6 Adirondack Buildings with Past Lives

The brick church in Jay, now home to Adirondack Life.

In the recent At Home in the Adirondacks 2014, Elizabeth Folwell wrote about the transformation of a disused school in Willsboro into a state-of-the-art residential facility, Champlain Valley Senior Community. That got us thinking about other buildings in the Adirondack Park that are used for something very different than their original intended purpose. There are many: former schools in Dannemora, Au Sable Forks, Paradox and elsewhere now house town offices or community centers. In Brant Lake, a combination bike shop and cafe, the Hub, opened in the old Horicon Town Hall this summer. And countless other long-abandoned buildings await their turn to find a new and useful purpose.

The following are a few of the most notable examples of radical reuse in the Blue Line. Several of them have received awards from Adirondack Architectural Heritage, based in Keeseville.

Olympic Village to Federal Prison
Many of the facilities built for the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid—from the ski jumps to the bobsled run—continue to be used for their original purposes. One glaring exception is the Ray Brook complex that housed international athletes during the games. Not long after the closing ceremonies, dormitories were turned into cell blocks for the Ray Brook Federal Correctional Institution, which today houses nearly 1,000 inmates from around the country. The recreation center with a discotheque where Olympic hopefuls once shook their finely conditioned groove things is now used for a chapel, chaplain’s office, psychiatric center and commissary, according to Alison Haas and Susanna Fout, of the Lake Placid Olympic Museum.

The Olympic village’s transformation was a rare case of planned reuse. The more common scenario played out next door, when a former tuberculosis hospital, rendered obsolete by the decline of the disease, was repurposed as a state prison. Yet another TB sanatorium briefly became part of Paul Smith’s College before being converted to the minimum-security state prison in 1982. Camp Gabriels closed in 2009 and sat vacant for several years before being sold at auction in late 2013; earlier this year the winning bidder announced plans to open a summer camp for Orthodox Jewish boys on the site.

Vaudeville Hospital to Retirement Community
Perhaps nowhere in the park is more familiar with adaptive reuse than Saranac Lake. Once the TB era ended, the town’s dozens of cure cottages were turned into single-family homes, inns and apartment buildings; the former laboratory of Dr. Edward Livingston Trudeau, who helped turn the area into a center of TB care and research, became headquarters for Historic Saranac Lake at the Saranac Laboratory Museum; and a onetime hospital for vaudeville performers became Saranac Village at Will Rogers, an independent living facility for seniors.

Grist Mill to Restaurant
Some restaurants name themselves, as is the case of the Grist Mill on the Schroon, in Warrensburg. Built in 1824, this riverside structure was used to turn grain to flour until 1967, when it was sold and renovated as a restaurant. Today the only thing refined in the mill is chef-owner Chris Lambeth’s cuisine, but visitors can still view the old machinery.

Train Depot to Restaurant
For more dining with a side of history, pull into Big Moose Station, in Big Moose. Here you can enjoy Wiener schnitzel or Utica greens in this depot that was part of a rail line through the central Adirondacks, financed by Dr. Seward Webb and completed in 1892. The station itself was rebuilt in 1926, and first started diner service in 1966; its most recent incarnation dates to 2007. Though part of the rail corridor at the center of a land-use controversy pitting rail fans against bicyclists and snowmobilers who want a recreational trail, visitors can still take the Adirondack Scenic Railroad from Thendara to Big Moose Station in summer and early fall.

Ford Factory to Upholstery Shop/Performance Space
Brothers Byron and Scott Renderer nicknamed their Upper Jay Art Center the Recovery Lounge, where they host music, theater and other cultural events, as a nod to the building’s primary use as an upholstery shop. But it could just as well refer to their rescue of the structure itself, which was once a Ford assembly plant and showroom. The three-story edifice, built in 1927, is as worn-in–looking as one of the old couches the Renderers rehab, but come any January Sunday, when the space hosts a popular afternoon jam session, there’s no more comfortable seat in town. Read more about this Upper Jay scene in Annie Stoltie’s “In Recovery,” from 2008.

Church to Magazine
No list would be complete without mention of the Adirondack Life offices in the old brick church in Jay. Built in 1838, this Presbyterian church served the spiritual needs of the community through civil war and the first world war, as Elizabeth Folwell describes in “Leaving Church,” from 2002. That was the year after the magazine, which moved into the by-then-abandoned Federal building in 1987, briefly relocated to the former Paleface ski center (yet another adaptive reuse!) up the road. We returned in 2005, thankful to have our view of Adirondack life through the sanctuary’s arched windows once again.


6 Adirondack Buildings with Past Lives
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