Nature’s Craft: The Aesthetics and Design of The Great Camps of the Adirondacks

By Molly Martien

“An Adiron­dack camp does not mean a can­vas tent or a bark wig­wam, but a per­ma­nent sum­mer home where the for­tu­nate own­ers assem­ble for sev­er­al weeks each year and live in per­fect com­fort and even luxury.”
— William Fred­er­ick Dix [1903]

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Pho­to cred­it: Mol­ly Mar­tien | View of the Adiron­dack State Park from the main cab­in at Camp Stott

In the late 1800s to the 1920s, a select group of New York’s wealthy elite trav­eled up to their great camps in the Adiron­dacks to escape the hot and over-crowd­ed city. Upstate New York’s Adiron­dack State Park, locat­ed 3 hours out­side the city of New York, encom­pass­es count­less glacial and man-made lakes and spans 6.2 mil­lion acres, mak­ing it the largest state park in the U.S. In the Adiron­dacks, these great camps were made up of a series of hous­ing com­pounds sur­round­ing the lakes. Since these homes were in a remote wilder­ness, the camp’s archi­tects used numer­ous native resources to build the homes, con­se­quent­ly giv­ing the camps a unique rus­tic aes­thet­ic. This great camp’s archi­tec­ture par­tial­ly drew upon the Swiss chalet and the Japan­ese tea-house architecture.

There was no equiv­a­lent to these exte­ri­or and inte­ri­or design feats any­where else in the world; the great camps in the Adiron­dacks tru­ly were and are unique unto them­selves. Fur­ther­more, each indi­vid­ual camp had its own dis­tinct approach to the Adiron­dack style. The camp that I believe is most notable to look into is that of Camp Stott since it rep­re­sents a crit­i­cal feat in Amer­i­can design and archi­tec­ture. The sto­ry of Camp Stott begins in 1877 with the cre­ation of the camp by design­er Fran­cis Stott, a tex­tile man­u­fac­tur­er in NYC, who cre­at­ed a large com­pound on Raque­tte Lake, the largest nat­ur­al lake in the Adiron­dacks. Adding to the allure and mag­ic of Stott’s camp was the fact that it was so far away from any road that it was only acces­si­ble by steam boat (and still today is only acces­si­ble by motorboat).

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Pho­to cred­it: Mol­ly Mar­tien | Adiron­dack chairs on the porch of a win­ter cabin

The camp once had twen­ty-plus build­ings, includ­ing mul­ti­ple com­pounds for ani­mals (most­ly hors­es); today, ten tra­di­tion­al log cab­ins remain on the prop­er­ty, includ­ing a main house, a win­ter cab­in as well as a game room, guest cot­tages, and a boathouse. These three large cab­ins all have ele­gant Mansard Roofs and large fire­places to keep warm dur­ing the cold to mild sum­mer nights. In keep­ing with the local Adiron­dacks tra­di­tion of using native mate­ri­als, the Stott Fam­i­ly and the Col­lier fam­i­ly, who came to own the camp after Stott, con­tin­ued to make their own cus­tom-made fur­ni­ture out of bark, twig, burls, or branch­es using local birch, beech, or pine trees. Even the Adiron­dacks chair grew out of this hand-made arti­san move­ment that occurred in upstate New York. With­in Camp Stott there are many notable feats of archi­tec­ture, fur­ni­ture, and inte­ri­or design, which I will dis­cuss in more depth in my next blog post. Please stay tuned!

With­out the help of fam­i­ly friends who have gra­cious­ly allowed me to stay at Stott camp I would not have had the priv­i­lege of writ­ing this blog post. Many thanks to them.

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Mol­ly Mar­tien is a recent grad­u­ate from the Col­lege of William and Mary where she received her B.A. in Amer­i­can Stud­ies. Mol­ly is cur­rent­ly apply­ing to grad­u­ate school so that she may con­tin­ue to study her two pas­sions: Amer­i­can dec­o­ra­tive arts and Mid-Cen­tu­ry Modernism.