From serving dinner to serving people

Mt. McGregor


Once known as Palmertown Peak, Mt. McGregor rises to a majestic 1,300 feet above sea level. It encompasses 1,200 acres situated in three Saratoga County towns: Corinth with 592.5 acres, Moreau with 315 acres plus 280 acres in Wilton. Considering its impressive magnitude, it's no small wonder that it's called The Mount.



The mountain is part of the Kayaderosseras Patent granted by Queen Anne in 1702. It was known as the Palmertown Peak -until 1872.

It was in that year that the mountain was named after Duncan McGregor, a local settler who had climbed by himself to the top of the lofty peak. He was so impressed by the breathtaking view from the peak that he quickly purchased the property for the price of its back taxes owed to the state of New York.

The property was then his, and it took on a new life of its own, one that would change over the years.

Mt. McGregor is located some 40 miles north of the city of Albany near Exit 16 on the Adirondack Northway, also known as Interstate 87. It's also nine miles northeast of Saratoga Springs and an equal distance south of Glens Fa11s.

After acquiring the property, Mr. McGregor built and operated a hotel and a restaurant on the site for nine years.

Then, in 1881, he sold his holdings to the Mt. McGregor, Lake George and Saratoga Railroad Company. That was a successful and profitable business group which was backed by Joseph w. Drexel, a wealthy Philadelphia financier.

Mr. Drexel had both plans for Mt. McGregor and the money to transform his dreams into reality.

Mt. McGregor gets a facelift

First, Mr. Drexel financed the construction of a narrow-gauge railroad running from Saratoga to the top of his mountain. It was during this time that Mt. McGregor had the dubious distinction of being the site for the trial run of the first electric railroad engine, which was known, of course, as the Ampere.

As construction of the railroad line proceeded, Mr. Drexel simultaneously tore down the hotel and restaurant that had been built by the site's previous owner, and namesake, Mr. McGregor. In its place, Mr. Drexel constructed the Hotel Balmoral, a site destined to become a landmark in the Saratoga area.

Despite a capacity to accommodate up to as many 300 guests at a time, the hotel was able to provide every right) single room with a porch offering a stunning view including panoramic vistas of Glens Falls, Schuylerville and Saratoga Springs, along with portions of the Green and White mountains, the Catskills and the Adirondacks. To reach the landmark hotel, guests had to make the 1 O-mile train trip from Saratoga to the summit.

As its popularity peaked in the 1890's, the Balmoral boasted entertainment by the Bacon Orchestra, an all-female band whose talented members dressed in gold and white. Saratoga gentry arrived in droves to see and hear them.

In June of 1885, general and former President Ulysses S. Grant, Mr. Drexel 's long-time friend, arrived at Mt. McGregor. His sole intention was to complete his memoirs of his years in the public spotlight and his upbringing. Knowing that he only had a short time to live, the former president wanted the finished writing to provide his surviving family members with income that they would need following his death. At Mr. Drexel's invitation, former President Grant stayed in the cottage near the lookout.

Former President Grant died on July 23, 1885, a mere six weeks after his arrival at Mt. McGregor. The cottage was subsequently named "Grant's Cottage," and was given to the state by Mr. Drexel to be used as a historical site in memory of the former president.

An unexpected changing of the guard In December of 1897, the majestic Balmoral was destroyed by a furious fire, ending its use as a privately-owned and immensely popular resort. About 16 years or so after the destructive fire, the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company purchased the 1,200 acres of Mt. McGregor from Mr. Drexel. The firm's intention was to build a tuberculosis center to care for its employees.

Within a relatively short period of time, 30 buildings were constructed at the site at a cost of some $3 million. While this impressive construction project was underway, the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company built five farms on adjacent acre- age in order to sustain the 30-building complex.

The five farms that Metropolitan built on the adjacent acre- age totaled 540 acres. On the five farms, workers raised cows, chickens, pigs and sheep; they also grew a wide variety of vegetables. Any food that was not consumed by those Metropolitan employees who were living in the sanitarium was sold to the public at local markets in Glens Falls and Saratoga, among other places. The barns still stand today, although non-farming uses have assigned them new duties.

