While the Adirondacks had once been considered “one unbroken wilderness” and an exceptionally harsh environment, the rise of the Massachusetts Transcendentalists in the two decades prior to the American Civil War changed the public perception of this vast, mountainous area. The Transcendentalists viewed the Adirondacks as an “unspoiled paradise” where one could almost touch the face of God and attune their body and spirit with Mother Nature. As urban development ramped up through the 1850s, more and more city dwellers from New York and Boston made summer pilgrimages to the Adirondacks and Lake George. Accommodations for these early tourists were sparse at first, but entrepreneurs like F.G. Crosby soon found a golden business opportunity in their predicament.
Crosby renovated an old hotel on the southeastern shore of Lake George, renaming it the Crosbyside Hotel. He made several additions to the original house and built several outbuildings and guest cottages in the Second Empire style. These buildings included the Mayflower Cottage and Rose Cottage, which still stand today. Though Crosby’s business boomed at first, by the 1890s the property value began to decline.
In 1902, Katrina Trask acquired the property and almost immediately turned it over to her friend, Mary Wiltsie Fuller. An ardent supporter of women’s rights, Fuller advocated for the wellbeing of female textile workers in and around Troy, New York. Fuller had conceived of the lakeside property as an affordable vacation home for urban working women. In 1907, her dreams became a reality when the Wiawaka Holiday House was incorporated.
Among the various buildings on the property at Wiawaka, the Wakonda Lodge, also known as “Amitola,” is one of the most visually striking. The Wakonda Lodge is a two-story Adirondack-style lodge house with Italianate and Tudor Revival embellishments, typical of Trask architecture. There is some evidence that Stanford White—the principal architect of the buildings on Triuna Island, built around the same time—may have contributed to the design of the Wakonda Lodge. Katrina Trask had the building constructed around 1905 and used it to house visiting artists as a sort of trial-run of what would later occur at Yaddo following her death in 1922. Georgia O’Keeffe stayed at Wiawaka in 1908 as a member of the New York Arts Club. While at Wiawaka, O’Keeffe created several striking paintings of Lake George and the Adirondacks.
Today, the Wiawaka Holiday House is now known as the Wiawaka Center for Women and is still dedicated to enriching the lives of women through unique and relevant programming in a natural, peaceful setting. The property remains largely free from modern technology to foster a more direct connection with Mother Nature as well as the “Great Spirit of Women.” In the summer, steamboat tours laden with tourists regularly chug past the lakeside resort and serenade guests with the blare of their steam whistles, providing one of the few breaks in the tranquility that still surrounds the Wiawaka Holiday House.