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William West Durant

Adirondack Great Camps - Pine Knot - Uncas - Sagamore - Kamp Kill Kare

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Camps on or near Raquette Lake
1877 - Great Camp PINE KNOT

(Camp Huntington)

Decorative twigs and bark became a feature of the Adirondack style

1881 Pine Knot by Seneca Ray Stoddard

 Camp Pine Knot today


originally where the men had cigars

and brandy after dinner

 1881 Stoddard photo

1st building constructed by 

Dr. Thomas Durant c1877

Swiss cottage

1888 Stoddard Pine Knot grounds   1888 Stoddard Pine Knot Interior  

1888 Stoddard Pine Knot grounds


1888 Stoddard Pine Knot interior

1882 Metcalf building Pine Knot Another of the beautiful fireplaces Bearskin rug  

National Register of

Historical Places in 1986

Sitting Room

Floor to ceiling fireplace

Pine Knot in 2007 2007 Pine Knot Chalet Pine Knot

Named in honor of Dr. Harlan Metcalf

who "discovered" abandoned camp

in 1947

2007 view of Chalet

William Durant added 2nd floor c1882


Pine Knot Lean-to Winter view 2005 Lean-to


Side door of Chalet


PINE KNOT - William West Durant continues to have a strong influence on the Adirondack style of architecture.  His travels in Europe had exposed him to the Swiss chalet style which he combined with his thoughts on leaving the existing natural environment undisturbed.  In addition, A.J. Downing in 1850 and Calvert Daux in 1857 had published works acquainting the American public with the chalet style.

Most construction materials were gathered or made on-site. [4]  Durant's first Great Camp, Pine Knot  [5], was started by his father, Dr. Thomas Clark Durant, in 1877 as a group of rough cabins and was taken over by William in 1879.  Construction on the 201-acre site continued through 1892.  

Pine Knot was the first artistic camp, a beautiful showplace where the Durants entertained the rich and famous, hoping to interest them in building their own camps in the woods.

In 1895 Pine Knot was sold to Collis P. Huntington, the railroad magnate, in settlement of a debt.  As Durant completed one home, he would often live in it for a time and then sell the property to help finance his next project.

The rustic design - native stone, bark and whole logs - of many of the buildings in the New York State Park System, and of the Old Faithful Inn at Yellowstone, was influenced by the Adirondack style. [6]  

Pine Knot was added to the National Register of Historic Places  in 1986 and was named by the National Park Service as a National Monument in 2004.

Pine Knot History


1893 - Great Camp Uncas

1899 Stoddard photo Gate to Uncas Road

1899 Gate to Uncas Road

Stoddard photo



1899 Stoddard photo Uncas Road

1899 Uncas Road

Stoddard photo

 1957 VIew of Uncas interior main lodge 1957 Uncas Dining Hall in separate building 1957 JP Morgan bedroom at Uncas  
1957  Interior Main Lodge 1957 Dining Hall 1957 JP Morgan Bedroom
 Uncas Hawkeye Cabin 1957 Uncas Guest Cottage  Stain used on Uncas
Hawkeye Cabin Hawkeye Cabin from the lake

 1906 ad for stain used at Uncas

Quote from John Callahan

UNCAS - As wealthy home owners began to demand more and more comforts and luxuries from their vacation homes, Durant's beautiful camps continued to attract famous names such as J.P. Morgan and Alfred G. Vanderbilt.  In 1895 a New York City newspaper reported "Financier J. P. Morgan's Adirondack camp, Camp Uncas, is completed by promoter William West Durant." 7   

Yet Alfred L. Donaldson, after a 1920s conversation with William Durant, writes in his A History of the Adirondacks that Uncas on Lake Mohegan was completed in 1890 and then sold to Morgan in 1895 in settlement of a debt.8

Uncas was owned by Herb Birrell during the 1950s who operated it as a museum.  It is now the summer home of the Kirschenbaum family who in 1975 were able to purchase 16 acres and nine buildings from the Rockland County Boy Scout Council.

1950s Brochure page 1               Brochure page 2

During that 1920s Donaldson interview, Durant reminisced that he had never appreciated the financial circumstances into which he had been born.  "When I start a new project, I want the finest materials available, the best of everything.  I never considered the cost."

In 1987 Uncas was listed on the National Register of Historic Places and in 2008 was recognised by the National Park Service as a National Monument.

Today properties like these have come to be recognized as historical and architectural treasures, but in the late 1970s they were considered "white elephants" and could be bought for a song.  Sagamore, formerly owned by Syracuse University, became our conference center where we could house 100 participants and staff.  Uncas became our private "camp." 

Howard Kirschenbaum in a 2001 Interview

Great Photos - Uncas Photo Collection


1897 - Great Camp Sagamore


Main Lodge Sagamore Great Camp    Syracuse U sold off much of the property and contents  
Main Lodge 1970s View
 Durant stored their many guideboats here Original laundry on right became nursery, left addition for son's cottage    Designed by William Coulter, 1950 featured in Life Magazine  
c1897-99 Durant's Boat House 1928 George's Cottage & 1898 Laundry

c1901 Playhouse

designed by William Coulter

 Partially outdoors, still used today  "Forever wild" lands of the Forest Preserve of the Adirondacks  Vanderbilt doubled length, his widow added bay window & 3rd fireplace  

c1914 Bowling Alley

still used today

Sagamore Lake

formerly Shedd Lake

 c1924 Dining Alcove

enlarged by Vanderbilts


photos courtesy Sagamore                               

Sagamore was reputably William West Durant's favorite home, where he lived until financial circumstances forced him to sell to Alfred G. Vanderbilt in 1901.  The Vanderbilt family owned Sagamore until 1954.  Following the plan of Durant's previous camps, the 1,524 acre estate was built on peninsula jutting out into a lake, Shedd Lake, renamed Sagamore.

