The Village of Saranac Lake covers parts of three towns (Harrietstown, St. Armand, and North Elba) and two counties, Franklin and Essex. The village boundaries do not touch the shores of any of the three Saranac Lakes; Lower Saranac Lake is a half mile west of the village. The northern reaches of Lake Flower, which is part of the Saranac River, lie within the village. The town of Saranac is an entirely separate entity, 33 miles to the northeast.
Saranac Lake was named the best small town in New York State and ranked 11th in the United States in The 100 Best Small Towns in America. In 1998 the National Civic League named Saranac Lake an All-America City and in 2006 the village was named as one of the "Dozen Distinctive Destinations" by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The village has 186 buildings that are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
In 1876 Dr. Edward Livingston Trudeau arrived to treat his own tuberculosis; in 1884 he founded his Adirondack Cottage Sanitarium, starting with a small cottage, called "Little Red", where two tubercular sisters from New York City became the first patients. Little Red, the first "cure cottage", was built on a small patch of land on the backside of Mount Pisgah which was purchased for Trudeau by several of his hunting guides. As more and more patients visited the region, including author Robert Louis Stevenson in 1887, Trudeau's fame grew. Soon, the sanitarium had grown so that it was entitled to its own post office, which would sort and deliver mail to its many patients. The Trudeau Institute, an independent medical research center, evolved from the Trudeau's work for the sanitarium. In 1964, the Trudeau Institute began researching the functions of the immune system and how it guards against many infectious diseases, including tuberculosis.
Telephone service was introduced in 1884, and the Chateaugay Railroad reached Saranac Lake from Plattsburgh in 1887.
The village was incorporated on June 16, 1892, and Dr. Trudeau was elected the first village president soon thereafter. Electricity was introduced on September 20, 1894, by installing water wheels on the former site of Pliny Miller's mill. Paul Smith, an important figure in the history of the village, purchased the Saranac Lake Electricity Co. in 1907, forming the Paul Smith's Electric Light and Power and Railroad Company, which eventually became part of Niagara-Mohawk. At the same time, the village began to stabilize, with public schools, fire and police departments, and other municipal facilities forming.
Starting in the 1890s and for the next 60 years, "Saranac Lake was the Western Hemisphere's foremost center for the treatment of pulmonary tuberculosis." (Gallos) An effective antibiotic was first used on human TB patients in 1921, but only after World War II did it begin to be widely used in the US. Thereafter, sanatorium treatment began to lose its importance, being phased out completely by 1954, when the sanatorium's last patient, Larry Doyle, left. Among the last of the prominent patients that sought treatment for Tuberculosis was Manuel Luis Quezon y Molina, the first Filipino president of the Commonwealth of the Philippines, who died in Saranac Lake of tuberculosis, August 1, 1944.
But the village's preeminence in tuberculosis care had lasting consequences beyond the many large, handsome private cure cottages that were left vacant after the patients were gone. The effect of the hundreds of patients and doctors from all over the world who came to live in the village, many of them prominent in business, literature, science or another field, many of whom stayed for years, cannot be underestimated. Combined with the area's popularity with the power elite, who built their Great Camps on the nearby Saranac and Saint Regis Lakes, the effect was to change the sleepy village of 300 of the 1880s into the vibrant "little city" of 8,000, as the village has referred to itself for many years.
Saranac Lake became an especially busy town in the 1920s, with the construction of the Hotel Saranac and several new, permanent buildings after multiple fires destroyed a large part of downtown. Bootlegging was common in the village. During the 20s, entertainer Al Jolson and president Calvin Coolidge were semi-frequent visitors to the village— Jolson once performed a solo for three hours at the Pontiac Theater on Broadway Avenue.
In 1954, Saranac Lake hosted the world premiere of the Biblical epic film The Silver Chalice, Paul Newman's film debut. Several of the stars, including Virginia Mayo visited the village and participated in the winter carnival parade.
