By Henry Liebers, Cascade Welcome Center Coordinator
Two years after ADK’s incorporation, ADK’s executive committee formed an ambitious goal.
“The main thing in the eyes of the executive committee is to have a club lodge and to have it this season.” High Spots Vol. II, No. 5, March 1924, p. 3
At the time, ADK did not yet own any property and had barely begun publishing guides and pamphlets. ADK boasted only two chapters (Albany and New York City) and only a few hundred members. To own property landlocked in the middle of what would become the High Peaks Wilderness was a lofty aspiration for an organization that was still in its infancy. Regardless, by May 1924, a site along Johns Brook had been chosen. ADK purchased the original 12 acre parcel from the J&J Rogers Company, who had finished logging the area some years before. At the time, the property was occupied by eighty-four-year-old Mel Hathaway, a former guide and curmudgeonly hermit who had been living in an abandoned shack left by the Rogers Co. A contingent of early ADK members peacefully convinced Hathaway to vacate the property and he lived out the rest of his days with his daughter in Syracuse.
Planning for the construction of the Lodge began as soon as the property was vacant. The Executive Committee authorized the construction and materials were hauled up the old logging road on the south side of Johns Brook in the early spring of 1925. A late spring washout on the road prevented horse and wagon travel and the last several loads of furniture and supplies were shouldered by humans, foreshadowing one of the primary duties that the JBL crew still proudly executes.
Johns Brook Lodge (JBL) opened to the public on July 5, 1925. In the first year of operation, the rate for ADK members was $1.00 per night or $5.00 per week and meals were only available to guests in emergency situations. Keene Valley natives Harvey and Lillian Branch, who had also aided in some of the construction of the Lodge, served as its first caretakers. In 1929, ADK acquired 7 acres of land in the Johns Brook Valley from Homer Brown. This parcel across the Brook from JBL included two small hunting cabins: Grace Camp (named for Brown’s wife) and Camp Thistle Dhu (this’ll do) which was renamed Winter Camp. From then on, Grace Camp provided staff housing in the summer and Winter Camp was opened for guest accommodations year-round.
As the surrounding landscape slowly began to recover from logging operations, JBL evolved as well. In the 1940s and ‘50s, smaller family bunkrooms were added, the kitchen was expanded, and the roof over the front porch was removed. Grace Camp was rebuilt in 1968 after a fire the previous year. A new staff cabin was built in 1977, opening up Grace Camp for year-round accommodations. Following the death of former JBL Committee Chair Peggy O’Brien in 1987, ADK built a new cabin on the south side of Johns Brook and named it in her honor. In 1989, the completed Camp Peggy O’Brien replaced the dilapidated Winter Camp. The early part of the twentieth century saw the addition of new bathrooms with vault toilets, a new roof, and insulation to combat those cold autumn evening. In 2016, a woodstove was installed which now allows JBL to be open for accommodations in the winter. In 2018 and 2019, a more reliable solar array was installed and the days of cooking by propane light in the lodge were over.
For ninety-seven years, JBL has borne witness to the gradual healing of the Adirondack landscape. Since JBL’s construction, The Adirondack Park has grown by almost 2 million acres. The panoramic view of the Great Range that existed from the front porch in 1925 is slowly disappearing with the resilience of the forest. Repairs and remodels have made it difficult to imagine what JBL looked like when it was built. In spite of that, JBL remains the same draw to hikers now as it was in 1925. As ADK enters its second century of existence, Johns Brook Lodge continues to offer the same basic experience as it did in 1925. A backcountry oasis, a comfortable accommodation, a haven for those who need a weekend fix of mountain life, Johns Brook Lodge remains a magical place.