Why would you christen your dinner cruise vessel the W W Durant? This steamboat-like vessel was built with your hands and the help of three others. It is spacious enough to hold 70 people and feed them gourmet meals. You constructed it in 1992 on the shores of Raquette Lake, the same shores where wooden steamboats where built and launched by journeymen ship carpenters in the late 1800’s.
Your name is Dean Pohl, and together with your wife Donna, and chef son Jim, you operate a dinner cruise vessel on Raquette Lake. You were born and raised in Raquette Lake and you know its history by heart. On your cruises you relate that history to the delight of your guests. One of my favorites is the story of how Raquette got its name. It goes something like this:
Near the end of our War of Independence, Sir John Johnson, a Tory, was being hotly pursued by the Revolutionary Forces. In March of 1776, he and is party of Seneca and Mohawk braves were fleeing north on snowshoes trying to escape to Canada. A sudden Spring thaw overtook them and they were forced to abandon their snowshoes, called raquettes by the French. They happened to be at the South Inlet of Raquette Lake when shedding their raquettes. This large pile of abandoned snowshoes remained for years and led to the name given to the lake.
The Durants, William and his father Thomas caused seismic changes in the life of the Adirondacks when they arrived on the scene in 1870’s. It is safe to say the changes they caused still reverberate in the North Country today.
Thomas Durant was the VP of the Union Pacific Railroad when the eastern portion of the transcontinental railroad was completed. As a consequence he was given 500,000 acres of Adirondack land to develop. He promptly put his son William in charge of the task of developing this vast region. The first thing they did was to extend the rails from Saratoga to North Creek. Still, it was day’s journey by stagecoach to Raquette Lake.
William then conceived of a style of architecture that was unique to the Adirondacks. It came to be called Adirondack Great Camp. William hoped that these Camps would entice the exceeding wealthy of the day to own them. This summer Fran and I toured Great Camp Pine Knot, Durant’s first Great Camp. We learned much about Great Camps and the man who built them.
Here is the main lodge of Great Camp Pine Knot on Raquette Lake’s North Point. All Durant’s Great Camps have a main lodge. It was in the main lodge that the Robber Barons of of the day were wined and dined and persuaded to invest in an Adirondack venture; a Great Camp.
As far as I know, all the main lodges of Durant’s Great Camps were two stories high and totally constructed of wood. This one was called Chalet. As a youth William was educated in Europe. His style of Adirondack architecture was no doubt influenced by his exposure to Old World building styles and conventions.
Below is the recreation building. Inside, a guest could relax by playing card games or billiards in the game room.
Here is a view of the game room inside this building. The guest is surrounded by objects and other reminders that he is now far away from his familiar surroundings.
You have perhaps noticed the intricate twig work on these buildings, especially the recreation building. It would become a hallmark of Durant’s style and later, of Adirondack design. Here are some further examples.
By now you have realized that all construction in Durant’s Great Camps is of wood and kept as rustic as possible. Buildings were set back away from the water for privacy and were constructed to serve a specific purpose, say recreation hall, sleeping cottages, dining hall, etc. They served to make the guest feel immersed in the wilderness yet not separated from the creature comforts they were so accustomed to. To provide these comforts, servants lived in buildings away from the main complex. The entire Camp covered a wide area as you can see from the view below.
Building interiors reinforced the presence of the wilderness. Here are views of the interior of one of the sleeping cottages.
The dining hall was intriguing. Here it is, a glass house.
What a wonderful view of the lake the guests had as they took their meals. We wondered how hot meals made it from the kitchen to the table without getting cold. Here is a view of the inside of the dining hall.
Next time, in Part 2, we will talk about Durant as a person. It turns out he was quite a scoundrel! I will also draw guideboats into the story.