Sunday, November 15, 2009

History

During the 1950s, the shores of Schroon Lake, NY were graced by world-class resorts, including the Leland House, the Ondawa and the Edgewater, on whose land my parents' house now sits. Perhaps the most spectacular and well-known resort was Scaroon Manor. The 327-acre site in South Schroon featured a golf course, tennis courts, a beautiful shoreline and an amphitheater. The 1957 film Marjorie Morningstar, starring Gene Kelly and Natalie Wood, was filmed at Scaroon Manor. During the filming Schroon Lake was enjoyed by the cast and crew, and especially by Robert Wagner, who was there only to advance the romance between himself and Miss Wood and had many idle hours while she was on the set. Less than a decade after the movie was made, after a couple of unprofitable seasons in the hands of new owners, the hotel's land was sold to New York State.

The once elegant buildings were demolished and, for many years, the land was left idle. The golf course is now designated wetlands and nature has long since reclaimed the tennis courts. All that is left of the grand hotel is the stone shell of the amphitheater. For almost 50 years the site was open to the public, or at least anyone who was willing to boat around the remains of the concrete docks to reach the beach, or make their way through the brambles from the road.

Trips to "Marjorie Morningstar", as we called the place, are part of my memories of summer vacations at Schroon Lake. We would beach the boat and scramble up what was left of the paths in search of blackberries, which grew wild. We would climb onto the remains of the amphitheater and dance and sing for the adults. For us kids, that amphitheater was a magical place, as if the spirit of Natalie Wood was still there, inspiring even the shyest among us to perform.

Recently, the state has decided to use the land, and has gotten busy clearing pathways, paving parking lots, and building picnic shelters and restrooms. The state also constructed a little building near the entrance, where employees can sit and collect money for day-use fees. Still under construction are additional facilities and campsites. I've heard that the state plans to open Scaroon Manor for camping, to replace campsites lost at the soon-to-be-closed Eagle Point Campground, where overuse has led to serious erosion and loss of vegetation.

Thanks to the state, boating in with the kids to let them run and explore like we did has become expensive. (Someone is watching the new boat docks to collect those fees.) During the summer, all we can do is look at the beach from the water as we go by. At the end of the season, however, the state workers pack up and go home, and the locals park outside the locked gate and walk in.

Today we took the dogs and walked the old hotel grounds. My son performed in the amphitheater, which still has it's magic. On a quiet path we let the dogs off their leashes and they took off running - into the lake, down the path, into the creek, up the path again and back into the creek. They enjoyed their own little piece of doggie heaven, oblivious to how cold the water must have been. The dogs were so happy that they forgot how badly they usually listen. They came when we called them, sat still as we put their leashes back on, and walked like well-trained show dogs back to the car. (I wonder if Natalie Wood had a dog.)

Scaroon Manor park is a nice place for a short walk every now and then, although I miss the untended ruins from my childhood memories. The blackberries are gone; their thorny vines were probably deemed unsafe. The paths are a bit too groomed and there is too much pavement to really satisfy my desire to explore the wilds of the Adirondacks. The brown vinyl-sided restrooms can't replace the resort that once flourished on the shore, but perhaps the state will restore the amphitheater one day, keeping the spirit of Marjorie Morningstar alive to inspire another generation.
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