Thomas Edison and The Prospect House

June 14, 2019

PatGormley_Headshot.jpg
By Pat Gormley
Special Contributor

Driving through the village of Blue Mountain Lake in the Central Adirondacks, you might notice a road sign with a familiar name; it’s that of the celebrated American inventor and the hamlet’s summer sojourner, Thomas Alva Edison.

Edison was not only a tourist of the region, but he also made history here. In 1882, the Ohio native illuminated the Adirondack nights for hotel guests of The Prospect House built by Frederic Durant, nephew of railroad tycoon Thomas C. Durant. This luxurious 300-room resort stood five stories tall on a peninsula of Blue Mountain Lake and was the first hotel in the world with electric lights in every guest room. Edison, as the head electrician, oversaw the installation of the two steam-driven dynamos that supplied the electricity.

ProspectHouse.jpgThe Prospect House was the first hotel in the country to be lit with electric lights in every guest room - courtesy of a well-respected guest: Thomas Edison. (Source: adirondackexperience.com)

An advertisement in Scribner’s Magazine boasted of the hotel’s electric lights, in addition to its steam elevator, running water, and modern bath and toilet rooms. Innovations in plumbing allowed for bathrooms to be above the ground floor making it more convenient for guests to use the privy. There was even a promise that “an uncivil employee will not be tolerated.” The guest book told its own story of the Gilded Age with prominent American iconic names such as Vanderbilt, Whitney, Macy, Astor, and Roosevelt. 

A mere 10 hours’ travel time from New York City, this fashionable T-shaped structure catered to the wealthiest vacationers from around the country and even from across the Atlantic. Hotels in the Adirondacks were reliant on their proximity to a rail line, and Thomas Durant’s Adirondack Railroad carried tourists from Saratoga to North Creek. Once there, patrons would catch a stagecoach carrying them the rest of the way. However, after the 1890 season, the Adirondack Railroad’s Saratoga-North Creek line was sold. The new owners, the Delaware and Hudson, discontinued the through-sleeping car from New York. This decision made traveling even more inconvenient and irreparably harmed the hotel’s business.

Eventually, the brief tourist seasons, high overhead costs, and the recession of 1893 forced the closure of The Prospect House (under its new name: The Utowana House) in 1903. It should also be noted that an outbreak of Typhoid Fever at the hotel and the ensuing paranoia drove many patrons away. The majestic structure was unceremoniously torn down in 1915, but Thomas Edison’s innovative work at a grandiose hotel in the heart of the Adirondacks would serve as the precursor for the modern age of power generation.

Postscript: In 1920, Edison would return to Blue Mountain Lake, this time by car, with his well-known traveling companions: Harvey Firestone and Henry Ford. They searched for Edison’s generator with the idea of putting it on display at the Ford Historical Museum, but the quest officially ended six years later when they learned the generator was sold for scrap metal.

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