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History of the Village of Round Lake

In 1867, Joseph Hillman, a real estate and insurance broker from Troy, and a small group of interested laymen and ministers of the Methodist Church visited the western shores of Round Lake. Impressed by the pine woods, the nearby farms, the availability of pure spring water, and the convenient train service, these men brought a larger group to survey the proposed camp meeting grounds. Forty acres were purchased that year.

On May 5, 1868, the Round Lake Camp Meeting Association of the Troy Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church was incorporated. Shortly thereafter, a station, speakers' stand and a bookstore were built. Water for the fountains was brought down from the hill in wooden pipes; planks were installed across tree stumps for audiences, and tents provided for those who wished to rent them.

The first camp meeting was held on September 1, 1868. It lasted for ten days and drew 2,000 to 8,000 people per day. By 1869 camp meetings drew tremendous crowds-20,000 at Sunday services. The fame of these meetings was such that Harper's and Leslie's magazine of that year featured lithographs of camp meeting life.

Seeking to escape some of the rough and tumble of camp life, in 1869 summer residents erected the first cottages. Within the context of the campgrounds, the Victorian architecture created a wonderful fusion of natural and architectural beauty.

The 1880's saw many changes. The name, "The Round Lake Camp Meeting Association," was changed to the Round Lake Association. Education became the partner of religion in the summer programs. Such programs included Chautauqua classes, instruction in art, music, and language, an assembly for ministers and Sunday school workers, and various educational/religious camp meetings. In 1896 The Woman's Round Lake Improvement Society (originally the Kerosene Club) dedicated itself to the development of the library, opened in 1897. The library is the second oldest in Saratoga County and the first to have its own building. As a result of such developments, the area became a cultural mecca.

Accompanying this cultural expansion was a building boom. This activity was largely due to the vision and generosity of two men, the Reverend William Griffin, D.D., a trustee of the Association for almost 30 years and its president for 12, and the Honorable George West, Congressman from this district, owner of several paper mills and a trustee and treasurer of the Association. These structures included the Arcade, a tiny forerunner of today's shopping mall; the Auditorium, dedicated in July 1885 and enlarged to accommodate the 1847 Ferris Organ in 1888; the Griffin Institute, later called the Round Lake Academy; the George West Museum of Art and Archaeology, the third largest museum in the State. In 1920 it became the Round Lake School, and Alumni Hall, Garnsey Hall, Kennedy Hall and the Burnham House (now "The Pines").

Permanent religious facilities were constructed within this time period. The Methodist Church was built in 1894, All Saints Episcopal Church in 1892. These places of worship are in use today.

An abundance of recreational resources were recognized and developed. During the 1870's a mineral spring was penetrated on what is now the lawn of the Methodist Church. The analysis of the water proved it almost the same as that of the Congress Spring in Saratoga. A pavilion was erected and the spring water bottled and sold to individuals, hotels and train passengers.

On the lake one could visit the Casino, go fishing, swimming, boating, or take a ride on the steam yacht "The Ordelia." Elsewhere, tennis was played on the still existent Association courts. Also popular were baseball, croquet, and by 1897, golf.

Residential needs were satisfied for year-round residents and summer visitors alike in new large homes and cottages, and in various hotels and boarding houses.

In July of 1921, the "Great Fire" burned to the ground the Arcade and 17 cottages. Again Mr. Rowe's generosity benefited the Association. He bought up the leases on the property of those whose cottages had been destroyed and donated the land for park land to the Association (Rowe Park) and to the Library to be maintained as a park.

Between 1930 and 1970, and in consequence of the deterioration of the general economic health of the area and of its value as a recreational gathering spot, many of the fine old buildings were lost to neglect and razed or destroyed by fire (e.g., the Hotel Wentworth). Today, a few examples of the large, spectacular buildings remain: among them, the Auditorium, The Pines (formerly the Burnam House) and the "Cluett Mansion" (a large, private residence). Happily, also remaining are a remarkable stock of residences (large homes and small cottages alike) which retain their Victorian detail and flair.

Consistent with the decline of the Village as a cultural attraction, train service was discontinued in 1965. The Association was dissolved in the late 1960's. In 1969 the residents voted to become a Village and our certificate of incorporation was received in 1969.

In 1980, owing in large part to its uniqueness as a Victorian community, Round Lake was selected to receive a HUD grant of $330,000 for the improvement and restoration of its structures to some of their former glory. Its effect on the Village has been remarkable not only for the aesthetic and safety improvements to various structures, but in its unifying effect upon the entire Village. Much enthusiasm exists for the restoration of both public and private properties.