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Santa's Workshop, North Pole, New York

Updated on November 24, 2012

Family Fun with Santa Claus

Santa's Workshop is one of the first theme parks to be built in North America. Nestled at the base of Whiteface Mountain in North Pole, New York, Santa's Workshop has been drawing visitors to the Adirondacks since 1949. Walking into the park is like stepping back in time. Unlike noisy, crowded modern theme parks Santa's Workshop is free of electronic gadgets, mega rides and long lines. It's laid back atmosphere makes for a fun, easy day where kids from 9 to 99 can set their imaginations free!

(most photos are courtesy of Santa's Workshop)

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A Dash of History

Lake Placid businessman, Julian Reiss, told his five year daughter, Patti, a story about a baby bear whose adventures led him to Santa's Workshop at the North Pole. When Patti told her father she wanted to visit Santa's Workshop he set about to create Santa's summer home. With the help of a local builder and artist, Mr. Reiss realized his child's dream with the opening of Santa's Workshop on 220 acres of land near Wilmington, New York. The park was advertised only through posters, word of mouth and a photo shoot, but it quickly became popular. There were so many visitors, cars overflowed the parking lot. The roads were clogged with traffic. Visitors left their blocked cars and hiked up to the park with their kids in tow just to visit Santa.

Soon, attendance of 10,000 visitors a day brought Disneyland developers to study this magical place. Other Santa parks sprang up around North America, many imitating Santa's Workshop. In 1956 a duplicate park was built in Cascade, Colorado near Pikes Peak, under a licensing agreement with Santa's Workshop. It shared the same name and even some of the same merchandise! Even the artist recreated the village buildings.

In 1964, Bob Reiss, the second of Julian Reiss' six children, took over park operations. Upon his retirement in 2002 he sold the park to Douglas Waterbury of Oswego, NY, who continues to operate the park to this day.

Conceptual artwork by Arto Monaco, courtesy of Santa's Workshop.

Did you visit Santa's Workshop as a kid? Looking for a piece of nostaglia? You can find it on eBay!

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The Man Behind the Design

Arto Monaco was an artist and toy maker from Upper Jay, NY. His aristic talent was evident even in his youth and with the help of a neighbor, he attended Pratt Art Institute in Brooklyn, NY. He created a simulated Barvarian village for the army during World War II. He worked for several Hollywood studios and helped design the Sleeping Beauty castle for Disneyland. Missing his Adirondack homeland, Arto returned to Upper Jay where he began his own toy company.

When Julian Reiss approached him to help create Santa's Workshop, Arto agreed and he designed an alpine village with the North Pole at its center. Arto went on to design and build his own park, Land of Makebelieve, which opened in 1954, but that's another story.

Arto passed away in 2003. Santa's Workshop is only one of the many legacies he left behind. See the link below to find out more about Arto.

Vintage Santa's Workshop

Of the 220 acres owned by Santa's Workshop only 25 acres are used for the park. That includes the reindeer pasture. The rest of the property is used for environmental protection!

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The Village

The charming village buildings look as if they were made in Germany's Black Forest. The log, half-timber, and stone constructions have not only withstood the test of time, but the blustery winters of the Adirondacks as well, (with a lot of loving care keeping them maintained.) High, peaked roofs, flower boxes, and die-cut moldings add a whimsical look that satifies a child's imagining of Santa's home.

There is so much to see and do in the village. Visit the Blacksmith and have a ring forged from a reindeer's shoe. Watch elves blow glass into fantastic creations. See chocolate transformed into mouth-watering treats. Have your name embroidered on a Santa hat. Stop by the Saint Nicholas Chapel and learn the story of Christmas. Find the perfect ornament for your tree in the World of Christmas shop. Kids can help build toys in the Toy Shop and take a ride down the indoor slide!

Santa's Workshop has been visited by celebrities from all over the world!

Santa's Beard

Santa and Blitzen take a walk.
Santa and Blitzen take a walk.

When the park first opened, Julian Reiss occasionally played Santa, but the first full time Santa was Bill MacDonald, a retired building contractor from Lake Placid. Over the years, there were skinny Santas, chubby Santas and Santas who wore glasses. Don Findlyson was the first Santa to have a natural beard. Now all Santas at the park must have a natural beard. Here is my favorite Santa taking Blitzen for a walk through the village.