The sanitarium was a self-contained facility that included a spacious administrative building, a refractory, an infirmary, six open wards, a rest house, a recreation building, a chapel, an icehouse, a nurses' home, a home for the superintendent of the sanitarium, a dormitory for company employees, a water tower and a pump house. There also were cottages for married employees that afforded them a welcomed degree of privacy. All of the buildings were situated so that they were protected by the mountain and forest from the harsh and frequently destructive northern winter storms.

Open air passages connected all of the main buildings. There also was a resident dentist's office and a pharmacy, along with a research center. The sanitarium had capacity for 350 people -a capacity of 50 more than the stately Balmoral was able to offer its eager hotel guests years earlier.

The property also included three lakes: Artist's Lake, Lake Anne and Lake Bonita, the last of which serves today as the reservoir for the facility.

The main buildings are centered around the pristine Artist's Lake, which is man-made and beautifully landscaped with a variety of bushes and trees, and several different species of flowers.

In the first 10 years that the sanitarium was in operation, a total of 1,470 patients were treated on the mountain and 84 per- cent of those who were discharged after treatment were able to return to work. During that same decade, the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company experienced a 50 percent decrease in the employee mortality rate as a result of tuberculosis.

As the incidence of TB continued to decline over the years, the sanitarium was eventually phased out in the 1940 's. Then, in 1945, New York Governor Thomas Dewey made arrangements for the state to buy the sprawling Mt. McGregor property. He envisioned its next career as a rest camp for World War II veterans who would be returning home from overseas combat action, some of whom had stints of several stressful years in action.

After some discussions, a purchase price of$350,000 for the property was agreed upon by the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company and the state of New York. That figure was slightly less than one-tenth of the Program Assistant David Brinson directs original cost of the sanitarium complex. And the purchase of the property included not only the land and the buildings, but its furnishings as well from lockers that were full of food to silverware and X-ray equipment, from research labs that thrived during the sanitarium days to 65 pure-bred cattle and 3,000 clucking chickens.

The state opened the site in 1945 and it quickly became known as a center for convalescence care. It boasted an average occupancy of350 -the same as the sanitarium that preceded it- and the stay of anyone person was limited to 90 days.

The state's beneficence paid all of the expenses at the center, as well as the transportation costs for those veterans who would be staying there.

There was very little which was written about Mt. McGregor for a number of years.

But then, in the early 1950's, there was a rash of charges in the media that the veterans had, in fact been using the facility as a resort area rather than as a rest camp, the state's intended purpose.

Although the charges carried in the media were vehemently denied by the Division of Veterans Affairs, the increase in the resident population during the August racing season at Saratoga Raceway suggested that the accusation was probably not totally unfounded.

The veterans' camp was subsequently closed by the state, and the property became an annex to the Rome State School for the Retarded. It was maintained in that capacity under the name of the Wilton Developmental Center.

DOCS steps in

In November of 1975, residents of the center were moved by the state from Mt. McGregor to the new Wilton Developmental Center, which was located about two miles from the mountain.

The move left the mountaintop facility empty on State officials had been considering the possibility o the center over to the state Department of Parks and Re as it was known at the time. But a more vital need exist day and age -the Department of Correctional Services need for more space to house those felons who were being sentenced to its custody.

The original plan for the facility called for a combination 150 minimum-security campmen and a 250-inmate, medium security population.

As might have been expected, considering the various uses at the site, turning Mt. McGregor into a New York state prison was not a popular idea in the communities surrounding the site. But after a series of lengthy meeting local residents and elected officials, the facility was opened by DOCS with just 150 minimum-security campmen in 1976.

Immediately after the opening of the facility, a Citizens Advisory Committee featuring members of the local community was formed. The goal of the group was to maintain an honest line of communication between the community facility and the state. The group met monthly for several discuss matters of mutual concern and allay any local concerns. These meetings helped to ease some of the hostility residents.

The Mt. McGregor Citizens Advisory Committee continues to exist today.

Community service crews make their mark

Wilton and the surrounding community initially reluctant to use the inmate labor that was offered to them, gratis, by Mt. McGregor supervised community service crews. The state department of Environmental Conservation Accepted the first inmate crews. Their tasks work at state parks and campsites in the area, develop trails at Roger's Rock, Prospect Saratoga Spa and Moreau state parks. The state owned ski resort at Gore Mountain also used supervised community service crews to build cross country ski trails throughout the area.

Slowly but surely, the community was coming on board, realizing the varied and welcomed benefits that inmate work crews could provide to respective municipalities. Work crews start being used by the public works departments of Glen Falls and Saratoga Springs.

