Rockefeller. Mr. and Mrs. Herbert L. Pratt Jr. have arrived at the Pratt camp on that lake. Dr. and Mrs. Ransom S. Hooker are at Camp Arrowhead on Spitfire Lake.
William Stuart Spaulding of Boston, commodore of the yacht club, and Mrs. Spaulding, with their son and daughter, William Stuart Spaulding Jr. and Miss Alice Spaulding, are at Birch Island, the Spaulding camp on the Upper Lake.
Mrs. Hotchklss Ely is expected this week-find from Greenwich, Conn., for the remainder of the season at her Camp Potluck on Spitfire Lake.
Mr. and Mrs. F. Louis Slade also will open their Camp Underpines for the remainder of the season.
Dr. and Mrs. Arthur F. Chace of New York have opened Pine Point Lodge on the Upper St. Regis. Her brother-in-law and sister, Dr. and Mrs. Edward W. Peterson, also of New York, have opened near-by Evergreen Lodge.
White Pine Camp on Osgood Lake, famous as the Summer White House during the Coolidge administration, will be opened on Tuesday by its owners, Mr. and Mrs. Edgar B. Stern of New Orleans, who are coming here on their return from a European vacation.
New York Times, July 14, 1940
Season Is Active In Adirondacks
John Jacob Astors Take Camp Of George H. Townsend at Upper St. Regis Lake
Special to The New York Times.
UPPER ST. REGIS, N. Y., July 13—Mr. and Mrs. John Jacob Astor, who have leased The Rocks, on Upper St. Regis Lake, the camp of George Henry Townsend of New York and Greenwich, Conn., will arrive on Friday for the season. They will have with them their young son, William Astor, who on that day will be 5 years old. Mr. Astor last year purchased Four Brothers Islands at Lake Champlain. Mr. and Mrs. Astor will be in Newport for the early Autumn and will occupy their home, Chetwode.
Mrs. Dedera Townsend has opened her new camp here for the season. Dr. and Mrs. Arthur F. Chace of New York have arrived at their camp.
William B. Trowbridge of New York and Oracle, Ariz., is accompanied at his camp on Spitfire Lake by Herbert Mapes of Flushing, L. I.
Adirondack Daily Enterprise, September 14, 1991
Travelers came, saw and stayed on Saranac, St. Regis lakes
Living in Saranac Lake we have been able to enjoy a proximity to a pair of waterways that are among the most popular in the Adirondack Region. The Saranac Chain of Lakes and the St. Regis Chain of Lakes are similar in arrangement with an upper and lower lake connected by an in-between lake to form the configuration. In the St. Regis Chain the middle lake is Spitfire, while in the Saranac Chain the in-between lake was for many years Round Lake, but at some later date the name was changed to Middle Saranac. Despite the lettering on current maps, to local old-timers it will always be Round Lake.
This bit of trivia will serve as a lead-in to the main topic which, in this case, happens to be nomenclature. The word Saranac has baffled researchers for many years. Originally believed to be an Indian name, no authentic derivation surfaced to establish such relationship. At an earlier date the Indians who were questioned denied any knowledge of, or use of, the word. William Beauchamp, an authority on aboriginal place names m New York, stated that the name "has no definite meaning." He did, however, offer several near misses such as Salonack, Serindac, and Salasanac, but no Saranac. Donaldson mentions the possibility of a corruption of the term St. Aranack which appeared on some early French maps. The name St. Regis, on the; other hand, has an interesting historical background.
The story begins in 17th century France when a Jesuit priest, by the name Jean Francois Regis, was gaining a widely acclaimed recognition for his selfless labors among the poor and underprivileged. His devotion to this cause, during his work as a missionary, brought solace to the poor but also stirred a rabid resentment among the upper classes. To avoid further animosity Regis applied for service m Canada, where the Jesuit order was striving to bring Christianity to the Huron Indians. His superiors denied the request by stating that his continuing services were sorely needed in his current vocation. Disappointed but resolute in his devotion to duty he continued to toil among the poor until his death on Dec 31, 1640 at LaLouvase, France. Only 43 years of age, he had spent 26 years as a Jesuit. Both the King of France and the King of Spain petitioned the Pope to grant sainthood on the highly respected Jean Francois Regis and on June 16, 1737, Pope Clement XII canonized St. Regis. Although he never reached the New World his title crossed the ocean, ascended the St Lawrence River, and penetrated New York state from the Canadian border all the way south to New York City. It happened like this.
