A Nod of Approval for a Bygone Era – The Sagamore Resort

By posted on July 2, 2018 10:59AM
The Sagamore Resort Architecture

The first time I ever caught sight of The Sagamore Resort, it was from a comfortable seat on Lake George’s steamboat, the Minne-Ha-Ha. I listened to our guide with deep interest, as I’m a lover of history.

History of The Sagamore

“Built in 1883, this refined hotel sat on the shores of Green Island, financed by several prominent summer residents of the day. The Sagamore quickly attracted the elite in society, becoming the coveted get-away for wealthy patrons. After all, who doesn’t want to vacation on a private island, in a sprawling estate, along the banks of Lake George? ”
Lake George from room at Sagamore Resort

The steamboat moved along on that hot summer day, and our 2-hour history tour continued. Our guide shared many details about Lake George and it’s multi-million dollar homes, but his voice was distant, for now just an irritating noise. I tuned it out, craning my neck to look back at The Sagamore.
The Sagamore Resort from Lake George

I wondered about this magnificent Victorian-era resort. The fact that it was named after an American Indian character from the 1826 novel ‘ The Last of the Mohicans, ‘ told me I’d return, that I needed to learn more.

Months later, I’m driving over the charming bridge that connects Bolton Landing to Green Island with a girlfriend. Winding our way upwards, along this sweet curve of driveway, we arrive at the hotel, which sits like royalty at the top of the hill. No wonder they refer to it as ‘The grand dame.’

Steps to The Sagamore Resort

The Rooms at The Sagamore

After checking in, we open the door to our room. It’s one of the resort’s Governor’s Suites, and it takes us a few moments to catch our breath and absorb our surroundings. The colors of the spacious sitting room are bright and cheerful.
Sitting Area The Sagamore Resort

Burnt-orange walls, with original artwork and decorations, invite the warm afternoon sun in, through opened wood slats of window shades. Overstuffed chairs, ottomans and a TV beckon us to sit for a while, and even though we’ll certainly take advantage of the offer at some point during our stay here, it wasn’t going to be just yet.

Our sprawling bedroom lies just ahead.
Bedroom in Governer's Suite - The Sagamore Resort

Coverlets are splashed with sunlight streaming past windows which overlook a breathtaking, panoramic view of Lake George.
View of Lake George from The Sagamore Resort

Tan walls showcase Americana decorations on wood shelves and several lamps lend their soft light from all corners of the living area.

A large bathroom stands off to the left, furnished in warm marble and charming print of leap-frog wallpaper. An old-fashioned sink and mirror stand in its center.
Bathroom The Sagamore Resort

A Bygone Era

Who knows what hotel operator Myron O. Brown first thought when he envisioned the success of The Sagamore. Maybe, that it might become a stunning resort community, exclusive to the upper-crust society. I wonder if he was nervous, approaching four Philadelphia millionaires vacationing in the Adirondacks, enjoying long, lazy days at their summer homes along the shores of Lake George. I think not.

At any rate, E. Burgess Warren, William B. Bement, Robert Glendenning and George Burnham saw the same glimmer of triumph in this one-of-a-kind place of privilege. Together, the men buy Green Island for the resort’s site and form the Green Island Improvement Company. Later, another millionaire investor, John Boulton Simpson of New York City joins the group and becomes president. They prove to be a formidable team, not only in building The Sagamore, but also breathing life into the very heart of it.
Old photos of Sagamore Resort

Walking through the halls and open-air rooms of this world-renown hotel, we stop and study several black and white images which hang on wood-paneled or tastefully-papered walls. They’ve been matted and framed, testaments of historical moments in bygone years.

Did the photographer know he’d captured something so important? Did he or she realize they’d chronicled an era that we’d find tantalizing, all these years later? Because I’m fascinated, as I gaze into what might be the deep-brown and bright-blue eyes of men and women, total strangers to me. Were they workers here, or members of the elite, just enjoying the day? How many others, like myself, wonder the same? Did they feel this immensely powerful tug from the past like I did, just walking by these portraits?

