The history of Lake Clear Inn

My friend and mentor Bill McLaughlin, both of us on the Enterprise staff at the time, were present when Charlie Vosburgh auctioned off the Lake Clear Inn.

Dew Drop and Shelia Morgan bid on the Inn that day but lost out to the high bidder, Robert Farley, for $8,000. Mr. Farley, of Marlboro, Conn., said he got his start in the hotel business when he worked at the Lake Placid Club as a bellhop. Dew and Shelia then bought a large cottage on the lake right next to the Inn for $4,000. That all happened in September of 1963.

The original Rustic Lodge, as it was then called, was built in 1850 by Jesse Core on Upper Saranac. According to Donaldson’s “History of the Adirondacks,” “it was the most modest, yet, perhaps the most loved hotel in the Adirondacks.”

(This information is part of a series of stories by Jean Freeman written for the Enterprise in 1957, found in the archives of the Adirondack Room of the Saranac Lake Free Library.)

“A pleasant vacation spot in the heart of the Adirondacks, ‘Rustic Lodge’ was a most unpretentious looking place built long and low of squared chinked logs with plaster. There on the shores of Upper Saranac was a hotel that radiated a spirit of good cheer and woodsy brotherhood.

“Lake Clear Inn, nestling close to the lake from which it derives its name, and some 18 miles north and east of the old lodge, carries on in the same friendly fashion, 107 years after its founding. Much of the attraction of Lake Clear Inn today is owed to a colorful past. A host of vacationers know and love this small, exclusive, yet famous resort.”

Wardner buys the Inn

It is difficult, for me, at least, to trace the move of the original hotel to Lake Clear. But this is when it left the ownership of Mr. Corey; in 1897, wealthy New Yorkers, E.P. and S.A. Swenson bought the property. They leased the hotel to Charles H. Wardner who ran the hotel for 17 years and in 1911 bought the Rice Hotel on Lake Clear.

Mr. Wardner changed the name to Lake Clear Inn and by then must have owned the Rustic Lodge because during the winter of 1911 eight of the cottages at the old Inn were divided into sections, loaded on sleighs and brought across the frozen waters of Upper Saranac and Lake Clear. You, dear reader, will have to connect those dots.

Charles Wardner ran the hotel with his son, William, until Charles’ death in 1932, when it went to William, and his wife, the former Eva Freeman of Coreys.

Famous guests

From the 1957 Enterprise:

“An old ledger, on display in The Enterprise window was found several years ago which recorded visitors to the S. F. Bunker Hotel (on Lake Clear, later the Rice Hotel) from 1887 to 1890. In it the distinguished past U. S. President Grover Cleveland was registered as a visitor at the hotel August 7, 1890.

“Another guest amusingly registered on July 22, 1891, and after his name wrote: ‘1 trout in the forenoon; I small fish, 1 bullpout, 1 leech; saw 7 mink; had no gun.

“In the summer of 1913, Oley Speaks who wrote the music to ‘On the Road to Mandalay’ set the beautiful words of ‘Sylvia’ to music. It is no wonder that he found inspiration here, for the view from the veranda of the inn can not adequately be described. It is unique. Stretching for a mile in front of the eye and lapping the rise on which the Inn is situated are the clear and sparkling waters of Big or Lake Clear. Beyond this the lower hills roll away toward the highest mountains in the Adirondacks; Whiteface, Moose Pond, McKenzie; a vast panorama of the high peak area, the Cascades, Big Range, Gothics, Dix and Marcy, the highest of all; McIntyre, Sawtooth Range, Ampersand, Stony Creek and the Sewards; and the smaller peaks of St. Regis, Roger, Boot Bay and Baker. From no one location, except atop one of these peaks, can so many mountains be viewed at one time and in such grandeur.”