Happy hundredth, Hodson Hall

SARANAC LAKE – The walls of North Country Community College’s Hodson Hall may not be able to talk, but plenty of locals shared their memories at the building’s 100th birthday ceremony Monday.

The celebration, organized by college staff, included a historical timeline of Hodson Hall, photos of the building’s transformation over the years and, of course, a giant birthday cake. Hodson Hall was originally the Saranac Lake General Hospital, opening on March 11, 1913. NCCC held its first classes there in 1967, after the hospital outgrew the facility and moved into a new building near Lake Colby.

“The facility has served the community in a lot of different ways, but all related to the health professions,” NCCC President Steve Tyrell said.

Reading from Dr. E.L. Trudeau’s remarks at the grand opening of the old hospital, Tyrell said in Saranac Lake’s early days, the closest surgeon lived in AuSable Forks, which meant a long journey on treacherous roads. That surgeon often arrived after nightfall to operate on patients by candlelight.

“Thanks to the establishment of this hospital, the sick and the injured have now, within immediate reach, the help they are often so urgently in need of, and another step in the development of our town has been taken,” Tyrell said, quoting Trudeau.

The original hospital was built at a cost of just $25,000, Tyrell noted. The first patient was admitted four days after the hospital opened on March 15, 1913.

“He was not able to join us here today,” Tyrell joked.

The hospital was accredited by the American College of Surgeons in 1936. In 1950, the Saranac Lake Village Improvement Society began landscaping around Hodson Hall, a service the organization still provides to this day, Tyrell said.

In 1967, after the hospital moved, the building started to house administration and classrooms for NCCC. Today, in addition to administrative offices, Hodson Hall is home to the college’s radiology and massage therapy programs. The radiology program is an extension of one launched by the Saranac Lake Study and Craft Guild for recovering tuberculosis patients, Tyrell explained.

Old photos of Hodson Hall were provided by Michele Tucker, curator of the Adirondack Research Room at the Saranac Lake Free Library. The bulk of the historical information came from Historic Saranac Lake’s wiki website.

Historic Saranac Lake Executive Director Amy Catania said she learned some new things as she prepared for Monday’s celebration. One item she came across was the former hospital’s mission statement.

“It sounds very egalitarian,” Catania said. “It says, ‘The establishment supported management of an institution for the purpose of affording medical and surgical aid to sick or disabled persons of every creed, nationality and color, and shall be nonsectarian.’ So that’s kind of interesting in 1913. As far as we know, there weren’t African-American patients at the sanatorium. But they, at least on paper, were willing to provide that service to everybody.”

After word began to spread of Hodson Hall’s big milestone, Catania said dozens of locals began sharing their stories about the building. Some were in attendance at Monday’s ceremony.

Jim Griebsch of Saranac Lake told the Enterprise that his parents first met at the old hospital. His mother was a receptionist, and his father was a state trooper.

“And he brought a young boy in who had had an accident on his bicycle,” Griebsch said. “He met my mother, and that boy was in the hospital for about a week. And he got more comic books than just about anybody could ever imagine from this state trooper, who had to pass by the reception desk every day. And that’s how my parents met. Then they courted and got married, and that was that.”

In 1948, Griebsch was born in the hospital’s delivery room, which is now the office of Bill Chapin, the college’s vice president for fiscal operations. Several people, including NCCC Foundation Director Diana Fortune, pointed out that they were born in the space where the college’s finances are now handled.

“I think this is so cool,” Fortune said. “It’s such an important part of our history. Our whole village is so oriented towards history and healing and the arts. It’s only right that we do our best to preserve it and celebrate all that it’s meant to us over the years.”

The site where Hodson Hall stands today also has historical significance for Saranac Lake’s Winter Carnival. More than 100 years ago, the carnival’s Ice Palaces were built there.

“I don’t think we know how many Ice Palaces were built up here – some of the very first ones were,” Catania said. “If you look back at the Ice Palace pictures, you can tell which ones, because the ones that were built here were on a hill. The fact that they bothered to drag ice all the way up the hill by horse – on sleds, I guess – is really amazing. And they were some of the biggest palaces we’ve ever had.”

Becky LaDue, clinical coordinator for NCCC’s radiology program, discovered historical documents about the radiology program in the building’s X-ray laboratory. She donated those materials to Historic Saranac Lake.

Phil Gallos, who works at NCCC’s library, said it’s important for the community to look for ways to repurpose old buildings in the same way the hospital was transformed into a college.

Tyrell said NCCC plans to make improvements to the building. He also thanked Chris Rdzanek, NCCC’s building maintenance foreman, who notified college staff of the building’s centennial.