Round Lake Historic District
The Round Lake Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document.  Adaptation copyright © 2008, The Gombach Group.
The village of Round Lake is located on a flat-topped knoll on the west side of Round Lake in the town of Malta in Saratoga County. It is a residential community without commercial development.
The district boundaries coincide with those of the Round Lake Association as they exist in 1975. On the east side the boundary runs along the westerly side of State Route 9. The northern boundary runs along the south side of the extension of Washington Avenue. The western boundary runs parallel to New York Avenue but to the west of it. The southern boundary cuts across the fields from east to west south of the southern extremity of Janes Avenue.
In general, and especially in the main core, the dwellings are very close to one another with little or no yards. At the fringes the structures are situated further apart and there are large open spaces along the village borders.
Originally the community was noted for its fine trees and park-like nature, both of which still exist. The dense canopy of trees towering over the small cottages gives this village an unmistakably individual character.
At the hub of the village, encircled by Wesley Avenue, is a large auditorium which can seat 2,000 people and which houses the Ferris organ. The auditorium has a low pitched gable roof with clerestory windows. The walls are frame with siding and shingled surface treatments. A "Stick Style" bell tower with a pyramidal roof is set to one side of the building.
Another key structure in the district is the Alumni Hall. Though a simple rectangle in plan, the structure was given visual interest by horizontal and vertical wood sheathing. The overhanging gable has a sunburst at the peak and a bracketed one story porch runs across the facade.
With a few exceptions, every structure in the district is of wood construction. Most dwellings are cottages or are of modest sizes. A few are larger. Among the many cottages with "gingerbread" trim, two basic types predominate.
The more striking of these is the two story house with the gable end facing the street. The front facade is deeply recessed under the gable roof which overhangs sufficiently to provide space for a porch on both first and second floors. Frequently this type of house is L-shaped in plan, and the porch is carried around the side to abut the side wing. The porch posts are elaborately bracketed and the open space in the gable field above the porch is further decorated. Many have an elliptical opening in the gable field with the remainder of the area filled with decorative elements. The total effect is lacy and delicate. This treatment may be found still intact on about a dozen houses.
Other houses have a somewhat simpler treatment. These are one, one and a half, or two story buildings. Again, the gable end faces the street. These houses have elaborate bargeboards on the gable end or, occasionally, a decorative element such as a row of icicle-like ornaments which runs around the entire cornice. Many houses have arched windows, board and batten siding, towers, fishscale shingles, spindlework and other mid and late 19th century details. There are only a few mansard roofs, however. Porches are very prevalent; it is the rare house that does not have at least a small one.
There are two churches in the district, both built before the turn of the century and both intimate country churches in keeping with the character of the district.
The village of Round Lake contains a notable collection of late 19th century structures which are remarkable homogeneous due to the fact that most were built within a brief time span. Constructed as a camp meeting ground at the height of the craze for picturesque Gothic architecture, the village is a display case of late 19th century "gingerbread." Though there have been some unsympathetic alterations, enough of the original atmosphere of the camp meeting ground with its cottages clustered cheek by jowl around the auditorium under a canopy of tall trees remains to make this community outstanding both architecturally and historically.
The Round Lake Camp Meeting Association of the Troy Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church evolved when Joseph Hellman and a group of Methodist laymen from Troy visited Martha's Vineyard in the 1860's. The grove of trees, good water and accessibility to the railroad provided the combination of factors which made Round Lake a feasible location.
Plans for the grounds were laid out by a Mr. H. Drube, a civil engineer from Troy. The basic wheel design with a hub is one which had considerable historical precedent. However, the immediate stimulus seems to have been the trip to Martha's Vineyard, where there was a campground with a tent as the hub and the streets as the spokes. A comparison of today's street pattern with a map of 1894 shows that the basic design still exists except that the streets are usually just walk-ways, while the avenues are the main arteries of travel. The parks and open areas have been kept free from encroachment and the trees from indiscriminate cutting.
Sixteen camp meetings were held at Round Lake between 1869 and 1877. A National Camp Meeting for the "promotion of Holiness" in 1869 was noted for its large attendance of nearly 20,000 persons. After this event, the name "Holy City" was often associated with Round Lake. President U. S. Grant visited the grounds July 15, 1874, during the Fraternal Camp Meeting, to which southern and northern bishops were invited. It was said that this meeting was influential in closing the schism which had plagued the Methodist Church since the Civil War and laid the foundation for the movement which united the three branches of the Methodist Episcopal churches in 1939.
In 1878 a Gospel Temperance meeting was held and purported to be the largest of its kind ever held anywhere. Frances Willard also held the Women's Christian Temperance Union here in 1880.
In the late 1880's the camp meetings waned in popularity and a period of cultural offerings began. Facilities for summer schools, a museum and housing for the facilities were built. The name was changed to Round Lake Association and the little cottage village became a "Summer Christian Home" with a summer population in the thousands. The Round Lake Auditorium, which seated two thousand people, was built in 1884 on the site of the tabernacle tent. It was the main facility for church services, concerts, lectures, conventions and other entertainment.
In 1888 an annex was built on the Auditorium to house the massive Ferris organ which was brought from New York City's Calvary Episcopal Church located on the corner of 21st Street and 4th Avenue. The organ had been built by Richard M. Ferris about 1847-48. It is believed that Ferris built a total of only six organs. The Organ Historical Society is of the opinion that this is probably the largest and oldest three manual organ in America still in operable condition.
Gradually, as public interest in religious-oriented programs waned, Round Lake ceased to be a place with a religious purpose. The church withdrew its financial support and leadership.
Although some of the cottages remained occupied only in the summer months, most were eventually converted to year-round use. Round Lake was incorporated as a village in 1968. The proximity to the Adirondack Northway, a major north-south interstate highway, has promoted survival of the village as a "bedroom" community.
Of serious concern to the residents is the future of the huge auditorium with its famous organ. Its maintenance has been a project of the Round Lake Women's Improvement Society, which has sponsored organ concerts each summer since 1967 as a means of raising funds. Lack of parking facilities and competition from the Saratoga Performing Arts Center nearby preclude its use for more than local functions.
Hillman, Joseph. The History of Methodism in Troy. Troy, New York: Joseph Hillman, 1888.
Pomeroy, Rev. B. Visions from Modern Mounts. Albany, New York: Van Benthuysen Printing House, 1891.
Weise, Arthur J. History of Round Lake. Troy, New York: Douglas Taylor, 1887.
Womans Round Lake Improvement Society. A Brief History of the Round Lake Association. Centennial Edition. Saratoga Springs, New York: Stillwater Press, 1968.