Sunday, February 12, 2017

Tim Rowland: An Old AuSable Valley Farmhouse

Heading south to Utica on Route 28 there’s a highway sign advising travelers that they are “Leaving Adirondack Park.” No three words have caused anyone as much pain and suffering as those three words have cause me over the past five decades.

Everyone has a home, but it’s not always where one lives. My family’s roots to the Adirondacks or “The Woods,” as we called it, predated the Great Depression. It’s where my grandparents honeymooned, and where with my great-grandpa purchased a sprawling lakeside camp, fully furnished, for $3,000. So this is my existential excuse for feeling more at home in the Adirondacks than in whatever community I was more permanently hanging my hat.

Now I am finally in the process of making my “home” my home. And doing it, as is my sorry habit, the hard way. By fixing up an old house.

The sad thing is that I know better. At 56, I am too old, I have the focus of a hummingbird and, as a professional journalist with no other discernable skill set, I can’t even pick up a hammer three times out of five.

I know all this. But we’ve all done things for love that we know we shouldn’t.

Having found enough land in Jay on the east branch of the Ausable River for ourselves, our dogs and handful of beef cattle that we raise, Beth and I briefly considered building a log home on a hillside overlooking an expanse of hills and peaks. But we’ve all had it drilled into our heads that the last thing the Park needs is another house, and, as luck would have it, the old farmhouse that once went with the expanse of pasture and pines was coming onto the market.

According to the deed, the house dates to 1850, though not in a good way. There are no fancy architectural elements plastered with leaves of ivy. Instead, about a decade before Old Mountain Phelps cut the first trail up Mt. Marcy, a farmer in the East Branch valley decided to build him a house. Which he did by nailing together an assembly of hand-hewn boards and beams under the architectural guidelines that nothing was to, A. match, or, B. fit.

There are a minimum of windows because at the time all glass has to be floated up the river and lakes from Albany and loaded onto wagons whose rides wouldn’t have reminded settlers of a Lincoln Town Car. Any surviving glass would not have been cheap.

Still, it has to be acknowledged that at 166 years of age, this house is still going strong, while many more modern structures, in these advanced days of jigs and miter saws, are falling to pieces.

Sure, there are some things that will have to be tinkered with, such as the kitchen floor, which is a full foot lower in the northwest corner than it is in the southeast. If nothing else it would make baking a headache, because you would have a pint of milk on one side of the measuring glass and a cup on the other.

This slant is due to a foundation with a thickness and composition that is normally associated with Revolutionary War-era forts. When the house was expanded at some point, the carpenters cantilevered an addition over the foundation, not knowing or caring that in another century that the woodwork would settle, while the stonework wouldn’t budge if you set off a keg of dynamite under it.

But we have noticed something; the people of Jay who have helped us along the way with this project all seem to be rooting for our success. We have Brian, a good local contractor, and a series of subcontractors who I am sure will remain fast friends long after the job is done. (If they’ll have us, considering that they are having to work through the dead of winter.)

We have made acquaintances in libraries, post offices, tax offices and of course the incomparable Ward Lumber. Yes, the scenery is nice, but the people are even nicer. And by spring, I’ll never have to wrestle with that “Leaving Adirondack Park” sign again.


Tim Rowland

Tim Rowland is a humor columnist for Herald-Mail Media in Hagerstown, Md., and a New York Times bestselling author. His books include High Peaks; A History of Hiking the Adirondacks from Noah to Neoprene and Strange and Unusual Stories of New York City. He has climbed the 46 high peaks, is an avid bicyclist, and trout tremble with fear when they see his approaching shadow. He and his wife Beth will be residing in Jay, N.Y. by spring.




8 Responses

  1. Boreas says:

    Cheers Tim!! It sounds like the home has a great owner and benefactor. Preservation, let alone restoration, of these old homes is expensive and never-ending.

    In my old house, most everyone said to replace the old wooden windows with new, vinyl clad windows and replace the old clapboard siding with fresh vinyl. Never mind the fact that the ‘old’ original wooden windows lasted 100 years, as did the siding – likely outlasting 3-4 sets of ‘new’ products with a 20-30 year lifespan. I find properly-fitting wooden storm windows over my double-hung wooden sash windows are pretty air-tight. More work, for sure, but the character of the house remains.

    Keep up the constant fight against entropy!! Restore, don’t replace. You and your community will be glad you did.

  2. Alan Jones says:

    I have been going to the Adirondacks since I was 10 years old in 1947. That trip was by train getting off at Sabatis and from there the camp truck to a camp on Long Lake. Of course, these days we go by car and I, like you, hate that “Leaving Adirondakck Park” sign on Rt. 28. Congratulations on doing something about it. Good luck!

  3. Terry says:

    Welcome, Tim and family….an Adirondack ‘settler’ makes us all feel warmer on this cold, snowy Sunday!

  4. James Marco says:

    Good Luck! Rebuilding old houses is ALWAYS a painful process…corse so’s living in the ADK’s…a mixture of beauty and majesty that always surpasses the pain. Yup, I hate that sign on 28.

  5. Lance Rivers says:

    God bless you and keep the work going. I spent my summers/vacations/every chance I had in my grandmothers and my aunt Dorthy (Rivers) Roberts , in Upper Jay. We could, we would buy and fix up the old farm house across from the , one room, school house she taught at. But at 70, that’s not possible. Unless we hit the lottery and you have to play it to win. So, you have pulled hard at our heart strings, please try to fix up the house and keep us updated!! 🙂

  6. Worth says:

    There is nothing like fixing up something old!

    If you have ever read “Sailing Alone Around the World” by Joshua Slocum (the first person to ever do it), you will remember this part: “Now, it is a law in Lloyd’s that the ‘Jane’ repaired all out of the old until she is entirely new is still the ‘Jane’.”

    Some even if you replace every stick of wood in your 1850 house, it is still an 1850 house. Best of luck in your endeavors!

  7. Norm Hatch says:

    Tim, you moved to the right place! Having also visited the Adirondack’s from Long Island since I was 16, I fell in love with the area. 35 years ago, we bought a small camp on a lake just north of Au Sable Forks, where we would spend weekends. My wife and I were nearing retirement and thought about where we wanted to live. There was no debate. We wanted to make the Jay/Au Sable area our permanent home. Why? The people! The people in Jay/Au Sable Forks/Black Brook are God-sent. And even though we are transplants like you, they accept us with open arms and would give us the shirt off their backs if we asked for it. Enjoy your time in heaven.

  8. Bruce says:

    We’ve been vacationing every year in the Fulton Chain from North Carolina since 2006. I was raised in Oswego County and made frequent trips to the Adirondacks, mostly to my cousin’s former camp near Hinckley Reservoir. Although my partner is a native North Carolinian, she gets antsy all winter, thinking about going to camp for a week or two.

    When we see the first groups of spruce trees along 28 past Remsen on the way in we know we’re getting close, but crossing the Moose River really gives us the feeling we have arrived. It’s especially nice when the loons are calling as we get out of the car at camp. We too, hate passing the sign on the way out.

Leave a Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *