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WORLD FOCUS: Great Camps of the Adirondacks

March 1, 2019
By FRANK SHATZ , Lake Placid News

Dr. Howard Kirschenbaum wears many hats. But foremost, he is an educator.

He is professor emeritus and former chair at the Warner School of Education and Human Development, University of Rochester, and an expert on educational psychology. But he also won the New York State Preservation League's Individual Excellence Award for having been central to saving a number of Great Camps in the Adirondacks, restoring historic structures and making many of them accessible for public education and enjoyment.

Kirschenbaum, is the author of more than 20 books on education, counseling and history, among them the biography of the noted psychiatrist Carl Rogers. As a 22-year-old college student, he became deeply involved in the civil rights movement, jailed on a Freedom Ride in Mississippi when three of his co-workers - Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman and James Chaney, icons of the civil right movement - were murdered by the Ku Klux Klan.

Kirschenbaum is also a 46er, one of the select group of mountain climbers who climbed all 46 of Adirondack Mountain peaks originally surveyed at higher than 4,000 feet. He was featured several times in my Gazette columns when his achievements made news.

Now what merits a column about Kirschenbaum is the news that Camp Uncas on Mohegan Lake - built by William West Durant in 1893 and owned by J. P. Morgan, the legendary financier, and until recently the summer home of Kirschenbaum - was sold for more than $2 million.

According to historical records, Camp Uncas was one of the most beautiful, authentic Great Camps, in a secluded and gorgeous setting. But in 1976 when Kirschenbaum and two of his friends purchased it from the Rockland County Boy Scouts that owned it for 10 years, it had been severely neglected. It was considered a white elephant. With all the extra buildings on the property, the restoration promised to be very expensive.

"We decided to keep the main house, one or two cabins and the boathouse, and burn the rest down," Kirschenbaum was quoted saying. "Well, we never burned anything down, and we've been restoring our respective parts of Camp Uncas for 38 years."

In fact, Kirschenbaum's name had become synonymous with historic preservation in the Adirondacks. He helped to buy, restore and operate Camp Sagamore, built for the Vanderbilt family. Sagamore Lodge is considered one of the greatest examples of the Adirondack Great Camp style of architecture and has become a destination for tourists from around the world.

It is said, when Kirschenbaum sees a structure of historic significance that has been abandoned and fallen into disrepair, he can't help but think how it can be saved. When he first saw White Pine Camp on Osgood Pond, that served in 1926 as the summer White House for President Calvin Coolidge, it was in terrible shape. But he saw its potential as a museum. He created an investment group and restored the 22 structures at White Pine. The camp is now available for vacation rentals and public tours.

The list of Adirondack Great Camps that were saved and restored due to Kirschenbaum's efforts is a long one. But the two Great Camps, Uncas and Sagamore, that are most closely connected with him generated a kind of family legend.

The purchase contracts for Uncas and for Sagamore were signed the same day at the Sagamore Lodge. Kirschenbaum's father, a prominent New York City lawyer, and his wife were on their way on the Northway to witness the signing ceremony. They stopped the car at a rest stop. And Mrs. Kirschenbaum unpacked the sandwiches she prepared for the trip. Her husband started laughing and couldn't stop.

"What is so funny?" she asked.

"Our son is buying the Morgan and the Vanderbilt Great Camps," he said, "and we are eating homemade sandwiches."

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Frank Shatz is a Williamsburg, Virginia, resident and former Lake Placid resident. He is the author of "Reports from a Distant Place," the compilation of his selected columns.

 
 

 

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