Pleasant Thoughts

Recalling a bygone wilderness retreat Recalling a bygone wilderness retreat Drive away from campus on Route 366 toward Varna, take a right on Mount Pleasant Road, and keep going (and going) uphill. Once it flattens out, you'll find a dirt road on your left that soon degenerates into impassable ruts. Walk into the woods and […]

Recalling a bygone wilderness retreat

Recalling a bygone wilderness retreat

cabin

Drive away from campus on Route 366 toward Varna, take a right on Mount Pleasant Road, and keep going (and going) uphill. Once it flattens out, you'll find a dirt road on your left that soon degenerates into impassable ruts. Walk into the woods and there it is: the corpse of a rustic lodge, a long-forgotten gem that once housed throngs of nature-loving Cornellians.

It was called Mount Pleasant Lodge, a year-round retreat that drew students and faculty for weekend getaways, orientations, receptions, and all manner of outdoor fun. Located on a 196-acre parcel bought by New York State under the Works Progress Administration, the lodge was built by the Farm Security Administration and given to Cornell in 1939. "Besides the main lodge building, with accommodations for 28 persons, there are two 'ski shelters,' fashioned of logs," the Daily Sun reported that September. "There will be a softball diamond, ski trails, stone fireplaces, running spring water, and electrical facilities."

It was a popular spot for the next two decades. A sample notice from the Sun in September 1941: "After supper at Mount Pleasant Lodge, [the hikers] will sing by firelight. Arrangements will be made for freshman women to arrive home by 9:30 p.m." But by the Sixties, the lodge had fallen into disuse; it burned down in a spectacular blaze in April 1968. "Use of the building had not been sanctioned by Cornell for some time," the Ithaca Journal noted, "although police have had many complaints about its being used for beer parties and other unauthorized gatherings."

Flash forward to spring 2011. Casey Hagg '12 and Miwa Oseki Robbins '12 chose the lodge as their research topic for ALS 4770: Environmental Stewardship in the Cornell Community. Instructors for Cornell Outdoor Education, the two became captivated by the concept of a lost wilderness retreat. "It used to be a special place for outdoor recreation, and that's what we work for in COE," says Hagg. "I felt like a historian uncovering some magical mystery." Adds Robbins: "I love the outdoors, and the idea of some secret treasure hidden in the woods was really appealing."

fireplace

They made multiple trips to the site—adjacent to Cornell's ropes challenge course and an ROTC training ground—and found artifacts from the lodge's heyday as well as its decline: a stone chimney, remnants of the foundation, the ballfield backstop, a pair of moss-covered shoes, outhouse pits, the mangled remains of metal bunk beds, dozens of bottles and beer cans. "When you look at this place, it's completely abandoned, but imagine all the people who made amazing memories here," says Hagg, her sandals sinking into the muddy grass at the exact spot where, according to a vintage photo, students played games in front of the fireplace. "Why did that ever stop?"

She and Robbins never did figure out why the lodge went out of use—but they managed to track down someone who'd been there. Ransom Blakeley '55 spent a weekend on Mount Pleasant in August 1951 as part of a freshman orientation for some two dozen CALS scholarship students. "It was very rustic," Blakeley says. "As I recall, it was the same inside as outside— bare logs—and it smelled of woodsmoke." Blakely remembers sitting in front of a "cozy little fire" after dinner (hamburgers, the meat stretched with corn-flakes) for a meet-and-greet, then bedding down in a loft. "It was a very nice place to go," says Blakeley. "You don't think of such a place in conjunction with an academic institution like Cornell. But it was just right for us."

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