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Brewster’s Lake Placid House, the hotel that started it all. Built in 1871, it was the first structure erected specifically as a hotel. This photo was taken by Seneca Ray Stoddard in 1873, just a few years after the hotel opened. (Photo provided)

(Editor’s note: This story first appeared in the Lake Placid News on April 23, 2004.)

LAKE PLACID – Today, Lake Placid is known the world over as a Double Olympic Village, a comfortable base for hikes in the Adirondack High Peaks, and a premier all-season resort.

But in 1871, Lake Placid consisted of only two farms: one belonged to Joseph Nash; the other to Benjamin Brewster.

Brewster’s Land ran up Signal Hill, between Placid and Mirror Lakes, and all around the “Morning side” from Mirror Lake.

Nash owned most of the west side of Mirror Lake.

The Lake Placid home, in an undated photo (Photo provided)

Nash bought his land in 1850, when he was 23 years old.

Brewster, Nash’s brother-in-law, followed a year later. He was 22 years old.

Joe Nash brought a small but steady stream of travelers into his home, expanding his “Red House” in 1855 to cope with the increasing traffic.

It was Ben Brewster, however, who built the first real hotel in Lake Placid – the first building specifically designed as a hotel business. In 1871 he erected a large frame structure between the lakes, with a large front porch. He called it Lake Placid House, although most people know it simply as Brewster’s.

In his book, “History of the Adirondacks”, Alfred Donaldson described Brewster as “Ugly, jerry-built and primitive to the extreme – unpainted, two-story, with only 10 pieces, nails for coat hooks, barrels for tables, doors leading nowhere and a leaky roof” said Mary MacKenzie, the historian of Lake Placid.

Joe Nash’s Excelsior House was renamed the Stevens House, seen here in an engraving from the tourist picture book, “Among the Adirondacks”. (Photo provided)

“Unpainted, it may have been for a while, but otherwise a different story is told by Seneca Ray Stoddard’s 1873 photo of the Lake Placid House,” MacKenzie wrote. “It was, in fact, a spacious, three-story structure, sturdy and honest, and quite attractive in the hinterland.”

The Lake Placid house could accommodate 60 people.

Although the railroad did not arrive until 1894, an ever-increasing stream of tourists arrived on horseback, on foot and in horse-drawn carriages to Lake Placid. In 1876, just five years after his brother-in-law opened Lake Placid House, Joe Nash built the colony’s second hotel, called Excelsior House, above Signal Hill, directly across from the present-day Catholic Church. St. Agnes.

“It was a nice little structure” MacKenzie said, “3-1 / 2 stories high, with a wide veranda and a viewing perspective. The capacity was 90.

Nash built the place as an investment, not a new career. He rented it for a few years from Moses Ferguson, then sold the inn to John Stevens, a 30-something from Plattsburgh. The new owner quickly renamed it Stevens House.

The Stevens House, as seen in part of a panoramic photo from 1911. (Photo provided)

THE BUSINESS HAS GROWN, but the competition has also increased and rapidly. Moses Ferguson left the Excelsior to build his own hotel in 1878, this one on an even higher hill near the middle of the western shore of Mirror Lake.

“Only 20 years before,” MacKenzie wrote, “Joe Nash had trapped a panther in the very spot where Ferguson had erected a small hotel, aptly named Grand View. A small, simple but tidy building, it featured three stories topped with an observation gazebo and an encircling veranda amply stocked with rocking chairs.

The Grand View occupied the site where the Lussi family now operate the Lake Placid Resort Holiday Inn.

In four years, two more hotels were built at the foot of the hill under the Grand View. The first, Allen House, opened in 1880. Owner Henry Allen had run Brewster’s since 1876. He also ran the stagecoach line from Lake Placid to the AuSable Forks rail depot.

“Architecturally, Allen House was totally different from the typical Adirondack hotel of the day,” Mary MacKenzie wrote, “And he was tall, easily outclassing his three competitors. It could accommodate 100 guests.

The Grand View Hotel, at the turn of the century. (Photo provided)

In his Adirondack guide, Seneca Ray Stoddard gave Allen House top marks.

“A large, spacious and rambling structure,” he wrote.