Visit With Santa

Santa welcomes everyone to his house.
Santa welcomes everyone to his house.

A visit with Santa is the main reason to go to Santa's Workshop. He has a lovely home right in the village. Kids of all ages can see his bed, his stockings hanging by the fire and his huge Christmas tree. Santa welcomes all his fans from his plush chair in his living room and he is always ready to listen to a child's wishes, unless he's on a milk and cookie break!

Even if you can't sit on his lap anymore, you can stop by Santa's house and chat with him. And he doesn't get the least upset if you tug on his beard. If you miss Santa at his house, you just might see him walking around the village or in the reindeer barn. You don't need an appointment to stop and wish him a Merry Christmas.

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Santa's Museum

In the fall of 2011 tropical storm Irene caused a major flood through the park, washing away foot bridges and depositing water and silt in the candle shop. While this seemed like a disaster, the flooding actually created a terrific opportunity to bring to fuition an idea years in the making. Santa's Museum is now in the candle shop, (the candle shop has been moved.) It's a trip through the years of Santa's Workshop through black and white photos and display cases full of souvenirs, pottery, dolls, candles and clocks from the 1950s to 1970s. Much of the memorabilia has been found in Santa's Workshop, but other pieces have come from Santa's fans including several toys made by Arto Monaco, the artist who designed the village.

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Santa's Mission

Santa is dedicated to giving the children of the world gifts on Christmas, but even Santa is on budget, especially during difficult economic times. Visitors to the park can help Santa's mission by dropping coins into the village wishing well.

Operation Toylift is an inhouse charity that helps Santa get toys to needy children, with the help of social service organizations in Franklin and Clinton counties. About $3,000 a year is collected from the wishing well.

The Reindeer

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Santa can't be without his reindeer. Not only are they his main source of transportation on Christmas Eve, they are also like his pets. The first herd of deer at Santa's Workshop were of the European fallow breed, which grow coats of brown or white fur. The babies have white spots like Bambi.

In 1953 the first Bovine breed of reindeer were flown in from Alaska. They appeared with Santa in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. For two decades both fallow deer and reindeer lived within Santa's magical village, but a virus lethal to the bovine strain hit the reindeer herd in the 1970s and many were lost. The fallow deer, sheep and goats were found to be carriers of the virus and they were relocated to new homes.

Visitors to Santa's Workshop can visit the reindeer in their very own barn and feed them special oat crackers. Watch out for Donder, he gets a little greedy and tries to snatch the crackers before you offer them!

Did you know that Rudolph's nose only turns red when the temperature drops below freezing?

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Blitzen, seen in the photo, and Rudolph, made an appearance on the Martha Stewart Show in 2009.

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Babies are usually born in the spring. The herd continues to grow each year assuring that Santa will have strong reindeer to pull his sleigh.

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The reindeer practice pulling Santa's sleigh by giving rides to visitors during Yuletide Family Weekends.

Santa's Workshop was the first theme park with a petting zoo. Originally the deer, goats and sheep roamed free, but sanitation requirements and the safety of the animals encouraged the Reiss family to create a penned area where visitors and animals can safely interact.

A Sleigh Ride

Santa,his reindeer and his Reindeer Wranglers practice for the big night. Apparently Donder prefers to lead and gives Blitzen a hard time. Dancer and Blitzen work better together.

The Rides

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Whirling and twirling are part of the fun at Santa's Workshop! Kids can bounce up and down on the Christmas tree ornament ride, fly high above the trees on the Ferris Wheel or take a spin on an Olympic bobsled!

Grownups can join in the fun on the roller coaster, the Candy Cane Express train or the Christmas Carousel.

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The Christmas Carousel operates even when it snows! Populated with metal reindeer, it has Merry Christmas written in Polish, French, Spainish and other languages on the outside rounding boards!

The North Pole

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The North Pole is in the center of the village. It is made of real ice! A cooling system keeps the pole frozen all year round. Bob Reiss created the north pole through his knowledge of refrigeration. It works like an old fashioned refrigertor with the door open--it keeps accumlating ice. The North Pole has been immitated by other Santa parks across the United States and Canada.

Mail, Mail, Mail!

Kids have been sending letters to Santa since they first heard about Santa's Workshop. Every year the park is inudated with thousands of letters. In 1953, postmaster general Summerfield designated the North Pole, NY as a rural postal station with its own zipcode!

To handle all the mail, a post office was built at the front of the park where it doubles as a gift shop. The North Pole's classification is now as a contract post office with the same zipcode as Lake Placid.

Santa also sends letters by request to good little girls and boys. Christmas cards can be sent from the North Pole too. Check out Santa's Workshop website for more information.

Want to more about Santa's Workshop? Get my book "Kiddie Parks of the Adirondacks."

Yep. That's me, Rose Ann Hirsch. Enjoy!

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Shows and Characters

Characters abound in Santa's Workshop. Members of the Mother Goose Guild include Miranda Mouse, Sam and Sandy Rag Dolls, Chris Moose, Red Riding Hood, Little Bo Peep and Frosty the Snowman. The Mother Goose Guild opens the park with a parade through the village and they perform several shows throughout the day at the outdoor theater. Puppet shows may be a thing of the past, but at Santa's Workshop they are crazy fun!

Staying true to the Christmas theme, Santa's Workshop has the daily Nativity Pagent. Follow the shepherds and wisemen to the stable to see the newborn baby Jesus.

This is my photo of my favorite Santa piece in my Santa Claus collection-the Kneeling Santa.

Select weekends in November and December Santa's Workshop shines brighter than Rudolph's nose during the Village of Lights event. Every building in the village is decked out with twinkling lights that reflect beautifully in the snow.

Things to Know

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Getting hungry? Santa's Workshop has a restaurant, and snacks like popcorn and chocolate are available. Restaurants can be found in many of the hotels in both Wilmington and Lake Placid. Some of my recommendations in Wilmington are the Hungry Trout, Rosalia's Italian Kitchen, A&W Family Restaurant and The Country Bear.

Need a place to sleep? There are many nice hotels, motels and campgrounds between Wilmington and Lake Placid. A few of my favorites are the Hungry Trout Resort, Mountain Brook Lodge and Green Mountain Lodge in Wilmington; Art Devlin's Motor Inn, Maple Leaf Inn and Golden Arrow Lakeside Resort in Lake Placid.

Who would like Santa's Workshop? Most Dads find the park a little too laid back, but watching your kids should be entertainment enough! Adults over fifty love the park as its nostaglia recalls the days of their youth. Teens will consider themselves too old for this park, and they may be right. Not much for them to do. Families with kids from 2 to 8 years old will love it!

Every November and December Santa's Workshop and surrounding hotels host Yueltide Family Weekends. Families can enjoy an early Christmas celebration that includes overnight accommodations, entrance to the park, crafting with the elves, special shows and a visit from Santa. Each child receives a special gift from the jolly old elf. This event is reservation only so make them quick. This event sells out every year!

Arto Monaco's artwork for Santa's Workshop.
Arto Monaco's artwork for Santa's Workshop.

How to Get to Santa's Workshop

Santa's Workshop is located on Whiteface Memorial Drive at the North Pole, New York, a hop, skip and a jump from Wilmington and sleigh ride from Lake Placid.

From New York City and Albany take the Northway, Highway 87 north to Keene,route 9N to NY-86 to NY-431, Whiteface Memorial Drive. The park is on the right.

From Central and Western New York take the I-90 to 81 north and head for Watertown. Take Route 3 right up to Saranac Lake. Turn right onto NY-86 and take it through Lake Placid all the way up to Santa's Workshop.

Original artwork by Arto Monaco, courtsey of Santa's Workshop

The Reason to Visit Santa's Workshop

This sweet video shows the reason a trip to Santa's Workshop with your kids creates a memory of a lifetime.

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      ohcaroline 4 years ago

      This park looks like a wonderful place to visit.

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      mizrae 5 years ago

      This is such a delightful lens. I had no idea this park even existed.