History Past: The Lake Placid Club

In early 2015 I had purchased this vintage “Large Letter” postcard of Lake Placid. I’m a huge fan of the area and I just love the graphics of these pieces of history. An even bigger attraction was that it had been written on and mailed as well. However I payed little attention to the actual “Postmark” on the back until recently while going through some of my postcards. I noticed that the postal cancel was from the “Lake Placid Club” and not the Lake Placid, NY Post Office and this baffled me.

I decided to send a scan of the postcard to Bill German the Editor of the Postmark Collectors Club and he did some research for me on this subject. His initial response was that he was unaware of this “Postmark” as well. Bill recently wrote back to me with some history on the “Lake Placid Club” and as a matter of fact they will be running this in their March newsletter. Below you will find some interesting information about the “Lake Placid Club”.

LP CombinedThe Lake Placid Club was a social and recreation club founded 1895 in a hotel on Mirror Lake in Lake Placid, New York , under Melvil Dewey’s leadership (The Melvil Dewey of the Dewey Decimal System) and according to his ideals. It was instrumental in Lake Placid’s development as an internationally known resort.

Dewey intended the club as a place where educators might find health, strength and inspiration at modest cost. Under his leadership, the club became nationally known for winter sports, building a winter clubhouse in 1907 that allowed year-round visits to Lake Placid. By 1923 the Club had grown to 9,600 acres, with 356 buildings (including 110 residences), its own theatre (seating capacity 1,200), library, boathouses, 21 tennis courts, seven golf courses, farms, a staff of 1100, a fire department and even a school, today known as Northwood School.

Early in September, 1899, trustees of the Club found the time ripe to bring together those most interested in home science, or household economics. They sent out many invitations for the first Lake Placid Conference scheduled to take place Sept. 19-25, 1899. One of the attendees, Ellen Swallow Richards, a founder of the modern domestic science movement, was elected chairman of the conference. The conference took place each year from 1899 to 1907.

The Club had been an active center of skiing ever since the 1910s. Ski-joring as seen in the picture at right was one of the attractions; ski jumping, ice skating, carnivals and cross-country ski lessons were others. Melvil Dewey’s son Godfrey was instrumental in bringing the Winter Olympics to Lake Placid in 1932. Without the club’s facilities and its national profile, Lake Placid would not have qualified to host the Games.

In the 1930s, a group of students from the Yale School of Drama performed at the Club’s Lakeside Theater during the summer months.

In 1966 Fred Missildine, who compiled a record of more than 30 national skeet and trap titles while working for Winchester-Western, operated the Fred Missildine Shooting School at the Lake Placid Club.

Membership declined steadily as vacationing trends among the wealthy changed. Air travel and time constraints meant that fewer families spent the entire season at the Club. In 1977 only 471 families renewed their membership, compared to 711 the previous year. The Club closed its doors soon after serving as headquarters for the International Olympic Committee during the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid.

During the 1990s the Club was a frequent target for arson and vandalism. Its last buildings were demolished in January 2002.

In 1926 Dewey established a southern branch of the Club in Lake Stearns, Florida; the town was renamed Lake Placid as a result. It is now owned by the South Florida District of the Church of the Nazarene, which operates it as the Lake Placid Camp and Conference Center.

Exclusionary Policies:

For most of its existence the Lake Placid Club excluded Jews and other socially stigmatized groups. A Lake Placid circular explained that, “No one will be received as a member or guest against whom there is physical, moral, social or race objection, or who would be unwelcome to even a small minority … This invariable rule is rigidly enforced. It is found impracticable to make exceptions for Jews or others excluded, even though of unusual personal qualifications.” Dewey was forced to resign as New York State Librarian after it was shown that these policies were traceable to him personally, despite his denials. (Dewey soon after took up permanent residence at the Club, and beginning 1906 devoted himself to its development.)

In 1904 the New York State Board of Regents received a petition demanding Dewey’s removal as State Librarian because of his personal involvement in the Lake Placid Club’s policy of excluding Jews and other religious and ethnic groups. While the Regents declined to remove Dewey, they did issue a public rebuke, and in the summer of 1905 he resigned as a result.

In 1954, a New York Times article criticized the Club for its refusal to admit Blacks and Jews. The B’nai B’rith Anti-Defimation League filed a complaint about the Club. The dispute lasted several years, until the League decided to drop the charges of discrimination in 1959. Representatives of the Club claimed that its members were religiously motivated and therefore wished to vacation as Christians among Christians in order to “strengthen their appreciation of and attachment to Christianity.” Since Dewey’s time, the Club had been very strict about membership, avoiding fashionable vacationers, not serving alcohol in the dining room, and only accepting guests who came recommended by other members. The criteria for membership remained intact until 1976.




3 thoughts on “History Past: The Lake Placid Club

  1. Rosemarie Fenimore

    Your article and information was very interesting and I enjoyed reading about Lake Placid as I had visited there many moons ago when I went skiing. Thank you for the history lesson

  2. Judith Spraggs-Smouter

    I too found the article interesting. i participated in the February/March 1972 FISU Games. Are there any photographs of the club during that time period. It was so beautiful.

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