For the past 20 years – but increasingly over the past three years – state legislators, local and regional government officials, state agencies, environmental and economic development groups, and others have deliberated over the future of Debar Pond Lodge, which was built in about 1940.
The 10-bedroom lodge and support buildings are located on New York State “Forever Wild” Forest Preserve land in the Northern Adirondack Park town of Duane, Franklin County, and are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The property surrounding the lodge became part of the publicly owned Forest Preserve since 1979, but the buildings was held privately for the next 25 years.
In 2004 the lodge and outbuildings became part of the Forest Preserve, protected by Article XIV of the State Constitution, the Environmental Conservation Law, and the State Land Master Plan, following the failure to the State to strike a deal with a private party to preserve and maintain it through a conservation easement. Instead, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation allowed DEC Forest Rangers to live there for a time.
Debar Pond Lodge History
Debar Pond Lodge is located on the end of an 1,100-acre pond named after John Debar, a Canadian trapper who visited the location on a hunting trip in 1817. It’s now part of the Debar Mountain Wild Forest, 88,300-acres of “Forever Wild” NYS Forest Preserve land located in the northern Adirondack Park in the of Towns of Franklin, Brighton, Duane, Santa Clara, and Waverly, all in Franklin County.
Robert Schroeder, the son of a German brewer, began acquiring land around the pond in the 1880s, and planted more than 300 acres of hops, a very large hop plantations for the time.
After his first residence burned, Schroeder replaced it with a lavish 60-room mansion. But when his business interests collapsed, the property became derelict and went through several sales. In 1939 the structure was razed and a residence was constructed for Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Wheeler. Evidence of Schroeder’s earlier agricultural and domestic infrastructure appears to have been lost.
The Wheeler’s new 17-room, cedar log building was designed by William G. Distin, a native of Plattsburgh who initially worked under William Coulter, a prolific Saranac Lake architect. Distin enjoyed a productive architectural practice in the region from the early 1910s into the middle years of the century.
Debar Lodge ranks among Distin’s major and mature-period designs, along with Camp Wonundra (ca. 1934), Eagle Nest (ca. 1937) and Camp Minnowbrook (ca. 1948). For it, Distin combined an exterior of rustic conception, predicated on the use of a log veneer, with an interior of eclectic rustic conception the plan of which hinged on the centrally placed Great Room.
Protectionist Survey Results
A move is now underway in the New York State Legislature to amend the State Constitution to allow the State to trade the six acres that includes Debar Pond Lodge to a non-profit organization in return for at least 400 acres “of at least equal value,” require the buildings to be preserved and available for a variety of public uses, protect the historic character of the site, and allow the public continued access the shoreline of Debar Pond.
The lodge is the only building on the lake and some Adirondack Park advocates, including Protect the Adirondacks, say it should be torn down and the lake returned to a natural state.
From July 29 to Labor Day, averaging five days a week, two non-profit organizations who support keeping the lodge, Adirondack Architectural Heritage and Debar Pond Institute, conducted a public opinion survey on the shore of Debar Pond to ascertain public attitudes about the future of Debar Pond Lodge.
A total of 239 visitors completed the survey forms, representing at least 75% of the total number of visitors those days. Respondents provided their names and hometowns. 42% came from the region, from Saranac Lake and Bloomingdale to Malone. 19% were from other Adirondack and North Country locations. 13% came from elsewhere in New York State. 26% hailed from other states and provinces.
When asked, “How does the presence of Debar Pond Lodge affect your experience at Debar Pond?” 97% of visitors said, “The building enhances the experience,” 2% said “The building detracts from the experience,” and 1% said the building “makes no difference.”
A similar 97% said they favored an outcome for Debar Pond Lodge that would, “Preserve the buildings; use the Lodge for educational programs, public lodging and tours; and allow the public to access the shoreline of Debar Pond for picnicking, swimming, paddling and hiking.” 2% preferred to “Remove all the buildings and allow the public to access the shoreline of Debar Pond for picnicking, swimming, paddling and hiking.” 1% were uncertain.
The last question described the plan to amend the State Constitution and asked, “Would you support this legislation?” 98% said “Yes” and 2% said “No”.
Photo of Debar Pond Lodge provided by Adirondack Architectural Heritage.