742-acre Upper St. Regis Lake is a part of the St. Regis River in the Adirondacks. Along with Lower St. Regis Lake and Spitfire Lake, it became famous in the late 19th century as a summer playground of America's power elite, drawn to the area by its scenic beauty and by the rustic charms of Paul Smith's Hotel. It is the site of many grand old summer "cottages" and Great Camps, including Marjorie Merriweather Post's Camp Topridge. Frederick W. Vanderbilt, Anson Phelps Stokes and Whitelaw Reid were among the summer residents. "The camps of many of these families began as tent colonies, with separate units for sleeping, dining, games, and so on, and evolved into permanent structures built with understated taste." 1
Apollos (Paul) Smith started his hotel in 1859 as a primitive operation that appealed to sportsmen. Gradually, the hotel became something of a fad amongst the wealthy and powerful of New York. As camping became more of a family activity, Smith would allow families to set up camp for day use along the shores of the St. Regis Lakes, returning to the hotel for the night. Eventually, families would lease or buy land from Smith and build tent platforms, and finally clusters of cabins and cottages.
Even in the early stages, some of these camps became quite elaborate. In 1883, one of the first families, the Stokes, would arrive in a "special parlour horse car direct from 42nd street to Ausable for $100." The party consisted of ten family members and an equal number of servants, "three horses, two dogs, one carriage, five large boxes of tents, three cases of wine, two packages of stovepipe, two stoves, one bale of china, one iron pot, four washstands, one barrel of hardware, four bundles of poles, seventeen cots and seventeen mattresses, four canvas packages, one buckboard, [...], twenty-five trunks, thirteen small boxes, one boat, one hamper", all of which was then transferred to wagons for the 36 mile ride to Paul Smiths, and thence by boat to their island campsite. 2
Upper Saint Regis Lake is part of the original Seven Carries canoe route from Paul Smith's Hotel to Saranac Inn. It is also the original home of the Idem-class racing sailboats, originally built in 1900, the oldest class of actively racing one-design boats with original boats participating. 3
Forest and Stream, Volume 36, Forest and Stream Publishing Company, New York, June 1891, p. 435 (full text here)
THE ST. REGIS CAMPS.
NOWHERE in the entire Adirondack region are the camps as numerous or as elaborate in their appointments as on the lakes immediately in the neighborhood of Paul Smith's Hotel, over 100 being situated within a radius of three miles from the hotel. This house is on the northern shore of the lower, but most northerly, of the two St. Regis lakes. Between these two, connected with them by narrow streams or runways for the water— "slews" the natives call them—is Spitfire Lake. North of Smith's about one-half mile is Osgood Pond. The banks of these lakes are owned by private individuals, who have erected upon them permanent camps, some of which have cost many thousands of dollars. Land on their shores is variously held at from $2,500 to $10,000 an acre.
The next lake, the Upper St. Regis, is the favorite one for camps in this region, if not in the entire Adirondacks. To the right of the entrance from Spitfire, and adjoining the summer resting place of the writer, is the camp of Hon. Whitelaw Reid, the main building of which is a log cabin. In front of these camps is Brick Island, which contains about twenty acres, and is owned by Mr. Anson Phelps Stokes. Here is a little village of artistic buildings and snow white tents, which face the western shore of the lake, from which rises Mount St. Regis, with its rugged wild scenery of tangled bush and its wealth of pine trees.
On Pine Tree Point, the northerly end of the lake, was erected last year at great expense the camp of Mr. H. Mc K. Twombly. Between this point and the entrance to Spitfire are camps owned by Messrs. Edward Penfold, A. W. Durkee and Charles T. Barnes, of New York. On the last camp is a very fine tennis court, and the inclosed yard containing several deer. Among the campers on this lake may be mentioned Robert Garrett, Robert Hoe and Edward Mitchell. The camp of the last named gentleman will be occupied this year by the family of Mr. Robert W. Stewart, of the Meadowbrook Hunt.
In addition to hunting and fishing in which the gentlemen take part, races between the yachts and steam launches, also rowing contests between the guides are of frequent occurrence. And at evening, the myriad lanterns and the camp fires give a gala appearance to the scene, which is enhanced by the songs of rowing parties with their accompaniments of banjo and guitar.
