Saranac Lake: A calming cure
Adirondack village offers summer fun, breath of fresh air
SARANAC LAKE It’s easy enough to find a beer and a bite in Saranac Lake. Pretty simple to find a painting, too.
“We have eight art galleries in town,” said Sandra Hildreth, the painter in residence at the Adirondack Artists’ Guild on a recent June afternoon. “We have more art galleries than we have bars.”
Fourteen artists are in the guild, and all take turns staffing the gallery at 52 Main St. “There are paintings; photography, both traditional and digital; fiber art,” Hildreth said. “We have a ceramic artist, a jeweler — everybody is local.”
“Local” is key word on Broadway and Main Street, which has more hustle and bustle than one might expect in an Adirondack community.
“We don’t have the big-box stores, thanks to the [Adirondack] park regulations, which some people love and some people hate,” said Amy Catania, executive director of museum Historic Saranac Lake. “But that has kept our downtown pretty much alive.”
The Blue Moon Cafe is one of the lively places. People might be curious about the rustic, folksy exterior and explore the eclectic menus. Irish, Greek and Texas versions of scrambled eggs are in the breakfast lineup; lamb and tuna skewers are options for lunch.
The Lakeview Deli on River Street, just out of downtown and across from Lake Flower, is another popular stop. Submarine sandwiches are big in the small delicatessen, and the “Gobbler” — turkey, ham, Swiss cheese and coleslaw on a toasted roll — is the specialty of the house.
“I think people come to Saranac Lake for the things it doesn’t have,” said Lakeview owner John Van Anden. “It doesn’t have the huge shopping area, it doesn’t have the big-city feel. It has the lakes, the water, the mountains.”
From an opulent era
The Hotel Saranac is the biggest landmark in downtown. The six-story, 86-room hotel was built in 1927 and retains some opulence and elegance from that era. There’s an old-fashioned lobby where the clerk on duty sits inside a small wooden booth; there’s a giant ballroom and great hall. There’s a heavy wooden door for every room.
“The rooms tend to be a little bit small,” said manager Sewa R. Arora, who runs the Saranac with daughters Sabena and Sarena. “In the old days, people just wanted a bed to sleep in.”
Arora and his family purchased the hotel in 2006 from Paul Smith’s College, which used the business for student training. Arora, who has owned hotels and restaurants on Long Island, said events like the annual Ironman Lake Placid Triathlon and the Saranac Lake Winter Carnival bring people to his inn.
“When the hockey teams come, they ask, ‘Are there any ghosts?’ ” Arora said. “I tell them I have never seen any.”
Mountain communities are popular with campers, hikers, cyclists, swimmers and kayakers. Saranac Lake has accommodations for all five groups.
“Most people are looking for hiking and paddling,” said Sylvie D. Nelson, executive director of the Saranac Lake Area Chamber of Commerce. “I think it goes back to what we’re known for in this area. There are great trails, you can hike for days or you can do hikes with the kids. A little bit of everything for everyone.”
The Saranac Lake Chain includes Upper Saranac Lake, Middle Saranac Lake and Lower Saranac Lake. All three offer big views of big country and sand beaches. The nearby St. Regis Wilderness Canoe Area is the only wilderness canoe area in the state.
“The really cool thing about this area is we have a lock system,” Nelson said. “You can go from one lake to another through the locks, you can go from Lake Flower to Lower Saranac and from Lower Saranac to Middle Saranac.”
Jason Smith equips explorers at Adirondack Lakes and Trails Outfitters in Saranac Lake. Canoe fans and kayakers will find plenty of islands and ponds. Stand-up paddle boarding is a new way to get wet, and the sport is signing up fans for Adirondack lakes.
“This is definitely lake and pond country, as opposed to Lake Placid, which is a little bit more tucked into the mountains,” Smith said. Among those area lakes and ponds are the colorfully named Rainbow Lake, Spitfire Lake, Turtle Pond, Lake Clear and Loon Lake.
