Around the turn of the last century, those families whose last names are at the forefront of our collective consciousness, signifying power, good taste, and vast wealth – Rockefellers, Astors, and Vanderbilts among them — built “camps” high in the mountains of Upstate New York to which to escape the summertime heat and congestion of their city homes. These Gilded Age magnates would venture northward in private railway cars, bringing family, friends, and carefully selected business associates up to enjoy their estates with them.
These camps were no mere tents in the woods. They were, it’s been noted, “camps” in the same sense that the families’ marble palaces in Newport were “cottages.” The most stately were compounds of resplendent mansions made of timber and stone, able to house several dozen visitors at once, with guests sometimes outnumbered by staff. Set in the remote, lake-studded woodlands of the Adirondack Mountains, it was here that these families could enjoy nature in its purest form and play at “roughing it” in the epitome of rustic comfort – a dream no less desired in the modern age.
By most accounts, Lake Kora was the grandest of all the Great Camps. A sprawling, timbered compound on the edge of a secluded lake, the property comprised 1000 pristine acres purchased by Teddy Roosevelt’s lieutenant governor, Timothy Woodruff. Tales of the camp under Woodruff’s ownership are that of legendary hedonism in the woods, enjoying the greatest luxuries and most unexpected amusements: gondolas imported from Venice plying the lake, semi-tamed bears kept amongst the cabins, even telephone service as early as 1903. Subsequent owners (the Vanderbilts among them) also indulged certain eccentricities – at one time, tame deer visited each day for freshly made blueberry pancakes; for years, the baseball teams of Yale and Harvard were brought to the property for a few preseason games for the amusement of the owners and their guests.
And even today, a sense of uncommon merriment permeates; one of many elements that has remained unchanged since the property’s first days. Most of the original buildings still stand, built with such care over a century ago – the logs and stone sourced from the property itself, the ironwork hewn in an ironmaker’s workshop on site. The grand dining table, the hunting trophies, even the billiards table are all original to the property.
There have certainly been some minor modifications over the years for guest comfort. There are, of course, now telephones in the accommodations and WiFi throughout the property. The spa facilities in the old icehouse certainly allow for comforts that the original vacationers weren’t lucky enough to enjoy. Overall, however, the property retains its original appearance (and spirit) to an extraordinary degree.
Lake Kora is one of very few Great Camps to have remained in private hands until the present day. Until recently, Lake Kora was seen and enjoyed by no one but its owners and a few well-placed friends who were fortunate enough to receive an invitation to visit. At this time, its new owner has made a considered decision to open this most captivating, private and historical estate to a limited number of rentals, during the finest weeks of the summer.
View the Field and Stream article from 1903 about Kamp Kill Kare, Lake Kora.