Travel 2021 | Schroon Lake: ‘Quintessential little town’ offers deep-blue escape

The sand — and grass — at the Schroon Lake town beach are crowded during a summer day.
The sand — and grass — at the Schroon Lake town beach are crowded during a summer day.

People come to Schroon Lake for the deep blue water.

They also come to the Adirondack community in Essex County for the deep feeling of community.

“I think it’s kind of a vibrant local community,” said Cheryl Fear, who along with her husband John has owned the Adirondack Inn on Main Street (Route 9) since 2014. “I think it’s the lake, I think it’s the people that draw people here — our full-time residents, our part-time residents, as well as guests that kind of come in.

“It’s really kind of the quintessential little town,” Fear added. “There’s one of everything. A lot of it is the community, and what it has to offer both personally and professionally.”

Schroon, like other Adirondack lakes, should see more people swimming, boating, cycling and hiking this summer. Business owners hurt in 2020 by the COVID-19 virus say the nation’s robust vaccination program should persuade more people to travel this June, July and August.

Schroon is easy to reach. The nine-mile-long lake is located in parts of both Warren and Essex Counties; the Schroon Lake community is located about 90 miles north of the Capital Region, a drive-time investment of 100 minutes. The lake is about 30 miles — and about 30 minutes — north of Lake George.

More: Travel 2021 | Our Beautiful Lakes – A 2021 Summer Travel Guide

Susan Palisano has been executive director of the Schroon Lake Chamber of Commerce and a full-time resident of the community since 2008. She said that while Schroon Lake is considered by many visitors as a summer destination only, there are recreation options for the remaining three seasons.

Palisano said winter people come to snowmobile and ice fish, and skiers know resorts are not far away. During the fall, leaf peepers travel to Schroon for the golds, oranges and reds of autumn.

But the lake is the big star, and more people use it for swimming and boating during the summer months.

Last summer was difficult.

“We had a number of businesses that honestly just chose not to open,” Palisano said. “It was too difficult for them to consider all the additional requirements when it came to dealing with COVID-19.”

For bed-and-breakfast owners, they had to think about welcoming new people into their homes every week. Restaurants were asked to follow limited capacity guidelines.

People still came to the lake.

“We were busy because we’re such a destination for folks wanting to be out of the cities,” Palisano said. “A lot of our second homeowners, for a fairly long stretch — basically from March or April all the way through — made this their primary home because they did not want to be where their first home would be.”

Other people who found they could drive to Schroon Lake in just a few hours visited for the first time.

“A lot of folks, I think, sort of discovered Schroon Lake last summer,” Palisano said, adding that the summer group was a combination of folks who had been to Schroon before and a bunch of Schroon rookies.

There are places to see:

  • The new Schroon Lake Community Church, destroyed by fire on Jan. 2, 2019, has been rebuilt.
  • People gather at the recently renovated Stewart’s store for ice cream, gasoline and coffee.
  • The town fountain is a bright spot after dark, lit by colored lights.
  • A large Tops supermarket is the place for charcoal briquettes, hot dogs, hamburgers, vegetables and other groceries.
  • A post office is located on Main Street, a convenient place to mail postcards.
  • The Towne Store is another Main Street stop, a convenient place to buy postcards … and Schroon T-shirts, sweatshirts, camping gear, jewelry and souvenirs.
  • Like the Adirondack Inn, the Schroon Lake Place is a small business that offers overnight lodgings. The “Place” also offers a private beach.
  • Paradox Brewery is located a few miles north of Schroon Lake in North Hudson. “We’re doing extremely well in the tasting room during this time period,” said brewery founder and president Paul Mrocka. “We have a lot of locals who come in here now. We have a very large open space, and that open space makes people feel comfortable.”

Palisano is expecting more of a normal summer in 2021. “We’re welcoming folks with open arms and inviting them to become part of our community,” she said.

More: Travel 2021 | Our Beautiful Lakes – A 2021 Summer Travel Guide

The invitation has been open since the 1800s.

According to the Adirondack Hub, an online resource that promotes Schroon Lake and nearby communities Newcomb, North Hudson and Minerva, the town of Schroon Lake was first settled around 1800, north of the current Schroon Lake hamlet.

Some stories say the town was occupied during the Colonial period as a French colony. There are also stories behind the name “Schroon Lake.”

According to historians, some believe the name came from a Native American word for large lake. Others believe the lake was named by French soldiers in honor of the Widow Scarron (Françoise d’Aubigne), who was previously the wife of noted French author and playwright Paul Scarron.

