Charles Moseley Swain Camp

From a display by Bobbie Leamer for the Historic Saranac Lake History Day 2008.

Algonquin Hotel, left; E.J. Dunning/Nathan Straus/Charles Moseley Swain Camp, rightThe "Swain Camp"  was originally purchased by Charles Moseley Swain, a banker, Philadelphia lawyer and politician, from Nathan Straus in December, 1893. It is possible that Charles Moseley Swain had been a visitor to the Algonquin or one of the other hotels on Lower Saranac Lake.  He may have stayed in Nathan Straus' luxurious house, (which was originally built in 1882 by E. J. Dunning ,Jr.) in the summer of 1893, and then purchased it in December of that year. The Dunning house stood approximately on the site where Barbara and Jan Plumadore's house is today, and it included 4 1/2 acres of land. Nathan Straus had also acquired 33 acres surrounding the "Dunning lot" from Jabez Alexander in 1886, and Charles Moseley Swain purchased all of both properties.  He died in 1904 at the Hotel Champlain near Plattsburgh, having been in ill health and told by his doctors to take it easy, and so he returned to his beloved Adirondacks.  Charles M. Swain and his wife Mary Dorothea Smedley had three children, Ida Moseley, b. 1871; Rosalie James, b. 1872, (d. 1877); and Charles James, b. 1880. When Charles M. Swain purchased this property in 1893, Ida was 22 and had just married Robert White Steel in April of that year, and son Charles J. was 18. The family probably spent many summers vacationing in that large house.

Charles Moseley Swain died intestate in 1904, so the property may have gone through probate. He left an estate of $1,800,000. His wife Mary D. died in 1907 and the two children, Ida and Charles J., inherited it by 1908.  They deeded each other half interest in the whole property in 1909  "for the purpose of merging the entire title of the premises in the names of Ida M. Steel and Charles J. Swain, the only heirs at law of Charles M. Swain, their father, who died Intestate."  The house, on the part of the property closest to Algonquin Avenue, that had been used by the Dunnings, the Strauses, and Charles M. Swain and his wife,  and which was only 22 years old,  either burned down or was removed. (It is possible that the house only partially burned, and the remaining part was moved back across the road, to the lot which presently is owned by Laura Amell.) 

Ida Swain Steel Camp

Steel Camp

Ida and her husband Robert White Steel built their new house in the exact spot where Charles M. Swain's house had been, according to May Plumadore, who later lived in the Steel house and said there was a foundation of a previous house in the basement.  The house they built was described in Everybody Was So Young, a book about Gerald and Sara Murphy, who  rented the Steel camp while their son Patrick was curing from tuberculosis in May, 1935:  "A classic Adirondack house made of whole weathered logs with gables and fretwork under the eaves, set in a clearing among old pines and hemlocks, with a detached boathouse and guest quarters across its sloping lawn.  The house was full of rather self-consciously rustic touches--one bedroom, which had a screened porch, was paneled in planking made from old railroad ties; others had oak paneling or were walled in barn siding; and the spacious living room, whose windows overlooked the lake and a pair of small islands, had a stone fireplace large enough to stand in. But it was comfortable and had a sandy beach for swimming when the weather got warm enough, and when Patrick's condition stabilized sufficiently for him to travel he and Sara ... moved in, with Gerald making the seven-hour train journey to Saranac every other weekend." (p. 261)  Archibald MacLeish and John Dos Passos came to visit in July.

May Plumadore offered other details about the house. She said that all five bedrooms were on the ground floor, with bedrooms upstairs for the servants only.  The house had an enormous front porch, and there was an additional screened porch in the back.  Some of the roof parts were copper. There were log beams in the living room, but the exterior was siding. There were five acres, and a clay tennis court.

Charles James Swain Camp

Charles J. Swain Sr. at Swain Camp, holding his granddaughter, Alice Swain.
Courtesy of Wesley Niarhos.
Charles James Swain Camp Swain Camp on Lower Saranac Lake Ida's brother Charles James Swain and his wife Elizabeth Bingham Hood, who married in 1902,  built their house at the other end of the property, now Roedels', about 1917 or earlier.  Charles was a pioneer in the automotive business in Philadelphia and president of Swain-Hickman Co. Automotive Parts. He was an automobile racer, and was President of the Quaker City Motor Club in Philadelphia as well as being on the Racing Board of the American Automobile Association. He also raced speedboats, famous ones being the Hoodoo and the Sparrow.  He took part in speedboat races on Lower Saranac Lake and also on Lake George.  In a New York Times article of February 16, 1908, he was to race his boat, the Sparrow in both the mile trials and the national trials on the Hudson River. He was a frequent summer visitor to Saranac Lake, probably staying with his sister Ida or at the Algonquin Hotel.  A New York Times article on August 16, 1914 lists him as being a judge of sports fish and game exhibits in the annual Flower Show and Adirondack Fair in Saranac Lake. He invented the "Doodang", an ice boat, which he used on Lower Saranac Lake.  It was stated somewhere that the manufacturer of the Ski-Doo  paid Charles J. Swain for the use of the name.

