Stony Wold Sanatorium

There is not much left today of the sprawling Stony Wold tuberculosis Sanatorium, located on Lake Kushaqua near the hamlet of Onchiota, but it was a thriving institution from the time the cornerstone was laid in September, 1902, until it was closed in 1955.

This is going to be a three-part series about the history of Stony Wold – with, however, a unique story never told before, by the late Carl Jacobs who passed away last year. His brother Tom, a friend of mine, found this eight-page document after Carl died. Tom had never seen the story; nor had Carl ever mentioned that he had written such a history. The family grew up there, and their father Pearly was a long-time employee at the San.

The following information is from the archives of the Adirondack Room at the Saranac Lake Free Library.

The beginning of Stony Wold is told in this little pamphlet, untitled and undated

“A young woman by the name of Mrs. James E. Newcomb, whose husband was a successful physician, wanted to create a place where self-supporting young women suffering from early tuberculosis might regain their health.

“She had learned of the remarkable results achieved by Dr. Edward Livingston Trudeau at the Adirondack Cottage Sanatarium at Saranac Lake. She approached Dr. Trudeau with the suggestion that a building be erected as part of his institution especially for the care of these self-supporting young women with tuberculosis.

Dr. Trudeau’s suggestion

“Dr. Trudeau was at the time almost at the end of his physical resources. His organization had gown from modest beginnings to one which now taxed his energies to the full. He could undertake no further burdens and frankly told Mrs. Newcomb that he could not. But he made a startling suggestion. ‘Why don’t you go ahead and raise the funds and build your own sanatorium?’ he asked?”

Mrs. Newcomb raised the money, bought 1,200 acres on the shores of Lake Kushaqua and built massive buildings where thousands of young women regained their health. She is the founder and first president of Stony Wold.

The archives contained a fact sheet on Stony Wold letterhead written in 1927 about costs and number of patients. All officers and members of the Board of Directors are listed. The Board of Directors was made up of 34 persons: 29 women and four men. There were 10 officers of Stony Wold Corporation; nine were women. The only man was chairman of the Finance Committee.

“The average cost per patient day during 1927 was $3.20. There were 138 patients admitted in 1927; there were 133 patients treated and discharged in 1927. On December 31, 1927 there were 117 patients under treatment which taxed to the limit every available space and resource at the sanatorium. At the same time there was a long waiting list of cases urgently asking admission.”

Closed in 1955

Bill McLaughlin wrote in the Enterprise in September 1974:

“New York State is in the process of adding another 1400 acres to its expanding land bank in this area with the acquisition of Stony Wold Sanatarium properties from the White Fathers.

“The purchase price is unofficially reported to be $600,000. The White Fathers paid $125,000 for the property in 1958. They outbid Paul Smith’s College at the time. The White Fathers, a religious order, used it as a seminary to train young missionaries. It opened in 1959 with 30 students and 3000 persons attended the dedication ceremony on August 9th. Bishop Fulton J. Sheen [of television fame] gave the sermon.

“The state will assume ownership of all the buildings except the chapel, two cottages and the cemetery.

“The Stony Wold Sanatorium closed as a health recovery installation in 1955 after 54 years of service. It had a capacity for 150 patients but was operating at 30 per cent of its peak load when it closed its doors. [The 1927 story listed capacity at about 140 but in 1928 another building was erected.]

Bill added this paragraph which is a perfect lead-in to the Carl Jacobs story that will follow in the next two installments:

“There are still many people living in this area who were employed at Stony Wold. They remember the dances, romances and parties that were part of their youthful days when the hospital meant as much to the people who worked there as it did those who cured there.”

My mother, Elizabeth “Bessie” Keegan Riley, was a waitress there in 1918, when she was age 18. I have a picture taken then with her friend Katy Steel, later Mrs. Mark Carson.


Part 2 will continue next week.