The Architecture of Silver Bay
By Mary Johnson
Friday, April 8, 2011
Many large hotels were built on the shores of Lake George at the turn of the last century. One of only two that remain is at Silver Bay Association conference center in the Town of Hague. The center as a whole, including that hotel and other buildings, was designated a National Historic Place in 1980. The architecture of the structures, as well as their historic significance, is considered in granting the designation. Buildings need be unique or typical of an era. Silver Bay Association has examples of both.
When a modern convention center is built, design and functionality of the complex are usually considered together early in the planning process. This was not the case for Silver Bay, which evolved over the first quarter of the 20th century as a product of the times and traditions that created it, and as financial resources became available. Topography and aesthetics took highest priority in determining where buildings were located. Their placement in the beautiful Adirondack setting is part of what makes the place appealing, but also has presented challenges in meeting requirements for accessibility, fire safety and the like.
The dominant architectural feature at Silver Bay is the four story Inn erected in 1897-99 by Silas Paine, an executive with Standard Oil Company who had also built a summer home several years earlier on an adjacent parcel. Both the residence and the hotel reflect the Queen Anne Victorian style in vogue at the time with wide, wrap-around porches supported by slender wooden columns. The turreted corner tower of the house and the numerous dormers with unusual flared eaves looking out from the steep roof of the Inn add interest consistent with their style to the two buildings. In contrast with their surroundings, neither would be called “rustic”.
However, many of the buildings at Silver Bay are definitely rustic. The extension of the railways after the 1870s allowed access to the Adirondack Park. The wealthiest Americans began to build their Great Camps in areas even more remote than Lake George and that movement had an influence on Silver Bay. With an abundance of lumber and stone, it was efficient to hire local craftsmen to use these native materials. Buildings needed to be sturdy to withstand the extremes in weather. The graceful spindled columns of the Victorian style gave way to stone piers and simple trim. People intended to enjoy the natural world they had found and buildings were designed to blend in to the landscape. Interiors were simplified, with natural finishes and the structure exposed and used as decoration. Several structures at Silver Bay are important examples of this Adirondack Style.
The earliest, the Boathouse , was built around 1895 by Silas Paine. Its log railings and columns, hipped roof and stone fireplace have a rustic charm. It is one of the largest boathouses on Lake George. Another of Paine’s additions was his personal library and museum, now used as a meeting space known as Morse Hall. Its cobblestone exterior/interior is unique. Peeled logs are the trusses that support the wide roof.
The first building expressly designed for conference use is the Auditorium, a key visual element of the campus. This imposing structure also features exposed trusses and a surrounding porch supported on stone pillars. Its bell tower has summoned conferees to meetings and meals for over ninety years. Constructed in 1907, it burned to the ground on July 1, 1908 but was rebuilt. The second edition was an exact copy except the bell tower was made taller with a slightly different roof.
Fisher Gymnasium was added in 1917. The curved eyebrow window over the main entrance is distinctive and the massive fieldstone fireplace in the central lounge is the largest on the campus. Intended only for summer use, the half-timbered structure is exposed on the exterior. An addition in 1995 replaced the original locker room and added winterized facilities which include a fitness room, dance studio and climbing wall.
The Helen Hughes Memorial Chapel, built in 1923 from locally quarried granite as a memorial to the daughter of Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes, broke from the rustic style. Its Romanesque lines, arched entrance ways and heavy slate roof have a simple elegance that make it a favorite place for weddings and memorial services for the families who visit Silver Bay.
In a lecture about the center’s buildings, architect Robert Joy of Glens Falls said that Silver Bay’s campus is a “collision of two styles, the great and gracious Victorian and the unique Adirondack Style.” Only a few of the thirty-two buildings officially deemed historically important have been described here. They and others are best appreciated when they are seen. When in the area, drive by, or call to arrange a tour. (518-543-8833). www.silverbay.org
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