Allen House was so successful that after only a year of operation Allen was able to purchase the Grand View above, operating the two hotels together for several years.

Meanwhile, Allen House has a new neighbor: the Mirror Lake House, opened in 1882 by Joe Nash’s daughter, Hattie, and her husband Charlie Green. The small, graceful four-story structure, with a three-story rear wing, could accommodate 75 guests.

The Mirror Lake House (not to be confused with today’s Mirror Lake Inn at the north end of the lake) must have been an instant hit, as after only a summer of operation it attracted a large supply of Silas and Spencer Prime, from Upper Jay, to buy the hotel.

When the Allen House burned down in 1886, the only competition near Mirror Lake was the Grand View.

Ira Isham of Plattsburgh purchased Mirror Lake in 1888 and immediately embarked on a major improvement program. In 1889, he installed a power station, making the hotel one of the first electrified buildings in the region.

Isham also enlarged the building so that in 1890, “Mirror Lake… was a magnificent and imposing palace in a place never seen before in the north of the country”, MacKenzie wrote.

But in 1894, the Mirror Lake House burned down, suffering the fate of most of the great and old timber-frame hotels of the early Adirondacks, leaving only the Grand View on the hill that bore its name.

Under Henry Allen’s leadership, the Grand View grew and grew, reaching its final proportions in 1900.

IN THE NORTH, the Stevens house is enjoying one successful season after another.

Then came Christmas Eve 1885. At 8 am that day, an overheated stove pipe caught fire in the upper rooms. In no time, the whole building was on fire.

John Stevens and his partner, Brother George Stevens, pulled themselves together and, the following spring, set out to rebuild a bigger and better hotel. Even a microburst which destroyed the almost finished frame on May 14, 1886, could not stop them; the new hotel opened on July 4th.

It was an amazing place, “a splendid structure, built on lines of classic simplicity,” MacKenzie wrote. “It was four floors, with a large square (porch) circling the ground floor and a central observation tower. The appointments were plentiful.

The new Stevens House could accommodate 200 people; a major expansion 14 years later doubled that.

Meanwhile, down the hill at Brewster’s, things were much quieter. The Stevens brothers bought Ben in 1887, putting the Lake Placid house in the hands of caretakers.

The original Lake Placid hotel changed hands two more times before it was sold in 1897 to George Cushman, who immediately began a stunning expansion of the property.

“The result was a spacious and imposing four-story structure. An unnamed architect finished the facade in a style you might call Adirondack Gothic ”, MacKenzie wrote.

To modern architecture critics, MacKenzie observed, “The building looks grand, if not a little absurd, but it was greatly admired at the time. Dominating the rise in land between the two lakes, the new Lake Placid House was quite a sight. Considering its size and location, it appears in the majority of early postcards and photos of Lake Placid.

As extraordinary as the results were, the cost of financing the expansion was too high for Lake Placid House. It went into foreclosure a few years later.

IN THE EARLY 20th century, Stevens House, Lake Placid House and Grand View were no longer alone on the Lake Placid hospitality scene.

Since building the Excelsior, Joe Nash has embarked on a vibrant real estate business, selling the lots that quickly became the homes, shops and small hotels on Lake Placid’s main drag.

When the railroad finally reached Lake Placid in 1894, access to the area was made relatively easy and tourism grew exponentially.

In 1900, the village of Lake Placid was incorporated. At the end of the first decade of the 20th century, the village had cobbled streets.

It all started with two young pioneers, Joe Nash and Ben Brewster, and their pioneer hotels in Lake Placid: Nash’s “Red House,” Brewster’s Lake Placid House and the Excelsior.

The Grand View, in 1922, became the first Jewish-owned hotel in Lake Placid, breaking down the famous Adirondack ethnic barrier. Refuge for Hitler’s Third Reich refugees during World War II, the Grand View closed in 1956. It was razed in 1961, making way for the Holiday Inn.

Stevens House was crippled financially by the stock market crash of 1929. Auctioned in 1933, the hotel was repossessed for tax by Essex County a decade later. It was purchased in 1947 for the express purpose of demolishing what had become a notorious horror.

Lake Placid House operated successfully until 1920, when two fires put an end to the Inn which contained at its heart the original village hotel.

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