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The Silver Spruce Inn & Prohibition Years…What the Chauffeur Saw

Dining RoomoFor those of you who’ve been following us, you already know I’m writing a book about the best B&B in Schroon Lake – or maybe even all of the Adirondacks! The Silver Spruce Inn wasn’t always an Inn. The original structure was built in the 1790’s and was a plain looking two-story structure with a roofed front porch spanning the entire length of the house.
My preliminary research on the history of the home’s inhabitants indicates that they were mostly “average” people for the times, financially. As with most families, they had lots of children and they were probably engaged in farming of some sort.
By the time Sallie Miller Smith bought the home in the mid-late 1920s, it was in considerable disrepair. The family living there at the time were “dirt poor,” and consisted of a father who did not work at all, a wife who seemed to be always pregnant, and a gaggle of children who didn’t attend school, largely because the townspeople felt, since the father never paid taxes, his children should not be allowed to attend school.
When Sallie purchased the house, she immediately began work on restoring the original structure, as well as adding an enormous addition on the back. The new section of the house boasted seven bedrooms upstairs, each one with its own full bath, complete with clawed-foot tubs, flushing toilets, bidets, and a corkscrew. I mean, after all, who DOESN’T need a corkscrew in the bath!!
Thousands of dollars were spent on underground pipes made of brass shipped in from Connecticut. Water was piped in from the fresh spring above and behind Sallie’s property, all the way down to the house. When we remember that this was being built during the 1920’s, we realize the scope and cost of the work begin done.
One of the most intriguing things about Sallie’s renovated and expanded home was the “tavern” she constructed on the lower level of the house. You could get to the lower level by descending a long wide staircase that had very low risers – much shorter in height than average staircase risers.
Phyllis Rogers, current owner of Silver Spruce, explained to me that Sallie had a very good reason for keeping the stairs so shallow, instead of building them to more standard specifications.
Because Sallie and her sister, Margaret were big drinkers and partyers, they did not want to injure themselves if they happened to take an intoxicated tumble on the way up or down the stairs!
There are dozens of other stories about the goings on in and around Schroon Lake during Prohibition. The Adirondack region was rife with “rum-runners,” “moonshiners” and bootleggers, and the area offered prime locations for hide-outs, transfers of money for alcohol, and mad dashes to the Canadian border to escape “revenuers.”
Sallie and Margaret had no intentions of letting a little thing like a federal law stop them from gaining access to liquor and they devised several ways to obtain it for their weekly house parties in the tavern.
Guests at Siler Spruce Inn will agree that the “tavern” is a darker, more rustic-looking subterranean space, with an enormous fireplace, beautiful stone walls and wide plank flooring. But, a tavern wouldn’t be a tavern without a bar, would it?
Sallie wasn’t content with just any bar, and something crudely built would never have passed muster with her. According to the chauffeur, who shared his reminiscences with Phyllis before he passed away at the ripe old age of 94, Sallie found a bar in NYC that suited her tastes, and she arranged for it to be purchased, dismantled and transported back up to Schroon Lake.
While none of this information has been corroborated, the chauffeur insisted that this wasn’t just any bar. At the same time Sallie was constructing her Adirondack mansion, the Astor family was selling and dismantling the original Waldorf Astoria Hotel, which was located on 33rd and 5th Avenue, on the property that is now home to the Empire State Building.
Seventeen years before, John Jacob Astor had died tragically on the Titanic. In 1919, his partner, William Waldorf Astor also died, leaving as one of their many legacies what was called the “grandest hotel in the world” at the time.
By 1929, however, the Waldorf hotel had not kept up with the many technological advances that had taken place in the preceding decade, and the hotel was demolished to make way for the construction of the Empire State Building.
The hotel was full of furnishings and other items of value that were sold off as part of the demolition. And, it’s quite likely that, in 1929, dismantling a large, heavy piece of furniture like a hotel bar, wasn’t something that would go unnoticed or unremarked.
Now, since Phyllis was unable to find any records pertaining to the particulars of the bar, she could only take the chauffeur’s word that the bar had come from the original Waldorf Hotel. But, chauffeurs – like butlers and chambermaids – are very often witnesses to a whole lot of interesting things and, if you ask me, my money’s on the chauffeur’s story!
While the story of the bar still remains a bit of a mystery, I’ll keep searching for information. Be sure to check in to see what else I’ve been able to uncover about the mystery. One way or another, Sallie and her sister had quite the bar to “belly up to” during those long, cold winters in the Adirondacks!