Saranac Lake Fun Facts
Saranac Lake has connections to the newspaper comics page, the movies and politics. Here are the short stories, from Historic Saranac Lake:
-- Cartoonist Garry Trudeau, who draws the long-running “Doonesbury” comic strip, was raised in Saranac Lake. He is the great-grandson of Dr. Edward L. Trudeau, and has maintained connections in his hometown. For many years, he designed the button used during Saranac’s annual winter carnival.
-- Saranac Lake was used as a location during the early years of the silent film era. A small studio complex was established around 1910; filmmakers also went on location to Lower Saranac Lake, Whiteface Mountain and Franklin Falls. Parts of the famous 1914 serial “The Perils of Pauline” was shot in Saranac Lake and the surrounding area.
-- According to Turner Classic Films, the 1954 biblical story “The Silver Chalice,” the film debut of Paul Newman, was first seen in Saranac Lake. The town earned the honor by selling the most Christmas Seals — proportionate to population — in a competition with other cities. Stars Virginia Mayo, Pier Angeli and Jack Palance attended.
-- In 1859, Apollos Austin Smith — known as “Paul” — opened a hotel on Lower St. Regis Lake. That hotel became famous as “Paul Smith’s” and Theodore Roosevelt became one of the early guests. Roosevelt was elected governor of New York in 1898 and in 1901 became the 26th president of the United States.
-- Summer guests in Saranac Lake have included scientist Albert Einstein and author Mark Twain. Celebrities who spent time in town for the tuberculosis “cure” included singer Al Jolson and baseball pitcher Christy Mathewson, who died in Saranac Lake in 1925.
Smith said some people prefer pedals to paddles. There are always summer bikers on the roads.
“A popular route is to go around Upper, Middle and Lower Saranac Lakes,” he said. “You can start right in the village of Saranac Lake, head north on Route 86, hook up with Route 30 and then meet up with Route 3. It’s a great loop that feeds you right back into the village again. And there are alternate routes that can lengthen or shorten the loop.”
Smith said hikers can start short. Baker Mountain, in the village of Saranac Lake and near Moody Pond, is a one-mile walk to the summit. “For somebody who wants a little more, Ampersand Mountain is larger and a six-mile round trip. A great thing to do after that hike is to hike to one of the best beaches, the one on Middle Saranac Lake.”
Haystack Mountain in Ray Brook is a moderate-to-steep climb, with views of the high peaks.
Fly-fishing happens in the Au Sable River in Wilmington, Franklin Falls, Moose Pond and Summer Brook. Guided trail rides are also available — visitors can explore the Adirondacks on horseback.
During the winter, skiers are attracted to the Lake Placid-Saranac Lake areas for Whiteface Mountain. Some Saranac people will stay local, and ski at Mount Pisgah. “It’s a real simple, family ski area, rather than a big resort,” Smith said. Cross-country skiers have 15 kilometers of groomed ski and skate trails at Dewey Mountain Recreation Center, one mile west of Saranac Lake.
People who want to sit out part of the day can do it on the Adirondack Scenic Railroad. A train leaves the Saranac Lake station for Lake Placid on many summer days, for a 20-mile trip that takes 45 minutes. A 45-minute layover follows — and then another 20-mile ride back to Saranac.
And before you leave, you can browse souvenirs — Saranac Lake gear, plus Adirondack-style candles, jams, animal art pieces — on shelves at the Adirondack Trading Co. at 41 Broadway.
Store clerk Cindy Morrow said Saranac, like other Adirondack spots, gets people during summer, fall and winter. The slowest period, like other Adirondacks spots, is April. “Mud season,” she said, of the time when snow has departed, rains have arrived and woods and fields are sopping wet.
Some people roll through town because they have a connection to the past. Relatives with tuberculosis may have spent time in one of the cure cottages.
“My grandparents came here to cure,” Morrow said. “They met here, they got married and that’s why I’m here.”