After a decade of disuse, the 116-year-old National Historic Landmark on Eagle Island will again be a children’s summer camp. Eagle Island Camp is starting small and with two one-week sessions of day camp for 4th, 5th, or 6th graders.
Eagle Island Camp is a Great Camp designed by architect William Coulter that contains some of his most notable rustic work. The 30-acre island is located below Upper Saranac Lake’s narrows east of Gilpin Bay. The camp was built in 1903 for Levi P. Morton, U.S. Vice President under Benjamin Harrison and later Governor of New York.
Campers arriving at the main dock and walking up the Lakeside Path, travel the same path taken for more than 100 years by thousands of campers, as well as the original owners (one of whom hunted big game with Theodore Roosevelt — his trophies hang in the Lodge).
From the porch of the Mariners Boathouse campers enjoy panoramic views of Upper Saranac Lake and Ampersand and Stony Creek mountains. The campus also includes the Family Cabin, Main Lodge, a covered walkway, and an octagonal dining room, all built in Adirondack Great Camp style.
The camp offers singalongs at the stump circle and the Lakeside Path leads past Bugle Rock to the waterfront for swimming, canoeing, kayaking, sailing, or rowing. This year, campers will enjoy a day camp experience as close to overnight camp as possible (minus the sleeping bags and stars).
Eagle Island Camp plans to continue to offer day camp for all-genders next year, as well as expand into overnight camp, include a session of Family Camp, and host Women’s Weekends.
Designated a National Historic Landmark in 2004, many of the structures are simple service buildings behind the Main Lodge, the Family Cabin, and the Dining Pavilion connected by a shared porch and covered walkways. The interiors of all three structures have high cathedral ceilings, large stone fireplaces, peeled log rafters, and mounted hunting trophies.
In 1910 Morton sold the property to Henry Graves Jr., a New York financier and sportsman who enjoyed collecting exotic timepieces and racing his speedboat on the lake. After summers spent raising his four children with wife Florence on Eagle Island, the tragic deaths of two of their adult sons led the Graveses to donate Eagle Island in their memory to a New Jersey Girl Scout council in 1937 as a place “where children may always play.” Traditions were established and bonds formed as young women shared platform tents and learned to canoe, sail, swim, and hike, acquiring skills and confidence. Some of these women form the backbone of the Eagle Island organization today.
The Girl Scouts operated the camp from 1938 to 2008. After 70 years of continuous operation, the camp was put up for sale. A group of former Scouts, alumnae, and associates formed to raise funds in an effort to purchase the property, becoming Friends of Eagle Island in 2008. This grassroots organization grew in size and energy, with a goal of campers returning to the island. Friends incorporated in 2011, and in 2016 updated the name to Eagle Island, Inc.
In 2015 a donation of $2.45M allowed the group to finally purchase the island and begin work. Carpentry work on the historic buildings was supervised by the preservation specialists Crawford & Stearns of Syracuse, and the general contractor is Donald Bennett Building & Maintenance Tupper Lake.
Fundraising efforts are ongoing to continue the work to rehabilitate and maintain these historic structures and upgrade the water, septic, and electric systems. Locally the Adirondack-based Cloudsplitter Foundation has supported Eagle Island with $40,000 over four years. Eagle Island is an independent 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.
While Eagle Island is private, it is included in Adirondack Architectural Heritage’s summer tour schedule. The public is also welcome to visit during Open Island Days to picnic, hike the trails, and tour the buildings. To learn more about Eagle Island or make a gift toward its future, visit their website.
Photos, from above: Eagle Island Camp (provided) and Eagle Island Boat House porch (courtesy Ellen Foust).
A version of this article first appeared on the Adirondack Almanack.