The widow later became Madame de Maintenon and second wife of Louis XIV of France.

Formed in 1804, the town of Schroon was originally part of the town of Crown Point. The town was partitioned to form the newer town of Minerva in 1817, and in 1840 part of Schroon was returned to Crown Point.

People and industry arrived at about the same time. With abundant water, fish, game and first-growth timber, profits and homes were both made. Saw and grist mills were soon built; so were a tannery and a distillery.

Lumber was the backbone of the early economy. As land was cleared for settlement, logs not needed for local construction were sent down river to Schroon Lake and on to Glens Falls. Although attempts were made to mine and forge iron in Schroon, historians say, the veins were not sufficient to make such activity profitable.

Tanning leather was the principal industry in Schroon in the 1850s and 1860s. It also was the top business in neighboring North Hudson and Minerva.

While many traveled north to earn their livings, others discovered health and relaxation benefits. Schroon Lake was just one of many lakeside destinations: Between 1875 and 1910, the Adirondacks were booming as a tourist resort area.

Many hotels, such as the famous Leland House in the town of Schroon, were built during this celebrated era. In 1875, there were 200 Adirondack businesses devoted to comfort and dining, including elegant inns and large hotels.

The Leland was built in 1872 on a six-acre parcel of land owned by Thomas Leland. It was one of the largest and grandest hotels on the lake. The hotel stood three stories high and could accommodate nearly 300 guests.

Flames were the constant danger for these wooden structures. The Leland House caught fire on Oct. 31, 1914, and was destroyed. By 1916, the new Leland House was open, completed in one year at a cost of $125,000. It caught fire again on Dec. 16, 1938, but continued to operate until 1952.

Sometimes, many Schroon patrons were kids. Children’s camps were popular on many lakes, including Paradox, Pyramid and Schroon. Hotels filled during the weekends when mothers and fathers came to visit their camping sons and daughters.

Schroon Lake had another big player in the hotel game, Scaroon Manor Resort. The luxury resort opened in 1920 and attracted clients anxious for fine dining, quality entertainment and outdoor fun. It featured an amphitheater, white sandy beach, and more than 300 acres of gardens and landscaped walkways. For outdoor recreation, the Manor offered a golf course, tennis courts, baseball diamond, basketball courts and water sports.

Scaroon Manor also was the site for the 1958 Warner Bros. movie “Marjorie Morningstar,” which starred Gene Kelly, Natalie Wood and Ed Wynn. The Manor closed in 1962, and was eventually sold to the state of New York in 1967. It is now used by the state Department of Environmental Conservation as a public campground and day-use area.

Scaroon Manor and the Leland House are long gone, but Schroon offers bunches of other places to visit. One must-stop is Pitkin’s Restaurant on Main Street.

Recent dishes have included beef filet medallions and grilled shrimp with mashed potatoes and green beans; pan-seared scallops and shrimp over roasted corn and spinach; linguine with clams; and homemade pot roast.

Recent projects have included remodeling and expansion. Adam McCall, the 26-year-old owner, said Pitkin’s took advantage of the pandemic shutdown in spring 2020 to give the place a new look.

“We remodeled the main dining room and didn’t pick up many more seats, but last spring we built an outdoor patio and this winter we converted our upstairs into another dining room,” McCall said.

Pitkin’s opened last June for the summer season and McCall, now with 145 chairs, said business boomed. With many Americans vaccinated and less anxious about travel and restaurant visits, McCall and others are expecting a busy summer season this year.

“I think what people like about Schroon Lake is it’s smaller, it’s not Lake George,” he said. “I think that’s one of the biggest draws. When you walk into Pitkin’s, you know everyone in there. There are lots of locals, people who have been coming here year after year. Even the summer people, it’s always the same faces every year.”

McCall, who grew up in Minerva, also serves up a big plate of history about the business. He said Art and Archie Pitkin first opened in 1907.

“In the ‘50s it was sold to a man named John Wilson, and in 1975 John sold it to his daughter, Marie Rice, and her husband Randy Rice,” McCall said. “They ran the restaurant until 2019, when they sold it to me.”

McCall determines the menus for the three meals served daily and manages the staff, which numbers between 30 and 40 during the summer months.

People may keep coming back for the filets, scallops and shrimp, but McCall said there’s also a big demand for Pitkin pies.

“Our pies are pretty famous,” he said. “We have all homemade desserts that are still made by Marie Rice.”

Rice puts in fewer hours than she used to. McCall would love to find more people ready for kitchen and front-end shifts.

