Curling: a local Celtic tradition

SARANAC LAKE – This year’s “Celtic Carnival” theme brings to mind the Scottish sport of curling.

Curling has a long history in Saranac Lake, and it was popular among a number of local doctors and scientists who came to Saranac Lake to practice Trudeau’s fresh air treatment for tuberculosis.

The sport of curling dates back to the early 1500s in medieval Scotland. Scottish immigrants brought the sport to our neighbors in Canada. First practiced in Saranac Lake in 1897, over the years several different clubs played the sport in outdoor and indoor rinks, and it continues to be played in Saranac Lake today.

How it is played

Curling is a sport similar to quoits in which players slide stones across a sheet of ice toward a target area. It is sometimes called “the roaring game” for the sound the stones make on the ice. Two teams, each of four players, take turns sliding polished granite stones weighing between 38 and 44 pounds (sometimes called “rocks”) across a sheet of ice towards a circular target marked on the ice called “the house.” The purpose is to accumulate the highest score for a game.

The curler can induce a curved path by causing the stone to slowly turn as it slides, and the path of the rock may be further influenced by two sweepers with brooms who accompany it as it slides down the sheet, using the brooms to alter the state of the ice in front of the stone. A great deal of strategy and teamwork goes into choosing the ideal path and placement of a stone for each situation, and the skills of the curlers determine how close to the desired result the stone will achieve.

Curling history in Saranac Lake

Curling first came to Saranac Lake in 1897. In the early part of the 1900s, an expert curler from Quebec named Thomas P. Smith spent time in the village demonstrating the sport, and popularity quickly caught on. Curling was played in various locations throughout the village over the years, including on a sheet of ice on the “McKee lot” behind the old post office, now the DownHill Grill. Two local curling clubs formed: The Pontiac Bay Curling Club played on Lake Flower, in Pontiac Bay, and the Pines Curling Club played on Moody Pond. In 1918, Walter Cluett, one of the early curlers, built an indoor ice house on the Pontiac Bay location where the Ice Palace is built today. Eventually the two clubs combined to form the Saranac Lake Curling Club.

In 1931, this group commissioned the building of an “internationally recognized, state of the art ice house” next to the Pine Ridge Cemetery, across the street from Pontiac Bay. The building was designed by local architect and avid curler William Distin. It closed as a curling rink in 1943 and is now the headquarters of Madden’s Transfer and Storage on River Street.

The sport soon spread to Lake Placid, where it was practiced by guests at the Lake Placid Club on flooded tennis courts. Called the Sno Birds, this club played through the 1960s. The Lake Placid Curling Club was chartered in 1981 and played on the USA Rink of the Olympic Center until 2013.

The doctors

During the first half of the 20th century, when Saranac Lake was a popular health resort for those suffering from tuberculosis, many doctors and scientists settled in the village. These men became some of the leading citizens of the community and some of the best curlers. Some of the prominent doctors who were curlers were Robert Brown, Sidney Blanchet, Charles C. Trembley, Homer Sampson and Robert C. Paterson.

Dr. Paterson was a tuberculosis doctor and avid curler who had his medical office in the house on Church Street opposite the Saranac Laboratory. (Most recently it was the office of Dr. Miller.) Dr. Paterson was shot to death on Dec. 24, 1921, by one of his patients, a veteran of World War I who was apparently suffering from delusions.

The Paterson Memorial Medal was created and won numerous times by local curlers. The Saranac Lake Curling Club also frequently hosted, played in and often won the prestigious National Mitchell Medal curling competition, as well as the oldest and longest-running sports competition between the U.S. and Canada, the Gordon International curling competition. All three of these events continue today, and Saranac Lake residents, starting with “the doctors” of the SLCC, have been well represented through the years.

Curling today in Saranac Lake

Indoor curling has returned to Saranac Lake after a 70-year hiatus. In October of 2013, the Lake Placid Curling Club changed its venue and now plays the “roaring game” at the Saranac Lake Civic Center on Sunday afternoons from 3:45 to 6:15 p.m. Members come from communities throughout the North Country to play the game and to enjoy the camaraderie that is an important part of the sport of curling.

Curling is a sport for a lifetime and is a game that is intergenerational; it can be played from 8 to 80 and beyond. It is a sport of long-standing traditions and gentility. New members are always welcome. Be on the lookout for Celtic curlers, past and present, in this year’s Carnival parade!

Amy Catania, Todd Bailey, Amber McKernan and Jim Griebsch of Historic Saranac Lake contributed to this report.


“Curling events returning to Winter Carnival,” Adirondack Daily Enterprise, Feb. 4, 2005

The Year 1932 – The Curling Club – Part II,” Adirondack Daily Enterprise, Sept. 15, 1970