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NORTH COUNTRY AT WORK: Dinner, dancing at the Park in Cranberry Lake

October 19, 2018
By CLAIRE MENDES - NCPR correspondent , Lake Placid News

CRANBERRY LAKE - The MacAleeses were one of the founding families of Cranberry Lake. In the 1800s, William J. MacAleese came to America from Ireland and worked for the Canton Lumber Company. He eventually took over the Mountain House, a hotel that served a large number of hunters.

In 1920, he bought the Evergreen Hotel in the town of Cranberry Lake proper, and moved his family there. Eventually, his son, also named William, took over the business after him.

John MacAleese remembers his grandfather and uncle running the hotel and dance hall. He says during World War II, the artist Marc Chagall lived there.

Article Photos

A painting of the Park Restaurant, with dance hall noted in back. Painting by J. Sullory.
(Photo courtesy of John MacAleese)

"He painted out there, and lived in the hotel. And we used to see him out there, and try to talk to him, but he only spoke German."

While his uncle William ran the hotel, his parents, Dave & Louise MacAleese, ran the Park Restaurant and dance hall. They built it out of an old horse barn, and they even raised their own pigs to supplement the food supply for the restaurant.

They started it in the 1920s and kept it open through the Depression, but closed it down when during World War II. John was born in 1932, and he remembers helping out when the restaurant reopened after the war.

"I painted the inside of the dance hall; I painted the walls, and my father painted the ceiling when we restarted in 1946, I think it was. He had roller skating on Wednesday nights, and then dancing on the weekend, and in the early days when he first started in the '20s, he actually had movies in there."

The dance hall was big: 40 by 70 feet, with a 14-foot high ceiling. John remembers tending bar and selling tickets for the dance hall when he was in high school. He said there would be a couple hundred people in there every Saturday night.

"Oh, it you were busy! We had a nice cooler that had like three doors in it and opened up either door, but you'd fill that full of beer, then you'd have other beer in the back getting ready."

John says after World War II, students from the nearby college of forestry used to take a boat down to dance on Saturday night to dance the ones who missed the boat on the way back had to sleep in the town church.

While the dance hall was packed on Saturday nights, the next day people flocked to the restaurant for the MacAleese's famous Sunday dinners:

"Chicken and biscuits, every Sunday, for 45 years."

Carol Opdyke was a server at the Park Restaurant for one summer, and she remembers waiting tables at those Sunday dinners. She had to learn how to carry five large plates of chicken and biscuits on a tray.

She remembers one afternoon a customer saw her with the load, thought she was struggling, and tried to pull one of the plates off her tray.

"And that threw the tray off balance, and all the chicken dinners went onto the table, and one over him completely, so he was not only messed and soiled but rather burned from the hot biscuits, and I really can't remember, but I believe the MacAleeses paid for cleaning his clothes, and I don't remember that they docked my pay."

The restaurant was also known for its unique tables: people kept moving the chairs in the restaurant around, so Dave MacAleese bought his own tables that fastened to the floor with screws. The chairs connected to the table on a spring, so you'd pull them out to sit in them and they'd swing back into the table.

He has two of the tables in his basement still; the top is marble and the chairs and legs are wrought iron. He says they weigh about 300 pounds apiece. They're not the only mementos he's found from the Park Restaurant.

Even though many people in Cranberry Lake remember the Park Restaurant as an institution, it wasn't always easy to keep it afloat. John says especially in the '30s, his father worked multiple jobs at the same time.

"He was a janitor at the school. He was also a paper hanger. He was a painter, too. It was during the Depression; nobody had any money, and you made it where you could."

John remembers going into the attic of the dance hall after his father passed, and finding records of all the people that ate on credit during the Depression. He says nobody had any money, but Dave and Louise fed a lot of people.


(This story comes to you from North Country Public Radio's North Country at Work project, which explores the working lives and history of our region. To see all the stories, check out



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