Uploaded 25-Feb-10
Taken 16-Sep-09
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Pest House Pine Grove

Among cultures around the world, groves have been places of sanctuary and worship since time immemorial.[1]

This is the Pest House Pine Grove, situated at the highest point of college hill and the North Country Community College Saranac Lake campus. In the foreground are the stones of a medicine wheel that have become disarranged over time but has since been restored. It was put here in the year 2000 by Ellen Creighton and her Native American Culture students. At right background is Hodson Hall, which was originally the General Hospital of Saranac Lake.[1]

The trees are tall and stately White Pines. They look like they’ve been here forever, but they were planted in 1914 to shelter a small brown bungalow called the “Isolation Cottage” by the hospital staff but colloquially known as the “Pest House” (as in pestilence), which took its first patients that same year. The purpose of the pest house was to isolate highly contagious patients from the general hospital population, yet provide them with a healing environment that was more like a home than an institution. The cottage could house four people,[1] and it had a front porch that faced south toward a grand vista of Scarface Mountain and the Sawtooth Range. When the hospital moved to its current location in 1967 and the college acquired the property, the Pest House was abandoned. By 1985, though there were ideas for using it[2], the college could not afford the repairs the house required;[3] and it was torn down.[4]

Some sites acquire their power as much through what people experienced there as by the inherent nature of the place. Anyone standing in this grove, surrounded by the college campus and its activities, may feel a certain suspension of the stressors that are dominant just a few yards away. The space within the grove imparts a sense of serenity which is itself a special kind of power.

What sort of residual spiritual energy was left in this place by people regaining their health and hope here over a period of decades? Was it the essence of gratitude? Of relief? Of peace?

Yet, though the Pest House was intended as a place of healing, surely there were many souls who passed through the final portal here. When these trees creak and sigh and crack in the mid-winter wind, are they telling us the names of the ghosts that inhabit this hilltop?

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[1] Paul Devereux, The Sacred Place: the Ancient Origins of Holy and Mystical Sites (London, England: Cassell, 2000) p. 105.

[2] Lawrence Poole and Nadia Slack, “Isolation Cottage (“Pest House”)” and attachments, Building-Structure Inventory Form (Saranac Lake, NY: Historic Saranac Lake, Inc., 1979).

[3]Poole and Slack.

[4]“Craft sale helps youth hostel fund,” Adirondack Daily Enterprise, 27 Oct. 1975: page 1.

[5]“Students want on-campus pub,” Adirondack Daily Enterprise, 23 May 1980: page 1.

[6] It was still there in Nov. 1983 (according to letter attached to Poole and Slack). My own recollection was that it was gone before my Cure Cottages book was published, Dec. 1985.
V-LUX 1, f/8 @ 7.7 mm, ISO 100

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Pest House Pine Grove