It is hearsay that Charles J. Swain lost so much money in the stock market crash and the depression that he was forced to sell his camp on Lower Saranac Lake. His sister Ida Moseley Swain Steel had died in 1930, and it is not known whether her husband and children kept using their camp. It is known that they rented the Steel camp out on at least two occasions.  On April 5, 1932, Charles J. Swain sold the whole property (the 33 acres from Nathan Straus) including the "Dunning lot" with that 4 1/2 acres, owned by Ida, to David S. Mathers of Philadelphia.  It is possible that David S. Mathers, who was a bank officer in Philadelphia, had made a deal by which Charles J. Swain would have been able to get back the property.  However, in 1935 Mathers rented the house to Lucille Guggenheim Bonar and her husband Jack, and Lucille Bonar purchased the property on January 17, 1936.  Jean Leopold reported that she had never seen a grown man cry, but she did see Charles J. Swain with tears in his eyes when the house passed out of his hands.

Robert White Steel died in 1937, and in April of 1938 his children who were executors of his will sold some property to Harry and Sylvia Duso. It may be the piece of land next to Algonquin Avenue on the southeast side, on the lake, which became Trudeau Institute property after being donated by Estelle Steiner. (Today, the Institute uses the Steiner Cottage to entertain guests.) This could have been the site of the cottage owned or rented by Nathan Straus' brother Isidor and his wife Ida.  It has been conveyed separately from the Steel camp and the Swain camp.  But the rest of the property on the south side of Algonquin Avenue was owned by Lucille Guggenheim Bonar, the sister of Edmond Guggenheim. This property extended to Duso's Crescent Bay Camps, and the land between the present day Roedel camp and Duso's where there are several homes (Curran, Landes, Healey, and Bailey) are on that land which was sold to Harry Duso by Lucille Bonar.

Edmond A. Guggenheim, who owned the camp Rockledge on the west side of Lower Saranac Lake, had divorced his first wife, Marron Price Guggenheim, in 1936 and married Jeanne Russell, from Saranac Lake.  When that marriage dissolved, Lucille Bonar (Mrs. Peter Summerer by 1945) either gave the Swain/Steel camps property to Jeanne or sold it to her for a nominal amount. (Deeds can't be found.) Jeanne Russell Guggenheim married Donald Moreau in 1953.  Jeanne and Don gave part of the property to her parents, the Russells, who retired there after being caretakers at Marjorie Merriwether Post's Camp Topridge. That camp, known as the Russell camp, became the property of Charles and Jeanine Sporck.  According to Charlie Sporck, the Russells brought with them their cabin and a sentinel post to the camp.  He said that sentinels were used at Topridge after the kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby.

Jeanne and Don owned the E.L. Gray Book Store from 1955 to 1960, and in 1960 he founded the Moreau Fuel Company, which he operated until 1988 when it was sold to Griffith Oil.  He was actively involved with horse show events including the Lake Placid Horse Show, and kept horses on his lake property.Don was a member of the board of the General Hospital of Saranac Lake and Adirondack Medical Center, and as Chairman of the Buildings and Grounds Committee, he oversaw the $4 million hospital expansion project.

They had two children, Dierdre and Don Russell Moreau.  Jeanne died in 1980.  Don married Virginia "Ginger" Weeks in 1984. After he married  Ginger, he sold off the original boathouse of the property to Joe Sestak, who later sold it to Charles and Alex Morse; they in turn sold it to Charles Bailey.  Don sold the beautiful house built by Charles J. Swain to Kay (Leetch) and Fred Roedel. The Roedels are Saranac Lake natives who live in Wilton, New Hampshire.  Don and Ginger moved into the Lindal cedar house they built on the property next to the old house. Don died in 1998, and the Lindal cedar house was sold to  Neil and Carolyn Hopkins who also own the Ampersand Bay Resort.

The original Dunning property, referred to as Parcel A in the deed from Mathers to Bonar, must have been sold off separately by Lucille Bonar Summerer before she gave or sold the Swain camp to Jeanne Russell Guggenheim (Moreau).  The first owner of record was Rudolph  F. Plank.  Mr. Plank was single, age 32, in the 1930 census, a lodger in the home of Anna Casey in Saranac Lake, working as a radiologist.  In 1925 he was enumerated with his father, George Planck, in Brooklyn, New York, but living in Saranac Lake.  In 1940 he is listed living in New York City, age 43, single, no occupation listed. He enlisted in the army and served in the New York Prt 3 Serv Co. Sig. Corps,  WW II, and was killed April 20, 1941.  He probably bought the lake property in the late 30s, after Lucille Bonar bought it in 1936.  His brother Christopher Plank was the executor of his will, and sold the property to Alvin Filer on June 21, 1941.

