The charm of Colgate Camp keeps generations of families returning year after year.
In 1896, Sidney Colgate — third-generation head of the Colgate Company — bought land on the northwest shore of Upper Saranac Lake, N.Y., on which he built Camp Beechwood. His family summered there, traveling from New Jersey by overnight train and completing their journey by horse and buggy and guide boat.
Unlike some of the palatial “Great Camps” in the neighborhood, the Colgates’ camp was always modest, consisting at first of canvas tents. Later, tent platforms and walls were added, and eventually Beechwood developed into a handful of simple, connected cabins and outbuildings. That understated camp was a perfect base for family and friends to share one another’s company and venture into the Adirondack wilds.
In 1953, the Colgates gave Beechwood to the university, and the family camp became, well, a family camp. But now the families are mostly related to the university’s alumni, faculty, and staff, and Beechwood has become known as Colgate University Camp.
To this day, the camp’s charm and character continue to flourish in the timeless beauty of the setting. From a cabin porch or the lakefront, guests can watch the sun rise behind Whiteface Mountain as the mist lifts around the islands and loons wail hauntingly in the distance.
With nine two-bedroom guest cabins, Colgate Camp can accommodate up to 40 people and has become a summer-vacation tradition for campers who return to explore the Adirondacks and rekindle friendships. Faculty, staff, and students fill the camp on weekend outings in the spring and fall.
Trying to chronicle all the alumni and faculty families who return to Colgate Camp generation after generation is a fool’s game, but it’s worth noting that descendants of Colgate’s 10th president, Vincent Barnett Jr. (1963–69), have been the first family in camp each summer season for more than 50 years, filling the place to capacity.
Some things have changed at Colgate Camp over the years, but more have remained the same.
The camp consists of the same rustic structures, but they’ve all been refurbished with knotty pine interiors, new wiring, and modern plumbing.
Kids are excluded from the lakeside circle at cocktail hour (and have no trouble finding alternative activities).
Colgate Camp has always operated on the American plan, serving three squares a day. Friday’s fare is still lobster and steak and Sunday night continues to feature a cookout.
Bob ’52 and Jean Sheldon no longer run the camp, as they did for 35 years, but the Sheldons’ youngest daughter, Sandy ’88, and her husband, Greg Drechsel ’88, (pictured above) are in their 20th year as managers/caretakers. The Sheldons’ eldest daughter, Debbie, cooks, as she has for nearly 30 years.
A few things to do in the neighborhood:
- Explore the Wild Center (natural-history museum in Tupper Lake)
- Visit the Adirondack Experience/Museum on Blue Mountain Lake
- Golf at Saranac Inn’s championship course (just a mile away)
- Play tennis at the on-site court
- Climb any or all of the 46 High Peaks (Greg Drechsel’s a 46er)
- Hike woodland trails
- Visit the Village of Saranac Lake
- Tour Lake Placid, site of the Winter Olympics of 1932 and 1980
- Read a book (bring your own or choose from the library)
- Take a nap
- Settle into an antique Westport chair and gaze at Whiteface in the distance