At Home in the Adirondacks 2012
The sun’s always shining at this timeless cottage colony in Pottersville
by Annie Stoltie
SEVENTY-FIVE SUMMERS ago Harry and Cis Meyer paddled from their Lake George campsite on Hen and Chickens Islands to the Sagamore Hotel. They dined with an old friend who’d invited them to what was, back then, one of just a handful of resorts that welcomed Jews. Conversation that evening turned to intriguing Adirondack places, and the Meyers mentioned a sign they’d spotted along Route 9, in Pottersville, for “The N”—and the massive N shaped from pines trees, visible from the highway. They hesitated to stop there, they told their host, for fear of the prevailing anti-Semitism. Not at all, he’d replied. The N—named for the Nichols family who ran the cottage colony—was open to guests of all denominations. The next day the Meyers drove there, met owners Edith and Gene Nichols, “hit it off and the rest is history,” says Bob Meyer.
The following four decades Bob’s parents would travel up from their home in Cortlandt and spend most of August at The N, on Mountain Spring Lake. Bob would come to know it as his other home, an Adirondack safe haven that so shaped his foundation of family and friendship that no matter where he’s lived—as a touring jazz musician he’s bounced from the West Coast to Israel to the East Coast—he’s missed just one annual N pilgrimage.
Today, 67-year-old Bob—“Bobby,” as they still call him at The N—is moved to tears talking about it. “Crusty old men cry at that place just like me,” he says. “As a Jew it’s my Torah—if there’s any place that I experience God, it’s when I get on that lake. There are a lot of wedding rings, a lot of ashes around that lake. Of all the gifts my parents gave me, The N is the greatest gift of all.”
IT’S POURING RAIN on a midsummer morning. Still, the N’s sunny paint jobs—variations of yellow on the Main House and 13 housekeeping cabins—translate the same cheery vibe you catch in the Main House kitchen. This used to be the nerve center for what was a full-service resort: three meals a day, with cooks and waitstaff. Now it’s an office for the Nichols’ granddaughter Edith Peet Moyse, but it continues to be a hub of activity. Edith—an obstetrics nurse who’s as gentle and kind as you’d expect of someone in that vocation—lives part-time near Albany with her husband, Claude. In The N’s old-fashioned kitchen she introduces her lifelong friend Gwen Wescott, who, with Claude and Edith’s brother Roger Peet, manages things when Edith’s away; Johnny Engle, the groundkeeper; Danny Kirkey, The N’s carpenter; vacationer Bard Levey and his three boys; and a stream of others who buzz in and out.
The Main House, with its wide porch, lake-view sitting room, and intricate woodwork crafted from ﬁr imported from Russia, was built in 1898 by Troy-based surgeon Dr. Calvin E. Nichols “to impress his fourth wife,” says Edith. (Edith’s mother, Gertrude Beswick, now in the North Creek nursing home, was recently given an Adirondack Architectural Heritage long-term stewardship award for saving the structure. Even during hard times she kept the place in business.) Nichols purchased the property, a total of 550 acres including 50-acre Mountain Spring Lake, about a century after it was settled by the Meade family. Nichols invited friends for woodsy lakeside getaways, but during the Depression his daughter, Edith, opened the place to paying guests, offering rooms in the Main House and converting the pheasant house, chicken coop and other outbuildings into rustic rentals. Nowadays things have changed: All of the cabins—among them Donna, Diik (Damned If I Know), Wigwam, MaeVonNeida, Summerhaven, Edgewater, Brookside, Mountain Crest—are equipped with kitchens. Only Nichols descendants sleep in the Main House. And the Meade farmhouse, “Overlook,” sits abandoned and near collapse at the crown of the property that slopes above the water. Edith dreams of saving the historical house where her mother was born, but that means moving it closer to the lake and ﬁnding an investor, perhaps a guest who’d then want to occupy it in summer.
