Apollos (Paul) Smith (1825–1912) founded the Saint Regis House in the town of Brighton, New York, known universally as Paul Smith's Hotel, one of the first wilderness resorts in Adirondacks. In its day it was the most fashionable of the many great Adirondack hotels, patronized by American presidents, celebrities, and the power elite of the latter half of the 19th century.
Smith was born August 20, 1825, in Milton, Vermont. When he was 16, he left home and found work as a boatman on a canal boat on Lake Champlain; in his spare time, he went hunting and fishing in the Adirondacks, which at that time was largely wilderness. In time he became known as a hunting and fishing guide in the Loon Lake region.
In 1848 he rented a house on Loon Lake that he ran as a small hotel, aided by his mother and father. In 1852, Smith bought 200 acres (0.81 km2) near Loon Lake on the North Branch of the Saranac River for $300. Here he built "Hunter's Home", a primitive hotel with one large living room and kitchen and ten small sleeping quarters; the bar was self-service—a barrel of whiskey with a dipper in a corner of the living room. It was popular from the start with the doctors, lawyers and other professional men from eastern cities with whom Smith had developed a relationship.
In 1858, some of Smith's guests suggested that he build a more comfortable hotel, one to which they could bring their wives, on Lower Saint Regis Lake, 12 miles (19 km) southwest of Loon Lake; one of them even offered to advance Smith the money to build it. Smith bought 50 acres (200,000 m2) for three hundred dollars and built a hotel with seventeen bedrooms and furnishings that, while simple, were luxurious compared to others in the area. It opened in the summer of 1859. Smith was an excellent host, a charming story teller with a quick wit, and he was known for treating everyone the same. He was also a shrewd businessman, and his wife, Lydia, who he had married the same year, was good at managing the details of the operation.
Smith's real estate transactions were legendary—in one transaction, he bought 13,000 acres (53 km2) for twenty thousand dollars, and then sold 5 acres (20,000 m2) of it for the same price. At one point he owned 30,000 acres (120 km2). When he sold land, it was generally to his wealthy clientele, many of whom built Great Camps on the nearby lakes, using lumber from Smith's mill.
The hotel expanded steadily to 255 guest rooms, with a bowling alley, a large casino, several dormitories for guides and other help, and a stable for 60 horses. At the same time, Smith was involved in lumbering operations, developing a sawmill, and stores and shops. He created the area's first electric company, with hydroelectric plants on the St. Regis River at Keese Mill, and on the Saranac River at Franklin Falls and in Saranac Lake. He built roads, and developed electric boats, recharged at his electric plant, to deliver passengers to their camps on Spitfire and Upper Saint Regis Lakes. He installed telegraph lines, a stock ticker wired directly to the New York Stock Exchange, and finally, a telephone system.
In 1906, Smith built an electric railroad line seven miles (11 km) south to Lake Clear, to connect with the Mohawk and Malone Railway. Smith and Louis Marshall were a force in tandem driving home the "Forever Wild" Amendment to the New York State Constitution,which went into effect on January 1, 1895.
Guests of the hotel included US Presidents Benjamin Harrison, Grover Cleveland, Theodore Roosevelt and Calvin Coolidge, as well as luminaries such as P. T. Barnum, E. H. Harriman, Whitelaw Reid, J. P. Morgan and Anson Phelps Stokes.
Paul Smith died on December 15, 1912, at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, after two consecutive kidney operations; he was 87. He had three sons — Henry, who died at age 29, Paul Jr., who died in 1920, and Phelps Smith, who continued managing the hotel until it burned down in 1930. When Phelps Smith died, his will provided funds to start Paul Smith's College, which was built on the site of the hotel. The first class was matriculated in 1946.