Five years ago, friends of mine finished building a gracious family retreat on a beautiful, remote site in the Adirondack Mountains. My friends’ getaway—Treetops, they call it—is a mini version of the rambling, timber-and-stone “Great Camp” compounds constructed by the Gilded Age wealthy.
The original camps—less than 40 survive—combine stylistic elements from Swiss chalet design and the English Arts and Crafts movement. On the material level, however, Great Camp architecture, with its reliance on locally sourced timber and indigenous stone, exemplifies a special, uniquely American vernacular mode.
In Season 5 of my show “Home Again,” I toured Great Camp Sagamore, a celebrated camp owned by the Vanderbilt family for generations. Click below to watch a “re-run.”
Recently, I had the pleasure of actually visiting Treetops. Like its historic models, Treetops is built of logs, birchbark—even whole trees—and branches form the posts, columns, and railings, both inside and out. I helped add to the flavor by adding a branch with a huge abandoned wasp’s nest!
My hosts and I were amazed by the fast pace of recovery following Hurricane Irene. Even still, you could see pile-ups of logs and boulders that had been washed down from higher ground by the area’s swollen streams. Among my favorite moments from the visit: an hour on Lake Placid touring in a vintage motor launch and rowing a guide boat in the lake above the Ausable Club.
For more on architectural history, consider: