More than the center of town
Sep
26
2018

For the residents of Saranac Lake, their downtown clock tower is one of the iconic symbols of the community.

It sits high above the entrance to the town hall, at a major intersection which contains important civic buildings. It is diagonally across from Riverside Park, with its bandshell, boat docks, and benches.

This landmark is used when giving directions. Places are "three down from Town Hall" or "behind Town Hall." Some places are actually in Town Hall, like the Welcome Center.

Practical and beautiful

The clock works. People within earshot are used to noticing the peals of the clock on the hour. In late spring of 2017, when the clock stopped working, there were lots of calls asking when it would be fixed.

The system had to be replaced with a new one, customized for a tower which dates back to 1928. The clock tower was once again counting the hours for the town.

The entrance to Town Hall with the clock tower above it.
The entrance to Town Hall with the clock tower above it.

It was designed in the Beaux-Arts architecture style by two architects: William H. Scopes and Maurice Feustmann—who was taught at the center of the style, the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. It was a prominent choice for public buildings in North America, from the late-19th century to the 1920s.

Both men were "curing" in Saranac Lake, which was the term for taking the tuberculosis rest cure. While Feustmann was a trained architect, Scopes started by observing the construction of the Administration building at the Trudeau Sanitarium. This sparked his interest, and then he took a correspondence course in the subject. Their partnership would have a visible impact on Saranac Lake, including the Hotel Saranac, the Santanoni Apartments, the Will Rogers and Mary Prescott hospitals, along with the St. Armand Town Hall in nearby Bloomingdale.

Here is where to find the Visitor Center.
Here is where to find the Welcome Center.

Some prominent characteristics of Beaux-Arts architecture are arched windows along with a raised first story, and a step in the lower right corner comprising half a flight to the entrance. It also features the "hierarchy of spaces," which guides visitors from grand entrances and access spaces to more humble, utilitarian rooms.

A piece of history

The marble columns and staircases, with wrought iron railings, add touches of another popular architecture school — the Italianate style. This can also be seen in the second floor reception hall in the Hotel Saranac.

The open stairway gives access to three levels.
The open stairway gives access to three levels.

The first attempt, known as Old Town Hall, was described as a "cavernous" structure made of wood, with a clock tower topped with an oversized Gothic peak. The building went up in 1888, and burned to the ground on July 27, 1926. No one was in the building when the fire broke out, and by the time help could arrive, three prisoners in the village lock-up were badly burned, one fatally.

This first building was used as a public school for pupil overflow, an Odd Fellows hall which doubled as a movie theater, village law enforcement headquarters, and even the local newspaper offices. The second floor auditorium had hosted countless dances, suppers, and festivals.

The skylight gives the interior a cheerful feel in any weather.
The skylight gives the interior a cheerful feel in any weather.

The new Town Hall was finished in October of 1928. Mindful of fire, the new materials were deep-toned cherry red brick, with trimmings of Indiana limestone. It immediately resumed its important duties, with four meeting rooms which doubled as election centers and a court room, and a whole story for the Harrietstown government offices.

The ground floor now held an auditorium with a stage, and men's and women's dressing rooms.

Heart of town

Today, the Town Hall auditorium continues as an important community space. Visitors will find entertainment for First Night, parties for Winter Carnival, and a display space for the Adirondack Plein Air Festival here.

Sparkle Village is the gift destination early in the holiday season.
The Sparkle Village craft show is the gift destination early in the holiday season.

Town and community leaders came together to build the Riverwalk, an all-access paved path that stretches from the municipal offices beyond the dam, across and along the river, and on to the middle of downtown.

This charming recreational park can also be accessed by the long series of terraced stairs on the south side of Town Hall.

Part of the skyline as seen from the Riverwalk.
As always, Town Hall's clock tower is part of the skyline, as seen here from the Riverwalk.

Stop by and see us at the Welcome Center, the first door on the left as you enter Town Hall. You will find brochures, guidance from our helpful people, and great ideas for what to see and do.

Downtown has so much delightful dining, shopping, and art; it's a great place to explore.

Categories:Historic Downtown
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About The Author

Pamela Merritt's picture
Pamela Merritt finds a library's reading room as exciting as a hike through the forest. She met the Adirondacks in 1999 and declared it "home." She's been collecting stories ever since. She declares summer's hiking and kayaking blends beautifully into winter's snowshoeing and reading to create four great seasons of enjoyment. Her published works display her eclectic range, from How-To cat care manuals to literary short fiction.

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