The attractions of this form of life in this beautiful region is easily explained by the fact that the camps are near enough to a base of supplies to be enabled to set good tables, and sufficiently removed from each other and the busy world to give their occupants zest for their invigorating life alfresco, and its varied sports.
GUESTS AT ADIRONDACK CAMPS
Governor General of Canada and Lady Minto to be Entertained by Owners of Summer Homes on Upper St. Regis Lake—Many House Parties.
Special to The New York Times.
PAUL SMITH'S, N. Y., Aug. 8.—Lord and Lady Minto are expected to reach here tomorrow as the guests of Mr. and Mrs. Whitelaw Reid at their camp Wild Air on the Upper St. Regis Lake, and there have been many plans for their entertainment in this woods retreat.
During the last two or three years, while the number of camps on the Upper St. Regis Lake has been increasing and they have extended or rebuilt the older camps, it has grown customary to entertain largely where previously the camp was the retreat for the members of the family. In the last few weeks the social life on the Upper St. Regis Lake has received a tremendous impetus through the interest manifested by Frederick W. Vanderbilt, Cyrus H. Mccormick, John D. Rockefeller. Whitelaw Reid, Anson Phelps Stokes, Col. and Mrs. Jacob C. R. Peabody, George H. fiarle, Mrs. Robert Hoe, and others, who have planned for a busy August and September. Last season the Reid camp was extended through the construction of several new buildings, and this Spring there were more additions and improvements. A new feature there is the interest shown in life on the water, which has led to the purchase of new sailboats and a handsome new electric launch, one of the largest and finest afloat. With the aid of this fleet it is proposed to show Lord and Lady Minto and other prospective guests at Camp Wild Air the modernized and polished country that may be enjoyed through touring and sailing over the waters of the St. Regis Lakes.
Nearly every visitor of social distinction to this locality is enjoying with Mr. and Mrs. Frederick W. Vanderbilt the manifold beauties of the new Japanese camp. From the first the grounds were open to the inspection of Mr. and Mrs. Vanderbilt's friends, and now, upon the completion of the camp and the Japanese gardens surrounding it, Mr. and Mrs. Vanderbilt are receiving the enthusiastic praise of all callers. Mr. and Mrs. Vanderbilt are practically keeping open house…
The New York Times, August 23, 1903
HAPPENINGS OF THE WEEK AT ADIRONDACK RESORTS
House Parties at the Various Camps Attract Many from Other Summer Headquarters—Functions Which Have Commanded the Attention of the Campers.
Special to The New York Times.
PAUL SMITH'S, N. Y., Aug. 22.—Many people have closed their houses at Lenox, Southampton and Newport and come to the Adirondacks for the various house parties and functions, that are occupying attention at this time.
The dinners, receptions, and luncheons in honor of Lord and Lady Minto and Lady Eileene and Lady Ruby attracted many visitors to the camps of Mr. and Mrs. Whitelaw Reid. Mr. and Mrs. Frederick W. Vanderbilt, Mrs. W. Sheftield Cowles, Mrs. Stanley Mortimer, Judge and Mrs. W. K. Townsend, Mr. and Mrs. Henry B. Livingstone, Mr. and Mrs. Charles Henderson, and others, and these camps are now filled by the large house parties entertained at each of them.
Among those who attended the functions in honor of the Governor General of Canada and Lady Minto were Miss Helen Roosevelt, daughter of J. Roosevelt and granddaughter of Mrs. Astor; Miss Eleanor Roosevelt, niece of President Roosevelt; Theodore Robinson, nephew of President Roosevelt; Grant Forbes, nephew of DeCourcy Forbes: D. O. Mills, Mrs. Moses Taylor, Mrs. W. Sheffield Cowles, sister of President Roosevelt; Col. and Mrs. Jacob C. R. Peabody. Mr. and Mrs. Frederick W. Vanderbilt, Judge W. K. Townsend of the United States Circuit Court, who succeeded Judge Shipman; Mrs. Townsend, Judge Lacombe, Mrs. Morgan Dix, Miss Dix, the Misses Wheeler, daughters of Gen. Joseph Wheeler; Joseph Wheeler, Jr., Oliver B. Harriman, Mrs. Stanley Mortimer, Mrs. Benjamin Guinness and her mother, Margaret, Lady Williams Bulkeley, sister of the Dowager Duchess of Wellington; Miss Montgomery, Miss Lena Morton, and Mr. and Mrs. C. H. McCormick.
