Tag Archives: Sports History

Jack Lagree: Dannemora’s Bobsled Guru


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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

Captain Lewis: Horace Brown’s Great Brown Horse


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Horace Brown, perhaps the greatest horse trainer from the northern Adirondacks and foothills, attained fame and many trotting victories in America, Europe, and Russia. Of all his successes, none was more acclaimed than the marvelous season of 1882. Collectively, it was among the unlikeliest stories in sports, an early equivalent of the US hockey team’s stunning Olympic victory in 1980, when a group of fresh, largely untested amateurs came together and conquered the world’s best.

The 1882 story became legend and was often repeated, but the first couple of names involved aren’t absolutely certain. Bear with me briefly through the details, for the story will get better. By most accounts, the horse in question was bred by Jeff Brown of Dresden, on the western shore of Seneca Lake in the Finger Lakes region of New York. In the vicinity of Dresden, he sold it to Richard Brown (and now the names are certain,) who sold it to Lawrence Bogert, who sold it to Stewart L. Purdy of the town of Benton. Continue reading

Horace Brown: Master Horseman of Northern NY


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One of my favorite people to visit when I was a child was my maternal grandfather, who owned a 100-acre farm in remote northwestern Clinton County. Ninety acres of the property were wooded (I loved exploring nature); he had cows, horses, and a dog (I loved animals); and he was an avid fisherman (I lived on the riverbank in Champlain and loved fishing). From my perspective, everything about my Grandpa Jim (Lagree) was cool (this was back in the ’60s, so “cool” is appropriate).

On the wall near his usual sitting area in the living room was a framed photo of a horse and sulky with the caption, “Dan Patch.” Since it was my grandfather’s picture, I knew it had to be something cool, and I was right. As he explained to me, Dan Patch was the greatest trotter ever. Trotting, as I learned, was once the most popular sport across Northern New York.

Within a general loop from Albany north to Glens Falls and Plattsburgh; west to Malone, Ogdensburg, Potsdam, and Watertown; south to Boonville; southeast back to Albany; and many stops in between, dozens of communities in the Adirondacks and foothills had trotting tracks of varying quality. Participants ranged from farmers to professional horsemen, all of them eager to put their horses’ abilities up against others for bragging rights, money prizes, and, of course, side bets. Continue reading

College Basketball, Point Shaving and the Catskills


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Junius KelloggIn late February, 1951, the basketball team from the City College of New York was returning home on the train from Philadelphia where they had just trounced the Temple University squad.

The year before, the Lavender and Black had been hailed as one of the greatest college basketball teams of all time, having won both of college basketball’s biggest post season tournaments, the NCAA and the NIT, the only time that feat has ever been accomplished. The talented squad had stumbled somewhat during the current season, losing to several teams it had been expected to beat, but was seemingly hitting its stride just as the tournaments were about to begin. Continue reading

Sullivan County Basketball History: Betting and Borscht


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 Holy Cross (and future Boston Celtics) star Bob Cousy (center) and his Tamarack Lodge.png That peculiar phenomenon known as March Madness will soon be upon us, and with its arrival college basketball will be squarely in the national spotlight.

Time was, of course, that college basketball and the Sullivan County resorts were inseparable, and for years the best basketball players in the world could be found spending their summers playing ball in an informal hotel circuit of Sullivan County, NY. Continue reading

Skiing in Sullivan County in the 1940s


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A publicity shot of the Christmas Hills ski area in Livingston Manor from circa 1950.It was in October of 1948 that what local newspapers called “Sullivan County’s first commercial ski slope” began to take shape.

It was Christmas Hills on DeBruce Road in Livingston Manor, and despite the claims, it was not the first ski operation in the county, as Liberty Winter Sports, Inc. had operated the Walnut Mountain ski hill in Liberty more than a decade before. Continue reading

Jumping The Alleys: The Age of Pinsetters


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The Historians LogoThis week on The Historians Podcast, Dave Greene and Bob Cudmore discuss bowling and pinsetting during the twentieth century. Pinsetters were boys and girls who manually set up bowling pins in commercial alleys before the advent of pinsetting machines. Fifty years ago a typical wage was ten cents a game, about the cost of a soda from the soda machines of the day. Pinsetters often “jumped alleys,” handling two bowling lanes at a time. Listen to the podcast here. Continue reading

Skiing Comes to the Sullivan County Catskills


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walnut mountainLong before the opening of Davos in Woodridge ushered in a new era in skiing in Sullivan County, before the Concord and Grossinger’s pioneered snowmaking techniques to service their rudimentary ski hills, and even before the Miller brothers operated Christmas Hills in Livingston Manor, skiing made its local debut at Walnut Mountain in Liberty.

In October of 1936, a corporation known as Liberty Winter Sports, Inc. purchased most of Walnut Mountain from Frank H. Mauer with plans to create a skiing facility at the site of the old Walnut Mountain House. Dr. S.W. Wells was president of the group, which also included B.K.J. Eenberg, Thomas P. McNamara, Albert T. Decker, Joseph E. Fersch, Paul H. Allen, and Gunnar Bjorgstrom. Joseph G. Dowling handled the publicity. Continue reading

Dr. Brad VanDiver’s Cliffside Brush with Death


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longspeak2005wikiResearching 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