3 stops on Lake Placid’s Historic Walking Tour

Lake Placid Middle/High School (News photo — Andy Flynn)

LAKE PLACID — The village of Lake Placid was incorporated in 1900, and the town of North Elba was formed in 1849 when it broke away from the town of Keene.

Native Americans spent time in this region before the first European settlers began arriving around 1800, setting up farms around the Plains of Abraham next to the Adirondack Loj Road on state Route 73. While many are familiar with the village’s Olympic history — having hosted the 1932 and 1980 Winter Games — others may not know the layers of history that made Lake Placid the resort town it is today.

The Lake Placid-North Elba Historical Society has a wealth of information it shares with the public year-round. It operates the History Museum at the old train station in the summer months and hosts lecture series in the winter. But it also has a Historic Walking Tour as a downloadable PDF online at lakeplacidhistory.org.

Below are just a few stops along the Historic Walking Tour. We’ve included research from the Lake Placid News archives, which can be found online at nyshistoricnewspapers.org. Click on Essex County and choose Lake Placid News. We have digital archives dating from 1914 to 2020.

North Elba Town Hall, Lake Placid (News photo — Andy Flynn)

Lake Placid Middle/High School

34 School St.

Lake Placid’s old wooden school was built in 1901, and the district erected a new brick structure — the south wing — in 1922 in the rear of the old school, which was cut into sections and moved from this site to Park Place to become part of the Lake Placid Club.

Construction of the new school was supervised by Wallace MacFarlane, of Upper Jay. The center and north wing were designed by Albany architect H.O. Fullerton and constructed in 1934-35 with Works Progress Administration funds. Another addition was completed in 2001.

The original firehouse on Main Street is now occupied by Cunningham’s Ski Barn. The current home of the Lake Placid Volunteer Fire Department is at the corner of Mill Pond Drive and Old Military Road. (Provided photo — Lake Placid-North Elba Historical Society )

During the 1980 Olympic Winter Games, the school was home to the International Press Center.

The 1922 schoolhouse was constructed six years after district residents first approved funding for the structure in the March 25, 1916, vote (316 yes – 207 no). At the time, they hadn’t decided on a site for the new school.

In August 1917, the school board chose the current site for the new school, and construction was planned for the fall. In September, the board took a second look at a previously proposed site known as the Ackerman-Main Street site on Mirror Lake, restarting the controversy, and made its final decision in December to build the new school at the rear of the old one.

Bids were opened in April 1918, but none came in under the appropriation. The construction was further delayed by labor shortages during World War II and the increase in costs, which had to be approved by voters in 1916 ($125,000), 1919 ($75,000), 1921 ($150,000) and 1922 ($65,000).

The 10 graduates of the Lake Placid High School’s Class of 1922 attended commencement ceremonies on Monday, June 26 at the Happy Hour Theatre with Dorothy Dashnaw giving the valedictory address and Louis Prunier giving the salutatory address.

When announcing that the school board of education could be meeting in the new school on Aug. 1, the Lake Placid News on July 28, 1922, lauded the structure as one of the best in the region for education.

“There is no school building erected and to be maintained by a district north of Albany that compares with it, say those who know,” stated the News. “The famous Chazy school, with it costly interior finish, cost more, but that was largely the gift of Mr. Miner. In some respects, as in the heating and ventilating systems, the Lake Placid building is newer and, therefore, a little more up to date.”

The school that opened in 1922 was built for 650 students, but by 1933, enrollment had swelled to 1,010 students, “of which the overflow are now attending classes in temporary quarters in the town hall and basement of St. Eustace Church,” according to the Nov. 10, 1933, issue of the News. With the addition, the school would be big enough for 1,200 students.

The newspaper was previewing a special vote that was asking residents to approve funding for an addition and renovations to the school. A separate proposition asked voters to approve the purchase of a one-sixth acre plot of land just north of the school owned by the North Elba Park District for the addition. Both propositions passed (LPN: Nov. 17, 1933).

The March 30, 1934, issue of the News reported that construction of the $300,000 addition to the school was expected to begin in May. Plans for the addition included 21 classrooms, an auditorium to seat between 600 and 1,000, a cafeteria and facilities for manual training and domestic science.