“We’re all looking for help. We’re struggling for staff,” he said. “It’s just like the Lake George region and, I’m sure, the Saratoga region.”

Cheryl and John Fear ran their own makeover when they bought the Adirondack Inn, formerly the Yellow Coach.

“We kept the walls and the tubs, and that was it,” Cheryl said. “We renovated it top to bottom.”

The eight-unit Adirondack is decorated with a rustic flair. Fear adds that there are other small places for lodging in Schroon, some of which remain open all four seasons. The Adirondack Inn opens during the spring and remains open through October.

Fear said 2020 brought a different way of doing business.

“For us, personally, we’re all about handshakes and hugs, and it was a bit of a different customer experience,” Fear said. “It was just making sure we were following proper protocols and doing what we could to make sure we have both our community and our guests the safest that we could, but at the same time making sure we had the best experience our guests could encounter.”

More: Travel 2021 | Our Beautiful Lakes – A 2021 Summer Travel Guide

Penny Edenfield is also looking forward to a more sociable summer stretch. Like other bar and restaurant owners across the state, Edenfield shut down her popular bar and restaurant, Flanagan’s Pub and Grill, last March. She reopened in August, and remained open through fall and into winter.

Edenfield was careful to follow all the rules. “Our customers were absolutely wonderful and they appreciated us being strict,” she said. “Some gave us hard times.”

Some of the “hard-timers” contributed to a decision to close down for the year.

“It got into winter and people just got to where they weren’t following what I felt were the proper guidelines,” Edenfield said. “To me, it was better for us. I felt more comfortable by closing. We closed in January because of the fact people weren’t following the rules and to me, our customers, our employees, our health was a lot more important than trying to stay open.”

The down time helped when crews installed new kitchen equipment. Edenfield opened in mid-May.

Edenfield and her husband, Doug King, are beginning their 25th summer as Flanagan’s owners. Jim and Georgia Flanagan were the original owners of the Main Street business, opening in 1952.

Like other owners, Edenfield can reflect on the lost season of 2020.

“The town was slow but the lake was real busy,” she said, “not during the week but during the weekend. It was nothing like Schroon Lake normally is. I’ve been here 35 years now, my husband since ‘57, and all the years I’ve been here, it’s been like bustling in the summer.

“It was different,” Edenfield added. “We weren’t really scared, but we were super conscious of being around people and staying away, and that sort of thing. It kind of made the lake busier because it could be just you and your family, but the town — even with us when we opened back up in the summer — it was probably two-thirds less than usual.”

Edenfield, who will admit Flanagan’s chicken wings are her favorite order from the kitchen, said diners have plenty of options. Specials in the past have included barbecued chicken, meatloaf, lasagna and other comfort foods.

“We have what I call sometimes too big of a menu,” Edenfield said. “We have a little bit of everything.”

Edenfield offers her southern accent — she’s originally from Savannah, Georgia — free of charge.

“You know what’s funny?” Edenfield said. “Everybody up here thinks I still have an accent, but I go home and my little nieces will go, ‘Aunt Penny, you sound like a Northerner!’ “

She could always say “Northern Adirondacker.”

Schroon Lake
SIGNIFICANCE/ORIGIN OF NAME: Several, including both French and Native American influences. On the French side, soldiers supposedly named the lake to honor the Widow Scarron (Françoise d’Aubigne), who was previously the wife of noted French author and playwright Paul Scarron. The widow later became Madame de Maintenon and second wife of Louis XIV of France. Some historians say the name was abbreviated to Schroon from longer Mohawk words. Another Native American story says the lake honors Indian maiden Scarona, or Sca-ro-na, who drowned in the waters.
LOCATION: The lake is in Warren and Essex counties.
SIZE: Nine miles long, maximum depth 152 feet.
CLAIM TO FAME: The 1958 movie “Marjorie Morningstar” with Natalie Wood and Gene Kelly was filmed at Schroon Lake.
WHERE TO SWIM: The spacious town beach is located just off Route 9, Schroon Lake’s main street. Roped-in swim area is watched by lifeguards. A floating dock entertains older swimmers. Rolling hills topped by large trees back the beach.
WHERE TO LAUNCH: Kayaks, canoes, sailing and fishing boats are all welcome on the lake. Dock Street, within a block of downtown Schroon Lake, offers a public hard-surface boat launch. There is parking for 15 cars and trailers.
LAKESIDE DINING SPOT: Pitkin’s restaurant, open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, has been open since 1907.

More: Travel 2021 | Our Beautiful Lakes – A 2021 Summer Travel Guide

Categories: Life and Arts, Travel 2021

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