Mountain air appealed to James C. Orr.
“Nothing in the world can beat Mount McGregor,” said the 72-year-old Orr, who lived at 115 Barrett St. in Schenectady.
Orr was a war veteran who had cardiac problems. A few months at McGregor, a rest camp for veterans in 1955, perked him right up.
The country life helped hundreds of other men and women. Mount McGregor had been a haven for veterans since November of 1945.
The place had been around a while. Located high above Route 9N between Saratoga Springs and Glens Falls in the town of Wilton, McGregor opened in 1913 as a tuberculosis hospital for employees of the Metropolitan Life Insurance Co.
Celebrated United States military man Ulysses S. Grant had discovered the pure air first. Grant’s cottage was near the main medical building; the former general and president had spent his last days in Wilton during the late spring and early summer of 1885.
George E. Hubbard came after Grant. He started as business manager at the site in 1921. When Met Life got out of the hospital business in 1945, Hubbard stuck around.
“It was simply due to a low instance of TB among Metropolitan employees,” Superintendent Hubbard told reporter Kathy Muller of the Schenectady Gazette in 1955. “With facilities for more than 500 patients, we saw the census drop to less than 100 in the 1940s. The decision to close was made and operations stopped in May 1945.
New York state government officials, looking for a camp to house returning war vets, bought the place for $350,000. Included in the purchase of the 1,187-acre site was a four-acre farm at the base of the mountain. Cream and eggs were produced; poultry and pigs were raised.
“We have fresh broilers for the patients every 10 days,” Hubbard said.
By the mid-1950s, McGregor was just a place for people to relax — although there was still a staffed infirmary on campus. The camp could accommodate 380 people during the fall and winter, and 580 during the summer when four additional buildings more appropriate for warm weather were opened.
A rest house, women’s quarters, theater, recreation room and chapel also were on the grounds. Guests played cards and billiards, took walks and worked at handicrafts.
Mount McGregor was usually booked. Stays were limited to 90 days in any calendar year, and veterans were allowed two three-month visits. For their third trip, they were limited to 30 days. The state paid the entire bill, even kicking in transportation costs to and from camp.
In 1954, 26 Schenectady veterans were among the 3,012 patients treated at Mount McGregor. More than 25,000 vets had bunked and broken bread at the rest home.
“If a man can’t come up here and after two weeks not feel revived spiritually as well as physically,” Orr said, “he is just beyond help.”
The veterans left long ago. Peace and isolation are now enjoyed by inmates of the Mount McGregor Correctional Facility, a medium security prison for males.