Local News

January 6, 2014

Celtic Carnival buttons signal Saranac Lake's mid-winter fete


But evolution of human winter fun progressed to include an elegant Ice Palace, then called a “fortress,” built first in 1898.

Thick blocks of ice were cut and lugged by a horse-driven “ice block” elevator from Lake Flower up to the top of Slater Hill, the knoll where North Country Community College now sits.


In 1898, the two-day “mid-winter” celebration was inaugurated as the Pontiac Club Carnival and featured a “grand illumination and storming of the ice fortress,” on Feb. 2, complete with a parade of decorated sleighs, a “pyrotechnic display” and ice skating.

The Plattsburgh Daily Press (a precursor to the Press-Republican) previewed the village scene on Jan. 31, 1898, when the “mercury dropped” to 30 below zero.

“The whole town is on the qui vive (lookout). The streets are filled with balsam, bunting and colored lights. The castellated fort has a medieval look, and the donjon (castle tower) by the Riverside, which is to be brilliantly illuminated, will be a few attractions of the great fete,” the early Plattsburgh paper foretold.

The current palace site is next to the state boat launch on Lake Flower.


Carnival events were planned every other year, at first, and then became sporadic through the World Wars and the Depression era, according to historic accounts from the Winter Carnival committee’s research.

Even without formal fanfare, villagers staged skating and barrel jumping events on off years, except for a span between 1928 and 1935, when no carnival took place.

That time period, however, saw Winter Olympic planning, construction and events (1932) in neighboring Lake Placid.

Another nine-year stretch, from 1937 to 1946, during World Ward II, also skipped mid-winter’s celebration here.

Saranac Lake’s Winter Carnival Ice Palace was resurrected and has remained a key centerpiece to the village-wide celebration every year since the winter of 1947-48.

Text Only | Photo Reprints
Local News

North Country Scenes

Click on photo to view gallery with latest photos