At the turn of the last century, families whose last names were at the forefront of our collective consciousness, signifying power, good taste and vast fortunes – Vanderbilts, Astors, Morgans and Rockefellers among them — built mountaintop, lakefront “camps” in Upstate New York to escape summertime heat and urban life . These Gilded Age "captains of industry" ventured north in grand style; private railway cars, bringing family, friends, business associates and staff along for "the season".
Rest assured these were no mere tents in the woods. In a sense, they were similar to Newport's marble palaces referred to as “cottages.” The stately compounds of resplendent mansions made of local timber and stone housed several dozen fortunate guests at once. Set in remote, lake-studded woodlands of the Blue Lake Mountains, they cherished mother nature in her purest form and “roughed it” in the rustic epitome of life's creature comforts.
By most accounts, Lake Kora was the "grandest of Great Camps". A sprawling, wooded compound on a secluded lake comprised of 1,000 pristine acres purchased by Teddy Roosevelt’s Lieutenant Governor, Timothy Woodruff. Tales of Woodruff’s ownership are legendary -hedonism in the woods; the greatest of luxuries and most unexpected amusements: gondolas imported from Venice plying the lake, semi-tamed bears resided near cabins, telephone service as early as 1903, etc. Subsequent owners (neighboring Vanderbilts among them) indulged certain eccentricities – at one time, tame deer visited daily for freshly made blueberry pancakes. The competing baseball teams of Yale and Harvard were invited for pre-season games for owners and their guests amusement.
Even today, a sense of uncommon merriment permeates; many elements are unchanged since the estate’s early days. Preservation of original buildings remain and many re-purposed with care over the past 125 years. Majestic logs and stone were sourced on site, even the ironwork hewned in the workshop still stands. The 20 ft. dining table, mounted hunting trophies, a vintage billiards table, heritage bowling lanes are original to Kamp Kill Kare, its original novelty name.
Minor modifications thru the years for the sake of guest comfort have been realized. Telephones in each accommodation, Wi-Fi throughout, spa facilities in the Old Ice House indulged by current guests were not an option back then. Overall, however, the integrity retains true in its appearance, spirit and original purpose to an extraordinary degree... not readily found in today's world. Its both a history lesson and a tribute to a bygone, enchanting era.
Lake Kora is one of a few Great Camps which remain in private hands and open to the public. Until 2015, it was accessible to no one but its current owner and thankful friends fortunate enough to receive an invitation. Its present owner since 2005 (only its fourth) made a conscientious decision to open this captivating, private, historical estate to a limited number of exclusive bookings during the summer and fall months.
View the Field and Stream article from 1903 about Kamp Kill Kare, Lake Kora.