In a flat-bottomed boat they poled along the shore line in and out between the islands, Mr. Trask with increasing pessimism and Mrs. Trask with mounting enthusiasm.
“Spencer! The plan for our use of these islands is clear to me—I can see it all!” Mrs. Trask exclaimed. “Will you try to complete arrangements for their purchase without delay?”
“But, Kate, that middle island is nothing but a razor back of rock. And the other two are far too small even for the compact place we want. There’s not land enough. It can’t be done.”
“We must use the land we have not! Let us make out own Venice!” she replied, with an arch smile and flash of her eye.
— Marjorie Peabody Waite in "Yaddo, Yesterday and Today" (1933)
Spencer and Katrina Trask spent the summer of 1906 on Clay Island, a small island just offshore of Bolton Landing in Lake George. The Trasks used Clay Island as an escape from the endless stream of extravagant house parties at their grand mansion in Saratoga Springs, Yaddo. The Trasks decided to build their own haven, but they did not want to create another sprawling mansion. Instead, an island home would provide the isolation and solace they sought. They set their eyes on the Three Brothers Islands, located just south of Clay Island.
Spencer Trask initially dismissed the Three Brothers Islands as nothing more than unsuitable rocky outcrops, but Katrina Trask, ever the fanciful one, envisioned a Venetian-style complex of bridges spanning the three islands. In 1907, Katrina Trask’s dreams became a reality as the retreat at Triuna Island—”three in one”—took shape. The Trasks’ own residence stood on the southern island, the center island held several guests’ residences, and the northernmost island featured a working belfry with a soft, chiming bell, as well as the caretakers’ cottages. The buildings were constructed almost entirely out of wood that was stained a deep, dark brown. While the belfry was quite obvious Norman-Gothic in style, the rest of the complex on Triuna Island was a hodgepodge of various schools—Tudor, Gothic, Italianate, and Adirondack featured most prominently in the design of the breezeways and various lodgings.
In 1912, ostensibly due to an employee’s carelessness, nearly the entire northern island caught on fire and was reduced to ashes and charred, blackened trees; the belfry, fortunately, survived the blaze. Katrina Trask, in ill health at the time, was carried to a lifeboat and transported to safety from the burning island. She supervised the rebuilding of Triuna Island from the Yaddo Estate, which she never left after the tragedy.
After Katrina Trask’s death in 1922, George Foster Peabody took over the operation and management of the Yaddo Estate in preparation for its transformation into a premier artists’ colony. During the early years of the Corporation of Yaddo, Triuna Island functioned as a sort of auxiliary destination for writers, artists, scholars, and other luminaries. Funds at Yaddo were tight, however, and after a few years, regular trips to Triuna Island were discontinued.