Other surrounding towns and villages and their tax- conscious officials began to see the advantages as well. They increasingly realized the benefits that would accrue by using inmates to perform tasks that would otherwise not be completed due to the fiscal restraints facing the municipality.

A growing statewide prison population soon mandated an expansion at Mt. McGregor, as well as at other prisons through- out the state. Most of the remodeling and security requirements for housing a medium-security population at McGregor were completed by outside contractors with assistance from vocational instructors as well as camp work crews.

The facility accepted its first medium-security inmates in the fall of 1981. During that same period, community service crews also constructed the facility's firing range, a modern sawmill, a tool building and a log-cabin style Quality of Worklife (QWL) building.

In the spring of each year, DEC rangers still teach forest fighting techniques to inmates who volunteer for the program. This ongoing effort has proven to be an invaluable asset to the people of the region and throughout the c state. Inmates from Mt. McGregor frequently fight forest fires on Black Mountain and in the Tongue Mountain range of the Adirondacks. They were especially busy during the fall of 2001, which was an unusually dry season. They are likely to be out in force again this spring, under the direction and supervision of the usual compliment of officers, in what is expected to be an unusually dry season due to a lack of any substantial precipitation over the winter.

Mt. McGregor today

After an intensive effort by staff and inmates, Mt. McGregor was successful in 1986 in its bid to earn accreditation from the American Correctional Association (ACA). In accrediting Mt. McGregor at the time, the ACA noted that it had achieved the distinction of earning the highest rating to date of any facility in the state. Like other prisons in the state, Mt. McGregor under- goes reaccreditations every three years and passed its most recent reaccreditation last October.

Another of Mt. McGregor's claims to fame is its highly successful and well-respected Alcohol and Substance Abuse Treatment (ASAT) residential program. It's ASAT program has been visited by representatives from Texas, Colorado, California, Oklahoma and Washington, D.C. It has served as the model for similar treatment programs throughout the country. The Mt. McGregor ASAT program also served as a 'basis for the development of the Hazelton Corporation's "Design for Living Program," which is used throughout the United States.

The residential program was started in 1982 by Father Peter Young, the facility's Catholic chaplain. Father Young recognized that a residential program was needed to meet the needs of the population. He received then-Commissioner Thomas A. Coughlin III's permission to run a residential programming in one housing unit, on a trial basis. He then began working with a group of motivated inmates, some of whom had experience with the structure of a therapeutic community. The program virtually eliminated disciplinary problems in the dorm and was credited with a significant reduction in recidivism. Funding was subsequently allocated to hire additional staff and expand the program throughout the facility.

There currently are 448 inmates in the residential program in the Mt. McGregor minimum-security camp and medium- security sections. About 50 additional inmates receive ASAT services, although they are not housed in ASAT dorms. Each housing unit operates as a separate therapeutic community with a hierarchy of inmate leaders, under the supervision of an ASAT staff person.

Mt. McGregor has more than 100 outside volunteers who support the program. Many of those volunteers are former Mt. McGregor inmates. They serve as guest speakers in the AA and NA meetings, help run groups, etc. An important component of the AA and NA philosophy is that members need to spread the message of recovery in order to maintain their own sobriety

In addition to ASAT, Mt. McGregor offers a variety of other programs for inmates. In many cases ASAT staff will direct an inmate to participate in programs designed to address a specific need. Those programs include Aggression Replacement Training, Adult Child of Alcoholics, Live Without Violence, AA Big Book Study, Criminal Thinking, Commitment to Change, Recovery Dynamics, Relapse Prevention and Design for Living.

The facility also offers a wide range of academic educational programs, volunteer services, transitional services and a limited range of vocational training.

For placement at Mt. McGregor, an inmate must be designated medium-security or lower, have a history of alcohol and/or substance abuse, and have expressed an interest in participating in the ASAT and Comprehensive Alcohol and Substance Abuse Treatment (CASAT) programs.

Mt. McGregor also impacts the community in a positive way, year in and year out.

Besides fighting fires and performing a host of other community service jobs, Mt. McGregor is a big player every year in annual Make a Difference Day activities. In 2001 , facility staff and inmates continued their annual tradition of providing services to senior citizens and other needy area residents, a tradition that will be continued again later this year.

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Article is from DOCS TODAY March 2002