In recent years, Saranac Lake has become a more conventional tourist destination. The Hotel Saranac, until 2007 operated as a laboratory for hotel and restaurant management students of Paul Smith's College (now privately held), is a memorable early 20th century Deco structure. The former sanatorium is now the corporate call center for the American Management Association.
Many tourists come to the village, which is unusually attractive owing to its setting and the preservation of unique older architecture. Much of the village fronts on Lake Flower, which was created by a dam in the Saranac River and named after Governor Roswell P. Flower.
Summer visitors enjoy canoeing and other forms of boating, hiking in the forest, climbing in the nearby mountains, and visiting the local shops and restaurants. In the summer the Village of Saranac Lake offers free concerts in the park. Camping is also a popular pastime in the Saranac Lake region (List of area's state campgrounds).
During the long, cold, snowy winters, cross-country and downhill skiing, snowshoeing, ice skating, snowmobiling are popular activities. There is also an annual two week-long winter carnival, an event that has brought people together in celebration of winter since 1898. Each year the carnival is given a theme - 2008's theme was "Hooray for Hollywood." The Winter Carnival parade reflects the theme, and Garry Trudeau, the creator of the comic strip Doonesbury who grew up in the town, creates artwork with characters from his comic strip doing things related to the theme for a button that can be purchased each winter. The carnival's main attraction is the ice palace, which is made with blocks of ice taken from Lake Flower and illuminated with colored lights, along with various winter activities and competitions. These include a parade, which normally has several Bagpipe and drum marching bands and the always favorite Lawn Chair Ladies, along with more usual floats and local school bands. Each year a Winter Carnival King and Queen, who preside over carnival activities, are selected from village residents based upon their contribution to Saranac Lake. There is also a winter rugby game.
A non-profit Village Improvement Society, dating from 1910, currently owns and maintains eight parks. The extensive parkland along the lakefront, now owned by the village, is the result of the Society's earlier efforts.
Every year the popular Bud Light Can Am Rugby Tournament, the largest such tournament in the Western Hemisphere, is held in the village.
The cartoonist Garry Trudeau, who draws the Doonesbury comic strip, was raised in Saranac Lake. He is the great-grandson of Edward Trudeau, described above. Garry Trudeau has maintained his connections to Saranac Lake.
Saranac Lake is located at (44.325988, -74.130944).
According to the United States Census Bureau, the village has a total area of 3.0 square miles (7.8 km²), of which, 2.8 square miles (7.2 km²) of it is land and 0.2 square miles (0.6 km²) of it (7.33%) is water.
The village is at the intersection of New York State Route 3 and New York State Route 86. Essex County Road 33 enters the village from the southeast, and Franklin County Road 47 joins NY-86 immediately north of the village.
The closest major metropolitan city is Montreal, Canada, 112 miles to the north. Plattsburgh, New York is 50 miles to the northeast, Burlington, Vermont is 64 miles to the east and Albany, New York is 149 miles to the south.
As of the census of 2000, there were 5,041 people, 2,369 households, and 1,182 families residing in the village. The population density was 1,812.0 people per square mile (700.1/km²). There were 2,854 housing units at an average density of 1,025.9/sq mi (396.4/km²). The racial makeup of the village was 96.87% White, 0.75% African American, 0.32% Native American, 0.48% Asian, 0.26% from other races, and 1.33% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 1.07% of the population.
There were 2,369 households out of which 25.4% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 35.2% were married couples living together, 10.3% had a female householder with no husband present, and 50.1% were non-families. 40.7% of all households were made up of individuals and 14.7% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.09 and the average family size was 2.88.
In the village the population was spread out with 22.2% under the age of 18, 11.4% from 18 to 24, 28.3% from 25 to 44, 23.1% from 45 to 64, and 15.0% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 38 years. For every 100 females there were 93.4 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 90.8 males.
The median income for a household in the village was $29,754, and the median income for a family was $42,153. Males had a median income of $32,188 versus $24,759 for females. The per capita income for the village was $17,590. About 8.5% of families and 13.8% of the population were below the poverty line, including 11.5% of those under age 18 and 17.6% of those age 65 or over.
Saranac Lake has two sister cities: