by Sandra Hutchinson
Nestled along the southeastern shore of Lake George, in the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York, is the oldest continuously operating women’s retreat center in the United States. Wiawaka Center for Women was founded in 1903, by Mary Wiltsie Fuller (1862-1943), the daughter of an industrialist from Troy, New York, as a place for the female workers in the textile factories and laundries of Troy and nearby Cohoes, to enjoy an affordable summer respite.
With the help of her wealthy friends Katrina and Spencer Trask (founders of the famed Yaddo writers’ and artists’ retreat in Saratoga Springs, NY), Mary Fuller took possession of the estate called Crosbyside in 1903, which had been home to one of the earliest hotels on Lake George. The property has been open during the summers since then, offering a peaceful location for rest and rejuvenation.
Wiawaka offers a full calendar of programs, workshops and classes, and retreats that run during its season from late June through August. Visitors can come for the day and take a class, or just enjoy the 60 acres of property, which include gardens, a labyrinth, a dock with swimming in the lake, and paths and trails. Or they can stay for days, lodging in simple, cottage-style rooms, and enjoying healthy meals prepared by the chef and her team. There are plenty of places to sit and gaze at the lake, read a book, or converse with friends, new and old. Click here to view Wiawaka’s Web site.
Accommodations are available in five different structures. In addition to the main building, Fuller House, both Mayflower and Rose Cottages offer simple, old-fashioned rooms.
The 1960s-era Lake House has rooms as well, and a large screened porch (perfect for gathering with friends).
An additional building called Wakonda Lodge is especially popular with artists. Georgia O’Keeffe stayed at Wakonda in 1908 when she was studying at the Art Students League of New York. Wakonda was built in 1903 by Spencer and Katrina Trask, years before Yaddo began to accept guest artists and writers at the Trask estate in Saratoga Springs. Over the years, Wakonda fell into disrepair. It was closed in 2003, but underwent a total renovation and reopened in 2013.
One of the most popular things to do at Wiawaka is to sit on the large dock.
The tour boats that depart from Lake George Village cruise by the dock, tooting their horns at the ladies on the dock. Of course everyone on the dock waves!
The grounds include other structures and spaces for gathering and sitting.
The grounds include perennial gardens, a vegetable garden, a labyrinth, and even some sculptures nestled into the crooks of trees that resemble white birch, by artist Pam Golden.
Please check the Wiawaka Web site here for more information, and click on “calendar” to see what’s happening from day to day. Be sure to check out the Women’s Lecture Series on Tuesday evenings in July and August — you can reserve for dinner and the lecture. Click here for details. On August 20, my friend Betsy Bray is speaking about the life and legacy of Beatrix Potter. Betsy is the first overseas trustee ever appointed to the British Beatrix Potter Society. She and I were together last year in England’s Lake District (see my post here) as we explored the many sites in that region associated with Ms. Potter.
Many special events sell out, so reserve early! Upcoming special events include a Downton Abbey-themed brunch on September 22, 2019, from 10 am to 2 pm. The Downton Abbey brunch will kick off the start of the fund drive to enable restoration of Fuller House, and Mayflower and Rose Cottages. Please see the Wiawaka Web site for details.
Full disclosure: I serve on the Wiawaka board. If you have been to the property, please comment below!