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Monday, September 29, 2014

Frontier Town - The Ghost of North Hudson

Across the road from our campground here in North Hudson, New York is "Frontier Town," a Wild West themed family tourist attraction that operated from 1952 to 1998.  It was conceived and build by Art Benson, whom neighbors are said to have nicknamed, "Daniel Boone."  As nearby mines closed and logging payrolls dwindled, Frontier Town became the economic mainstay of this area, which is located along the Northway near Schroon Lake.

Here's a photo of the center of Frontier Town in its heyday:

When Frontier Town closed, 300 immediate jobs were lost, but the economic toll spread further than that. Perhaps 30 motels in the area suffered a reported 70% drop in business.  A Long Island bank took over Frontier Town and tried to sell the property for $1.6 million.  However, still today - over 16 years later - the property is still for sale.  Here's a photo we took of one of the motel building and its for sale sign:

Back in the day, thousands of children from the Northeast U.S. and beyond spent a day at Frontier Town. They left with memories of how a train-load of newly deputized children with tin stars and straw hats captured a member of the stage-robbing Dalton gang. The children became jurors in the pillory-side trial of the accused, who were, not surprisingly, always guilty. The kids were also recruited for Custer's Cavalry, learned Indian dances and customs from real Indians, watched a rodeo with circuit riders, and toured the Frontiers of Industry.  It was a fun day, but educational, too, and that's what separated Frontier Town from the several mere amusement parks in the region, employees said. In a book chronicling the history of Frontier Town, "The Story of a New York City Tenderfoot and his Adirondack Mountain Adventure," Art Benson said he was ahead of his time in combining fun and history.

For a period after it closed, 18 employees kept the cafeteria and gas station open as an unofficial rest stop on the Adirondack Northway, which runs right past the site.  Here you can see the cafeteria and the main "Frontier Town" sign, much as they might have looked to someone arriving by car:

A slightly closer look shows the cafeteria's windows gone or boarded up and the sign a skeleton of its former self:

The heart of Frontier Town included a working sawmill, iron forge, icehouse and tannery. There was a museum of old farm implements, including a horse-operated saw and goat-powered washing machine. An original Concord stagecoach, the victim of the only recorded stagecoach holdup in New York state history, was there.  The property hosted a deer park, an Indian village, a train depot and steam engine, a Cavalry fort and a rodeo arena.

Now, the entire site is overgrown, and rows of former mock western buildings are dilapidated and look ready to collapse:

An old makeshift project "office" still barely stands --

-- and what looks like it once was a pretend jail can't even pretend to hold prisoners anymore:

The town of Schroon Lake is only a few miles south of here.  It has a marina and a number of cute, touristy shops and restaurants and seems to have weathered the economic storms of recent years.  But North Hudson doesn't seem to have done so well.  The ghost of Frontier Town hangs over the area. Former mountain vacation cabins stand empty and/or run down, far past even trying to get themselves sold.  The only bright spots here are Paradox Lake, a beautiful lake surrounded by private cabins and cottages, many hiking trails including one that climbs nearby Severance Hill that we walked with Katie and Maggie the other day, and, for those who love camping, a quaint RV and tent campground, "Jellystone Park at Paradise Pines," where we have stayed these last two weeks.  The area is replete with natural beauty and we could fill aother two weeks with hikes, bicycle trips and backpacks.  But as far as the tourist trade goes, North Hudson has surrendered to the communities north and south of here.

[Most of the factual information in the foregoing text is quoted from a November 29, 1987 article in Albany Times Union newspaper by Elizabeth Edwardsen, titled, "NORTH HUDSON LOOKS BACK WITH ENVY AT FRONTIER TOWN DAYS."]

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