Among the unusual landmarks in the Adirondacks is a massive roadside boulder in central St. Lawrence County, just three tenths of a mile west of the South Colton post office. Widely known as Sunday Rock, it is part of the legend and lore of the northwestern Adirondacks. My first visit to South Colton came several decades ago during a long road trip aimed at scouting out new places to hike and canoe. I was led there by a passage in a book titled, “Rocks and Routes of the North Country, New York,” by Dr. Bradford B. VanDiver, Professor of Geology at SUNY Potsdam when the book was released in 1976. (His story was featured in this space a few weeks ago.) Continue reading
The colorful name Devil’s Kitchen has been used in numerous book titles, restaurant names, and for hiking destinations in at least seven states. Close to home in upstate New York, we have a Catskill version, described here as “quite possibly the most hellacious [bicycle] climb in New York State.” The same area, with cliffs, numerous waterfalls, and slippery slopes, has seen many hiker deaths as well.
But there’s another Devil’s Kitchen farther north, located about midway on Route 9 between Chestertown and Warrensburg. Despite lacking the cliffs and stunning landscapes featured at other identically named places, deaths have occurred at the Adirondack site—which today exists in name only. Continue reading
Thanksgiving, with food a major holiday component, calls to mind a time of year that was once the subject of great anticipation: nutting season. I’m not old enough to have experienced it first-hand, although back in the 1980s I did explore many natural edibles. Among my favorites was beechnuts, which we harvested and used in chocolate-chip cookies. Outstanding!
But in days long ago, when many folks earned a subsistence living that utilized home-grown vegetables and wild foods, nutting season was an important time. Continue reading
Researching Dr. Bradford VanDiver’s life and telling his full story isn’t possible in this brief format, but if you read last week’s account, you’re at least privy to the amazing and varied highlights. There remains one stunning and frightening event that he failed to mention during published interviews about various achievements and key moments in his past.
While plumbing for details that might have occurred prior to his professional career, I encountered reference to VanDiver’s participation with the National Speleological Society in exploring several new caves in the Howe’s Cavern area of Schoharie County in 1948. Some of the underground sites there involved drops of more than 100 feet, for which the spelunkers’ group called upon Brad VanDiver and his close friend, Ernest Ackerly, to handle the rigging of ropes, ladders, and other safety equipment. They also joined in the exploration of new passages. Continue reading
Bradford B. VanDiver, president of the ADK Laurentian Chapter four decades ago, had a deep impact on my life, which is not surprising because he was a lifetime teacher. But the truth is, I never met him — at least not in person. His passion for many pursuits was first revealed to me through the pages of one of several books he authored. What I discovered was a native New Yorker and eventual North Country transplant who was truly a Renaissance Man.
At a young age, innate curiosity across many fields of science drove my quest to know more about animals, plants, rocks, and “bugs” that were routinely encountered on all sorts of outdoor expeditions. When VanDiver’s book, Rocks and Routes of the North Country, New York (1976) was released in 1976, I immediately obtained an autographed copy, which still resides on my desk to this very day. He presented a wealth of knowledge supported by scientific terms, but written for the layman as a practical guide to discovery. The book accompanied me on hundreds of hours of exploration across the Adirondacks, and in part led me to write my own first book.
But VanDiver was much more than a professional rock hound — professional as in a Ph.D. in geology from the University of Washington. He also taught at universities in Colorado, Idaho, Oregon, Washington, and for a year in Munich, Germany, during a sabbatical from Potsdam State, where he spent 24 years as professor of geology. Continue reading
On the west side of Lower Manhattan in New York City, Greenwich Village has long been home to progressive thinkers and artists of all types, as well as ground zero for several movements. In the 1950s and 60s, it was a mainstay of the nation’s bohemian culture, hosting beatniks, folk music originals, the strong counter-culture movement, and the Beat Generation, with such icons as Maya Angelou, Truman Capote, Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, and Rod McKuen.