During the French and Indian Wars, 1689 to 1763, Canadian Indians, abetted by the French, made frequent raids south into the New England regions. One of the most infamous being the massacre at Deerfield, Mass, while a lesser-known raid took place at Groton, Mass. It was here that a small party of Indians captured two young boys who were brothers by the name of Tarbell So stealthy was the attack that the boys were not missed until it was too late to pursue the raiders The Indians transported the two young captives to their village at Caughnawaga some 10 miles west of Montreal. Rather than holding the boys for ransom, the Indians elected to adopt them into tribal families, where they were raised according to the native customs. The youngsters quickly learned the Indian language and assumed regular roles among their captors by adapting to their circumstances. Upon reaching the proper age, the Tarbell boys married Indian maidens, but the harmony was being threatened by arising resentment harbored by the Indian braves of the tribe. Because of the white boys' background they were superior to the Indians in many ways and the animosity seemed to be nearing the boiling point. The Jesuit missionary at Caughnawaga was aware of the impending trouble and decided to prevent bloodshed. He summoned the Tarbell families to a conference and suggested that they strike out to a distant site and form a new village where they could live in peace. This plan was accepted and the Tarbells, together with their wives and inlaws, loaded their possessions into canoes and proceeded upstream on the St. Lawrence River.
Upon arriving at a point on thee comedy southern shore of the river, some 70 miles west of Montreal, the emigrating families found what they were searching for. Here a fine river flowed into the St. Lawrence from the south, creating an attractive prospect for a settlement. The Tarbells went ashore and immediately decided that this would be their new home. The next few years found them building their lodges, clearing the, land, and planting their crops. The tiny village prospered from the start and all indications seemed to predict a rosy future embellished with probable growth.
The first expansion took place unexpectedly in 1760 when another Jesuit missionary, Father Anthony Gordon, arrived with a large contingent of Indians seeking to escape the immoral influences of Montreal. The Tarbells accepted the newcomers, welcoming the increase to their own community. Father Gordon was elated with this expression of unselfish cordiality and, since it happened to occur on the festival of St. Regis, he named the village in his honor.
In 1858 Paul Smith was building his famous hotel on the north shore of Lower St Regis Lake Well ahead of his contemporaries, Smith realized that while most of the Adirondack entrepreneurs were concentrating on the lumber industry, he was aware of the land's real estate value. He quietly proceeded to purchase property until he acquired all of the land surrounding the St. Regis lakes. Just as Smith had suspected, many of his wealthy hotel guests would eventually want to own their own property and build their lakeshore camps. He was so right!
Over the next 40 years the camp colonies on the St. Regis and Spitfire Lakes grew to a prominent and highly respectable community that could boast an impressive quota of important names. The rustic camps served as summer homes to the great and near great during that era of Adirondack prominence. One such camp, at the turn of the century was known as the Cowles-Roosevelt Camp. Mrs. Cowles was the wife of Admiral Cowles and a sister of Teddy Roosevelt, while the co-lessee, Helen Roosevelt, was a cousin of both Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt. As if such relationships were not impressive enough, Helen also happened to be the granddaughter of Mrs. Astor, the foremost socialite of New York City. In 1900 the Astors were in the process of building a new hotel on 5th Avenue in Manhattan with Mr. Astor's son, Jack, in charge of the project. As the hotel was nearing completion he called upon Helen, his favorite niece, to come up with a name for the hotel. Without the slightest hesitation she chose the name St. Regis in memory of the pleasant days that she had spent on the shore of Upper St Regis Lake. Unfortunately, uncle Jack Astor went down with the Titanic in 1912.
Currently many of the original camps on the St. Regis Chain are hosting third and fourth generations of campers. On nearby St. Regis Mountain there remains one of the few surviving fire observation towers, while the St. Regis River continues to flow into the St. Lawrence at the site of the Tarbell settlement. Here, in the northwest corner of Franklin County, there exists the St. Regis Indian Reservation and for a non-Indian type of reservation you can now spend a night at the St. Regis-Sheraton at 5th Ave. and 55th St. in New York City for about $150.
1. Forest and Stream, Volume 36, Forest and Stream Publishing Company, New York, June 1891, p. 434. Full text here