|The architectural style known as
"Great Camp" originated in Raquette Lake with Camp Pine Knot. It was at Camp
Pine Knot that William West Durant began his creation of a harmonious woodland
architecture that institutionalized the style we know today as Great Camp.
The significant elements of the Great Camp style are: log construction, native stone work, decorative rustic work in twigs and branches and self-sufficient, multibuilding complexes.
Pine Knot was built over a thirteen year period into a compound cluster of buildings, large and small, connected and detached. The many buildings on the site were scattered in an informal manner, each separate from the next. Rather than tack a new wing onto an existing structure to incorporate a new function, it was preferred to construct an entirely separate structure.
Sites were selected for views and within general proximity of each other for convenience of moving about in bad weather. There were practical reasons as well for the compound-plan tradition. The separated structures afforded more privacy, while at the same time, creating a sense of community. The separation of units also afforded some fire protection
Heavily in debt by living on a lavish scale and spending far more on building his camps and carrying out his land development and transportation schemes than his actual income covered, Durant sold Pine Knot to Collis P. Huntington of Southern Pacific Railroad fame. Huntington enjoyed the property only a few years before he died. The camp stood empty for almost half a century until the Huntington heirs gifted the estate in 1949 to SUNY Cortland. Cortland runs the facility, renamed the Huntington Memorial Outdoor Education Center, year-round, hosting primarily school groups.
Heavy debts and the forced sale of Pine Knot did not deter Durant from embarking on yet another camp. Conceived as his year-round home, and started in late 1896, Sagamore Lodge was built on the site of an earlier hunting camp on its own lake (Shed Lake later renamed Sagamore by Durant). Like Durant's earlier camps, Sagamore was designed on the compound plan. Service structures were grouped a half-mile from the main buildings used by the family and guests.
WW Durant had set out to build his last lodge with three goals in mind: to prove that summer quarters could be made comfortable for winter use and pleasure; to be the first to invite friends for Christmas dinner in an isolated winter setting; and to be acknowledged the greatest host and entertainer in the Adirondacks. History notes that he succeeded on all three counts, but enjoyed the pleasures of Sagamore for less than four years.
Faced with imminent bankruptcy, Durant liquidated the Sagamore property in 1901 and sold the camp to Alfred G. Vanderbilt who added such improvements as flush toilets, a sewer system and hot and cold running water. In 1914 Alfred Vanderbilt added electricity by harnessing the outlet from Sagamore Lake to power a generator. Sagamore Lake was stocked for recreational fishing and the 1500 acres wilderness preserve around it was stocked for hunting. There were always guides on staff to lead the fishing and hunting expeditions for the Vanderbilt guests. Besides hunting and fishing, the other Great Camp entertainment's included ping pong, billiards and roulette in the Play House, croquette, tennis and bowling. Sagamore's two lane bowling alley dates from 1914. It is still in use today. Even in the woods, the Vanderbilt circle retained the accoutrements of their class. Guests dressed nightly for formal dinners in the dining hall and were served by liveried British servants who traveled with Mrs. Vanderbilt. A chef from Delmonico's was often invited to cook for parties.