The coffeehouse scene flourished at that time, when a remarkable alternative to commercial theater was developed: Off-Off-Broadway, where productions ran the gamut from scripted to impromptu, and venues ranged from old warehouses to small cafes. At the heart of this historic movement was a little-known North Country actress and writer who was widely respected in the New York City arts community.
Mary Elizabeth Boylan was born in Plattsburgh, New York, in February 1913. Her father, John, was a mainstay of the community, serving as district deputy of the Knights of Columbus for four years, president of the chamber of commerce for two years, and general manager of the Mountain Home Telephone Company. In 1924, when Mary was 11, the family moved to Rochester, New York, where her dad became president of the Rochester Telephone Company three years later. Continue reading
Recently in this column appeared the story of Selden Clobridge, a teenage Civil War soldier from Turin, New York, whose battlefield career ended at the grand old age of 18 after multiple wounds that included limb loss. About 85 miles northeast of Turin, an even younger soldier took it to the extreme, receiving his discharge from the army before he became a teenager.
William R. Bastin was born in December in the town of Lawrence, near the St. Lawrence County line, east of Potsdam. A headstone gives his birth year as 1852, which corresponds with his age in three of six census records and his obituary. Other census records disagree by a year, suggesting he was born in 1851—but by any measure, he was far too young to become a soldier.
When William enlisted at Malone on September 14, 1864, he gave his age as 16. But by most indications, including interviews as an adult, he was actually three months shy of twelve years old when he joined the army, purportedly as a drummer boy. Things didn’t work out as expected, though, and he instead became a child soldier. Continue reading
An excellent pair of articles published here recently by Mike Lynch (Beyond Peak Capacity and Group of 67 People Ticketed on Algonquin) resurrected some memories from the 1970s and ’80s, when avid (or zealous, rabid, insatiable … just pick one) hikers like me lived in constant fear that access to the mountains would soon be restricted. That anxiety was based on frequent newspaper headlines touting plans to alleviate trail damage attributed to hordes of newcomers to the Adirondacks.
Like now, the problems back then were intensified by successful efforts aimed at raising public awareness about the wonders within the mountains, and thus boost the region’s tourism-based economy. The result: more people, more spending, and greater profits, but also more boots on the ground, more worn trails, and more poop in the woods. The problems intensified so quickly that organizations and politicians offered all sorts of solutions, most of which left hikers fearful that the freedom to roam would be restricted. Continue reading
In addition to a remarkable shooting career that included winning three Olympic gold medals, New York attorney Karl T. Frederick was deeply involved in conservation issues. In the early 1900s, through membership in groups like the Camp Fire Club of America, he became involved in national issues as well as regional ones. Foremost among them was the battle to protect the Adirondacks. He supported the club’s stance, recommending the purchase of private land inside the Blue Line for addition to the state Forest Preserve, and advocating for expansion of the Adirondack Park, which at that time consisted of approximately three million acres— half of what it encompasses in 2016.
His law practice was briefly derailed when the company disbanded, but in 1925, the new legal firm of Kobbe, Thatcher, Frederick & Hoar, with offices on Broadway, began handling cases ranging from high-profile divorces to corporate litigation. Besides further enhancing Karl’s profile as a capable lawyer, it expanded his connections among like-minded business leaders who favored protecting the natural world. In time, his respected abilities as an attorney and his deep interest in preserving the nation’s outdoor resources led to an unusual blending of leadership positions on the state and national levels. Continue reading
The 2016 Summer Olympics have ended, and as usual, they were quite the spectacle. Folks in the Adirondacks and North Country are perhaps bigger fans of the Winter Olympics, for obvious reasons: the games have been held twice at Lake Placid, and a number of area natives have attained lifelong dreams by earning a place on the podium. But a man born in this region achieved summer Olympic glory long ago, one of many highlights in a very accomplished life.
Karl Telford Frederick was born in 1881 in Chateaugay (northern Franklin County), where his father was a Presbyterian minister, which required a somewhat nomadic existence (five relocations in 14 years). Before Karl was three, the family moved to Essex on Lake Champlain, remaining there until 1888—not a long time, but sufficient to establish a lasting connection between him and the Adirondacks. Continue reading