The Sept. 14, 1934, issue of the News reported that excavation for the addition to be built immediately north of the present school was to begin the following week. The contractor was the W.E. Irish Construction company of Syracuse. A bus garage was also to be built at the rear of the school. The Jan. 11, 1935, issue of the News stated that construction actually began Sept. 12, 1934.

The cornerstone of the addition was laid on May 6, 1935 (LPN: May 10, 1935).

Students began moving into some of the new classrooms on Sept. 16, 1935, even though the addition wasn’t yet completed (LPN: Sept. 13, 1935).

The Dec. 7, 2001, issue of the News reported that the new gymnasium — part of an $8 million construction and renovation project — was dedicated on Nov. 30 of that year. Construction began in October 2000.

In May 2017, district voters approved a $19.1 million plan to improve the middle/high school and elementary school. Work at the middle/high school — which began in the spring of 2019 and ended in 2020 — included renovations to the auditorium, window replacements, a new roof, a new retaining wall along School Street, the replacement of the pedestrian bridge on Cummings Road, a new heating system and increased security.

North Elba Town Hall

2693 Main St.

The original town hall was finished on this site in 1903, according to the Lake Placid-North Elba Historical Society. Residents called it the “Tin Playhouse” because it was sheathed in tin and the “opera house” theatrical space was located on its upper floors. The 1903 building was razed by a fire on Feb. 11, 1915.

“Starting in the furnace room in the basement of the building, but just how nobody knows, a fire completely destroyed the town of North Elba’s fine town hall in the village of Lake Placid last Thursday night,” reported the Feb. 18, 1915, issue of the Ticonderoga Sentinel. “The fire occurred on the eve of a big subscription dance planned by the young set of the village. Several ladies were in the basement of the building at 5:30 o’clock in the afternoon, preparing refreshments for the evening. Mrs. Homer Lockwood first discovered the smoke and then the fire.”

Ground was broken for the current building, which included an auditorium, in July 1915. Designed by architect Floyd Brewster, it was opened to the public in June 1916. On June 23, 1916, the Lake Placid News reported that the new town hall would be dedicated by the annual high school commencement ceremony the following Monday.

“The new hall in which the exercises are to take place is one of the best town houses to be found in the north country,” the News stated, “and is a monument to the business integrity and workmanship of its builders, Branch & Callanan of Saranac Lake.”

Renovations for the 1980 Olympic Winter Games eliminated the auditorium space. The most recent change to the town hall was the new dome and clock tower that was replaced in 1986. The building is home to the town of North Elba, the village of Lake Placid, and town and village courts, as well as other organizations, such as the Lake Placid Police Department. It once served as the office space for the 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympic organizing committees.

Cunningham’s Ski Barn

2599 Main St.

Cunningham’s Ski Barn building was formerly the old firehouse operated by the Lake Placid Volunteer Fire Department.

Constructed in 1912, the brick building was used by the fire department until the village bought a new aerial firetruck and discovered that it wouldn’t fit in the building. That was in the spring of 1984. Although Malcolm and Linda Alford signed a contract with the village in June 1984 to buy the structure for $135,000, the closing was set for May 1, 1985. The couple, however, sold the building for more than $150,000 in April 1985 to Lou Higgins and Peter Torrance before the Alfords could obtain the title.

The fire department didn’t move out until the summer of 1985 because the new firehouse was still being constructed at the corner of Mill Pond Drive and Old Military Road. The village held an open house for the new firehouse on July 21, 1985. The total cost of the building project was about $280,000.

Higgins and Torrance quickly turned over the old firehouse, selling it the same year to Pat Cunningham. It has been the home of Cunningham’s Ski Barn since December 1985.

“The most distinguishing feature is the hose tower, which is intact and visible from a considerable distance along Main Street,” states the Historic Walking Tour brochure.

The Lake Placid Volunteer Fire Department was founded on June 22, 1905, with three fire companies.

The Sentinel Hose Company was located where the American Legion is now. The Newman Hose Company was located at the former Lake Placid Club site. And the Whiteface Hook and Ladder Company was located where the Lakeside Motor Inn is now. The first chief was G. B. Merriam and the three companies met in the North Elba Town Hall.

The fire station, currently occupied by Cunningham’s, was erected in 1912, and the first fire truck was purchased in 1917.

The three companies merged in 1919.

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