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The other Lake Placid an interesting town
February 3, 2013 - Don Williams
Reader’s Digest magazine, America’s “greatest editorial opinion swayer disguised as a digest,” according to one of my college professors, held a contest for “America’s Most Interesting Town.”
The magazine reported the top 10 towns, including such places as Mount Airy, N.C., Polo, Ill., and Chattanooga, Tenn. The magazine recently revealed the grand-prize most interesting town winner — Lake Placid. It was chosen because of its “unique variety of nature, culture and fun.”
Although that description fits Lake Placid in the Adirondacks, the winner was not New York’s Lake Placid. The winner was Lake Placid in Florida. And those who know the story know that there would not be a Lake Placid, Fla., without a Lake Placid, N.Y.
In my estimation, Lake Placid, N.Y., with a little imagination, could also become one of “America’s Most Interesting Towns.” Lake Placid country was settled in 1800 by Elijah and Rebecca Bennet. Other New Englanders joined them and it became known as “Bennet,” later to be named “Lake Placid.” Joseph Nash arrived in 1852 and launched the tourist business; his settlement became incorporated in 1900. Lake Placid, therefore, gained a long and interesting history.
Some say the well-known Lake Placid Club began with a sneeze in 1895. Melvil Dewey, of library fame, and his wife suffered from hay fever and rose cold and sought relief in the pure air of the Adirondack Mountains. Hotel keeper Paul Smith recommended the settlement on Mirror Lake to them, and the Lake Placid Club was founded. Eventually, it grew to 400 buildings and some 2,000 members.
The club at Lake Placid promoted winter sports beginning in 1905, leading to Lake Placid becoming the site of the 1932 and 1980 Olympic Games. The club was somewhat self-sufficient with the securing of 42 local farms.
Melvil Dewey also became known for his simplified spelling of the English language, using it in the club menus and newsletters. His biography was written in simplified spelling.
Our nation once used the Lake Placid Club to welcome home the returning servicemen. During World War II, they were treated with a stay at the club in the Adirondacks, not at the one in Florida. They were guests at the Lake Placid Club, where they could enjoy the “facilities for comfort and fun that made the club famous for about fifty years.” When the club members wanted to escape the Adirondack winters, the Deweys opened a second club in Florida. That led to the creation of Lake Placid, Fla. They purchased 3,000 acres at Lake Sterns, Fla., in 1927 and changed the name to Lake Placid.
Lake Placid, Fla., was not selected as “America’s Most Interesting Town” because of its skating arena, its ski jumps, the bobsled run, or the Olympic connections. Florida Lake’s Placid is home to a noted clown school, growing 98 percent of the Caladium flower bulbs and being the “Caladium Capital of the World” and boasting a town filled with 44 giant murals of Florida’s history painted on its business places.
Those are three claims to fame that would not be expected in a North Country Lake Placid.
Should Lake Placid, N.Y., ever receive the “Most Interesting” award, it would be because of its Adirondack year-round resort status, its winter sport offerings, its unique small-town shopping district, the surrounding mountains and waterways and a long and interesting history of people and places.
Don Williams’ past columns can be read online at the Inside the Blue Line blog at www.leaderherald.com.
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