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
Bizarre. That’s the best description of events forty years ago when the North Country found itself the focus of national attention. I’m accustomed to researching much further back in time to write stories, but this one is a doozy that younger folks probably never heard of and older folks might have forgotten by now. It took place back in the 1970s when daredevils were popular, led by Evel Knievel, who became more famous for his failures — crashes resulting in multiple bone fractures — than his successes, where he landed safely and was unhurt.
Most of us who witnessed Knievel’s career will remember one jump above all others — Idaho’s Snake River Canyon. He performed on motorcycles, so the rocket-shaped vehicle he used in Idaho was named the Skycyle X-2. Canada’s answer to Evel Knievel was Ken Carter, a.k.a. the Mad Canadian, Kamikaze Ken, or Crazy Ken. He performed many times in upstate New York. Continue reading
The Battle of Plattsburgh celebration is upon us again, so there’s no better time than now for a little Q&A to test your knowledge (and you’ll learn stuff, too!) about a truly remarkable victory.
The focus here is on Commodore Thomas Macdonough, who was lauded nationally as a hero for his actions on Lake Champlain. On Plattsburgh’s museum campus (located on the former air base property), you’ll find the Battle of Plattsburgh Association’s War of 1812 Museum, and check out the schedule of events for the 2017 Battle of Plattsburgh commemoration running from September 7–10. There’s something for everyone, with plenty of great family venues. Continue reading
When stuff doesn’t work, we either play Mr. Fixit or call someone. Whether it’s a job for your auto mechanic, furnace repair technician, or electrician, the expert usually has a good idea of what’s causing a particular problem. But sometimes malfunctions are real puzzlers.
From the 1870s well into the 1900s, mystery surrounded many incidents where faucets or pipes were opened but the water didn’t flow. When that happened, there were real consequences: a factory couldn’t operate or a school might close. For citizens lucky enough to have running water in their homes, it meant going without — or, if it were available, hauling water from community wells.
For a plumber, the natural assumption was that a clog was the culprit — a piece of clothing, a collection of sediment, or an accumulation of greasy materials. When nothing of the sort was found using the usual tools, a difficult search ensued — unless plumber was experienced. In that case, he might have suspected eels. Continue reading