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A Short Dive Through Summer History In The Adirondacks

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Outdoors now and also back in time. North Country Public Radio's Brian Mann recently took his mountain bike deep into the north woods of New York's Adirondack Mountains. He went for a rainy day ride in search of a lost bit of history.

(SOUNDBITE OF CAR DOOR SLAMMING)

BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: It's already starting to pour when I pull my bike out of the truck. It's been hot and dry here all summer, but now the clouds lie heavy over the forest.

(SOUNDBITE OF RAIN)

MANN: On this day, I'm pedaling an old carriage trail that leads to a mountain lake and to one of the strangest historic sites in New York - more about that in a minute. A couple of miles in, I'm drenched and mud-splattered. I stop to listen.

I have to say it's pretty special to be in rain. Everything is just green and lush, and you can hear the drips coming down. And I'm covered in water, and it feels really, really good.

I ride on, climbing slowly through pine forest, fern meadows and fog. Now, here's the history part. In the 1890s, a Gilded Age land baron named Robert Pruyn, built a log mansion in these woods. Think Downton Abbey with a twist of Thoreau.

(SOUNDBITE OF FOOTSTEPS)

MANN: This is my first stop, an enormous empty manor house in the forest called Santanoni. It's left open in the summer. You can just walk right into the parlors and great rooms. There's still a big porcelain bath tub.

On this day, the windows are all thrown open.

The house feels sort of haunted. A lot of restoration work has been done to save the main house. It's so well-preserved with its birchbark wallpaper and towering stone fireplaces, it looks like the family and their servants and guest just stepped away for a moment. I feel like I'm trespassing.

My second stop on this trip is a mountain lake. I've heard that a century ago there was a place near here where the well-heeled visitors from Boston and New York City would go to bathe.

(SOUNDBITE OF BIRDSONG)

MANN: After a hike through marsh and woods, I find it.

Oh, man. This is the coolest. There's a little, bright blue changing house here.

You can imagine women in long dresses using these little rooms to pull on their bathing costumes, but it's all empty now. The forest has been closing in for decades. On this day, I have the sand beach and the lake and the wild shore to myself. As it starts to rain again, I plunge in.

(SOUNDBITE OF WATER SPLASHING)

MANN: After the muddy, sweaty bike ride, it feels brilliant. I float on my back, watching as the clouds start to break. There's still a little summer left. As I swim, August sun spills over the water. For NPR News, I'm Brian Mann in New York's Adirondack Mountains. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.