One of the features during the visit of Lord and Lady Minto was a race between the boats in the Idem class in the St. Regis Yacht Club series. This was held over the course on the Upper St. Regis Lake, which may be viewed from the grounds of the camp of Mr. and Mrs. Reid. As he was keenly interested in the topography of the land, as becomes a soldier, so was Lord Minto an enthusiastic spectator at the races, walking along the shore of the lake between Mr. Reid's billiard room and the veranda of the main cabin. The boat sailed by Ogden Mills Reid won the event, and upon the conclusion of the races Lord and Lady Minto joined Ogden Mills Reid on board the yacht. Lord Minto took the tiller himself, and sent the craft through considerable wind and a rainstorm until he had tested its merits. After the race Lord and Lady Minto entered an Adirondack guide boat, a shell they had never seen before, and rowed it over the waters of the lake. When they concluded their test of the boat Lady Eileene and Lady Ruby rowed about the lake and enjoyed the sport quite as much as did Lord and Lady Minto. During the visit of the Governor General of Canada to the St. Regis Lakes he called at the camp of Col. and Mrs. Jacob C. R. Peabody, where he found much to interest him in the colors of the headquarters and the colors of the corps in which Col. Peabody served in the Cuban war. Lady Eileene and Lady Ruby played a game of tennis on the courts of the Reid camp against Miss Reid and Miss Eleanor Roosevelt, winning the match.
Mrs. Stanley Mortimer, who has the Ward camp, on the Upper Saranac Lake, has been entertaining Miss Eleanor Roosevelt. Miss Roosevelt has also been visiting Mrs. Cowles, and this week, in company with Miss McCook, she went to Camp Wild Air, to remain for a week, the guest of Miss Jeanne Reid.
Mrs. Benjamin Guinness and her mother, Lady Williams Bulkeley, sister of the Dowager Duchess of Wellington, are the guests of Mrs. Stanley Mortimer at her camp on the Upper Saranac Lake.
Hugh Behring is a guest of Mr. and Mrs. Whitelaw Reid.
Mr. and Mrs. W. D. Sloane arrived at Camnp Wild Air early this week, and will be the guests of Mr. and Mrs. Reid for a week, after which they will go to visit Mr. and Mrs. Frederick W. Vanderbilt at their new Japanese camp.
Oliver R. Harriman. who has been the guest of Mr. and Mrs. Reid, has gone into rough camp for a fortnight.
D. O. Mills has returned to the Reid camp, after a visit to New York.
Mrs. Moses Taylor is a member of the house party at the Reid camp.
J. Bowers Lee came this week to visit Mr. and Mrs. Frederick W. Vanderbilt.
Mr. and Mrs. Frederick W. Vanderbilt are also entertaining Mr. and Mrs. James A. Burden, Jr.
Mr. and Mrs. Hoffman Miller, Mrs. C. G. Williams, and Miss Parsons are the guests of Mr. and Mrs. Anson Phelps Stokes at their camp. Birch Island, in the Upper St. Regis Lake…
Plattsburgh Daily Republican, June 20, 1933
ADIRONDACK CAMPS UNDER CONSTRUCTION
Involve Expenditure of Over Quarter Million
MANY AT L. PLACID
...On the nearby St. Regis Chain of Lakes, Dyson Duncan of New York is erecting a new camp on the Upper St. Regis Lake at a cost of over $25,000 and John B. Thayer of New York is making extensive replacements of the buildings comprising his Upper St. Regis camp at an outlay of approximately $50,000...
See also St. Regis Lakes
Donaldson, Alfred L., A History of the Adirondacks. New York: Century, 1921. ISBN 0-916346-26-8. (reprint)
Jerome, Christine, Adirondack Passage: Cruise of Canoe Sairy Gamp, HarperCollins, 1994. ISBN 0-93527294-1.
Hooker, Mildred Phelps Stokes, Camp Chronicles, Blue Mountain Lake, NY: Adirondack Museum, 1964. ISBN 0-910020-16-7.
New York Times, "Summer Retreats When Old Money Was New", August 12, 2010
New York Times, "Yacht Racing on St. Regis Lake", August 7, 1904. (pdf)
New York Times, "Guests at Adirondack Camps",August 9, 1903. (PDF)