Jean Leopold remembers that when she was spending the summer of 1945 at her mother's camp, the property was known as the "Filer" camp.  Alvin V. Filer, a resident of Manhattan, owned the camp until November 28, 1949.  He was a stockbroker and the brother of Edmond Guggenheim's third wife, Marion Filer Guggenheim. His father, Joseph, immigrated from Germany and was a dry goods merchant.

Jack Lewis, also of New York City, bought the camp from Alvin Filer. While he owned his home on Lower Saranac Lake, he was very active in the Boat and Waterways Club. He served as commodore of the club in 1955 and 1956.  In his obituary, he is described as "well-known summer visitor and former Saranac Lake patient". He was in the wholesale stationery business.  Jack Lewis died in New York City on November 23, 1960.  He was survived by his wife, the former Beatrice McCollum.

After the death of Jack Lewis, there must have been a sale to Bernard Mesburg.  It was from Bernard Mesburg that Hayward "Red" Plumadore and his wife Mae bought the Steel camp about 1967.  They had been in the house about 1 1/2 or 2 years when they went away on a trip while insulating and winterizing was being done, and probably a spark from an electrical worker caught the house on fire and burned it down in 1969.  The Plumadores built a new year round house on the property, but retained the old boathouse with diamond windows. It is now the home of Jan and Barbara Plumadore.

Italian Ambassador and Mrs. Giacomo de Martino, at the Steel Camp, "only a few miles from the Summer White House at Paul Smiths". Unidentified news clipping headed Our Washington Letter (presumably Summer 1926)

Essex County Republican, January 11, 1894

The beautiful Nathan Strauss cottage on Lower Saranac Lake has been sold to Charles M. Swain, a wealthy trust company president, of Philadelphia, Pa., for $35,000.

Adirondack Enterprise, July 6, 1926; reprinted in the Adirondack Daily Enterprise, June 11, 2005

Ambassador From Italy Will Camp On Lower Lake

Baron De Martino Chooses Site near This Village for His Summer Home

Arrives in 2 Weeks

Steele Camp is Rented for Summer by Distinguished Nobleman

Another Distinguished Adirondack camper this year will be the Italian ambassador to the United States, Baron Nobile Giacomo De Martino, with whom negotiations were completed yesterday for rental of the Steele camp on Lower Saranac lake, within a short distance from this village.

Eddy Whitby, head of Duryee and Company, arranged for the rental of the camp, and Ambassador De Martino is expected to occupy the beautiful woodland home in about two weeks. He was here in person yesterday to make a selection from several camps available in this locality.

He chose the Lower Saranac Lake camp [illegible] beautiful outlook as well as for the many conveniences and modern facilities afforded. He said yesterday that the choice of the Adirondacks had nothing to do with the proximity of President Coolidge's summer camp on Osgood Lake. 

The ambassador's wife sailed today from Italy and will join him in Washington before coming to their summer vacation residence. 

Baron De Martino has been ambassador to the United States since 1925, being appointed under the regime of Premier Mussolini. It was during his incumbency that the Italian war debt to this country was settled.

"Camp Wemahyea," as the Steele camp is known, is appropriately named for the beautiful sunset that is almost a daily occurrence. Facing the west, with a wide lawn stretching down to a sand beach, the porch of the main building affords a prospect of the island studded lake and its background of majestic mountains.

The property is owned by Mrs. Robert Steele, of Wynnewood, Pa., and is a part of the old Straus estate. For the past forty years or more it has been owned by the Swain family. Fifteen years ago the old buildings were removed, and the present Steele and Swain camps were erected on adjoining sites on the lake front.

Exquisitely Equipped

The Steele camp property occupied six acres, with five hundred feet of shore frontage with a sand beach. The main lodge is a two-story building of shingle construction, with spacious porches fully screened. 

A feature is the combined living and dining room, two stories in height reaching to the roof beams. It is finished in peeled logs and contains a massive fireplace. This building also contains six bed rooms, two baths, sleeping porch, and servants rooms.

The boat house is of two stories and on the second floor is located a billiard room with a balcony. A modern launch and several guide boats comprise the boat equipment. There is also a caretaker's house and a garage.

Camp Wemahyea's neighbor, the Swain camp, will be occupied this summer by Daniel Guggenheim.

Lake Placid News, July 9, 1926

Italian Envoy Comes to Lake Placid

Barone Giacondo de Martino, Italian ambassador to the United States, spent some time in Lake Placid early in the week. He stopped at Whiteface Inn.

Barone de Martino, according to report, will spend the entire summer in the Adirondacks, as it is announced that he has leased the Steele camp on Lower Saranac Lake for the season. He has been ambassador to the United States since 1925.

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