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Stevenson at Saranac Lake

Stevenson left the UK seeking a climate more suitable for his health as he suffered from lung ailments and respiratory hemorrhages. A major literary celebrity whose fame had reached a new level following Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Stevenson was greeted by throngs of reporters and admirers in New York City. American publishers were eager to capitalize on his enormous success, and Stevenson agreed to write an annual essay for the leading magazine Scribner’s.  

He chose Saranac Lake because of its emerging reputation as a health resort and sanatorium for tuberculosis patients. The cold temperatures and fresh mountain air seemed to do him good, and the quiet and beautiful Adirondack setting provided an ideal environment for Stevenson to rest and work. Confined to bedrest intermittently throughout his life, here Stevenson had the energy to take walks, snow shoe, and ice skate on Moody Pond nearby. While here, he befriended Dr. Edward Livingston Trudeau, founder of the sanitorium that now bears his name. 

While there, he wrote the novel The Master of Ballantrae, inspired by the Adirondacks and partially set there. His monthly contributions to Scribner’s became known as some of his greatest personal essays, including “The Lantern-Bearers,” “Pulvis et Umbra,” and “A Christmas Sermon,” which many of his contemporaries valued at least as highly as his fiction.

Stevenson lived at the cottage with his wife, Fanny, his step-son, Lloyd Osbourne, his mother, Margaret Stevenson, and their maid Valentine Roch, though the Obsbournes travelled elsewhere for much of the winter. “Baker Cottage,” as it was called, belonged to Andrew and Mary Baker, early and prominent local settlers, landlords, and guides. The Bakers rented half of the house to Stevenson and his family and lived in the other half. Despite relatively good health and literary success, Stevenson’s time at the cottage wasn’t all happy. He went through a bitter falling out with his close friend William Ernest Henley, best remembered as the poet of “Invictus,” and the real-life model for the character Long John Silver.

In Saranac, Stevenson acquired the health and wealth necessary to fulfill a lifelong ambition and travel to the Pacific Islands where he spent the remaining six years of his life.

Robert Louis Stevenson in the famous buffalo fur coat

Stevenson at Baker Cottage, Saranac Lake 

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