In early November 1930, a hunting party in the Boreas River area split up to do what Adirondack hunters so often do: execute a deer drive. Among those taking part were Lew Buck, Leo Adams, Edward White, Murray Short, and Murray’s brother Herbert. Herb was a corrections officer who had recently been promoted and transferred to Auburn Prison from Clinton Prison in Dannemora. It was Dannemora that provided the link between him and the other men: Buck was the village’s former postmaster, White was a retired Clinton keeper, and his close friend Adams still worked there as a guard.
Concern mounted at day’s end when the men reassembled and Herbert was a no-show. But he was a very experienced woodsman, and the entire party was aware that a storm was moving into the area, so in that sense he was prepared for anything. His companions surmised he may have been turned around while trying to get back to camp before the snow fell. At that point, the explanations they considered carried reassurances that everything was OK, or soon would be. Continue reading
The collection of letters to Santa that appeared in this space last week epitomized life in the rural regions of northern New York a century ago. At Christmastime, children from families living a common, low-income existence asked Santa for the simplest of items: a pencil and notepad, candy and nuts, or clothing to keep them warm in the winter. Toys and playthings were often secondary requests if they appeared at all.
But the simple desires from long ago reflected something other than just poverty. A good number of rural folks were self-sufficient, and all family members, even young children, took part in the daily chores of life: working the fields and garden, milking cows, collecting eggs, adding logs to the fire, and so on. An early understanding of the effort behind daily sustenance was evident in children’s annual humble Christmas yearnings for pencils, books, and treats for the tummy, suggesting an appreciation for things in general, and gifts in particular.
Among those who came to the Adirondacks and developed a deep admiration for this rustic lifestyle was Samuel Coplon, who embraced the people, reciprocated their generosity, and in time became a nationally known hero of North Country Christmases, earning him the title Santa Claus of the Adirondacks. Continue reading
A century ago, it was common during the Christmas holidays for North Country lumber camps to empty, at least briefly. In 1909, in far northeastern New York, the men of Altona in Clinton County enjoyed a welcome break after several weeks in the woods.
Near the settlement of Purdy’s Mills, the camp cook, Adolphus Bouvia, closed down operations on December 23. Widowed a year earlier, he planned to return home and spend time with family, friends, and neighbors, some of whom worked with him on the lumber jobs. Continue reading
This story is about as bizarre as it gets. Locals in the Wells and Northville area were privy to the odd situation when it first came under public scrutiny a little over a century ago. At that time, a goal of regional counties seeking tourism dollars was providing easier public access to the Adirondacks, which was achieved in part by building new roads and improving old ones.
In southeastern Hamilton County, Northville marked the end of rail access in 1910. From there, stage lines carried visitors north through the hamlet of Hope to Wells and beyond. To accommodate automobiles, which were becoming increasingly common, the road to Wells was chosen for macadamization. The new, hard, flat surface would allow tourists to travel north independently, and then access stage lines from Wells into the mountains. The road would also drastically improve travel conditions for locals using horse-drawn transportation. Continue reading
A few weeks ago, the Adirondacks and North Country lost a native who led a unique life, a man who three years ago added “author” to his resume. Robert “Bob” Manning of Massena passed away on September 28 at the age of 81. My personal connection with him is a strange one indeed. We met back in 1966, but I hadn’t been in touch with him since 1969, so you might suppose that our phone conversation in 2014, when we became reacquainted, might have been a bit awkward.
It sure could have been, but not for the reason you might be thinking — that 45 years had passed. No, that wasn’t an issue at all, but these next few lines should help explain my use of the word “strange.” When I knew him back in the 1960s, he was a Catholic priest and one of my schoolteachers (nothing odd about that). He called in 2014 to ask if he and his wife could come and visit me (and there it is!). Continue reading
Long before the 2015 escape of Richard Matt and David Sweat, the word Dannemora instantly conjured images of the prison. While the high wall dominates the landscape, the village does have other historical connections, some of them in the world of sports, including one through the person of John “Jack” Lagree. Jack was a native of Churubusco, a tiny hamlet in northwestern Clinton County.
Blessed with engineering talent, mechanical skill, and a strong, traditional, North Country work ethic, he rose to national prominence in the world of bobsleigh competition (referred to hereafter by the more popular term, bobsled). Continue reading
Spending so much time conducting research in old books and newspapers, I’m often left shaking my head when today’s news headlines call to mind a favorite saying: “Those who don’t know history are condemned to repeat it.” We use the concept all the time for personal decisions.
Before making a purchase — car, washing machine, cable package, cell phone — have you ever referred to a magazine like Consumer Reports, read online reviews, or asked a friend how their own choice worked out? If so, you checked with history to avoid making a poor choice. It’s a simple concept: learn a product’s history and you’re not doomed to repeat it. Continue reading
While it’s not gallows humor by definition, finding laughter in stories related to death can be a difficult proposition. In this case, rest assured: there’s actually not much death involved, and if your funny bone is intact, what follows should tickle it at least a bit.
In mid-August 1904, a number of regional newspapers reported a drowning near Underwood at the west end of Raquette Pond in Tupper Lake. Witnesses who saw a man jump into the water near the bridge there narrowed the possibilities to two: that he jumped in to retrieve his hat when it was blown off by the wind, or he committed suicide. The one thing everyone agreed on was that the man had deliberately entered the water where the current was strong and the depth may have been twenty feet or more. His body was recovered after a brief search and delivered to the undertaker, where locals came to help identify the victim. Continue reading
September 11, 2017, marks the 203rd anniversary of the Battle of Plattsburgh. The official 2017 commemoration of the battle ended Sunday. To mark the event, a quiz appeared here last week, mostly addressing Commodore Thomas Macdonough’s role in the victory on Lake Champlain.
There were two battles at Plattsburgh however, one on the bay and one on land. This week’s quiz covers the land battle and related subjects. See if you can answer a few, and learn a few fun facts in the bargain. Continue reading
Heat and hard physical work can be a debilitating combination. Two of my experiences with them from the long-ago past were a challenge and a heck of a workout — under a blazing sun, doing the haying, and, my personal favorite, picking rocks. But the most exhausting of all was harder than both — digging graves with a shovel and pick during the hottest days of summer. I quickly understood why the veteran diggers joked that people who died during the summer were so inconsiderate.
Decades ago, while researching my first book, the details of another very hot and difficult job were revealed to me by a kind and accommodating woman named Emma Johnson, who was 85 years old at the time. The subject was a remarkable place in northern Clinton County known locally as the Altona Flat Rock. New York State’s Natural Heritage Program, established in 1985, defined the Altona Flat Rock as “sandstone pavement barrens,” a natural rarity. Continue reading