The Resident Ghost

Oh, yes, we hear ghost stories while at the resort. And, ghost stories are my favorite. Next to graveyards, I look for them everywhere I travel. Who’s to say people can’t revisit a place they knew and loved (or hated) while alive and on this earthly plane? Not I.

So we listen to accounts of Lillian, a woman in her early 20’s. Our waitress tells us how Lillian’s been seen several times, standing quietly outside, on one of The Sagamore’s porches.

She’s always looking down towards the lake, wearing a dress in pinkish – brown hues, with leg-of-mutton sleeves. Huh?

Courtyard at The Sagamore Resort

We learn that her outfit is a highly sought-after style of the day, so she’s recognized as someone of privilege. People state she seems to be waiting for friends. That perhaps they are getting ready to go boating for the day.

Our waitress tells us that people have seen figures on the 2nd and 3rd floors as well. Sometimes, it’s a fleeting glimpse of a man dressed in a long black coat, while other times they catch sight of a woman in her 30’s walking the hallways, dressed in a light green gown with a Greek Key design.

The Sagamore #1 and #2

Stories come, fast and furious, about the hotel itself, and the two separate fires that threaten to destroy the structure and the dream of this spectacular resort. In fact, we’re actually standing in The Sagamore #3.

A fire starts in the resort’s laundry drying room, June 27th, 1893. It obliterates the hotel. It’s hard to picture the people, 150 of them, asleep in their comfortable beds. None of them perish in the blaze, thank God! It’s decided to rebuild the estate immediately.

The new hotel opens, with many new amenities. Now, there are Edison incandescent electric lights, a telegraph, telephones, private baths, tennis courts, a small golf course and even a steam elevator. Visitors are amazed with the upgrades at the new and improved Sagamore.

1914 arrives and on that Easter Sunday, another fire destroys the resort. Eventually, over the next several years, a brand new Sagamore is built and opens, July 1st 1930, boasting a posh hotel on the shores of Lake George.
Lake George New York

Overnight, it seems, The Sagamore becomes the place to be, hosting grand parties and Saturday night dances. Visitors come from everywhere.

The resort also hosts The National Governor’s Conference in 1954, which is attended by Vice President of the time, Richard M. Nixon and is hosted by Governor Thomas E Dewey.

In 1981, it’s simple age that takes its toll on The Sagamore. Once a proud and regal Adirondack hotel, filled with the history of people and place, it is now in disrepair. The Brandt family, present owners at the time, make the painful decision to close the doors, leaving the property to ghosts.

Sagamore #3

Until yet another owner buys the property, entertaining the same wonderful dream of other great men. Today, The Sagamore is listed in the National Register of Historic Places, one of over 140 properties owned by Ocean Properties LTD. Even though over $20 million has been spent in extensive renovations, none of the history is gone.
The Sagamore Resort Historic Marker

Lobby The Sagamore Resort

Fireplace - The Sagamore Resort

We walk down to the calm waters of Lake George and turn our gaze backwards, towards The Sagamore.
The Sagamore Resort

It’s easy to picture high society couples of yesteryear, strolling across the lawns, holding hands and laughing, ready to go boating for the day.

“ The Lake resounds
with gladsome sounds
from tennis court and croquet grounds;
A joyous throng
sends merry song
to greet us as we float along. ”
~ A poem seen at The Sagamore, on our way to the Spa ~

Read reviews of The Sagamore and Lake George Steamboat Company, on Trip Advisor, a MilesGeek affiliate.

Theresa St. John is a travel writer and photographer based in Saratoga Springs, New York. Her work has appeared in many on-line and print magazines. Some of those include Great Escape Publishing, International Living, Discover Saratoga, Saratoga Mama, Farming, Vacation Rental Travels Magazine and Travel Thru History, to name just a few.In March she will travel to Paris, in honor of her Mom, who'd always wished to go, but never had the chance to.Later, in August of 2016, she will...read more

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