In 1913 the Vanderbilts decided to make Sagamore their main vacation home and began a two-year program of expansion and improvement.  Telephone service was installed in 1914 as well as a water and sewage system as advanced as any city in the country.  And in 1915 electricity replaced the gas lights.9

After Vanderbilt's death in 1915 on the Lithuania, his widow kept the Sagamore property until 1954 when it was deeded to Syracuse University.  It is now run by the Sagamore Institute, a non-profit organization.

Credit needs to be given to Professor Howard Kirschenbaum and his wife Barbara Glaser who created the National Humanistic Education Center in 1970 and were instrumental in saving Sagamore from being torn down and the land returned to the state. 

In 1976 Sagamore was listed on the National Register of Historic Places with additional buildings added in 1986.

And in 2000 Sagamore had the distinct honor to be named by the National Park Service as a National Landmark.  These are "exceptional places that form a common bond between all Americans....the spirit and direction of the Nation are founded upon and reflected in its historic heritage."

Vanderbilt History             Sagamore History

Sagamore Photos                  Grand Lodge


1898 - Great Kamp Kill Kare

1905 Kamp Kill Kare

Published 1904 - Burr McIntosh Monthly

William H. Kirk, photographer


1899 Stoddard photo - Surveryors on Lake Kora Road 1899 Stoddard photo - Man at Kamp Kill Kare PO Box

1899 Surveyors on Lake Kora Road

Stoddard photo

1899 Man at Kamp Kill Kare PO Box

Stoddard photo

In 1898 William West Durant built a rough hunting cabin on Sumner Lake, which was expanded into a luxurious Adirondack estate by New York State Lieutenant Governor Timothy Woodruff.  The lake was renamed Lake Kora after Woodruff's wife, Cora.

In 1913 Alfred G. Vanderbilt purchased nearby Kamp Kill Kare from  Woodruff in order to have some control over who his Sagamore neighbors would be.  He then sold Kamp Kill Kare in 1914 to Mr. and Mrs. Francis P. Garvan. 

Unfortunately in April 1915 a fire damaged much of the original structure, which was immediately redesigned by architect John Russell Pope for the new owner.  Kill Kare was in the Garvan family for almost a century and is still a private camp.

Another fire in February 2009 partially destroyed an historic 1910 stone barn on the property.  According to a firefighter who was first on the scene and stayed until the fire was out:

"The Raquette Lake Fire Department with the able assistance of seven other area fire departments was able to stop the fire from advancing at the point where the buildings no longer had connecting roofs.  The 'U' shaped barn structure had severe damage to the bottom of the 'U'." 

There were no injuries.

NY Times report of 1915 fire

1930 Winter View of Kamp Kill Kare


WILLIAM WEST DURANT - In 1926, after all of the wealth and grandeur, Durant and his second wife, Annie Cotton Durant, were found living in a modest half-basement apartment at 501 Fifth Avenue in the West Central Park area of New York City.10   Due to family problems, business failures and the unexpected death in 1900 of his financial backer, Collis P. Huntington, Durant declared bankruptcy in 1904 and rarely returned to his beloved Adirondacks. 

At the time Durant said he was handicapped by being brought up in wealth without being taught the value of money.  He died in 1934 at the age of 83. 

But the legacy of William West Durant lives on as each succeeding generation takes on the mantle of conservator of the Adirondack Park. 

And the legacy continues in the Great Camps two of which, Pine Knot (Camp Huntington) and Sagamore, are open to the public by appointment.

Return to William West Durant


Links to additional information


 Pine Knot


History of Adirondack Architecture

Great Camps of the Adirondacks - Harvey Kaiser

Adirondack Design - Michael Bird

Great Camps Tour

National Park Service

1969  American Heritage - "The Adirondacks"

1981  Adirondacks Survivors: Rustic "Grand Camps"

2002  "Camping like the Vanderbilts in the Adirondacks"



Return to Raquette Lake Photos                                                                                      Return to William West Durant


4 Spider Rybaak.  "Log Palaces."  Syracuse New Times Net. June 1998.  [Online] Available HTTP:  [August 21, 2004].


5  Unknown.  [from Harvey H. Kaiser.  Great Camps of the Adirondacks.  (Boston: David R. Godine. 1982).  p 74, 179, 181].  [Online] Available HTTP:  [August 7, 2004].


6  United States Department of the Interior.  National Park Service.  Adirondack Camps Theme Study.  pp 3-4.  [Online]  Available HTTP:  [August 7, 2004].


7  Minor.  NYNY Index 1893-1896.  [Online]  Available HTTP:  [August 7, 2004].


8 Alfred L. Donaldson.   A History of the Adirondacks.  2 vols., Fleischmanns, New York:  Purple Mountain Press, Inc., 1996.  Paperback reprint of 1921 edition.


9 Howard Kirschenbaum.  The Story of Sagamore.  Raquette Lake, New York:  Sagamore Institute, 1990. pp 25-26.


10  Richard M. Kolbet.  "The Levi 0. Leonard Railroad Collection."  Books at Iowa 8.  [U of Iowa April 1968.].  [Online]  Available HTTP:   [July 3, 2004].



Raquette Lake | William West Durant | Great Camps | Clergy | TimeLine | Writings | Documents | Bibliography







2011-07-18 10:24:25