As you drive, walk, or ride your bike through Lake Placid, you’re likely to be captivated by the stunning scenery: by Whiteface Mountain, standing watch in the distance, or the sunlit sparkle of Mirror Lake. You might also notice interesting old buildings on Main Street or the impressive, sprawling Olympic Center. You might drive past a row of shops and ask yourself, “Wasn’t there a restaurant there before?” or think, “Wow, look at that movie theatre!” Maybe you miss the book and tobacco-scented glory of browsing at With Pipe and Book, or digging into a meal at The Charcoal Pit. Maybe you're super excited to see a cool new bistro or gear shop, or swoop through the sky on a new zipline above the Olympic ski jumps. You might even be counting the days to the next summer concert or big hockey tournament. Past, present, or future, Lake Placid is a charming mixture of old and new well-loved traditions and new adventures. There's a lot of history in this town, too much to cover in just one story, but we've picked out a few interesting places to what your appetite to explore more!
Every town starts somewhere. Once known simply as Elba, Lake Placid began with two family farms and it's been growing and evolving ever since. The part of Lake Placid that is home to the John Brown Farm, Lisa G's, and the railroad station was known for many years as Newman. Newman had a general store, post office, and even an opera house. In fact, the general store, G.G. White's, is still standing, just under a different name. Today it is the home of the popular restaurant Liquids and Solids.
Across the street, another popular, flavorful restaurant also resides in an historic building: the former Newman opera house! George White, owner of the general store, also built the opera house, although it was actually a venue for a wide range of entertainment, not just opera.
The stage was up on the third floor, along with seating for 500 people. The first and second floors were occupied by a hardware store and butcher shop. While much of the building looks very different today, the dormer windows on the side, though updated, are a familiar sight. The building has had several uses since the opera house closed, and is now the popular restaurant Lisa G's. If you go, be sure to check out the deck with lovely views of the dammed Chubb River.
Ch-ch-changes...on Main Street
Today, Main Street is a lively spot lined with restaurants, hotels, shops, galleries, parks, and more. From here you can walk to a toboggan slide in winter or splash and play in Mirror Lake in the summer. Many buildings on Main Street, from the corner by the High Peaks Resort down to the Town Hall, have been around since the 1800s. Exploring old photos of what Main Street looked like in years past, especially the different businesses that inhabited familiar buildings, is a fun walk back in time.
The photo below shows the village, around 1914, looking southeast over Mirror Lake. The lake was once known as Bennet's Pond, named after the area's first permanent settlers. The road in the foreground is now Saranac Avenue, where the centrally-located High Peaks Resort and Lake Placid Summit Hotel are now located.
One building that still stands, though somewhat changed, is located next to Mid's Park, near the Palace Theatre. Seen in the vintage postcard below, the corner building was formerly home to Merriam's Drug Store and soda fountain. Today you will find Saratoga Olive Oil, a foodie's gift shop paradise, in Merriam's old spot. One floor below, Ere's Pizza Ristorante offers awesome pizza with great views of Mirror Lake. Long ago, that location was the site of a photographer's studio. Upstairs, The Haus offers distinctive, modern European-inspired lodging.
Some of the buildings to the left of the Merriam building are still standing, as well. The white building with the peaked roof was built in 1901 by William Frederick Cheeseman, who operated a novelty, souvenir, and photo shop there. Years later, it was the site of The Bear Haus, a popular clothing shop, and is now a souvenir t-shirt store, an example of life coming full circle. If you happen to walk by, look up and note the original, elaborate window and trim on the top floor.
Elsewhere on Main Street, beloved shops are reinvigorated for the future with new owners, including Ruthie's Run and Darrah Cooper Jewelers, while new enterprises such as the aromatic Pure Placid add fun new flavors to the village.
A pioneering getaway
Looking for a place to stay with epic comfort, great views, and a bit of history, too? On Mirror Lake Drive, just a short walk from upper Main Street, lies the Mirror Lake Inn Resort and Spa. What was once a warm weather-only inn is now a large, luxurious resort featuring high quality dining, a spa, and plenty of activities. Winterized in 1932, the inn became known for offering adventurous winter activities, including the first rope tow in the area and skating camps.
Over the years, the inn has grown in size and scope, but it remains a much-loved destination for family getaways, honeymoons, and comfortable dining with friends. The inn is now owned by the Weibrecht family. The family has worked hard to maintain historic features of the inn and maintain traditions while offering modern comforts travelers seek. Whether you let yourself sink into a plush sofa in the historic lobby or jump into the water at the inn's beach, you'll love this Lake Placid landmark.
Hooray for Hollywood
Do you remember your first movie? For generations of Placidians, that notable event took place at the magical Palace Theatre. The Palace Theatre opened May 29, 1926 and has been a local institution ever since. From vaudeville shows to silent films accompanied by the theatre's pipe organ to the latest hits, the Palace has seen it all. In 1961, Reg Clark, an active member of the community, purchased the Palace as a wedding gift for his wife Barbara. Reg had worked at the Palace as a teenager the love for the theatre stuck with him and his family. The Clark family still owns the theatre and many members of the family have worked there over the years.
When the pandemic forced the shutdown of theaters across the state, the theater marquee stayed lit with encouraging messages inspired by movies. These have included messages such as “We’re singin' in a mask, so Covid doesn’t last” and “Go ahead, mask your day.” The marquee helped keep spirits up during a difficult time for everyone and was a great reminder of how important something like a movie theatre can be to a small community. Seeing a film at the Palace is a great way to spend a rainy afternoon or evening, and the classic theatre is a treat to visit. Built with one screen and a balcony, the theatre now has four screens. But many, many other original and early features remain, especially the Art Deco architecture and hand-painted decor.
Home to not one but two Olympic Winter Games, including only the third-ever winter games, Lake Placid loves winter sports. Really, really loves winter sports. Lake Placid may have started out as a summer destination for travelers, but the gradual introduction of sports such as Nordic and alpine skiing, dog sledding, and skijoring (being pulled by a horse or dog while on skis) made Lake Placid an exciting place to visit in winter.
The current Olympic Center started to take shape for the 1932 Olympic Winter Games which featured athletes from fourteen nations competing in seven disciplines. Local speed skater Jack Shea won gold on the outdoor skating oval, while figure skater Sonja Henie won the second of three gold medals, bringing worldwide fame to this small mountain town.
The Olympic Center has continued to expand over the years, especially for the 1980 games, but the love of winter sports here hasn't diminished. Today, aspiring Olympians, local kids, and enthusiastic visitors may skate on Olympic ice at the 1932 rink, 1980 rink (think: miracle on ice!), and speed skating oval, all of which have been updated and modernized to offer the best possible experience. Tours of the center are available, offering everyone the opportunity to soak in the Olympic history. Even better, the center will be a big part of the future of the village as annual hockey tournaments and the Empire State Winter Games continue to draw visitors and new events appear on the horizon.
Lake Placid is due to welcome the world again in 2023 when it hosts the World University Games. More than 1,800 college-age athletes from more than fifty nations will arrive in Lake Placid to compete over eleven days in a range of thrilling winter sports. For athletes and the village of Lake Placid alike, the future is bright with excitement, adventure, and promise.
Whether you're here for an afternoon, a weekend, or a week, you can enjoy the way Lake Placid's unique past, present, and future all come together to create a memorable getaway. Start planning your adventure now!