During the summer between your first and second years as a historic preservation grad student at Cornell, it is highly suggested that you take on an internship with a preservation-related organization. I landed a dream-come-true sort of position with Adirondack Architectural Heritage last summer (2005), living in the Gate House of and working at the Santanoni Preserve in Newcomb, NY.
Here is a bit of a blurb about Newcomb from my final report to AARCH:
If you aren't familiar with the Adirondacks, the town of Newcomb may come as a bit of a shock to you. As a native Upstater, I was well aware of the sort of hidden nature of Newcomb. There is no gas station, no supermarket, no discotheque, no hipster coffee shop, no sushi. What you will find in Newcomb is a town with no real business center, instead, it is stretched for a few miles down 28N. You can get ice cream and snacky-type food at Scoops and pick up yours and Santanoni's mail right next door. You will thrill at Bissell's store, but do not plan on doing all of your shopping there. Most of your grocery shopping will probably be done at the North Creek Tops (and you will find a shopper's club key tag in the desk drawer), with an occasional run to the Long Lake Stewart's or their small grocery. There is also a diner/general store just a short ways down the road from the Camp entrance as well as the Newcomb House across the street from the entrance if you are in need of libations.
So, I think I am making the point that there is very little in Newcomb. That, of course, is why spending the summer in Newcomb is so special. You will have managed to hide yourself away in a tucked-away little town and then go even further back into the woods, to a place that, while it has the story of a blockbuster movie, is still a secret to many.
Usually, AARCH has at least two interns working at the Preserve every summer, providing interpretation to visitors and working with the master timber framer and his crew on rehabilitation and conservation projects. However, due to a number of circumstances, I was the lone soul in 2005. In some ways, I wish there had been at least one other intern with me so that I could have learned from them and we could have certainly gotten more things done. However, I feel that I had a unique experience that I wouldn't trade away.
As I mentioned, the Preserve has an amazing history. It was built for Robert Pruyn, a prominent Albany banker, and his wife, Anna, to provide their family with one of the rustic getaways that were eventually dubbed the "Great Camps" of the Adirondacks. Santanoni was one of the first, with its construction taking place around the same time as the creation of the Adirondack Park in the early 1890s. The history of the Pruyn family's time at the camp is fascinating enough, as you trace their story from the era of Victorian elegance through to the extended family continuing to visit the camp in the more utilitarian post-war 1950s. The Japanese influence of the camp's design as well as the innovations in wilderness farming are enough to satisfy a historian's appetite.
Santanoni also has another more tragic chapter, though. The Pruyn descendants eventually sold the camp in the early 1950s to the Melvin family of Syracuse, also prominent business leaders. The Melvins enjoyed the camp until 1971, when one of the grandchildren, a boy named Douglas Legg, went missing and was never found. There are many rumors and speculation surrounding his disappearance, some completely ridiculous (stolen by band of roaming hippies), some cruel ones involving the boy's mental state and his uncle, and some plausible. I was lucky enough to speak with one of the New York State Troopers who handled the case and he related a story which I believe is the most likely of all the scenarios, involving the boy making his way over to the other side of Newcomb Lake and, due to heavy brush, disappearing from the sight of searchers. The state police were contacted by a former soldier in the 1990s who told them of a hunting trip he had been on in the late 1970s. He and a friend thought they may have come upon the boy's body, but were not aware of the story at the time and it was only when the camp came back into the news due to AARCH's efforts that they learned about Douglas Legg. Another search took place, but no evidence was found. The thing I find frustrating about the more salacious stories is that I don't think many people realize just how disorienting and difficult the terrain can be in the area. Just north of Newcomb is the High Peaks area and we've all heard about adults getting lost in there.
Truly, though, it is a tragic story and also led to the deterioration of the site as the Melvins sold the camp and it eventually ended up in the hands of the state. And so began the delicate balancing of caring for a historic site and managing a wilderness landscape.
I could go on for many more pixels about my time at Santanoni (and maybe I will in future posts), but for the moment, I strongly urge anyone with an interest in the Adirondacks, wilderness, architecture and/or preservation to visit the Santanoni Preserve. It is a truly unique site, a National Historic Landmark, and a place that needs much support right now as it finds its new identity (which is, indeed, a topic I should come back to). I am more than willing to answer any questions you might have about visiting, or you can contact AARCH for more information. Another great resource is the book Santanoni: From Japanese Temple to Life at an Adirondack Great Camp by Robert Engel (the first Santanoni intern), Howard Kirshenbaum, and Paul Malo.
(FYI - If you've read the York Staters at all, you probably know that Natalie and Jesse both worked at Sagamore, another Great Camp located in Raquette Lake [two Sagamore-ites did come visit Santanoni while I was there, I don't recall their names though]. I recommend taking a trip next summer to both camps to compare and contrast their stories.)