As winter fades into spring rains and warm days, my thoughts always drift toward summer weekends of hiking in the mountains, exploring new communities, and sleeping under the stars. For those lucky enough to own an Adirondack camp, whether it is a grand place on the water or a small cabin in the woods, I imagine it is time to call up the caretaker or plan a spring trip to check in. Having successfully slept through the winter, the camps are ready to wake up and revivify with the sound of laughter – and maybe a new coat of paint or a good scrubbing.
Last year, AARCH held its first “Opening up Camp” day at Santanoni. I joined a small group of dedicated volunteers armed with cordless drills, brooms, mops, and cleaning supplies to clean and straighten up the Camp for another summer season. We unboarded windows, swept away the detritus of fall, mopped the beautiful historic floors until they glowed, and washed each of the small, glass window panes to ensure they’d offer friendly sparkles to passersby. You could almost hear the building sigh with pleasure as long-closed windows opened the rooms to cool, early summer breezes. Although Santanoni hasn’t had a formal caretaker since the 1970s, the buildings and grounds of the camp, farm, and gate lodge have long relied on the elbow grease and attention of staff, advocates and volunteers.
The word “caretaker” seems simple, but it belies its depth and profundity. A good caretaker is watchful. He minds not only the security of his charge, but also listens to its needs, taking note of which projects must be done this year and which the next. She’s close at hand when you need her, regardless of the season, and keeps the place looking its best. Caretakers have the skills to handle odd jobs and the wisdom to know when to call upon the expertise of a friend. We rely upon great caretakers for their ingenuity, respect them for their knowledge and devotion of time, and are happy to share with them an appreciation of the soul of a place that is dear to us.
And what is a historic preservationist but a caretaker? Whether by spending time researching a place’s history, advocating for its reuse, or repairing wooden windows, we are taking care to ensure that it remains to captivate and enliven the curiosity of current and future generations. As the days lengthen and grow warmer, I invite you to be a caretaker for Camp Santanoni or for another of your favorite parks or historic sites. Participate in a volunteer day, encourage your friends to go to tours or events, watch for and share positive news, donate to a friends group, or simply spend some time enjoying the place itself. You’ll deepen your connection, meet other caretakers, and perhaps notice new details or gain new insight from a historic building longing to share its secrets.
How do you plan to be a caretaker for a historic building or site this year?
Jennifer Betsworth is an AARCH Board Member and former Santanoni Intern. When she isn’t working in historic preservation, she loves spending her time cooking, gardening, and going on adventures with her husband and dog.