Once a retreat for the Vanderbilt family, New York’s Great Camp Sagamore provides relaxing retreats in the Adirondack Mountains.
Story and photos by Debra Parry Trichilo
Fulton, New York
When author Debra Parry Trichilo first discovered New York’s Sagamore Camp, she was introduced to one of the historic gems of the Eastern United States. Here her story continues about summers at this National Historic Landmark.
In 1901, Alfred G. Vanderbilt bought the Great Camp Sagamore from William West Durant, the son of railroad tycoon Thomas C. Durant. It was his family’s treasured summer home even after 1915, when Alfred went down with the luxury liner Lusitania, which was torpedoed during World War I. Margaret, his widow, continued to entertain friends, family and dignitaries at Sagamore until she donated it to Syracuse University in 1954.
To be invited to Sagamore was an opportunity not to be missed. Guests included Gen. George C. Marshall, Richard Rodgers, Howard Hughes, Gary Cooper, Clifton Webb and Gene Tierney. The most notable among them in those days was probably Madame Chiang Kai-shek, former first lady of the Repulic of China, who brought 25 personal maids to care for her
Even modern celebrities have found their way to the camp. Some scenes in the movie The Good Shepherd were filmed there. Matt Damon, Angelina Jolie, Alec Baldwin and Robert De Niro have left their footprints on Sagamore soil.
At Sagamore the day officially begins at 8 a.m. when a bell rings announcing that breakfast— which might consist of a French toast and maple syrup casserole with bacon, sausage or ham, juice and coffee—is ready in the dining hall.
The chefs and staff at Sagamore serve three hearty and delicious meals every day. Lunch is usually salad, sandwiches and brownies or cookies, while dinner could be anything from lasagna to roast beef with potatoes and gravy. Even the tap water at the camp is exceptionally clear, sparkling and refreshing.
Like most lakes in the New York Adirondacks, Sagamore Lake is good for fishing and the perfect place to launch a canoe, kayak or rowboat—no power boats allowed—for a leisurely paddle along the shore. The boathouse is stocked with canoes, rowboats and life vests for guests to use. During the summer, a raft floats yards from shore for the swimmer brave enough to test the chilly but refreshing mountain waters.
Moose, deer, bald eagles, mergansers, common loons and other wildlife have been spotted on the Sagamore grounds and waters. Hiking and exploring the woods are popular pastimes.
After a day of enjoying the fresh Adirondack air, we’ve often relaxed on half-log benches around a bonfire as we told jokes or stories and sang. If only these benches could talk!
As the present Alfred G. Vanderbilt said about his memories of summers at Sagamore, “It was like Brigadoon, the legendary village that appeared out of the mists, just to disappear again. And everyone was happy all the time. That’s how I remember Sagamore.”
That’s how we remember it, too.
Click here to read part 1, and more on the New York Camp that’s a National Historic Landmark.