Unlike so many old-school housekeeping cottage colonies, The N has hung on because “we donate our time,” explains Edith. “This is not a ﬁnancial achievement, but a labor of love.” It costs about $685 a week to stay in a two-bedroom cottage. The N doesn’t advertise, though Edith’s granddaughter, Chloe Madinger, created a website for it. The guests, some of them second and third generation, sustain the place, says Edith. They return each summer, usually to the same cabin—“They’re very proprietary about their cabins,” she laughs—and the occasional newcomer will ease in when there’s an opening.
YOSHI, AVI AND IKEY Levey—ages 11, nine and seven, respectively—are on the move in the downpour, building a fort. Their grandparents, Bob and Lorrie Levey, of Binghamton, ﬁrst came here in 1955. Bob was a dentist, just like his son, Bard, who lives and works in Westchester County.
“This was my dad’s getaway, where he’d unwind,” says Bard from inside Pine Haven cabin, where he, his wife, Tracy, and their boys live each summer, from the day after school ends to Labor Day. Much of their time is spent on the property, but the Leveys also hike, bike, ﬂy-ﬁsh and visit libraries and art centers. “When Dad was here he thought if you left [The N] you were crazy,” says Bard. “There wasn’t a blade of grass at this place he didn’t like.”
That same respect of place is embedded in Bard. The N “is something we all need,” he says. “In a world where everything changes and is temporary, this place stays the same. Not just the grounds, but the people who keep coming back.”
Bard recalls days of running wild here, of teenage love connections and the tradition of bringing potential spouses to camp meet-and-greets to determine if he or she was “N-worthy.” He and Tracy say they’re grateful their children have this experience. “Back at home, life is so regimented, so scheduled,” says Bard. “Here, they ﬁgure out what to do. There’s no TV, no homework. You can’t measure the value of independence and freedom. They can be kids.”
BOB MEYER IS packing for his yearly four-week N vacation. Tomorrow he and his wife, Jody—his son, Isaac, 24, and 19-year-old stepson, Evan, sometimes come along—will drive the 205 miles from Cortlandt Manor to Pottersville, a ritual that includes side trips to Oscar’s Adirondack Smoke House, in Warrensburg, and Chestertown’s Crossroads Outdoors for ﬁshing gear. Bob’s ﬁred up and ready to go.
As his mind turns to Mountain Spring Lake, to staying in Brookside, his sentiments echo Bard’s. There’s reverence for The N itself—“sacred ground,” as Bob calls it—and its structures, even the wall his dad put up in Diik all those summers ago “so he and Mom could get some privacy.” There’s respect for the greater Adirondacks and its mountains, as he’s “an undeclared 46er.” But it’s also about people—his N family, who take a break from busy, distinguished careers across the world to relax on a pretty piece of land beside a lovely lake: The Jaffes, including Chris senior, an acoustical designer who worked on the Hollywood Bowl and Carnegie Hall, and his kids Irene, Nina and Chris junior, owner of a Lake George motel. New York City Fire Department captain Brian Hanrahan and his wife, Joanne. Eric Plakun, a psychiatrist. Judge Alan Sacks, his rabbi wife, Joan, and brother David, an interventional radiologist. Daniel Weiss, former music director of Rent on Broadway, and his wife, singer/songwriter Ina May Wool. Scarsdale stockbroker Fred Rosoff and his Saratoga-based brother, Paul. Joan and Steven Carter, who live in Scotland. The Zwirns, from Wilton. The LaPrairies, from Wisconsin. The Hopps, from Long Island. Retired sneaker store owner Wally Kaner, his wife, Davida, and their daughter Leslie Lazar, who was married at The N. The Wintles, the Mays—the list of characters goes on and on and on.
“With age, hopefully comes wisdom,” says Bob. “Part of wisdom is the relationships. That’s the part that gets so emotional.”
He continues, “I have seen the Western Wall, the Sistine Chapel, Mount Moriah, Notre Dame, Massada, the Dome of the Rock. But The N is the most spiritual place I’ve ever been. It’s my true spiritual home.”
The N (518-494-3873, www.nmountain.com) is at 105 Nichols Road, in Pottersville. It’s open June through September.